After being called out on Twitter by actor Dan Levy, Comedy Central India received significant backlash for its censorship of gay intimacy in Canadian television show Schitt's Creek.
Referring to a promotional tweet, Levy pointed out that two other kisses in the show remained unedited, and that the deliberate omission of a kiss between two men defeated the purpose of the show.
The deleted clip was a kiss between cis men - Ted (Dustin Milligan) and David (Dan Levy) - during a playful game of Spin the Bottle. It was preceded by two uncensored kisses between Alexis (Annie Murphy) and Ted, and between Alexis and Stevie (Emily Hampshire), respectively.
A spokesperson for Comedy Central International recently provided a statement to USA Today, responding to Levy's comments.
"In India, there is a code in place which requires broadcasters to be especially mindful about content running during the day, ensuring it's suitable for children... A lingering, close up and passionate kiss shown during child viewing hours on channels in India may lead to content related issues regardless of whether the kiss was between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or between man and man... Comedy Central India supports and celebrates inclusivity and the LGBTQ+ community."
We'll leave that one open to interpretation - but, it is important to acknowledge the larger context this censoring took place in, one where such instances really are commonplace.
However, regardless of the network’s intent, Levy's indignation is understandable. Schitt's Creek celebrates its queer characters, and has been a refreshing change in the face of the often lazy, two-dimensional "representation" seen in mainstream media.
However, positive, healthy same-sex intimacy on screen is more than just good representation. It is a resistance against the hetropatriarchal gaze that alienates and compresses queer folk into caricatures, bolstering the status quo.
As such, the omission of a seemingly insignificant kiss held much importance not only to the creators of the show, but also to its viewers.
Hundreds of supporters echoed the star's sentiments, including many jaded Indian followers, who were disappointed, but not entirely surprised.
India’s censorship problem is old news.
Western media, in particular, often bears the brunt of these restrictions. For years, TV channels have been pushed to follow stringent government regulations.
This means thoroughly censoring shows that would have otherwise received a PG-13 rating, such as Friends or The Big Bang Theory. Words like 'beef', 'coitus', and 'hell' are often edited out during daytime viewing as a precaution.
While this may seem somewhat absurd, are these channels entirely to blame? In a country where the mere rumour of an offensive scene can spark riots, perhaps it really is better to be safe than sorry.
Amid government-mandated censorship, the entry of streaming services into the Indian market was a ray of hope.
The independence of services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hotstar allowed for creative freedom and fresh content. Responding to Levy’s original tweet, filmmaker Pritish Nandy, among others, lauded Netflix India for its uncut version of the show.
However, contrary to the claim in his tweet, “most” of India does not have access to streaming services teeming with uncensored content.
As of August 15, 2020, streaming services in India must follow a ‘Universal Self-Regulation Code’. Seemingly a stalemate, this agreement allows services to preserve their creative freedom while the government monitors age limits, parental controls, consumer complaints and disputes.
Its deeper implications and the severity of its impact remain unclear, as of now. Although the breathing room provided by the Indian government is encouraging, we really have a long way to go.
Nevertheless, I truly hope that one day, India can casually watch a “lingering, close up and passionate kiss” between two men, on national television, and simply carry on with their lives.