Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Indian media makes mountains out of molehills

A very nice article from the organiser on how the media blows things totally out of proportion.

"In the twenties, thirties and forties of the 20th century, Charlie Chaplin was a name to be reckoned with in the cinematic world. He was not just a comedian, as many have taken him to be. He was an intense humanist who could mock at the frailties of life. His greatest achievement was in turning Hitler into a joke in his famous film The Dictator. There was no one like him before and there has never been one like him following his death. He was reportedly born in Britain, made his mark in the United States and spent the evening of his life in Switzerland. Has any of these countries put up a 67 ft statue in his honour? For that matter even a 6 ft statue? Not that one is aware of, though one could be wrong or ignorant.

There are many great celebrities in the world of medicines, science, art, culture, literature, dance, drama and music. There is only one Bach, one Beethoven, one Picasso, one Darwin, one Einstein. How many of them have had statues raised in their honour in the western world? In India we have literally dozens of great men worthy of honour. They remain in our hearts, loved, honoured and worshipped. They don’t need statues 67 ft high built at a cost of over Rs 35 lakh. Certainly, nobody in the Konkan coast, especially close to the temple town of Udupi, would object to a statue for Swami Vivekananda or CV Raman or Rabindranath Tagore. But to raise a statue for Charlie Chaplin, who is totally irrelevant to the ethos not just of the Konkan coast but even of India, is to make a mockery of homage.

Chaplin has no relevance to India, great though he may have been as an actor. But for everything there is a time and place. One can’t think of a statue to Chaplin in Banaras or Thirupathi or for that matter even in Rome. In the first place, one can imagine the ruckus that would be raised; in the second place, it would reduce personal homage into an absurdity. The Bangalore edition of The Times of India, however, has its own ridiculous views on the subject. It has dismissed the anger raised in the coastal areas as the “latest act of culture policing”, which is nothing of the sort. The paper has quoted certified intellectuals of the stature of Girish Kasaravali, Mahesh Dattani, UR Ananthamurthy as damning those who have strongly objected to the planned Chaplin statue. They are welcome to their views.

This is a free country with a free press, but one begins to wonder whether the freedom of expression is used in sensible way. In the first place, the beach is not a private property. It cannot be used for personal whims and pleasure. In the second place, one is told that the proposed statue was supposedly to be raised close to a temple showing poor taste. If the gentleman willing to spend over Rs 35 lakh had any sense, he would have thought twice before attempting to hurt Hindu sensitivities.

The Times of India obviously does not know what ‘culture’ means. A cultured person will never hurt the feelings of his fellow men. The individual who has sponsored the statue obviously has no understanding of culture. And it saddens one to think that The Times of India has even less. And the less said about our intellectuals, the better. The media champions of culture seem more anxious to sensationalise an event than to understand it in its proper perspective. And that is something to worry about. “Culture policing” is a serious charge that cannot be taken lightly. It is becoming fashionable to take people’s sensitivities as irrelevant, and to charge them with offences they never dreamt of. When will our newspapers and our intellectuals stop making asses of themselves? Fancy an NRI in the United States raising a statue to one of our comedians on a California beach? Or raising a statue to Shiva next to a Cathedral in Italy! When will our intellectuals stop their tomfoolery? There has been no vandalism. No statue has been razed to the ground. People revolted when they heard that raising a statue was in the planning stage. And, surely, they have every right to do so? The point has been made that the protestors object to raising a statue to Chaplin because he happens to be a Christian. That seems to be a false accusation. The Times of India seems hell-bent on damning the BJP. A report on March 15 says: “Has the BJP’s nine-month rule in Karnataka created an atmosphere wherein just about anybody with a very narrow, bigoted view of culture and religion finds it not only easy to air their extreme and highly harmful views in public but also to act on it, to the detriment of society at large?” In what way is objecting to raising a 67 ft statue to Chaplin, whose life has no relevance to India, detrimental to society? Have we all gone mad?

The Times of India, incidentally, carried a report of a railway station in North England putting up a ‘no kissing zone’ sign because departing passengers were holding up traffic with their long and passionate farewells at a crowded drop-off point. Public demonstration of affection is all very well, but one has to draw the line somewhere. It is not cultural policing. Schools across the US often take a dim view of students hugging and hand-holding. The Times of India itself says in its report: “The student handbook of an Illinois school declares that ‘displays of affection should not occur on the school campus at any time’ and that ‘it is in poor taste, reflects poor judgment and brings discredit to the school and to the persons involved’.” Would that be cultural policing? Restricting the rights of an individual to show his or her emotions?

It is bad enough to have self-appointed judges on what is right and what is wrong. But when the media starts dictating what is right and what is objectionable, as if it is the prerogative of the occupant of the editorial chair to lay down law, it is time to sit up. One hasn’t heard much from the media on a whole range of shortcomings that the UPA government suffers from. Senior army officers are returning their medals in protest against the government’s indifference towards their pensions. The pensions of some officers is in some cases as low as Rs 900, when a peon these days gets a wage of some Rs 5000 p.m. The media probably couldn’t care less. What it revels in is to turn irrelevant issues into catchy stories, molehills into mountains. That is poor journalism. But just think what Rs 35 lakh can do to help the needy in the very society whose welfare the media pretends to defend! We can do without a self-righteous media. Society can on its own settle controversial issues without the moral hectoring of an irresponsible media."

No comments:

Post a Comment