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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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)

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>

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

On Hasan Minhaj’s Episode on Indian Elections: An Exercise in Narrative Building

Note: This is the second 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. 

Over the past 5-6 years, there has been a significant change and growth in how comedy in the United States and the world overall is perceived. It all inevitably goes back to Jon Stewart (and Stephen Colbert to some extent) and the way he used his Daily Show as a vehicle to provide commentary on what was happening in society. The show was supposed to be a comedy show, and make no mistake, it was funny. But few would contest that it ultimately was a vehicle to deliver political and social commentary in a way no person had done before on that scale. Under the Jon Stewart umbrella, a bunch of comedians took root with small segments in the Daily Show. Over time, many of them grew out of that umbrella and started their own shows. The most well known are of course John Oliver, Samantha Bee and Hasan Minhaj. Trevor Noah is of course continuing the Daily Show in a much similar style and structure to Jon Stewart.

I have personally enjoyed the shows of all those I have stated above, though I have not been able to watch all of them (they have been airing for years after all). I particularly enjoyed Hasan Minhaj’s monologue at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2017 (and found Michelle Wolf’s follow up in 2018 absolutely disgusting). So when I found out recently that he had his own show on Netflix, I was quite excited. The episodes are structured much like John Oliver’s show with a main theme for each episode (minus the ‘recap’ of other things). The initial episodes were all funny and provided some new information on things I was previously not aware of. They all had a predictably liberal slant and I went along with all the Trump roastings. (I mean, can you even make a living as a comedian in the US without roasting Trump?)

But when I watched the episode on the Indian Elections with my wife, I kind of knew what was coming. It was actually highly predictable in terms of content, structure and narration. Content aside, first of all, neither of us actually found it funny. (OK the only time I laughed out loud was with his Suge Knight reference). And as far as content goes, the show was really nothing more than a 20 odd minute summary of things we Indians have been hearing in the Indian media for the last 5 years. And much like Slumdog Millionaire, this episode is not at all representative of the ground reality in India. Instead, much like the movie, it propagates a specific pre-determined narrative – one that has been incessantly propagated by the Indian and (to some extent) the Western media for the last 5-6 years. The essence of the narrative goes something like this:

The BJP is a Hindu Nationalistic party (with nobody defining and/or elaborating on what that actually stands for) headed by a right wing ideologue (Modi) which aims to work only for the Hindu population in India. Minorities in India are at a tremendous risk just because they are non-Hindus. This has resulted in people being killed regularly for being a minority or for eating beef. India has become a lawless state because of this government. The RSS is the parent organization of the BJP and it stands for complete and violent expulsion/subjugation of non-Hindus. People calling for the disintegration of the country are the true patriots who should be elected. Terrorist actions should be sympathized with and our military action should be criticized. Demonetization is the absolute worst thing to happen to the country ever. And Rahul Gandhi is the next avatar of Krishna.

To say that there is absolutely zero truth in this narrative would obviously be incorrect. But at the end of the day, it is still just that – a narrative, not the reality. And when a narrative is repeated a million times over the course of several years, it eventually is perceived as the truth and reality. And that is the same boat that Hasan Minhaj is riding on in his episode on the Indian Elections.

But to say that he is sticking to a pre-established narrative simplifies all the nuances that has gone into the making of the episode. In this post, I do not intend to point out the false claims or the mischaracterization of events and numbers (that are sufficient in number for sure!).  Instead, I am going to elaborate on the TECHNIQUES he uses to achieve his objective.

At the crux of the episode – like most media outlets – 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 garbage 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

We discussed what the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy is in my previous post. In the interest of keeping my posts short and focused, I will discuss the other two techniques in more detail in the next post.

America, Bad Journalism, divided states of america, Fake News, media, Mediocrity, Movies, Thoughts

On Hasan Minhaj’s Episode on Indian Elections: The ‘Slumdog Millionaire Effect’

When I first moved to the United States back in August 2009, I had to confront a surprising and rather unsettling situation. I found that many Americans and students from Europe were asking me eerily similar questions about where I was from. These were not questions about how I was coping in a new country, or how I was handling the culture shock. Instead these were questions along the lines of “Is it true that there are no toilets in India?”, or “Do you guys have banks in India?”, or “Is it very dangerous to live in a big city in India? How about the rural areas?”, or “Do you have cars and other technology over there?”.

When I was first asked these questions, I had no clue how to respond to them. I didn’t even have a clue as to WHY this person I had just met was asking such denigrating questions about my home country. But the truth was that none of these questions were ever asked in a condescending manner at all. On the contrary, the people asking me this always showed a genuine sense of curiosity. When I eventually found out the reason why so many Americans and Europeans were asking me these questions, I was flabbergasted. The reason why these questions came up was Danny Boyle’s 2008 movie Slumdog Millionaire.

In case you haven’t seen this movie, Slumdog Millionaire is about a kid from the Mumbai slums who grows up being the victim of almost every aspect of India’s dark underbelly. It documents what he went through and culminates with him winning a million dollars in a game show. It was marketed as a rags to riches story, but in reality that theme was just a vehicle to reinforce every single pre-existing stereotype the Western world has about the third world in general – and specifically India. Some of the things shown in the movie include child prostitution, forced begging, open toilets, religious riots, rape, blinding of children, call centers, etc.

slumdog-millionaire-kids

After the movie won the Best Movie at the Oscars, it predictably got a lot of additional publicity and a lot more people made the effort to watch it – especially in the western world. And so whenever I met an American or a European who had watched the movie, I was typically asked questions like the ones above. And it was not just me. Most of my fellow Indian friends have gone through this same experience.

Yes these are not appropriate or even the correct questions to ask someone. What I realized though, was that I was being asked these questions by Americans not out of condescension, but out of an actual lack of knowledge about India. Essentially, Slumdog Millionaire was the ONLY mainstream representation these people had about India. Predictably, those whose opinion about India was only based on this movie were the ones asking those questions – and they were doing so out of pure curiosity and fascination.

Needless to say, Slumdog Millionaire is not at all representative of India as a country. Make no mistake – all those things shown in the movie do exist and they do impact a lot of people. But by deliberately showing ONLY the dark underbelly of a country, there is a conscious building of a narrative – one which dictates that the dark underbelly IS the country. And THAT is not at all acceptable. Imagine if a movie is made about America focusing ONLY on the school shootings, opioid crisis, police brutality, crime in low income neighborhoods, racism in the deep south, widespread obesity, big corporations controlling the population and the elections, and an extremely divided country with one set of people hating the other. And if this movie is the ONLY mainstream representation of America in a foreign country, would Americans consider it fair? Probably not. Such a movie would again just take the dark underbelly of a country and portray it to be EVERYTHING there is to know about the country. And that is simply an incorrect portrayal.

texassharpshooter

And that right there is what I call the “Slumdog Millionaire Effect”. This is a classic manifestation of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. This is what happens when the spotlight is put on a select few aspects of a situation and the audience’s understanding of the entire situation is thus limited to just what is shown in the spotlight. It is a dangerous technique but one that is widely used in today’s society – especially in the media. 

Which brings me to Hasan Minhaj and his Patriot Act episode about the upcoming Indian Elections on Netflix. In a nutshell, Hasan Minhaj has used the same techniques that Danny Boyle used to portray India. But just labeling it as an example of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy would hide all the other (more important) deep seated issues that the episode is symptomatic of. And that will be the focus of the next post.

America, Bad Journalism, Dudeism, Fake News, media, Mediocrity, Serious Writing, Thoughts

What ‘The Big Lebowski’ Teaches Us About Media Bias

In one of the most enduring scenes that ever came out of Hollywood cinema, there lies a rather deep hidden meaning. It becomes painfully obvious once you see through it. And when you do, you will appreciate the script and the context that much more. The scene is from the movie The Big Lebowski and features Jeff Bridges and John Goodman.

Here is the context (SPOILERS ahead!):

The Dude has failed in the task entrusted to him by an old billionaire. The task is to deliver a large amount of ransom money in exchange for Bunny – the trophy wife of the said billionaire. He has instead lost that money and the old man castigates him for his ineptitude by showing him the consequences of his failure – which involves a toe that is  believed to belong to the said kidnapping victim. Disappointed with himself and worried about the victim, The Dude then ‘discusses’ the situation with his buddy Walter Sobchak. Here it is in full:

WALTER
That wasn’t her toe.

DUDE
Whose toe was it, Walter?

WALTER
How the fuck should I know? I do
know that nothing about it indicates–

DUDE
The nail polish, Walter.

WALTER
Fine, Dude. As if it’s impossible
to get some nail polish, apply it to
someone else’s toe–

DUDE
Someone else’s–where the fuck are
they gonna–

WALTER
You want a toe? I can get you a
toe, believe me. There are ways,
Dude. You don’t wanna know about
it, believe me.

DUDE
But Walter–

WALTER
I’ll get you a toe by 3 o’ clock–with nail polish. These
fucking amateurs. They send us a
toe, we’re supposed to shit our-
selves with fear. Jesus Christ. My
point is–

DUDE
They’re gonna kill her, Walter, and
then they’re gonna kill me–

WALTER
Well that’s just, that’s the stress
talking, Dude. So far we have what
looks to me like a series of
victimless crimes–

DUDE
What about the toe?

WALTER
FORGET ABOUT THE FUCKING TOE!

Essentially, the Dude has come to believe that the toe that is shown to him by Jeffrey Lebowski (the Billionaire) does indeed belong to ‘Bunny’ – the Billionaire’s wife – the apparent victim of a kidnapping. But Walter is clearly having none of it. He firmly believes that the toe is another in a series of ‘victimless crimes’ that are done by ‘fucking amateurs’! (Of course, in the end Walter turns out to be spot on!)

Which all brings us to a simple question.

Why did the Dude believe that the toe did indeed belong to Bunny? 

On the face of it, the apparent ‘proof’ consisted not of direct evidence of the identity of the victim, but instead consisted of an indicator – one which needs to be taken at face value without questioning in order to arrive at the suggested conclusion – that the toe does indeed belong to Bunny. It is this very ‘indicator’ nature of the evidence that Walter Sobchak questions and confidently declares that he could generate the same evidence by 3 o’ clock that same day (with nail polish!)!

The Dude believed the initial assertion (that Bunny was harmed because of his ineptitude in not delivering the money) not because of the ‘proof’ (a severed toe) that was presented to him. Instead, he started off by taking the initial assertion at face value without questioning, and then used the ‘proof’ to confirm this belief. The narrative was setup in such a way for the Dude that he just assumed the initial assertion was true and perceived whatever ‘proof’ he was then presented to simply confirm this assertion – even if that ‘proof’ was simply ‘indicative’ in nature.

Now where else have we all seen this? Where have we seen a topic being presented in such a way that it makes an assertion first and then uses primarily ‘indicative’ evidence to backup its claims?

There are a good number of ‘news’ websites and print media that utilize this very technique to sell stories and content. Many headlines from such organizations are usually articles involving a recent quote by a personality of some significance, or one or two facts that include numbers. This is then typically followed by a description of the context. But there is a sub-category here. This group of articles contain something more. It is usually subtle, but it is there nonetheless.

These articles contain a narrative that interpret the said development in a very specific way. And they do this not by offering any hard facts, but by providing evidence that are at best ‘indicative’ in nature. These articles usually contain a catchy headline that typically signals something to be feared or worried about. The article then starts off by repeating the assertion made in the headline in a more elaborate manner. Then it goes on to the actual quote or fact(oid) which typically forms a very minor part of the full article. Then the article attempts to reference previous similar developments in an effort to forge an apparent pattern – all spelling doom to varying degrees. Then the article goes on to make statements that involve the use of modal verbs such as ‘may’, ‘can’, ‘might’, ‘could’ indicating the possibility of further bad news. And then, finally, at the end of it all, to tie it all together (I had to obviously use the pun!) and to bring a sense of authenticity and confirmation to their idle speculations, they ‘reveal the toe’!

The ‘toe’ typically involves a quote by someone directly unrelated to the actual development, but one who holds a position of some significance in some industry, academia or organization that would entitle him/her to have opinions on the matter under consideration. The bigger the said person’s significance/position, higher the level of authenticity that is perceived to be on the speculations. It is important to note that these quotes are not something that is made by these persons out of their own volition without being specifically asked for. This is almost always a situation where the quotes are actively sought out by the person writing the article, and these quotes are then included in the article to provide a sense of truth and authenticity (and general concern) to the speculative inferences/statements made preceding them. (They send us a toe, we’re supposed to shit ourselves with fear.) In a sense, the person writing the article has already built a narrative (without many facts to support them) and then looks for quotes from ‘experts’ or ‘analysts’ to corroborate the same. Of course, nowadays, these ‘experts’ are dime a dozen. (You want a toe? I can get you a toe, believe me.) So it is another question altogether whether every single ‘expert’ he/she contacts provides quotes that corroborate their narrative, or if he/she only includes those experts’ quotes that does corroborate their speculation.

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See this Dec 25th article on CNN Money about Brexit for a good demonstration of the above idea. Also go to this Dec 13th article by the same writer on the same topic where he appears to have some information that doesn’t necessarily support the narrative in the article in the Dec 25th article. Also observe how he has cleverly left out those pieces of information in the Dec 25th article.

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So at the end of it all, it is simply a case of the writer making an initial speculative assertion and then ‘revealing the toe’ to backup their claims. So the question you, as a reader, have to ask is, “Am I being presented actual proof based on hard facts, or am I being ‘shown the toe’?” If you suspect the latter, then you know the ‘news article’ is nothing more than clickbait garbage. If it is the product of actual investigative journalism, then you will probably see a lot more information in the form of hard facts backing up the said claims. It is up to you to actively seek out the difference.

In this day and age of information/noise overload, if you even mildly suspect that you are being ‘shown the toe’, then it very likely is indeed just garbage. You should then be wary of any article from that particular source of ‘news’. This is a very simple and practical approach to consuming news media today and to distance ourselves away from fake news, pre-determined narratives, and idle speculation masquerading as truth. And if enough people do this on a regular basis, then we might still have some hope left for humanity’s progress.

Arsenal, Chelsea, Fake Football News, Fake News, Football, My sense of Humour, Rant, Satire

Football Fan Wants All Teams to Play Attacking Football All The Time

Saying that he was bored to death after watching the Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea match, local football fan decided that he wants all teams to play attacking football all the time. He said that his decision was largely influenced by how Chelsea ‘parked the bus’ for the entire game and didn’t let Atletico Madrid score a single goal, thereby gaining a very valuable draw in the away leg of the Champions League Semi Final.

Football Fan deeply dissatisfied with Chelsea successfully parking the bus against all top attacking teams in Europe

“I cannot imagine how bad the game was. It was like watching paint dry. Chelsea just parked the bus and did not let Atleti to create any clear cut chances! They just could not breach Chelsea’s defense! That is just simply unacceptable from Chelsea! They should not be allowed to do that!” he said while expressing outrage about the scoreless draw.

The football fan now wants all teams to be required to play attacking football because “that is what is most entertaining and creates a lot of goals!”.

“It is not right to play a defensive game even if the team is playing away from home. Always attack attack attack!”

The self proclaimed Bayern Munich fan then went on to give examples of clubs like Barcelona and Bayern Munich who generally have a lot of possession and are always shown to be attacking the ball. “I was always supporting Barcelona. They were my passion. But then after last season’s semi final when they lost 8-0 on aggregate to Bayern Munich, I just started getting attracted to Bayern somehow. Now I just support Bayern. They are the best team in the world because they keep playing attacking football all the time! It is real great to watch them.” Digressing from the topic a bit, he then went on to criticize how fans who previously supported Chelsea changed their allegiance to Man City after City started spending and winning more titles.

Football Fan insists that is the only way to go and nothing else is acceptable

When asked to elaborate about why all teams should play the same style of football, he said “I mean, who wants to watch teams with different styles of football and hailing from different football cultures – aerially dominating, long ball tactics, physical game play, counter attacking tactics, extremely defensive formations stifling the opponent’s attack, parking the bus – pitted against each other? Really, who wants to watch those styles of play going up against each other? All I want to see is two possession based teams who pass the ball a lot and create opportunities from through balls or cut-ins. Everything else is just boring!”

He went a step further and said that the players should not feel proud if they win by playing any other style of football and that if a free-passing team such as Bayern Munich or Barcelona loses, they should always feel proud of sticking to their brand of football. “Take the Barcelona – Chelsea semi final 2nd leg at the Nou Camp in 2012. I am sure that at the end of the day, all Barcelona players and fans were celebrating with pride how they never abandoned their philosophy and played with it right to the end of them getting knocked out! Never mind the fact that with practically 100% possession in the second half, Barcelona were able to generate only ONE meaningful shot on target with those tactics. I am just proud that they kept maintaining possession and passing the ball around aimlessly while Chelsea did not give them even an inch of space for a through ball. Chelsea do not deserve any credit for their performance that day at all – even if it was with ten men”.

Football fan feels Torres’ goal against Barcelona should make all Chelsea fans feel extremely ashamed of themselves

Among recent games, he pointed to the way Arsenal lost 6-0 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. “Hats off to Arsenal for not at all changing any of their tactics or style of football while playing away against a top counter attacking team in all of Europe! Arsene Wenger deserves a lot of credit for sticking with his attacking free flowing possession based football away from home against Chelsea. The final score line doesn’t matter at all! The important thing is that Arsenal did not stop playing their brand of football right to the end. I am sure that all Arsenal players and fans were extremely proud about that and celebrated like they won a trophy or something!”

In the end, the fan said that tactics do not mean anything if it does not involve free flowing attacking football. “The only tactics that makes a game good to watch are those that get employed in a possession based attacking game. Everything else is just simply unacceptable. Shame on all the teams who employ other tactics to beat possession based attack minded teams! If you want to beat them, beat them with free passing tiki-taka football which is very impressive to watch. Otherwise, just don’t play and bore us with defensive displays stifling even the best attacking teams in Europe! That is just unacceptable!”