Bad Journalism, Fake News, India, Mediocrity, Serious Writing, society, Thoughts

Hasan Minhaj Continues his Reductionist Diatribe on the Indian Elections

The Indian Elections got over a couple of weeks ago and the people of India voted the BJP back into power with an even greater mandate. So it looks like Hasan Minhaj decided to admit that he was in the wrong with his previous diatribe about Modi and the Indian elections. After all, the new episode is explicitly titled “Patriot Act Apology Regarding the Indian Elections – I’m Sorry I Did Not Listen”. But who are we kidding here?!!?  Needless to say, there is no apology anywhere – not even remotely close. On the contrary, what we get is another big dose of his reductionist observations that forms the fundamental basis for all his shows -including the first episode on the Indian elections.

His diatribe in this episode essentially boils down to the now predictable trope of pre-determining a narrative, selecting a few examples that confirm it, and then reducing the whole phenomenon to the simplistic narrative based on those examples. (You can see it for yourself in the video below).

His narrative here has been one to show that Modi is an evil/dishonest/incompetent person and the BJP is an evil/dishonest/incompetent party that would bring untold death and misery to everyone who is not Hindu. The examples he chooses to confirm this narrative are 3-fold.

First, he identifies 3 candidates who have either said or been accused of doing something wrong. So this way the entire BJP party is reduced to the alleged crimes of Sakshi Maharaj, Pragya Thakur, and one single quote from Anant Kumar Hegde. Of course, Smriti Irani’s massive victory over Rahul Gandhi is reduced to depicting Irani’s background of starring in a bad soap opera scene from eons ago. (Clearly Hasan doesn’t find the need to mention the years of ground work she had to do to get that victory, but I suppose that goes against his narrative….)

Second, he reduces Modi’s interaction with the press to his casual discussion with Akshay Kumar. I mean, the Prime Minister literally has a complete web page dedicated just to the interviews he has given to the press! (But hey, pointing that out would go against his narrative, so……whatever.)

And finally, he reduces the legitimacy of his critics to a high-decibel TV anchor and a few select Twitter trolls. And to top it all off, he tries to wash his hands off of anything and everything he has said by claiming “Comedians cannot swing elections”. (So there! Everything is forgiven and forgotten, right? )

In any case, let us not lose sight of what is fundamentally wrong here. Whatever we may deem to be unfair or incorrect on this one show is not and should not be reduced to just one person – a.k.a Hasan Minhaj. Yes he is certainly a part of it, but there is something more fundamental at play here. The simple fact is this:

In this day and age, no matter what the truth is or what is actually happening in a country, the power to set the preferred narratives lies in the hands of those who hold the biggest platforms. Comedians across the world are increasingly perceived to be those who can be ‘trusted’ to deliver unbiased NEWS (oh how ironic!). They are also being given increasingly bigger platforms to air their views to an increasingly growing (captive) audience. (This can be directly attributed to the complete death of quality TV news reporting, but that is another story for another day). And ultimately, it becomes a feedback loop with comedians becoming increasingly bigger personalities in the media ecosystem.

And this is where people like Hasan Minhaj come in. What he really wants to say in this episode is very revealing and crystal clear:

I have the platform, I have the captive audience. You don’t. No matter the veracity, I decide what narratives are set on my show. You don’t. I decide who or what is right and wrong. You don’t. And anything you say will be used against you and what you stand for.

Ultimately, in trying to respond to “desi trolls”, Hasan Minhaj has proved that he, in fact, is the biggest troll of all!

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Family, Grief, India, society, The things that happen only to ME...

The Generation of Sacrifice

About a year ago, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the findings of their study on the issues of social mobility. One of their central findings for India showed that it takes about 7 generations for a low income family to move to a median income family. Over the past few days, this got me thinking about my own state and how my family came to be the way we are now.

1-520generations

I initially thought any upwards social mobility would be a linear progression. But in my family’s case, there was an exponential jump in my parent’s generation. The question, of course, was why and how? What would explain that sudden jump in a given generation?

Let me propose my hypothesis which I know for a fact rings true in my own case. My hypothesis is that most generations of a given low income family typically lead their lives without much forethought on the future living conditions of their children or grandchildren (thus leading to at most linear progression). Most of them lived hand to mouth and their only forethought probably went as far as planning for groceries for the following week. So this observation is in no way an indictment on their choices. But then, there comes one generation where the family members – typically the husband and the wife – break the cycle. They don’t break the cycle of poverty by working hard and moving up the ladder themselves. Instead, they break the cycle by doing that one thing that perhaps the previous generations did not: Work hard, but completely sacrifice every aspect of their own lives for the future lives of their children and grandchildren.

And that is what my grandparents did. My maternal grandparents practically dedicated their entire adult lives to ensure that their children were equipped with everything to become successful when they became adults. My grandfather also practically raised all his younger siblings in the same manner after his father passed away very early on. But perhaps the biggest credit to be given to my grandparents lies in the way they brought up their 3 daughters. Everything from emphasizing education, helping them get jobs, and getting them married to the right families – my grandfather made all the right choices to ensure his daughters would later on lead a good life.

Simply put, he had a very clear guiding principle: Do nothing for himself, but do everything it takes to ensure his future generations lived comfortably.

In all their lives, I do not remember my grandparents doing anything for themselves. I remember that after the longest time, my grandfather finally bought an Onida color TV to much fanfare in the then joint family (sometime in the mid 90’s). Then came the telephone. They didn’t even have a refrigerator or a washing machine till after they retired – something that was practically forced on them by my mom and her sisters. Even now I am unable to think of a single comfort – let alone luxury – that they ever procured for themselves. Even trips to Tirupathi, Dharmasthala and Nanjangudu were more of entire family affairs rather than personal pilgrimages. (I wonder what he prayed for there…)

As a grandchild, I can easily attest to his complete generosity towards us. So many things – from my longest serving cricket bat, to random sci-fi books I decided I wanted to read, to not even blinking an eye before agreeing to guarantee my funds for doing my Masters in the USA – were a direct result of his desire to see his grand kids do well. My cousins would easily attest to that as well. Come to think of it, even the late family dog got whatever it needed!

Perhaps, from my grandfather’s perspective, we were all his achievements. Even though he may never have expressed it out loud, I know he felt proud of us all. In the end, we – my mom and her siblings, my cousins, my grandfather’s younger siblings and their children – are all certainly the beneficiaries of the sacrifice that my grandparents did. The absolute least we can do is to first recognize and acknowledge that fact. God knows my grandfather had his own long list of quirks and unpredictable tempers. So while we may have seen how his quirks and tempers manifested, we will never know all the problems he solved and the sacrifices he made behind the scenes.

He passed away last week after a long, long battle with, well, old age. His passing was expected so I know he is at peace now with my grandmother. As time goes on, we will all accept his passing and move on in our lives. But every time we celebrate our own achievements, we will never forget that a big part of that celebration will always be attributed to my grandparents and their generation of sacrifice.

Bad Journalism, Fake News, India, media, My sense of Humour, TRUMP

What Sagarika Ghose ‘Actually’ Wanted to Say About Indian Elections and Reality TV

Ms. Sagarika Ghose, one of the poster children of Indian media’s liberal elite, has penned an article for one of the print newspapers, Time of India. In it, she compares the recently concluded 2019 Indian elections to the dynamics of a Reality TV show – Big Boss (the Indian version of Big Brother). Very clearly, she is unable to fully open up about how she truly feels. So here I am telling you what she really wanted to say.

***********************

‘Your father’s life ended as Bhrashtachari No. 1’. ‘PM Modi is like a bride with bangles who pretends to work but does nothing. ‘He (Rahul Gandhi) is running away to contest where the majority is the minority.’ ‘PM needs a tight slap of democracy.’ With its steady stream of expletives, campaign 2019 has played out like Bigg Boss, a popular reality TV franchise that showcases the most obnoxious characters. The worst behaved is the biggest star.! Polls 2019 have been politics as reality TV, bringing out the worst instincts of citizens. (Look at me! I have an opinion and I have a platform to express it) As Hillary Clinton said about Donald Trump, “My opponent was the first reality TV candidate and I was, for better or worse, the candidate of reality.’ (Oh wait, you thought you would have to wait a little longer before I invoked Trump here?)

Bad behavior in public sells (I mean, making sure bad behavior sells well in public is literally all us media people’s job description!). For both Donald Trump and Narendra Modi, the more their outward behavior is denounced by the chattering class, the more their appeal grows as tough-talking He-men who don’t play by politically correct rules. (In case you were dumb enough not to connect Trump to Modi earlier, here, let me be more direct about it) Modi’s targeting of the Gandhi family may seem distasteful to his critics, but on the campaign trail, this reporter saw some of the PM’s most vitriolic comments getting vociferous applause, particularly from young North Indian males. (LOL! Did you just see how I called myself a ‘reporter’?!!? LMFAO!!) Even informed educated folks seem attracted to polarizing intolerant speech. (Just a reminder that I am better than you because I am an informed, educated person, OK??)  While a group of Delhi University teachers expressed their disapproval of the PM’s “bhrashtachari” remark about slain former PM Rajiv Gandhi (of the Bofors fame), a bigger group of teachers endorsed it. (And that is the only thing you will ever learn about what was said in that speech that day, or how the crowd reacted to anything else that might have been said)

In the Gujarat Assembly elections of 2017, when Modi accused former PM Manmohan Singh of conspiring with Pakistan to influence the poll outcome, it enthused the BJP’s cadre and gave the party a boost. In the 2014 election when as Gujarat CM, he referred to Shashi Tharoor’s companion as the ’50-crore girlfriend’, his image was hardly dented. The boundaries of acceptable behaviour have been pushed as never before as the Election Commission looks on helplessly. (See what I did there? I very subtly connected PM Modi with the Election Commission being powerless. Because, you know, in the next few weeks, we need a narrative like the ‘EC being powerless’ in order to explain how PM Modi comes back to power again in 2019).

A competitive media demands a constant supply of shock-talk from combative strongmen because it makes for much more exciting stuff than the soft-spoken deliberations of policy wonks. Facebook and Twitter are set alight by shock value. (Alright folks, the last two sentences are actually true.) Ringing condemnation of ‘Khan Market liberals’ immediately bolsters the accuser’s profile as a dangerously edgy wartime chieftain. (Damn, I thought we Lutyens media people were the only ones who were good at creating and propagating convenient labels like ‘Saffron Terror’. But these folks have upped the game on us here!) Rational dialogue and low -profile peacemaking don’t make for viral videos. (Yeah, which is why you won’t see any of that on our channels and newspapers)

That’s why Rahul Gandhi’s stance as love sage may not be in tune with the prevailing zeitgeist. (OK this is the best joke I have folks! Rahul Gandhi as a ‘love sage’!) Today it’s the badass anti-hero who rules, as seen in the fact that the star status of Salman Khan or Sanjay Dutt isn’t threatened by the controversies that swirl around them. (So just in case, my comparison of Modi with Trump wasn’t enough…) It was action man khiladi Akshay Kumar and not the thoughtful Aamir Khan who the PM chose for a recent interview. (You know the guy with the Khiladi image from 25 years ago? The same guy who has been working with the Modi Government to spread awareness on social issues like sanitation and women’s personal hygiene? Yeah clearly that is not a good idea at all!)

So why has the Bigg Boss syndrome caught on in politics? Partly because 24×7 televised politics is more entertainment and less about real issues. Allegations of sexual harassment against candidate Trump, for example, did nothing to dampen his popularity. (Just want to make sure I drill it into your head – this comparison to Trump) In India, prime ministers over the last 60 years have generally been staid, steady hands at the wheel. Modi may not have been too much of a disruptor in the economy given the lack of substantive reforms but he is certainly a disruptor in politics in his refusal to play by any of the unwritten rules of democracy, much to the glee of his supporters. (Yeah, I am totally going to ignore all my own previous comments on how Demonetization disrupted the Indian economy here, because apparently the voters felt otherwise).

The Bigg Boss syndrome is good for netas. When the media amplifies noisy, sensation-a-minute drama, eyes are taken eyes off troubling real issues. By focusing on shock and awe, the politician creates an escapist Bollywood Utopia with all doubting party poopers dubbed anti-national. (What do you think is my true profession – the ‘doubting party pooper’ or ‘anti-national’?) The Opposition is invisibilised and even delegitimised in the spectacle and show of strength. (But don’t worry, we Lutyens media will never be invisibilised or deligitimised. We have a sufficiently big circle jerk in place to ensure that never happens)

When Mamata Banerjee plays the roughly behaved Bigg Boss, TMC’s weaknesses get swept under the carpet. When Mayawati targets the PM’s personal life, her own spotty record in protecting Dalit rights gets lost in the diatribes. Raj Thackeray essays the role of the controversial enfant terrible to generate macho swagger, Navjot Sidhu is a star campaigner because of his ability to be pungently insulting, never mind the substance of his speeches. Badly behaved public figures are more admired than rebuffed. (This is the most important part of the article. Did you see how I made some token criticism of some people not named Modi? That clearly makes me a very unbiased and objective reporter, OK?)

In the 80s, Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray prided himself on the ability to boldly say what others were afraid to utter. Today’s media mahaul demands every politician emulate a Bal Thackeray to score in the political kurukshetra. Reality TV and the Bigg Boss syndrome has come to life in Indian politics. (And we media people will make sure it stays this way)

Football, life lessons, Serious Writing, society, Thoughts

Life Lessons from AFC Ajax: Living With Societal Expectations

Read Part 1 here.

The more I thought about how Ajax expressed themselves on the pitch without fear, the more I got drawn into society’s own predicament at large. We, as a society, have always lived at the bottom of the ocean of expectations. It is an ocean of our own making, and our objective in our lives are all about just finding ways to get that Oxygen from above the ocean – but without actually rising above the water. Many have indeed tried to rise above the water. Some of them were crushed by the force of the ocean, and some were simply dragged down by their fellow humans just because the bottom dwellers could not stand being confronted with the possibility of a life beyond their complacency.

Expectations are what we are born into, grow up being fed, learn to live with, and ensure to pass it along to the next generation. This is a cycle that is as old as civilization itself. It is true of almost every person I have ever met or known in my life, and it is certainly true of my own life. I am 33 years old and vaguely remember that time when I thought I could do whatever the fuck I wanted to do. That attitude did not stem from rebellion, but from a healthy ignorance of societal expectations. I lived without fear of what I would become in the future because one, I simply didn’t care; and two, I thought I could be anyone I wanted to be! But that was an extremely short lived time though. The burden of being a ‘smart student’ in my childhood was that I HAD TO top my class, score more than 90% every time, and avoid all other forms of activities in order to achieve those objectives.

Eventually, after many years, I came to realize that those were not in fact my own objectives, but societal expectations that had trickled down through society’s different layers and eventually appeared as parental and peer pressures. But like everyone else, I just went along with it and made those my own ‘goals’ and ‘ambitions’. Over time, those ‘goals’ and ‘ambitions’ may have taken on different forms, but still continued to be manifestations of societal expectations at large. And so, ultimately, I became one among those bottom dwellers living under the ocean of expectations set by a society we did not get to choose.

It may appear that these goals or objectives are our own and come of our own free will and volition. But mostly it is just a manifestation of what society has defined as the broad expectations from all of us – depending on where we are born into (think race, economic status, caste, skin color, gender, etc). Even if we somehow live with the complete ignorance that these all are our own goals and objectives, the problem is that we still live with the associated expectations. And because, fundamentally, they are not our own, we will always pursue these ‘goals’ while living with the fear of having something to lose if we don’t achieve them.

And there you have it: FEAR. It is at the back of our minds to varying degrees depending on our circumstances. We do not live in a society where we are told “Do what you want”. We are in a society where we are at best told “Do what you want as long as it is within the general framework of what the society expects from someone in your position”. At worst, it is “This is what you are expected to do and this is what you are supposed to dream of.” I am now seeing the next generation being beaten down to submission by the same societal expectations that got me more than a decade ago. I also see the even younger ones – the truly free spirited ones – who are on the cusp of getting sucked into the ocean. Somehow, in all this, I feel that the age of that healthy ignorance seems to be getting lower and lower with each passing generation.

I am reminded of ‘The Logical Song’ by Supertramp:

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical
And all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily
Oh joyfully, playfully watching me
But then they send me away to teach me how to be sensible
Logical, oh responsible, practical

And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable
Oh clinical, oh intellectual, cynical
…..
I said, watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical
Liberal, oh fanatical, criminal
Won’t you sign up your name, we’d like to feel you’re Acceptable
Respectable, oh presentable, a vegetable!

As the song says, I do believe that in the end, we become a vegetable. Maybe an acceptable, respectable and presentable vegetable – but a vegetable nonetheless. At the age of 33, I have been through enough institutions to have had my own interpretation of ‘freedom’ become narrower and narrower. So much so, that even if I were to simply decide that I would break free of these shackles and quit my job and do my own thing, I wouldn’t know what the fuck it is that I even WANT to do! Never mind the question of whether I have the resources or knowledge to accomplish it, I am unable to even figure out what it is that I truly want in the first place.

In fact why think that far ahead? Let us just look at this blog right here. What I write, how I write and when I write on this blog all inevitably are (at least in part) decided by what would be ‘acceptable’ or ‘popular’ by those who read it. Why don’t I just simply write whatever it is that I want to and not care about if it is ‘correct’, or who reads it or how people feel about it? Why am I currently thinking that people nowadays have the attention span of a goldfish, so this post would be read by more if it was split into two? Why do I even care about who reads my post? Why do I seek any form of validation at all?

The unfortunate answer to all these is that, like most others, I have been sufficiently institutionalized to seek society’s approval in whatever it is I do. And it is simply not easy to break away from that mindset. This is what living in fear of not meeting the expectations laid out by someone else can do to our lives.

I am reminded of a quote in a Daft Punk song “Giorgio by Moroder” where Giovanni Giorgio has this to say about making music:

Once you free your mind about the concept of harmony and of music being correct, you can do whatever you want. So nobody told me what to do, and there was no preconception of what to do.

Now imagine a world without societal expectations, where children are brought up to be what they want to be, where people truly pursue their passions, where people are not taught what to think, do or say, and where it doesn’t necessarily take the innocence of a 5 year old kid to come up with a question like “What Would Happen If There Were No Number 6?” (No seriously, why couldn’t I think of that question?). There would be no fear of not meeting expectations, no fear of missing out on something, and we could pursue our own goals just because we want to have fun.

Ajax may have knocked out my favorite team from the Champions League. But in doing so, it has also given me a life lesson on what it means to live without fear or expectations – societal or our own  – and what it means to pursue something just because we want to express ourselves and have fun.

Football, life lessons, Serious Writing, sports, Thoughts

Life Lessons from AFC Ajax: Playing Without Fear

I wrote this less than 2 hours after watching Juventus get eliminated by Ajax Amsterdam in the Quarter Finals of the UEFA Champions League. What I saw was not a narrative laden story of a comeback, or an underdog overcoming the odds, or a bunch of players showing ‘team spirit’, or a dazzling individual performance, or big money players vs inexperienced youth, or Johan Cryuff’s Total Football, and definitely nothing related to Cristiano Ronaldo’s broken streak of UCL Semi-Final appearances and/or trophies. (Make no mistake, you WILL read a lot of articles peddling those narratives in the coming days and weeks). No. What I saw transcended all that can be fit into a nice narrative. To me, what Ajax did and showed the world had almost nothing to do with football itself per se. Instead, what Ajax did to Real Madrid and Juventus came down to just one single idea:

A complete lack of fear.

I have been a loyal and dedicated Juventus fan for over 16 years now, sticking with the club through their current absolute dominance in Serie A and (especially) through their darkest time period during Calciopoli when they were forced to play in Serie B. I have been through enough heartbreaks rooting for this team in Europe in the last decade and a half. Losing 3 finals, getting eliminated in injury time in a knockout round, giving up big leads – I have been through them all. So when Ronaldo arrived in Turin this past summer, I was once again hopeful of finally seeing the Old Lady lift that one elusive trophy. So yes, it was extremely painful to see Juventus get knocked out in the Quarter Finals today by Ajax. But as much as that hurt, it also reminded me of why I began to support Juventus in the first place.

It was the 14th of May in 2003. A packed house at the now defunct Stadio Delle Alpi awaited the 2nd leg of the Juventus – Real Madrid Semi-final. Real Madrid led 2-1 coming into the 2nd leg thanks to their victory at the Bernabaeu. And then, this happened:

I vividly remember watching the game in my living room well past midnight. My parents were asleep upstairs and I tried my best to contain my enthusiasm by not yelling out loud during the match. At that time, I had just begun to watch football. I had no team to support and it appeared that the default team to root for among my friends circle was Manchester United. But they had just been dispatched in a rather humiliating fashion by the magnificence of THAT Ronaldo a couple of weeks prior. And I never bothered much about them anyway. But when I saw what Juventus did to Real Madrid that night, it made me fall in love with Juve for reasons I never really understood – untill I saw Ajax do the same to them 16 years after that night.

That night in Turin, Juventus played not just with a will and determination to WIN, but also with an attitude of complete fearlessness. I can still remember the excitement from that night every time Juventus got the ball. You just felt like SOMETHING would happen! The quick passing of the balls, Edgar Davids just refusing any Madrid player to pass through, Pavel Nedved pulling the strings and scoring the goal of the season, Del Piero and Trezeguet just making something happen out of nothing, Gigi Buffon reminding Luis Figo that he simply cannot score against him from a penalty kick – it was all there! That night Juventus played not just with an intent to win, but more so with an attitude of having absolutely nothing to lose. Real Madrid had absolutely no answer to Juventus running amok. Even THAT Ronaldo had nothing to offer. How do you play against a team that is just ‘going for it’ because they just don’t give a fuck otherwise? What strategy do you follow when you have the opposition coming at you just for fun and playing with a “Fuck you! I don’t care” attitude? That night, Juventus played for fun. That night, Juventus played like they had absolutely nothing to lose.

That night, Juventus played with absolutely no fear.

And I just fell in love with them then.

16 years since that night, today, Ajax reminded me of THAT Juventus and why I fell in love with them then. Like that night in Turin, Ajax today played like they had nothing to lose. They played for fun, and they played without fear. Even in the last ten minutes, when other teams would have fallen back to defend, Ajax just continued to express themselves the only way they knew – by playing without fear or having anything to lose. They eventually won the tie 3-2 (even though it could have EASILY been 6-2 or 8-2) and earned a deserved standing ovation from the Juventini in Turin. (Perhaps there were many more in that stadium who were also reminded of THAT Juve from all those years ago).

The lack of fear that Ajax played with stems from the attitude of playing like they have nothing to lose. That attitude in turn comes from a general to complete lack of preset expectations. Let us face it. Ajax absolutely did not have ‘Win the UEFA Champions League’ in their list of objectives at the start of their season. They probably still don’t. Which is why they are able to play with such a fearlessness and just have the opposition be completely clueless on how to address their approach. If they can iron out their decision making in front of goal, they can wipe out any team if they continue to play with this attitude. So I sincerely hope they continue to NOT have ‘Win UEFA Champions League’ as one of their objectives this season – until after they win it.

The unfortunate side effect of this is that due to the same lack of expectations, they will ultimately be compelled to sell their best players to clubs that do have those expectations and want to build the best team to fulfill them. That is also unfortunate in an ironic way because the very players who might potentially win the Champions League by playing without fear this year will end up in teams that DO play with the fear and expectations that they set themselves. But till that happens, let us all just appreciate and enjoy the phenomenal display of fearlessness shown by this young Ajax team.

Read the second part here. 

Football, media, Mediocrity, sports, Thoughts

Dear Football Commentator: VAR is NOT the Controversy; YOU Are

Earlier this week, I watched the phenomenal Man City vs Tottenham 2nd leg at the Etihad. The tie ended 4-3 to City with Spurs moving to the Semis on away goals rule. Despite the remarkable scoreline, one of the most obvious things that will come to anyone’s recollection about the game will be the use of VAR to decide two instances of goals – with one being awarded (Llorente), and another not awarded due to an offside (Sterling). While the decisions were correct, the way the commentators portrayed VAR and its role in the process has been very annoying – in this match and others. By commentators, I am referring to anyone with any significant influence and position who puts out opinions/commentary/articles etc. So this includes live commentary personnel, football writers, twitter celebrities, fan blog writers, etc.

Situations like Sterling’s goal being negated for a missed offside decision are the exact kind of decisions that the VAR was brought in for. And they have been doing their job just fine in Serie A and other competitions – just like they have begun to do so in the Champions League. So the only objective way to react to situations like this is to acknowledge the role the VAR played in ensuring the correct decision was made during the match.

Instead, in a ridiculous turn of events, most football commentators have come to characterize ANY decision made by the VAR as ‘controversial’! This is even more true when it comes to the VAR overturning a decision made by the on field referee. Until recently, the same commentators had been calling for the introduction of VAR to rectify the incorrect decisions made in the field. But when it is finally in play and starts overturning those very same incorrect decisions, it is suddenly deemed to be ‘controversial’! Are you serious?

In addition to just terming any VAR intervention as ‘controversial’, there are a bunch of other phrases that these commentators have an affinity to use:

  • City were “robbed by VAR”
  • “VAR denies” City a goal
  • “VAR raises its head” once again in this tie
  • “VAR drama once again”

Ok first of all, nobody ever gets ‘robbed’ by the VAR. Getting ‘robbed’ assumes that you had actually scored a goal LEGITIMATELY to start with, and the VAR overturns it for no good reason. This has never happened in the short history of the VAR. Getting ‘robbed’ can only refer to incidents like Frank Lampard’s ghost goal in the 2006 World Cup which he did score legitimately, but was not awarded by the referee. Or it can also refer to Tom Henning Overbo’s refereeing that night in Stamford Bridge in 2009 (Oh Lord please give me the strength to let go of this!). So if a team scores a goal, and the VAR later catches a foul or offside in its build up, it is no longer a legitimate goal to start with! So no, VAR does not ‘rob’ anyone of anything.

And no. VAR does not ‘deny’ anyone of a goal either. It is fair to make statements like “Hugo Lloris denies City a chance to go ahead with a remarkable save”, or even “the striker was denied a goal by the woodwork”. But making a statement like “VAR denies City a goal” is akin to accusing it of ‘robbing’ (see above). The only way to use ‘deny’ and ‘VAR’ in the same sentence is something like this: “VAR correctly denies Manchester City of a goal for an offside that was not spotted in the field.”

And what does it even mean to say “VAR raises its head again”? I have heard this multiple times on TV. The phrase ‘raises its head’ is generally used to show something under a negative light – which is why you typically hear people say “….raises its ugly head again”. Nobody ever says “…raises its beautiful head again”. Just because an on-field decision is overturned by the VAR doesn’t make it something that needs to be shown in a negative light. VAR is a process that allows the referee to utilize additional time and information to make a correct decision – even if that means overturning what was previously awarded.

And let us all just agree that there is no ‘drama’ with VAR. The only ‘drama’ lies is in people’s reactions to potentially overturning an incorrect decision. So it is not the VAR that is ‘causing’ the drama. If anything, it is the VAR that is being used to ‘resolve’ or even ‘prevent’ the drama arising out of an incorrect decision on the field.

But why is all this important you may ask? After all, it is just a game and commentators are supposed to give words to what is happening or has happened in their own words.

OK first of all, no competitive sporting event is ever just a game. Don’t even dare say that to a sports fan – regardless of sport. Secondly, the primary requirement of any commentator’s job is to be unbiased and objective. Everything else follows that. A part of that requirement is to not create a narrative that simply doesn’t exist. And that is where I am unhappy.

The problem with generating a narrative that terms VAR as something ‘controversial’ is that it ultimately leads to football fans questioning the very integrity of the decision making process in the game. This is highly ironic as the VAR was brought in because the integrity of the decision making process was being questioned (due to a large number of high profile incorrect calls). Further, it can lead to a lot of resentment among the fans whose team were at the so called ‘receiving end’ of the VAR process. This resentment will typically not exist if the accepted narrative is that the VAR did what the on field referee should have initially done. But if the act of VAR overturning an on field call is termed ‘controversial’, this will always lead to resentment and a feeling of having been ‘robbed’ or ‘denied’ by some arcane process. And in the long run, that is unsustainable as a lot of people will eventually simply call for scrapping the VAR. And how unfortunate would that be!

That is not to say the VAR is perfect. I would love to see the referee make a live announcement to the entire stadium to explain the final decision after VAR review (NFL style). This can go a long way to let the fans all around the world know the thinking behind the decision. And that would also hopefully shut these commentators up as they can no longer simply speculate why the referee made that decision.

But till then, we have to acknowledge that the VAR is simply providing additional information and time to the on field referee to make the correct calls. Overturning an incorrect call does not make it controversial. In fact, the commentators who continue to call that process as controversial are the ones who are actually causing the controversy.

pretty-please-with-sugar-on-top

So here is my sincere request to all football commentators:

The VAR is a good thing that has happened to football and it is also long overdue. It does not become controversial just because it was used to overturn an on field decision, and it certainly does not rob anyone of anything. Your job is to stay objective and unbiased in how you report the football events, which means you need to understand and acknowledge what VAR is and what it is not. So, as the Wolf would say,

“Pretty please, with sugar on top, do your fucking jobs!”

America, Bad Journalism, Fake News, India, media, Mediocrity, Serious Writing, Thoughts, TRUMP

On Hasan Minhaj’s Episode on Indian Elections: The Dangerous Techniques of Narrative Building

This is the third post in a short series on the portrayal of facts and events in a Patriot Act episode hosted by Hasan Minhaj. Read the first post here and the second post here

At the crux of the episode is the explicit intent to build a narrative. WHAT the narrative is has already been established by this point. (Trust me the episode has absolutely no ‘outsider’ view in it. It is just the same exact things peddled by the Indian media). He then uses 3 specific techniques to achieve this narrative building exercise.

  1. The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy
  2. Reductionism
  3. Guilt by association

The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy

This was covered in the previous post in more detail. In essence, this is what happens when the spotlight is put on a select few aspects of a situation and the audience’s understanding of the situation is thus limited to just what is shown in the spotlight. HM does this throughout the episode. He uses selective facts, quotes and events to support his narrative throughout the episode. But what makes these even more dangerous is when they are used without context. Devoid of context, any fact, quote or event can be made to fit any narrative. And that is what HM does in this episode. The audience is not necessarily aware of the background of each statement he is making, which makes his job that much easier. Those that do know the background, however, recognize the flawed arguments he is making.

Reductionism

This technique is perhaps the more significant one because it is extremely effective in propagating the narrative and to keep it moving in the episode. At its core, Reductionism consists of distilling a very complex, nuanced situation into a very specific and narrow point of view. The situation under consideration may have had a long history with multiple points of view and millions of people involved. But using Reductionism, one can boil all that down to something specific of their own choosing – something that suits their objective. Reductive statements are true in the most extreme of the cases but almost always end up hiding all the underlying nuances and complexities that constitute the situation at hand. HM uses this technique extensively in this episode. Let me give you a rundown of how he has done this:

  • The entire BJP is reduced to a ‘Hindu Nationalistic Party’ under whose rule violence against minorities has increased. (Can someone please define what this HNP actually is supposed to stand for and what is actually being done?)
  • The entire Congress party is reduced to Sashi Tharoor and a passing mention of scams that took place 10 years ago!!! (Should I be overjoyed that Rahul Gandhi was referred to as Pappu for exactly 1 second?)
  • The BJP’s entire 2014 campaign reduced to ‘India First’. (I honestly hadn’t heard Modi say ‘India First’ till I saw this episode)
  • The entire Indian political system is reduced to the claim that “Every single politician has some sort of connection to either a murder charge or a killing” (Wow! Just wow! Way to portray India as a completely corrupt third world country)
  • The entire Pulwama attacks and the subsequent military response is reduced to it being a vehicle of election campaigning and as a joke on ‘Eco-Terrorism’. (This one hurts the most)
  • The entire RSS organization is reduced to it being termed militaristic and showing dad-bod RSS workers playing with their sticks. (Showing RSS workers – seemingly lacking in fitness – playing with sticks, and calling them a ‘militaristic organization’ at the same time is somehow supposed to make sense?)
  • Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adithyanath is reduced to being called ‘a monk with a gun’ and for changing street names. (Yes because of course nobody had changed the names of those places once before from what they originally were, right?)
  • The decades old Assam Accord and the National Register of Citizens’ exercise to implement a Supreme Court order is reduced to ‘the largest voter disenfranchisement in recorded history’. (Yes maybe mention that those 4 million people include both Hindus and Muslims, and is based on a law passed back in the early 80’s by a certain Rajiv Gandhi?)

These are very potent statements to make – especially when you are being selective and are not providing any context. Reductionism can take any event, person or situation in history and simply portray it to stand for something – anything – that you want it to stand for. It is extremely dangerous when selective events are highlighted and only one perspective is propagated – thereby negating all evidence to the contrary. And that is exactly what HM has done here.

Guilt by Association

The final technique that Hasan Minhaj has used to achieve his objectives is guilt by association. This technique actually plays at a subtle level – because HM doesn’t explicitly STATE the existence of the connection he is making. But once he does connect one person or idea to another, the audience has already linked the two permanently – at a sub-conscious level. For instance, if there is a reference personality that most people are already familiar with, it is easy to simply link a very specific aspect or two between any given person and that reference personality with the ultimate implication being that the two are the same and share the same values. Like I said, the fact that the host is making the connection is never explicitly stated – which is why this plays at a subtle level making it that much more dangerous.

Let us see how he has used this technique in the episode:

  • HM shows a short compilation of Modi saying ‘India First’ (without context obviously). He says explicitly that this ‘India First’ quote is how Modi’s entire campaign can be best summed up in. (Seriously? I promise I had never heard Modi say ‘India First’ prior to this episode). Why? Because then he can directly connect Modi with the most hated man in the world right now – Donald Trump who ran on an ‘America First’ platform. (Yes, I know. What a profound and valid connection this is, right?)
  • And so, just like that, Hasan Minhaj reduced Modi to the same level as the world’s most hated man by simply connecting him with Trump – using the flimsiest of connections nonetheless. (But the people watching it don’t realize it do they? They have just been told that the Indian Prime Minister is another Trump)
  • He then says “Saying that Modi is like Trump would simply be reductive” – right after doing exactly that! Ah the audacity to pull that off!
  • Modi is then shown for his tendency to hug other world leaders – yes all world leaders. But who do you think HM shows Modi hugging? Yes you got it right – more of the most hated in the world in Putin, Erdogan, MBS and even Zuckerberg. Well it’s not like he has ever hugged someone like Obama, Tredeau, Macron, Abe, Pena Nieto ….. oh wait he has. Our illustrious host just chose not to use those pictures because, you know, that would mean showing Modi with all the right people. one-hug-at-a-time-pm-narendra-modis-taking-over-the-world-with-his-embrace
  • And then the clincher is when he makes the connection between Modi to the most hated figure of all time – Hitler. Because of course he had to find a way to do it, right? That would seal the deal in the audience’s subconscious opinions about him. Oh but how does he do it you ask? Well, let me explain:
    • He starts with Modi as running a ‘Hindu Nationalistic Party’ – whatever that means.
    • Then he goes on to connect Modi with the RSS which Modi credits for giving him his discipline and hard work. (This is the truth)
    • Then he goes on to declare the RSS primarily relies on MS Gowalkar’s A Bunch of Thoughts. He also states that the RSS has recently disavowed parts of that book. (Which it has – quite explicitly, with full explanation and context).
    • But then our host anyway goes ahead and calls the book ‘Mein Kampfy’ (by showcasing exactly 12 words nonetheless)!
  • And there you have it – the connection from Modi to Hitler.

Connecting Modi to the most hated people on this planet even with the most flimsy of ways is still a dangerous thing. This is because all this plays out at a subconscious level without the people watching it actually being aware of its effects on them.

You might say that I shouldn’t read too much into these small so-called connections, and that all this is just comedy. But that approach is not only naive, it is positively dangerous. A narrative is a narrative – regardless of who builds it, who propagates it or who consumes it. And Hasan Minhaj has used every single trick in his bag to propagate the same narrative that the Indian media has been throwing up the past 4-5 years. The only difference is that, this time, the audience is different. This time, the audience is the largely ignorant/unaware western population who will happily, without question, nod and agree to whatever it is he is saying. After all, he is Indian too right? (Well, no. He is not. He is an American – even if he says he is Indian).

This and the last 2 posts may have elaborated on how comedians like Hasan Minhaj utilize many techniques to propagate a narrative instead of facts, to unquestioning audiences, and do it all under the guise of comedy. But there is a much larger wheel in motion here. People like Hasan Minhaj are essentially nothing more than a cog in a much larger, well oiled machine that sets these narratives and ensures that it is the only narrative that is consumed by the masses. It would be incomplete and incorrect to simply look at what Hasan Minhaj did, point out all the flaws in his actions, and not look beyond.

In the next post, we will look at what this bigger machine consists of and why it works so well. And no, it is not some conspiracy theory. <Insert Rolling Eyes Emoji>