Friday, December 28, 2007

Light a Candle - Click and mourn!

"Pay a tribute to Benazir Bhutto by lighting a candle" proclaims this CNN IBN webpage. Seems a very noble thing to do .... Until you realize that the candle you are "lighting" is the result of a few key presses and clicks from your personal computer and some very basic HTML/JavaScript programming - all this while, you sit reclining in your swivel chair, 'mourning' for a woman whom you didn't even know remotely as a person and whose death, while untimely, tragic and politically significant, is not likely to have any noticeable impact on your personal life!

Welcome to the world of online tributes, mostly provided by NEWS corporations who would do whatever it takes[1] to get there! Where you can express your outrage and your anguish at tragic events around the world by lighting a virtual candle, all by clicking a few buttons in the comforts of your small home. Thanks to such services, political tragedies have now become a matter of personal mourning in the lives of every tom, dick and harry.

It seems that the recent trend of a booming economy, soaring stock markets and surging purchasing power, along with a sky-rocketing job scenario, lead us Indians to a state of complacent happiness - we were all contended and relatively happy with the way things were going. The Indian Media, however wasn't happy at all, as their TRPs fell and their creative reserves were quickly drowning up - I mean, there is only so much coverage you can give to stories about Dhongi Baba doing the nanga nach, "kutte ne ajgarh ko khaaya", etc. Plus, as they would want us to believe, the Indian Media portrays itself as the German Shephard - the watchdog - that brings out the grime, crime, slease and corruption in our society with a stated view to trigger a social revolution (and as an afterthought, boost their TRP's).

So, the Indian Media wasn't very happy about all the freaking stability (its no secret that Video NEWS gorges on disasters and tragedies. alas! it only feeds the baser aspect of human nature!) - they were looking for a story that would shakes us, something so sensationalist and yet moving, that it would wake us from our happy reverie and make us mourn and ponder. Bhutto's assassins have, rather unwittingly, done the Indian Media (and the International Media to an extent too) a great favour.

Newspaper editors around the country (and the world) must be smacking their hands with glee at the prospect of the amount of Newsreel this story would cover. In the coming days and weeks, 'analysts' will pore over every small nuance of Bhutto's life and dig out everything there is to dig out. Amidst all this, a new battle emerges - not one against extremism & dictatorship in Pakistan, not one for moderation & democracy - but one to put out the best analysts, the best panelists, the most respected diplomats & politicians & the best show on prime time television. On the bright side though, the dhongi babas & kuttas & ajgarh's will be sidelined atleast for the moment. We shoudn't be very hopeful though - people will get tired of all the analysis & slowly, NEWS broadcasts will contain the latest updates of Saas-Bahu serials and Dhongi Baba's revolutionary cures.

I am not for a minute suggesting that Bhutto should not get her due respects - she was, for all the controversies and alleged misgivings, a shining example of a successful Muslim feminist movement, a moderate voice that could have brought some peace to troubled Pakistan and most definitely, an influential figure in the history of Indian-subcontinental politics. She needs to be mourned and her loss needs to be marked.

But lighting a virtual candle is exactly the kind of marketing gimmick & new-age-click-away -your-mourns crap we shouldn't be buying. And yet, sadly many people do. This afternoon, the sombre newsreader announced on CNN IBN, rather triumphantly of the tremendous response on the "light a candle" campaign (they had done this with the Mumbai 2006 Blasts and chances are, they would do this at Mayawati's death too). While the intent of people responding to such campaigns is appreciated, the means/methods to express their grief is highly questionable. And, most of all, it is indeed highly manipulative for NEWS corporations to offer such trivial platforms for expressing 'grief'.

I would definitely like to hear what you think on this one. Would you, for instance, light a candle for Bhutto on the website? Or do you think that it is a contrived, manipulative device to garner people onto the website? Please do post your comments & feel free to disagree.

Note[1] - "Whatever It Takes" happens to be the slogan of CNN IBN. Naming an Indian NEWS Organization's slogan as that! Amusing opportunity for pun, isn't it?