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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.

5 comments :

YoungJourno said...

Agree completely, except that, as opposed to shallow opinions, well thought ones are not any good either. Everyone has an agenda, everyone. Its sad bt true. There are very few who r really neutral. And people understand that. That's why people gobble up the simplest opinion given to them. Manipulation was done through complexity earlier, now through simplification and dumbing down. And I really don't know if we can ask the media to take the sole responsibility, the media too is the victim sometimes. Good post.

Bijayani said...

Hi Danish,

very informative post..


Thanks,
Bijayani

Gunasekar said...

The anger towards Barkha Dutt started only after her conversation with Nira Radia was exposed. Before that she was much respected and I admit that she and other journalists have lost my respect too.
It is of course unfortunate that the shrill and rather nasty comments on twitter and other sites are led by misguided children who try to speak like the rabid communal forces that led the country for a while and proved that they are worse than the Congress.

Danish said...

Thanks @Bijayani

@youngjourno - True, everyone has an agenda (im not sure about mine but im sure there is 1 :P ) does our social structure allow one to succeed without having one ? but we must not generalize here either, some agendas are bound to be worse than other ones. Besides,to what extent you are willing to stoop in pursuit is important too.

"people gobble up the simplest opinion given.."

Its not about simplicity, simple opinions are almost always the best ones. What I was referring to are the immature and sometimes jingoistic ones. Popular opinion on the Naxalite issue and particularly, the recent life imprisonment sentence passed against rights activist Binayak Sen is a good example.

"..really don't know if we can ask the media to take the sole responsibility.."

As I said in the post, its a vicious circle, like a dog chasing its tail. I don't place all blame on the media but it has to accept a part of it. We recently saw that if the media wants to black out some news reports it can do so quite effectively.

Danish said...

@Gunasekar,
I must admit that the respect that Barkha commanded did suffer after the Radia tape leak but her shows and articles remain the same. Ironically, as long as the controversy remained in light the people involved in the scam were eclipsed from the people's view.

btw, plz check out an earlier post of mine