Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Pied Piper Effect: Satyameva Jayate, Amir Khan, Anna Hazare etc

Sometimes I wonder who the rats were in the Pied Piper story. Maybe it was a metaphor for the stupid people who drowned by following another stupid person. 

My fundamental problem with these activist types is that they preach moral and ethical uprightness with no associated economic incentives. On the contrary an average citizen has a lot of incentives (economic and otherwise) to behave in a corrupt and unethical fashion. My strong belief is that any activism that attempts to create ethical awareness without an associated economic incentive will simply not work. The world has moved to a point where this is simply not feasible. 

What Amirgan and Anna are doing is improving their own brand value without any real use to society. The average citizen is schizophrenic. He will not do anything that is impractical for his life. But at the same time he claims to profess support for the values that Anna and Amir Khan preach. The average citizen's zeal for ethical behavior extends to meaningless and low-stake things like refusing to pay traffic police bribes or at best refusing to fudge house prices to reduce registration tax (the latter scenario is very rare). This is the average citizen's level of commitment to ethics. If you raise the stakes to a much higher level you will find that almost every single of these 'average citizen' will resort to corruption. The most vocal Anna Hazare supporter and all people who self-righteously boil over against corruption will resort to corruption if the stakes are high enough. Its just that they have poor self-awareness of this possibility.

Anna Hazare and Amir Khan are very similar beasts working for opposite teams. The strategies of both of them to find a place in people's hearts as champions of ethical behavior and social service saints. They start by pretending that they have no political affiliations. This is probably an effort to earn the trust of people. Then all they need to do is point the people to an easily identifiable political party. Identify that political party as the source of all evil. and people will not vote for that party. Anna Hazare was a little bit more open about his political affiliations and the uselessness of his campaign. A bland 'be good, do good,' type of ethical idealogy and a silly Gandhian posturing was unsustainable from the start. It was clear that he was a stealth political campaign to undermine the incumbent government. 

Amir Khan is slightly more subtle play by the incumbent government to undermine the opposition. His campaign is equally meaningless because he picks issues which have a clear black and white ethical structure,. On top of it he dumbs it down and then makes a melodrama out of it. All elements of marketing to female and elderly audience is found in his show. This is enough to bring in the whole family. Most issues are plain obvious and there is no subtlety whatsoever in his debates. No gray areas that can whip up a good debate. All his topics already have been addressed in a 15 minute black and white Films Division episode on it. Satyameva Jayate is different because Amir Khan is present and the modern yuppie has been told that its 'cool' to be an activist ("If Egyptians are cool, why shouldn't Indians be cool").   Its a marketing campaign. I suspect the first phase will market his brand and the second one will market the incumbent government. 

Question is : when will the incumbent government plan for this TV show to air an episode where they talk about Gujarat riots? When will they bring in the victims and ask them to narrate the gruesome story. In effect that would be the Narendra Modi + BJP dismantling episode. I suspect it would be closer to the Lok Sabha elections. But it may come sooner as well.

12 comments:

Alan Smithee said...

BJP dismantling episode will have limited/no bearing in the general elections. Most seats will be contested by the state party which is in the coalition and the dynamics will vary a lot. Besides amirgan will appeal to urban and semi-urban areas where people either don't vote or vote for the guy who gave steel sombu or kudam.

Srijith Unni said...

I don't really understand why you are cynical about 'Satyamev Jayate' or Aamir Khan. Whether the issues are black/ white doesn't matter. Majority of the problems in this country happen not due to lack of economic power / finance. It is due to lack of awareness. For instance in the recent SMJ episode two villages who are are nearby. One village knew about rain water harvesting and the other did not and was struggling. The show would help to spread awareness. There is so much of crap that we see on T.V. Why cant we accommodate this one weekly show. No one is calling Aamir Khan a god/activist, but within the sphere of entertainment, he has done what he could. What have we done to spread the word ?

I dont think the show has been to undermine the opposition at all in any way.In 50 years of government, the Cong has ruled more than the BJP. If at all we are still discussing these issues, it is because the Cong governments did not do their job well. I dont see the show having any political messages whatsoever.

The Raj said...

Maha peththal arguments against Aamir. Even if he has some hidden political backing, what his show has done is brought in a lot of awareness and empathy to the causes he espouses in his show. So what if he makes money or improves his brand value in the process? I would rather have him earn this way than by hosting yet another stupid reality quiz show like Surya. And in a lot of topics like say, honor killings, he has heard out both sides patiently, rather than taking a lopsided position on them rightaway and sounding righteous and preachy.
Topics like buying generic drugs, child abuse which have been largely ignored or overlooked in TV before have now reached a widespread audience. Heck it even has helped in its small way to enable the parliament to pass an act on child offence. Medical associations have been taken to task for their malpractices.If he doesnt do another episode he has already done more(than any other celebrity) to bring awareness to these issues to the TV-watching middle class and forcing them to look in the mirror and squirm in discomfort over a lot of things they take for granted.
I dont care if Aamir even comes out tomorrow and declares that he is contesting for the Congress.That doesnt take away whatever he has done so far.

Venkat Hari said...

this is a superb read, but pure fiction. There are 2 things that I can think of that invalidate the political affiliation theory :
Anna Hazare has been doing this activism thing for a while now, it's just now gone global because it stuck a chord, purely by luck IMO.
Aamir Khan wouldn't risk alienating his fan base by discussing something as controversial as the Gujarat riots..

By your own observation for anything to gain acceptance or work, there needs to be appropriate economic incentive - the same token applies to Aamir Khan too. The way I'd like to see it is that his show is creating awareness albeit in a prescribed way..A more plausible theory is that he's under pressure to retain a certain image he has cultivated... i'm willing to bet that if no star had done a game show, then Aamir would have jumped at it, but now there is that pressure to look 'different'..

Anonymous said...

The Raj:

There is a fundamental problem with celebrity activism. They don't have to bear the brunt of the consequences of their activism. Example: celebrities love tree-hugging, want conservation, want more government/taxation, hate oil-drilling in the Arctic and fight "climate change." If they have their way it will make life difficult for the commoner in terms of basic comforts and expenses. Of course the celebs are insulated from these real life problems. Well and good for Amirgaan to call for a ban on pesticides. If that were implemented food production will come down, costs will rise. You and I will starve but Amirgaan will import pizza from Amrikka.

Rich celebrities are out of touch with the beliefs/experiences of the common man. They are also under peer pressure to conform to certain popular/populist beliefs/stance which might be at odds with the commoner. The costs of not doing so will impact his/her brand, image, business and success. We don't even know if what they say is what they believe. So the list is Untouchability, Sati, casteism, social medicine (not talking about generic medicine here), Jai Kisan and other repeat questions in the celebrity exam question paper of 50 years.

Trivia: Name one Hollywood celebrity who does not celebrate Earth Day or is not an atheist. Now imagine explaining Earth Day to a resident of Neikaaraville, South Carolina/Neikarapatti, Tamil Nadu and atheism to the 50% of the U.S. population who say Grace at the dining table. (Mel Gibson isn't particularly well-regarded in Celebland.)

The benefits of a celebrity raising awareness are outweighed by the consequences of misguided activism, not the least because the celebrity is insulated from real-life problems. A lot of money and some cocaine changes belief systems, perspectives and priorities. If you are not a log in the pond you won't understand other logs in the pond. Amirgaan got the government to restricy manual scavenging. Now what happens to the people who make a living out of it? Did the manual scavengers really want this? Probably not. Delhi folks can boycot Sivakasi pattaasu because it involves child labor. The American with armpit hair and no deodrant can boycott Wal-Mart because of the work conditions in China. But what happened to those worker families? Aren't they worse off than before?

Will Amirgaan talk about honor killings in Muslim families which is part of the Islamic package? He picks low- hanging fruit and non-controversial topics. He is the Harsha Bhogle of awareness television. My guess is Amirgaan will also talk about pollution, global warming, climate change and other topics not immediately/imminently relevant to the common man but only to the elite. The celebrity has a tendency to drive 'left' and merge into Sec-Lib-Gov hegemony highway. Amirgaan is no exception. He also has an ulterior motive I think (untouchability = Hinduism, Islam = Awesome)

SMJ has made idiotic movies like 3 Idiots and Lagaan look like Einstein classics, if only by comparison. That is the only tangible achievement of this show.

-S

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous - S,

Maha peththal arguments!!

//celebrities love tree-hugging, want conservation // which benefits everyone not just the celebs

//, want more government/taxation, // for higher income groups

//hate oil-drilling in the Arctic // lets preserve the world for our future generation - your line of thinking is more clearly reflected in this //Amirgaan got the government to restricy manual scavenging. Now what happens to the people who make a living out of it? Did the manual scavengers really want this? Probably not // your concern for the manual scavenger's livelihood makes me puke


//and fight "climate change." // let me guess "climate change" is a hoax!!


//Delhi folks can boycot Sivakasi pattaasu because it involves child labor. The American with armpit hair and no deodrant can boycott Wal-Mart because of the work conditions in China. But what happened to those worker families? Aren't they worse off than before? // so let them muck in this sh!t, don't do/say anything since that might improve someone's life for better

//Will Amirgaan talk about honor killings in Muslim families which is part of the Islamic package?// is this sh!t not happening in no other religion? do you read any magazines/new papers published in Tamilnadu? Also are you for the celeb's activism along Amirgaan is talking about honor killing? I think you would like Amirgaan to talk honor killing in one particular religion not in general.

//He also has an ulterior motive I think (untouchability = Hinduism, Islam = Awesome)// I think you've your own reason to hate SMJ, irrespective of what is in HW's post

I said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karikala Cholan said...

Anon above,

"I think you've your own reason to hate SMJ, irrespective of what is in HW's post" - this doesn't mean anything here. It's not required that S respond only to what is there in the post. This is a straight fact S is saying - Ameergaan will not risk the wrath of his clansmen and talk about the muck inside tuluks. Stop talking pseudo-secular sh**.

\D. said...

Whats this guys problem..no not AmirGanss ,Iam talking about Hawkeye....

First things first ...I am not AG fan/celebrity hugging types

Second like Unni above says the show helps to spread awareness.Hawkeye,in a previous blog of yours you put up a video of child abuse to help kids.Amirgan does a similar video on the show too..but unlike the video on the
blog which reaches a handful this one reaches thousands may be millions...so he has an impact/reach which most of us don't,so let him do what he's doing and earn fame and money in the process if he does..

End of the day ,I understand you're whole thing is he says all this preaches stuff but does nonsense at the back...blah blah.This is what I dont get...
Again same analogy, you wrote about child abuse but again if you go to India you may pay a bribe,involve in corruption whatever...and AmirGaan spoke abt child abuse and may pay bribes too.So how is he a hypocrite and you not.Also why cant you pay a bribe(which is absolutely survival and not wrong anymore in India) and talk about social issues together,how does one negate the other..

The guy is not preaching any values per se, he is talking about ways we can think differntly about social
issues or more importantly brining some of them to light, there is a difference...

His talk on the the whole how wedding is a life event and not just an event made someone not spend atrocious and obnoxious amounts of money on RMKV and Joy Alukkas for their wedding instead they picked someone in need and gave it away.

We all need such checks and call outs in life coz we lesser mortals and not Mahaan like you.

Also what do our movies do for us... mostly nothing but still we follow them like madness,how is that crazy following(which has ultimately no meaning) for people who provide hourly entertainment any better than following a show or someone who has a potential to change how we function as a society .Why is that idiotic start struck Pied Piperness ok??

Ok lets assume that this guy has a big super duper scheme for doing all this(marketing,campaign,politics ,cash,fame,following whatever..) ...so BE IT.Atleast someone somewhere is benefitting from it
and getting aware abt things they didnt know and it holds a promise for change...even if its the smallest.

The reason I am saying this here is ...you need to think abt this whole AG/SJ show bashing you keep doing coz...
fortunately or unfortunately many people read your blog and they'll think "Oh HEye is so cool he's found a hole/solved the greatest mystery of the underlying "scheme of AmirGaan when the whole nation is goin gaga" and they'll start this whole Anti SJ/Amirgaan thing and ofcourse spread it around to appear more cool with a "you
know we also dont care for Aamir or the show SMJ" and if this stupidity multiples then the few people who were viewing and getting least bit aware of things from the show may drop out too...what to do peer pressure to appear/be cool is a horrendous beast!

The Raj said...

"There is a fundamental problem with celebrity activism. They don't have to bear the brunt of the consequences of their activism. Example: celebrities love tree-hugging, want conservation, want more government/taxation, hate oil-drilling in the Arctic and fight "climate change." If they have their way it will make life difficult for the commoner in terms of basic comforts and expenses. Of course the celebs are insulated from these real life problems. Well and good for Amirgaan to call for a ban on pesticides. If that were implemented food production will come down, costs will rise. You and I will starve but Amirgaan will import pizza from Amrikka.
"

You are giving way less credit to Aamir Khan for his show. He has done his research and thought through most of the problems, maybe more than you and the others here bitching about him. If you notice he doesnt exactly indulge in what you call "celebrity activism", the kind that we see in Hollywood, about driving electric cars to prevent global warming and such stuff. He talks about practical problems arising out of social evils and societal neglect in his shows and tries to present reasonable solutions for those problems which include real life successes handling those problems which are presented as case studies. Not sure why you would have a problem with that.
It is unfortunate that it takes a film star to catch our politicians' attention when a lot of activists have been lamenting about these same issues for a long time. But then, that is not Aamir's problem.

Rahul said...

i heard the next issue he is going to deal with is polygamy including lust for re-marriage and freedom to divorce in islam. he will also deal in detail the shariya and unwanted power rested in ulema's. the next version of the show is titled 'haq ki fatah' as opposed to hindu-ized 'satyamev jayate'. he will take on his own people head on and might even take the fight across border to pakistan. the actor told reliable sources that he would prefer the tunnel route his brethren paved recently.

Aravamudan said...

C'mon H'eye, you could do better than such biased bashing!

The idea of creating awareness on widely spread social issues doesn't mean all people watching are transformed to an elevated state of personal ethics ovenight. On the contrary, if even a tiny percent of the audience thinks twice the next time before performing certain tasks that they would have done without any hesitation before - it means the message has been communicated. But change?! It will not be total, but at a personal level for only a minor percent of the populace.

Even after the likes of Buddha and Jesus the entire humanity hasn't been transformed to higher beings at a personal level! The world is still what it is - a mix of good and bad! Aamir Khan is but a small drop in our ocean and is not among that line of messengers...but it appears that he is doing his bit to at least do some good!

I, for one am not going to ask you if you have done yours (for its none of my business) - however, I could ask you to at least remove those yellow glasses before peering into the world!

Like I said at the beginning, H'eye could do better without that colored vision of the world!