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.
- The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy
- 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.