Shashidhar Nanjundaiah: The Real Year of Fakeness

31 Dec,2020

By Shashidhar Nanjundaiah

 

The usual reviews of the Hindi OTT show Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors were relatively tepid. Relative to my own expectations, and relative to what should have been. “Not a great show, but an efficient one” (what on earth is an efficient show?), “Laboured narration dilutes a relevant story”, “Relevant but flawed” are some headlines or introductions to the show. In my humble opinion, they’re all missing the pie while looking for crumbs.

 

Criminal Justice is multifaceted. Its focus is on how it is the victim who feels shame at being wronged. But it is equally about how we live a “media life” and how it of course breaks traditional societies by disrupting the very factor that binds them. Our society seems finally “woke” enough to be willing to accept critiques of gender injustice—thanks to mediated campaigns and the social media where we must put on our best behaviour while calling out others’ worst.

 

BJP’s youth leader Abhimanyu Tripathi is now even more famous. He posted on Twitter an image that went viral, with the text: “And then Nazeer Mohd became a Sikh farmer by wearing a turban. The truth is that this is not a farmer’s movement, but Khal’ist’ani propaganda? These are the people who were also involved in anti-CAA Protests and Shaheen Bagh.”

 

Because Khalistan is allegedly a Pakistan-sponsored demand, its false equivalence with a Muslim man made perfect sense to the senseless. The usual online media portals conducted fact-checks and, unsurprisingly, found the claim to be false. But the damage, as always, was done. Who followed up with Nazeer to find out how fake news affected him? How is he doing?

 

Media Life is a term powerfully used by Mark Deuze, author of a book by the same title. That description should fit Criminal Justice like a glove. Deuze says (and names a chapter) “We’re all f***g zombies!” In the show, the characters could have chosen to be the zombies that Deuze describes us as-dangerously tacit, damagingly pliable. But it’s a show, and they are not. They take action, counter the perception war through counter-perception, and hope to win the war.

 

That’s not reality. Media life has enveloped our tacit, pliable, (because) voyeuristic side, because it has worked to everybody’s advantage. Who doesn’t like a bit of gossip about a target?

 

Especially when you don’t know the person, so you can target them away without guilt or carefulness?

 

Especially in a year when OTT fiction protagonists (Shrikant Bashir) identify their Muslim partner as miyan perhaps in an attempt to mimic the Prime Minister, and shame their religious practice?

 

Especially in a year when our so-called news channels identify their prey (Rhea Chakraborty) and go after her with full force, and when the police find her innocent, discredit the cops?

 

Especially in a year when our government and its agencies used the media to politicise the pandemic and emphasise the recovery rate rather the death rate, to spread superstition, and to turn people’s distress into their opportunity? (In May, a health briefing by ministry spokesperson Rajesh Bhushan said, “The biggest news this week is that India has tested two crore tests.”)

 

Every such phenomenon goes through a cycle. The cycle of misinformation through leaflets and the propaganda machinery in the 1910s soon lost out, as people understood the ploy. The fake anti-intellectualism in the 1950s in the United States, too, lost the battle out in a couple of years.

 

Lost to media literacy, of all things.

 

Earlier instances of how misinformation caused damage to societies were at least somewhat localised, albeit with global impacts. This time around, though, the phenomenon itself is global, with local interpretations, and seemingly never-ending.

 

A phenomenon with such a massive and widespread torque will continue on its journey for a while. Optimists including this writer have seen the phenomenon as temporary. Inadvertently or deliberately, we have fuelled and perpetuated the cycle of disinformation and misinformation. In conventional definitions, those two terms are distinguished thus: the first is supposedly less deliberate that the second, but after long and grave thought, I’ve decided those terms are not all that different, after all. Think of the effects—they are equally devastating.

 

There are perceptible isobars between societies—new forms of expression of communal hatred are running rife in India, Europe, and North America, for example. Yet the expressions may be different. For example, they gave up lynching a while ago elsewhere—we’re just picking it up.

 

In its organic ways, media literacy is in perpetual motion. Individuals and societies (and I recognise that those would be variables in two different academic research topics) are constantly learning, and media-learning is no different. That is a combination of learning from the media and learning about the media. What the media tells us is our first form of absorption. Our understanding of what goes behind is the next, deeper level of our involvement with the media—who the sources are, what the modes of production are, and why no truth is objective.

 

Even so, it seems our learning curve around fake news, misinformation, disinformation, and what WHO called “infodemic” has not been steep, because we seem to have lost the inclination to learn. Like Instagram photos, in 2020, we seemed to be happy ensconced in our fake media life. To paraphrase Martin Broadwell’s terms, there is unconscious ignorance, conscious ignorance, conscious awareness, and unconscious awareness. I argue that unconscious awareness can be the most insidious.

 

Above all, behind literacy lies the will to learn. Let us hope 2021 sees an uptick in the learning curve. Happy New Year to my two (or was it three?) readers, and to everybody else who didn’t read this.

 

 

As the founder of BeingResponsible, Shashidhar Nanjundaiah author is attempting to build media awareness among school- and college-goers via Responsible Media Literacy. Prof Nanjundaiah has led media institutes to positions of repute and leadership. And, yes, he’s an editor. You can reach him at shashi.nanjundaiah@hotmail.com.

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