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Sunday, December 26, 2010

None Brutus, None

Posted by: danish Ahmed 3:48 AM

Came across this interesting article in HT by @bdutt on some of the paradoxes of the Indian society. Initially I intended to drop a comment there but decided otherwise looking at the slugfest in progress. The derogatory comments actually vindicate the writer's opinion that public discourse in India is losing 'complexity of thought that is so crucial to an enlightened democracy.'  The mood of the Indian public seems to oscillate between extremes- ecstatic self-celebration and masochistic self-criticism, hero-worshiping and witch-hunting, living in imagined past and fictional future. Its the typical herd behavior inherited from our primitive ancestors but with subtle differences, it is driven by pseudo-intellectualism and given direction by orators/street anchors with the maximum brownie points.   



Anyone who has read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is sure to reminiscence similar reactions Romans seem to portray, denouncing Caesar after Brutus' speech and baying for the latter's blood,eulogizing Caesar after Mark Anthony has delivered his.  And then there is the scene where they lynch Cinna the poet solely because he shares the name with a conspirator. Its not just ancient Rome,in recent times, the American public has exhibited some of this traits while supporting GWB's self-destructive policies but then the intelligence of an average American is the subject matter of numerous jokes doing round the world. But there are hardly any  other similarities between ancient Rome, present day USA and India except the facts that in all three establishment the citizens were prosperous and were empowered to think for themselves!

The prosperity part is not wholly true in case of India, which houses a third of the world's poor,living in sub-human conditions and oblivious of any "public discourse" as such but the reference here is to the new Indian middle-class, the well-fed upwardly mobile section immersed in consumer culture. The penetration and adoption of consumer culture among India's middle class is so thorough and complete that even newscasts today have become consumer products, devoid of any meaningful substance or message reflecting the social reality. The emergence of myriad 24-hours live new channels in English as well as vernacular languages and the nature and standard of their content clearly indicate that news reports are fast becoming consumer products rather than means of enlightening ordinary people in matters of governance and society.

In some ways, the lifestyle that accompanies the relative comfort of  the consumer culture does not leave us with enough time or stamina necessary to nurture or even accept mature social and political thought which are not only relevant to the current state but also have long term implications. A typical urban professional hurrying to the office or returning late after a grueling day would not really like to analyze and form an opinion on a particular issue,she would rather buy a ready-made opinion,preferably small and emotive ( from news reporter,friend,coworker)  much like buying canned food. . 

The consequence is polarization and gross generalization of issues which the news agencies, especially news channels exploit rather than rectifying it are graver than it is popularly perceived. Of course, blaming the media for many, if not all social ills, has now become fashionable but the news agencies can always say that they deliver what their viewers/readers like, else their stories wouldn't sell. It is a vicious circle that needs to broken and its the media,which, as the face of the fourth estate must bear the responsibility. Mature discussion is the lifeblood of a civil society and vigilant citizens the guardians of democratic principles and practices; shallow opinions, self-righteous rage, extreme reactions indicate the intellectual bankruptcy, a large section of the  educated population is heading towards.

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