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Current Affairs ( 27 Aug 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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India's Rwandan Media Is Injecting Psychic Poison and Violence into Our Body Politic

By Avijit Pathak

Aug 26, 2020

For quite some time, I have stopped watching television news — particularly, the prime-time panel discussions. Barring exceptions, these ‘debates’ are noisy and toxic. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that such discussions amid ethically and intellectually impoverished ‘star’ anchors, and aggressive spokespersons — but not necessarily thoughtful and analytical — of diverse political parties cause widespread psychic violence. Seldom does one witness what is needed for a meaningful debate or conversation — say, the clarity of thought, the art of listening, or the ability to retain civility.


Inertia: Anything that demands some sort of serious reflection and critical thinking is causing boredom.


Instead, the exchange of toxic words, personal abuses, and routinised blame game (if the Congress speaks of the Rafale controversy, the BJP would invariably talk about the Bofors scandal; or, for that matter, if the Congress refers to the Gujarat riots, the BJP would not forget to remind the audience of the 1984 riots in Delhi) take us nowhere. Our understanding of secularism, nationalism or development is by no means enriched. We only consume superficiality and violence. We too become sick — culturally and psychologically.

Only real education can activate the emancipatory power of ‘non-cooperation’ with what is brutal and exploitative.

At times, this psychic poison or violence might be life-threatening, and can affect even the ‘spokespersons’ who are otherwise the perpetuators of this culture. For instance, recently, the cardiac attack and the demise of Rajiv Tyagi, spokesperson of the Congress, after a noisy ‘conversation’ with BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra (not known for calmness, or compassionate listening) on a popular channel has generated a debate on the kind of television-induced insanity we are nurturing. One cannot establish any causal relationship between the television ‘debate’ and the death of Tyagi. Yet, the fact is that it is a reminder; it indicates the intensity of the media-induced culture of violence, and the psychic wound it causes. As concerned citizens, we must reflect on this malady, and strive for decency in the public domain of communication.

We know that many of these news channels are not really interested in disseminating what is needed for the growth of a vibrant and democratic public sphere. The instrumental interests implicit in the neoliberal logic of profit, the benefits of being closer to the ruling regime — and that too at a time when dissent is almost criminalised, and the social psychology of mass hypnosis that stimulant spectacles generate: these are diverse reasons for the growth of this toxic culture. See its consequences. Truth is sacrificed; serious journalism suffers; sensationalism is promoted; news is reduced to boxing; and a debate looks like a war filled with the binaries: Hindu vs Muslim, ‘Deshbhakt’ vs ‘anti-national’, or Hindutva vs left-liberal ‘pseudo secularism’. Yes, it sells. It satisfies our brute instincts. It does not demand any critical reflection from us. It is like watching yet another soap opera, a reality show, or a Bollywood thriller. It is the trivialisation of mass consciousness.

Herein lies the real concern. After all, the ‘ordinary’ people like us — clerks and section officers, engineers and corporate executives, students and housewives, teachers and cobblers, or gardeners and restaurant owners — allow these anchors to flourish. We keep these channels alive; and we give the impression that we are really dying for listening to what these political boxers (what more can we expect when politics rests solely on the stimulation of gross emotions centred on caste, religion and ethnicity, and the discourse of power seeks to transform falsehood into truth?) every evening.

In a way, we too are the carriers of this culture. Possibly, in the age of instantaneity filled with mass culture, alienated existence, seductions of consumerism and all-pervading media simulations, we have become empty and hollow. Anything that demands some sort of serious reflection and critical thinking causes boredom. Under these circumstances, glossy soap operas replace the beauty of folk or classical literature; and a deep conversation between a political theorist and a committed journalist reporting from the field doesn’t get sufficient viewership. Instead, news, we tend to believe, has to be ‘entertaining’— the way the fight between Amitabh Bachchan and Amjad Khan in Sholay excites us. As passive consumers, we allow ourselves to be intoxicated with sensationalism, vulgar talk shows, and political wrestling. Is it, therefore, surprising that the ever-exploding viral messages disseminated through Twitter or Facebook or WhatsApp have become the most important texts we love to believe in?

There seems to be no immediate remedy. However, as a teacher with deep interest in critical pedagogy, I believe that we have to rethink education — the way we grow up, see the world and engage with it. I am not speaking of formal, technical education. I am referring to education as some sort of politico-ethical consciousness. I am imagining the creative role of concerned citizens and organic public intellectuals as educators.

The education that seeks to liberate us from the chains of domination would make us realise that politics is not a 24x7 dramaturgical performance; nor is it about promoting one’s narcissistic self. Instead, politics ought to be experienced as a vocation that aims at creating a just society. With this liberating education, we would demand civility, sanity and intellectual honesty in the public sphere. And then, we would be able to distinguish truth from falsehood, outer glitz from inner substance, and honest dialogue from toxic rhetoric. Only then would it be possible for us to activate the emancipatory power of ‘non-cooperation’ with what is brutal, exploitative and violent. And then, it would not be difficult for us to switch off all these toxic television channels, and say ‘no’ to those ‘star’ anchors who take us for granted.

Original Headline: Media & psychic violence

Source: The Tribune India