Social Media and the politics of the gutter going mainstream – Chawm Ganguly

CG3Should those who live in a Photoshopped World be prepared to die a digital death, or do they simply be prepared to troll away to social media oblivion? 

She was once unceremoniously thrown out of the Writer’s Building, literally by the mane of her hair, for having the temerity of sitting in a “dharna” outside the then CM’s room. CPI(M) goons had virtually polished her off in another now infamous incident. Yet, Mamata Banerjee was not seen to be wanting and had touched the feet of her political bête noir the Late Jyoti Basu, during the peak of an election campaign. Yes, the gesture of courtesy, some say,” an example of the finest Indian traditions” was used by her opponents who had pasted every wall with the picture, but was vindicated in the people’s court. The message was clear – “we the people” are all for the basic niceties, even in politics.

Alas, with stakes as high as they are in 2014, the first victim seems to be political niceties as candidates across the broad spectrum go vitriolic with a vengeance. It hurts, because what we are witnessing is the cow belt-isation of the political rhetoric, with the lowest common denominator plunging to depths that are unacceptably vulgar to put things mildly. It is natural that allegations will fly, that opponents will go for the jugular, but why cross all limits of decency? People are wondering, and rightly so. But the matter is not that simple and the roots of the cancer that is spreading, is much deeper than mere statements made in the heat of political rallies.

One of the reasons behind the unleashing of this “language terrorism” is off-course the rapid proliferation of the social media. Suddenly, everybody with a handheld device or an access to the net can and is, voicing their “opinion”. While it is a good thing in itself, the unregulated nature of the medium is giving rise to a new breed of “activists” who are hell bent on doing a “Full Monty” and are dancing in perverse pleasure at their new found importance as gutter bullies, trying to outdo each other with rabid bigotry . With no one to “Edit” or “filter” their inputs, the uncensored “creators” are turning politics into pornography with ceaseless abandon.

But that is only one dimension of the malice. The political party that was the first to seize the social media initiative had a sinister agenda – to further their own corrosive cause. Early on they had realised that they did not really have much to say and had therefore unleashed a concerted campaign of innuendo’s bordering on the insane (and insensitive to boot), to drive home the point that just wasn’t there. Naturally, there were many takers of their brand of communication – which catered to the basest of the instincts of their support base and did not require even a sprinkling of grey matter to get access to the coterie. A trend, that saw the SMS and the MMS emerge as the new opium of the “chosen” masses. This was just an extension of their age-old practice of singing religiously loaded anthems in the tunes of popular Hindi film songs for achieving narrow political ends and would have been largely ignored by the chattering classes as the shenanigans of the brain dead lunatic fringe, but for two reasons.

For one, the so-called lunatic fringe has been hugely successful in taking their propaganda mainline initially piggybacking on the apathy of mainstream politics and secondly because of their on-your-face success of setting the agenda and “forcing” the opposition to sink to their level to react to their mostly baseless and absurd accusations.

 The resources that have been thrown in to fuel this “brilliant” subterfuge is mindboggling and one must appreciate the way the true inheritors of Goebbelsian legacy have gone about with single minded devotion towards achieving their haloed objective. “The problem of arguing with an idiot” it is famously said “is that he will drag you down to his level and then beat you with experience”. Alas, today, as the mainline political forces comprehend the true purport of the adage, the lumpen and the lunatic and the thugs are wringing their hands in glee: having drawn first blood.

Social media, I thought was the most democratic of all them all, till I saw the demonic face it could flash, thanks to these self styled purveyors of the Indian identity. Any statement that is even remotely considered to be “against” their avowed cause is subject to a fullisade of comments that are not only bereft of logic, but are often offensive with a clear intent to bullying the opposition to submission. Try to put across a point, however valid and the wrath of the insensitive is unleashed, often with expletives that question the legitimacy of relatives, as in most cases, those taking part in the debate (?) have precious little to contribute intellectually, or ideologically or even intelligently. To defend what they call their “Bharat Mata”, they must therefore disrobe your Mother and throw in your sister for good measure, apart from making snide references to your caste, creed or ethnicity.

Initially, the perverse purveyors could be identified easily, as most originated, their different identities notwithstanding, from similar sources and the broad tonal qualities leaving crude signs that were tell tale. However, with time, the sources have become more and more sophisticated with layers and firewalls seeking to fudge their identities from becoming public and their posts have become more and more “trending” with the traditional support base of a typically divisive, chest thumping, intolerant ideology beginning to believe in the bluff they themselves have called. Trolls have indeed gone mainstream as more and more fence sitters throw in their all and Sunny Leone, if they have their way, will be soon be giving sermons on chastity.

But the seeds of destruction are inbuilt as was shown by the thunder unleashed by the AAP. Without going into the politics or even the merits of even its existence, one wonders at the way an “unorganized crowd” literally decimated the opposition without matching either the resources or the empty rhetoric. It was proved beyond doubt that “Crowd-sourcing” can indeed put to rest the best laid social media plans of men and their mice, or touch-screens, or whatever.

And this is what is making me worried. Even the most optimistic does not believe that their (W)Rath’s will see them coast across the “magic figure”. In all probability, the Indian electorate will give a fractured mandate which will no doubt mean thousands of crores down the drain. But a fractured mandate will also bring us back to where we begun – to Mamatadi. And Mayawatiji. And the Puratchi Thalaivi – the three ladies, who will in all likely hood, hold the key to the Parliament, either singly or jointly. And mind you, these ladies are much stronger than the “epitome of strength” as has been bloated, floated and is being “thrust upon” a hapless electorate. Lying prostrate before them will not be a very enjoyable proposition, especially in view of what is being said today by the same spin doctors who are going overboard thinking they have tasted blood and … victory. They did not learn their lessons the last time around when their creation a “man of steel” had to cringe before someone they had dubbed a “weakling” and a “videshi bahu” – and I shudder when I think how unkind history is to them who do not learn their lessons therefrom.

Backroom buddies, O sons of Bharata, you have majorly kicked butt. But remember the butts you kick today are linked to the feet your Lord and Master may have to lick tomorrow. Amen!

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