Fifty-two-year-old Jacintha Morris, a central government employee from Thiruvananthapuram, is a poet and a singer. She has won several awards for her writing, but that’s not why she is famous today. Last week, Morris woke up to the sudden surprise of being an internet sensation, the kind we’ve all been party to creating, either by mocking those who don’t fit our idea of “good work”, those who don’t fit our bill of normal or those who walk to their own tune, like Morris did.
Recently, Morris released her first video single on Youtube, intriguingly titled “Is Suzann a sinner?” Praise poured in from her family and friends, much to her delight. Even those who knew of her work as a poet but didn’t know her personally, came forward with praise for the video.
It quickly turned into a nightmare for Morris, however, when websites like ScoopWhoop, StoryPick and even India Today picked it up and ridiculed her, calling it brain-numbing and likening her work to Pakistan’s Taher Shah.
But before we get to the incessant bullying that Morris was subjected to, let’s get to know Suzann.
The 4-minute long video is about 50-year-old Suzann, a ‘god-fearing and innocent girl’ who has, in her middle-age, gained the confidence in her own womanhood and transformed into a self-assured person. In a society where being yourself is an act of rebellion, Suzann is often the subject of ridicule and censure from a judgmental society, which tags her as a wayward woman. ‘Is Suzzan a sinner’ is a poem Morris had penned some time ago - feminist in tone and lyric, battling ageism, she decided to set it to music, and make a music video. As a singer, she herself lent her voice to the song.
Not only did she sing it herself, she also felt completely comfortable acting in the music video. “Suzann is a bold woman and I felt I had it in me to pull of the role in the video,” she says.
And this is where the social media bullying got to her. Online sleuths hounded her on Facebook (where over 4000 people follow her page now) and Twitter, and poured ridicule on her with no thought to how it would affect her. The stories by the websites and the mockery of her work that followed, distressed her so deeply that she deleted the video.
“The aim and target of the music video was completely different to what it turned out to be. People started giving a comical colour to the whole thing, and somewhere I feel the message I wanted to convey through the video also died with it. I always write based on reality and I feel that though I am not in a position to make a change in any other manner, I can achieve that through my writing.”
In a Facebook response (to a request that she please put the video back up) she said, “It was a labour of love. Many of my friends, family -- nieces, brothers in law, sisters -- have all acted in it. The ridiculing has brought great hurt to my family. And I care about my family deeply. Let the wounds heal, then I will post the video again.”
What’s worse, she says that internet vandals have created fake accounts with her name and uploaded pornographic material, which is now being linked to her name. This is the story of every woman on the internet, they are subject to misogynistic social media bullying.
“It is after about 6000 views on Youtube, that the tone of the comments started to change. It started when websites such as Scoopwhoop and Storypick picked up the video and tagged me as an ‘internet sensation’ from Kerala. I was saddened to see that people did not take the concept well. Flooded with ruthless responses by people who were mostly not from Kerala, I decided to take down the video.”
Morris is nowhere close to what her detractors on social media are making her out to be. A feminist, whether she assigns that tag to herself or not, she says, “I have always observed that it is insecurity that arises out of lack of enough care from husbands that make many women bold enough to come out of their shell and interact with people, women and men alike. Society cannot stand a confident woman. She is then tagged as a flirt and an immoral person by society. Through my poem, I pose this question to the very society that tags a woman as flirt- Is Suzann, who is confident about her beauty, a sinner?”
In her middle-age herself, and keenly observant of her own experience, and thankfully - for the rest of us -- expressive of it, she says, “It is on the verge of old age that this transformation occurs in most women. My heart goes out to such women who are tagged immoral. I wanted my work to be a medium through which I extent my empathy to these women, but it was not received well,” she says. And this is at the crux of the ridicule she has received - ageist, sexist bullying.
After having observed the comments, Morris realised that it was the younger commenters who had a such a problem with her video. It was young people who were the cruelest. “Flooded with ruthless responses especially from the younger generation, I decided to take down the video.”
Morris is unnecessarily kind to the younger crowd when she says that they are probably used to living their lives on their own terms and which is why they can’t see the struggle and victory that Suzann’s story talks about.
In a society where ageism is rife, young people don’t want older people out of the place that the former has put in the latter. Today’s society denies older people sexiness, freedom to dress and speak the way they want, do the things they want to do, or be as savvy with technology as younger people are. How many times have you heard, “For an old person, you are pretty good with technology.” or “For an old person, you don’t have staid ideas.”
Morris’s story is for everyone who believes older people, especially women should behave themselves. Morris’s story is a snub to society in general, and Kerala society in particular. “What I tried to convey through my music video is a reality of many women, especially in Kerala. It was conscious decision to not restrict Suzann's identity to that of a Malayali woman, and hence the choice of long gowns as costumes.”
And for all those still laughing at her, it would interest you to know that she is respected enough to have had launched the CD with this song by O Rajagopal, a senior BJP leader from Kerala, at a fairly well-received event. And for all her detractors, she has had a book a year published for the last six years. It’s hard to keep a woman like that down. “This year, I have decided to write an autobiographical account of the obstacles I have had to overcome in my life. This experience has been a huge lesson, and it is sure to find a place in my new book,” she says.