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>

Advertisements
Arbit, Arsenal, Bangalore, Chelsea, India, Manchester United, media, Mediocrity, My sense of Humour, Rant, Serious Writing

Narendra Modi reminds me of Manchester United

Being half way around the planet from all the NaMo and RaGa and MaBa and ArKe waves during the election campaign, I have had little to no direct exposure to the ground realities in India. All my ‘information’ came from Facebook status messages, newspaper headlines quoting politicians out of context, memes, satire posts on Faking News and some input from my parents who are seeing all this first hand in Bangalore. So in order to get real information, I have had to make additional effort to look through the biased media, read a very long list of ‘expert’ opinions on both sides of the story, find compilation of statistics on so many issues that are being debated and of course, frame my own opinion at the end. In any case, the general gist of what I am hearing is this:

Screw Mario. Here comes NaMo

There is this NaMo dude who is the Uber Dude and who is expected to simply win the next election. Then there is RaGa who is going all out to let people know he has an IQ less than Timmy. New kid on the block ArKe is trying all in his power to just play spoilsport. Didi MaBa just wants to run for elections. The Left parties – wait, do they still exist?

Already the next Prime Minister of India

The common thread running through all the bits and pieces of information I am getting is not regarding RaGa, ArKe or Didi. It is almost exclusively about NaMo. But before I get to that, a little bit of football.

When I started watching football, it took me a while to start supporting Chelsea. Everyone around me was either a Manchester United fan or an Arsenal fan. The Arsenal fans were mostly proud of the whole ‘youth development’ ideal that the club apparently stood for. All good. The Manchester United fans on the other hand were mostly proud of their trophy collection and were generally branded as glory hunters. I get it. Every fan wants the sport team he supports to win trophies on a regular basis. It is a very natural state of mind.

But what was different with United fans was the unquestioned glorification of the club and everything associated with it. Most of the fans were convinced that Manchester United was the only true club in England. They would quote the rich history associated with the club and also point to the massive trophy collection. They would also point to one Sir Alex Ferguson as a ruthless winner who would stop at nothing to win trophies – and all the fans were proud of his long tenure at the club. But it didn’t stop there. United was considered to be a team that was beyond criticism. Going a step further, no other team was considered to be a valid team to support. If you were new to football and were still looking for a team to choose to root for, you would be made to believe that you had no choice. You would be made to believe that Man United were the only team worth supporting and it was some kind of a default choice.

United was also the club which had the largest fan base (and still does) in India and Asia. There were definitely reasonable United fans here and there that I have gotten to know over the years but for the most part most of them were just plain cocky about it. They just refused to even entertain the idea that the club was anything less than just the best damn club on the planet. There would never be any admittance of any imperfections in any of the club’s aspects. Nobody could level any amount of criticism without getting a good amount of backlash from its supporters. Moreover, supporters of all other clubs were looked down upon as if they did not deserve to be a fan.

All this inevitably led to a lot of distaste among a lot of fans who supported other clubs – including myself. So much so, that there was a fair amount of hate brewing against United. These people were our friends who we got drunk with and whom I am still in touch with. But the dislike and hate that was brewing was directed more at the club than at the supporters. Sure the schadenfreude that we experienced whenever we saw United lose grew exponentially. But the important thing to note was the strict polarization that Manchester United’s image had created. You either fully embraced it and considered it to be the flawless club ever, or you considered that to be the most vile, cocky, exaggerated, pretentious, falsely publicized, all powerful, corrupt sports organization in the world. There was almost nothing in between. And all this was a creation not of the club. (I am sure the club wouldn’t have wanted it this way). But this big divide was really a creation of the supporters.

The Panacea all Indians have been waiting for

And now I see the same exact thing happening with NaMo in India. He is considered untouchable and beyond criticism from the eyes of his supporters. There is so much pro-Modi rhetoric that there seemed to be little that he could not accomplish. He is treated as the solution to all problems. There is not a single ounce of criticism that can be thrown at him without ten counter responses coming from his supporters. (In the eyes of the supporters, they feel they are right because they are offering the statistically proven, reasonable response to a guy who is just making wild accusations against Modi). He is considered to have zero imperfections and his supporters quote the ‘development’ that has taken place in Gujarat over the course of more than a decade as proof of his awesomeness. And just like United fans sing the ‘Glory Glory Man United’ chant, there is now also a NaMo NaMo (and many more apparently) chant/song that all the Modi supporters consider their war cry. There is even a Modi-Brigade that you can join by giving a missed call or something.

All this isolation from criticism, unquestioned glorification of his past achievements and a level of expectations never before associated with an Indian politician have inevitably generated a strong anti-Modi fan base – just like it happened with United. Endless arguments and debates – both online and offline, opinion pieces from every Tom, Dick, Harry and his brother-in-law, articles listing statistics that prove the point each side of the argument is trying to make (never mind that they contradict themselves) – all have contributed heavily to the strong polarization of the Modi image.

The Rise of the Indian Youth or the beginning of a new Hitler Youth – depending on whom you ask

 

You are either a strong supporter and think he is the panacea all Indians have been waiting for, or you think he is the nightmare scenario waiting to happen where he ends up becoming India’s Hitler creating a Hitler Youth organization equivalent and there will be a genocide in his first month in office. The stronger the isolation and glorification, higher is the criticism and hate. Higher the criticism and hate, more is the isolation and glorification. It is like a feedback loop which just feeds one off the other but they both grow in size and content. And just like United, all this is a making of the supporters. Modi for one would have never wanted this divide. Part of it, admittedly, can be attributed to the hate against the UPA Govt and our current impotent PM. But most of the responsibility of this rests on the supporters.

I suppose there is a cut off point beyond which there would be no significant growth of pro-Modi or anti-Modi rhetoric. Perhaps that point will be reached after he is elected PM. Or Not. I for one can only hope that his supporters and haters can get to a more reasonable level of opinion. The worst outcome of this would be an American styled Democrat-Republican divide.

If you have not been able to figure out yet, this post is nothing more than an observation. It is not a criticism, support or judgment of anyone involved – from the politicians to the avid supporters and haters. It is merely a perspective which I have been looking through for a while. A lot of Modi and Man United supporters will inevitably disagree with me and some will even offer detailed explanations of their disagreement which are supposed to be interpreted as their idea of reason. First of all, do check out this thing called the Backfire Effect. Secondly, if you have you gone as far as trying to dispute what I have pointed out, you have already proven my point. So just calm the fuck down and think about it for a while.

When did an Indian Politician ever become so cool that he had his own Merchandise?

In all seriousness, I personally want to see Modi in the PM office and am really curious what this guy is all about. And at this point, I offer no response to speculation or the possibility of a genocide happening in India as a result of his election. But really, considering his competition is a circus clown in a politician’s disguise…..

…well you get it.