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Putting on a show to keep people engaged

The misogynistic memes and cartoons which are taking the virtual walls by storm emphasise a deeply annoying truth about our present society, i.e., the rot has reached the root.


Corruption, investigation, money laundering, arrest, bail etc. have become as mundane as taking a couple of biscuits with a cup of tea in the morning. But what those sensational incidents and events lacked was the spectacle quotient. Etymologically, spectacle stems from the Latin spectaculum meaning ‘a show’. To put it in simple terms, spectacle denotes an unusually splendorous and engrossing enactment of an incident or episode. Aristotle described spectacle as one of the six constituent elements of any tragedy. Since tragedy was synonymous with drama during Aristotle’s time, the literary formulation of spectacle can be safely interpreted as an essential part of drama. True dramatic effect can hardly be achieved without generating a series of spectacular moments and images within drama. These spectacles were the cynosures of entertainment, especially to groundlings, in Shakespearean drama too.

In modern times, political parties have hijacked the concept of spectacle from the theatrical world and have used it to perfection to beguile the masses by presenting series of carnivalesque moments and images before them, thereby deflecting their attention from real political issues. This time around, for a change, the Enforcement Directorate seems to be determined to unfox the fox. The ED, it seems, has stolen the idea of spectacle and is currently hell-bent on outsmarting politicians by presenting a series of carnivalesque images, in the form of systematically taken photos of cash mountains and other valuables, before the public, probably with the objective of giving them the shock of their life. The electronic media, which thrives on sensation, wasted no time in creating a bigger carnival by overenthusiastically adding the sexual quotient to the existing spectacle of exposed corruption. They know well that “sextacle” has the highest buyer in any semi-literate society. The most deplorable part of this whole process is it equates women with material possessions, thereby denying their human agency for definite political purpose.

The misogynistic memes and cartoons which are taking the virtual walls by storm emphasise a deeply annoying truth about our present society, i.e., the rot has reached the root. Objectification of women is nothing new in our society. The culture industry plays an important role in promoting the image of women as sellable products. Most of the popular ads directly or indirectly compare goods with the female body and the language used therein is deeply misogynistic. Identical adjectives are used for both material goods and female body to make latent sensual appeal to the viewers, with the commercial motive of seducing the male viewer to lust for (not wish for) the product. As we all know, possession is invariably connected to power and power manifests itself through manly images and masculine language. The unthinkable success of the popular taglines like “men will be men” uncovers the closeted truth that the reality of patriarchal power, as well as the myth of male supremacy, heavily depends on man’s ability to first turn women into buyable commodities and then showcase his power through the vulgar exhibition of those commodities. zThe more one exhibits, the quicker his ‘manly power’ is established.

Thus, beauty and the beast are inseparable from each other. In fact, power of the beast is attested by the presence of beauty around him. The beast appears more powerful and glamorous if the beauty is a former Miss Universe, or at least a former actress in the Odisha film industry. But the problem is elsewhere. The world of politics operates quite differently and speaks a different language. What works as a Midas touch for others may prove the politician’s nemesis anytime. Since the image of a political party or a political personality is built upon popular perceptions, their reputation and even entire career may be in ruins in an instant if popular perceptions change drastically. Therefore, most of the political parties, especially those that are in power, try everything to legitimise corruption, so that people do not feel too bothered about the issue.

As I have said in the beginning, spectacles enthral people. They create dramatic moments, melodramatic too. The dramatic exhibition of the illegal treasure trove has successfully produced one such spectacular moment. From there the electronic media took over and transformed the spectacular image into a sensual narrative. The television screens of almost all news channels got divided into two equal halves, the image of the treasure trove is put in one half and the short and sensual videos of the lady in the other, clearly equating the woman with the treasure trove. Media knows well that this deadly combo never fails with the public, especially in a patriarchal society where people equate women with everything negative and hold them responsible for all disasters.

In such cases, collective anger is wrongly channelised against the woman alone, whereas it should have been directed against the system that nurtures such criminals. So long as the incident remains a sensational one, power won’t mind. In fact, power would arrange for adding further sensations to the existing narrative to keep the public busy in extracting maximum pleasure out of the episode. More memes, more relief to the rulers. Having said that, memes, parodies, satires etc. can be used as effective virtual tools to influence popular perceptions by way of questioning power through them, but they must not be used to vent out collective anger. Collective anger must be reserved for the real political struggle. Rhetoric must be translated into action.