“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
– T. S. Eliot
From homophobia to sexism, mental health issues to the patriarchy in history and art, Hannah Gadsby shredded the status quo to bits in her recent Netflix special ‘Nanette.’ In her swansong stand-up set, what made for even more spectacular viewing was her manner of taking down comedy as it exists in our cultures today.
The Australian talked about personal struggles with coming out as a lesbian woman in Tasmania, where homosexuality was illegal till 1997. She also makes a joke about other personal struggles ranging from violence to the problems within the LGBTQ community and the concept of ‘pride.’ The mood in the hour-long monologue though quickly turns serious when Gadsby assumes more assertive stances on her offenders.
In doing so, she challenges the foundations of her own profession. A profession that feeds on creating tension and offering panacea in the form of comic relief. But no one cares for what happens after.
Take a usual coming-out joke narrated by a gay comic. The subject of the joke is their own trauma from dealing with the society; and in mocking it, the artist is all but conforming to the opposing construct. Just like how Monica Lewinsky became the butt of the jokes in a case where Bill Clinton was the actual offender.
It’s this brand of direct/indirect self-deprecation that makes her want to quit comedy.
The target in her act was of course the straight white man. A face to the highest orders of privilege, the place where he can call the shots and ‘control’ who deserves what. It’s similar to the position that an upper-caste man from India’s majority enjoys under the country’s current regime and its systematic dilapidation of liberal ideologies. After all, the decision on whether your food choices warrant death, or if women are supposed to masturbate, rests on his prerogative.
I saw ‘Nanette’ with a male Indian friend who convinced me that whoever finds it offensive has a certain degree of patriarchy controlling their thoughts. He said the reason why they feel offended is because the patriarchy is not just being challenged but also being absolutely decimated in Gadsby’s Netflix special.
She’s done it by putting herself, her career and her choices under the spotlight. Just like she emoted, her story is now ours and it’s time maybe we start questioning our own stories, too.