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Home > 2020 > ‘Warnography’: Frenzy Media, Frantic World | Navneet Sharma and Khem Raj (...)

Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 27, New Delhi, June 20, 2020

‘Warnography’: Frenzy Media, Frantic World | Navneet Sharma and Khem Raj Sharma

Saturday 20 June 2020

by Navneet Sharma and Khem Raj Sharma

“The surest way to become a pacifist is to join the infantry.”—William H. Mauldin

War is an extreme aggression and destruction leading to mortality. It is only a masculine response to economic, political, geographical, religious and cultural conflicts. No war is fought for the sake of war but for peace or for the control over the ability to disturb peace. War is an economic enterprise. It benefits an ideology to be in perpetual state of war. The arms industry and profit mongering survive on the spate of fear and insecurity among people. The political compulsions of the governments at helm also contribute to the idea that war is at door or we are at war. In an era, when mass media rules our lives; and decision or choice making ability 24X7 being in tizzy favours commerce and commercialization.

In a war carpe diem (seize the day) is the aim. This is to support quick and random (and heroic/adventurous!) decision to sweep all enemies in a day. Similarly, in creating a war-like situation, veer-ras is eulogised to glorify the edifice of courage, bravery and nationalism, ethnicity or a particular religion. The usage of this emotion in mass media or popular culture is what that leads us to warnography—semantically equivalent to pornography—intended to stimulate our fear, insecurity, and simultaneously our heroic nationalistic sentiment. The media and medium for expressing this emotion has been there in different forms in high culture like paintings and poetry, but in popular culture it takes a subversive form to titillate the viewer and create the fuzzy excitement. We are not concerned about the literary, cinematic or fictional piece of works about war but the area of concern is the content and depiction on news channels. Amongst hundreds of channels looming into our most private recesses of drawing rooms and bedrooms, news channels have a distinct reputation wherein we consider the content shown and depiction as authentic and truthful.

In context of recent ‘surgical strikes’ and ‘muscular’ government at the centre, many news channels have gone overboard in talking about war. The Indian TV scenario is no different from other nations. The media coverage of invasion of Iraq and Syrian war has already generated lots of controversies around pro-war barons like Rupert Murdoch and WikiLeaks. The Gulf War in the early 1990s got the world the first glimpse of war and future warfare. It was akin to video-game war but the real people died. Similarly, the Kargil War became the first ‘live’ war in South Asia. Media coverage of the Kargil as‘action pack weeks’ generated its own share of empathy for military and disgust for faceless anonymous enemy as the ‘other’ side kept denying that they are at war.

For news channels when they cannot ‘cover’ the news they create news. From ‘bijli baba’ (the saint who gives electric shock) to ‘Prince in a pit’, media definitely walks theextra mile. We are not in the frame and mood of making a commentary like ‘Peepli Live’. But post ‘surgical strike’ and Doklam standoff many news channels have made it a point to raise the question: “When is the war?” Some news channels have gone from this question to another: “What if there is a war?” Pakistan bashing became the favourite news item. Border disputes with China and Nepal amidst Covid-19 pandemic has turned many anchors out in their army fatigues. One of the news channel reporter started giving news from a ‘bunker’—the one in the studio itself. Anchors of news channels turned up in army dresses and studio was also camouflaged to give a border area depiction. One of the channels went on to compare the arsenal stock-pile of all these nations, and declared boisterously that Pakistan can be swiped off from the earth by India in minutes. How and when both countries would rush to use their nuclear weapons was also forecast. However, the tone of such anchors for China seems like an aggressive lamb’s, where no such grandiose claims are made. Ultimately, many anchors thought and acted in such manner that they declared themselves fitter and better for the role of being DGMO (Director General Military Operations). When and how of a complete win over of Pakistan and China was strategized in minutes while sitting in a studio. One of the channels went on (with the graphics of Chess game) to fore view that who and which leader / nation would cobble behind India, Pakistan and China and how this will lead to World War III.

The frenzy media creates a frantic world where mindfulness, rationality and voice for peace all drown in the din of cacophony for war. As a metaphor, frenzy media refers to a strategy to create such an apocalyptic situation, where everything is derailed, degenerated and disintegrated, and the world is indubitably going to collapse. It is the ploy of the negative press that just wants to create sensation which may be short lived, but creates an aura of a virtual world, which suits to some of their allies. They just open a can of worms so that people/ public get worried, thereby creating havoc in public life. They un/knowingly generate a frantic world by giving a chill to the emotions of the people. In this assortment, however, the ‘common man’ bears the brunt and find themselves certainly in the postmodernist wasteland. The aestheticization of violence by news channels creates a different symbol/ signifier and different set of semiotic rules than jingoist cinema (Gadar-Ek Prem Katha) or poetry wherein veer-ras sounds differently than offing news of war in near future.

The media coverage on any social issues, viz. Elections, militarisation, de/secularisation, religiosity, wedding ceremonies, rapes etc. attempt to organise their reporting in such a manner that creates interest/curiosity amongst the viewers. It suits them that their viewer is always on a ‘verge’ or edgy — on an extreme limit beyond which something specified will happen. These commercial media houses rely heavily on the advertiser’s business. So, to keep customers, the media tries to disseminate deleterious information. At times, they report a particular incident to the extent that the news is perceived to be excessive or out of proportion. Such a sensationalistic coverage projects media like a circus that relies profoundly on creating illusions rather than projecting a greater reality. This is done to keep eyeballs glued to the channel even during the ‘break’ between news broadcast.

Various media outlets are cutting a sorry figure in presenting the truthful stories. Sometimes the ‘gossip’(masala!)spread on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, or twitter becomes a news item for them. The potency of fabricated news came into focus after the 2016 US presidential elections. In the run-up to the ballot, fake news on the elections drew more engagement on Facebook than top-performing stories from major news outlets such as The New York Times, CNN, NBC News, or The Wall Street Journal, this was found. Other countries also witnessed the rise of fake news too rendering it a global phenomenon in 2016.

In the post-truth world, this attitude of the media threatens the broadcasting of truth. By presenting the fake and fabricated news in contemporary world, they appeal to the emotions of the people and impose personal views; they hide the truth and convince people of what is untrue. These media channels use ‘falsity’ of the past as well as of the present as a raw material to weave their stories. So, the question that arises is: Where do mainstream media organisations stand in the post-truth era? How do they maintain people’s trust, identity, credibility and originality? In the times when "post-truth" is hailed as the word of the year by lexicographers — a word which "relates to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief", objectivity/objective knowledge/perception must not be sacrificed on the altar of individual radical mis-understanding of religion, nationalism and cultural conflict.

In contemporary world, when the values of liberalism, objectivity, integrity, human solidarity and globalisation should have been the order of the day, the media houses have resorted to populism. This is the post-truth era! It is when lies replace the truth, emotions replace honesty, personal analysis replaces verified information and one opinion replaces multiple opinions. “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” Mark Twain said. Hence, in the post-truth era, some of the Indian news channels have taken this advice literally in their hurry to fetch a better TRP and also to project the extremist situation prevailing in the world. They are presenting fabricated news items and resorting to show the ‘alternative facts’. Like the politicians, they are relying on suppressing the truth and suggesting the falsehood as the ultimate strategy for their survival. They demonstrate “hyperreal temporality” by working through certain factuality and fictionality to thrill or scare the present thereby enrapturing our gaze. In their freedom to speech and expression, they are what George Orwell’s core principle says, ‘telling the people what they do not want to hear.’ So, facing this juggernaut of misinformation, the world has been left hapless and frantic. However, it may be a strategy to “keep the wheels of progress turning”, though negatively. Or maybe another section of people likes all this, because “democratic government is an edifice of false promises and unreliable dreams.” But when the evidence of the fake news breaks over, then clarifications / cross-clarifications follow.

It is important to do an introspection of all these hateful discourses. The media especially TV channels must formulate a clear vision based on their experience and expertise, away from amateur experimenting and imitation. They must maintain the context of their core and original content, to get at the people’s trust. Liberal democracy could be facing an existential threat, for it’s not clear that it can endure if its public sphere becomes completely polluted by falsehoods, misapprehensions, ignorance, prejudice, conspiracy theories and hatred. Today media risks more than just credibility in their hysterical rush for creating sensation. For this, they firstly form a hypothesis, and then look for evidence to substantiate it. Ironically, they begin to twist the facts to suit to their theory, instead of theories to suit the facts. They manufacture such irrefutable evidence that the actuality and the factuality of the incident/ news seemrevolving around it. These media channels do not adhere to the basic rule of journalism, where facts are considered sacred and comment free. But, they are hurting and dividing the people. In such circumstance, they cannot be let free of “the guilt of peddling fiction, behaving like irresponsible trolls who compete with each other for spreading canards, distorting facts, inciting mob frenzy, ruining reputations and destroying lives.”

Winston Churchill once quipped: “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” Now, only a few wars later, warnography will catch more than the truth with its pants down. In the times when people are running skelter, naked and amok, media should not only cater to what they wish to see and hear or perceived negotiations of commercial pursuits but it should create and contribute to saner voices and sanity. Meanwhile, media may go back to either bijlibabas or its social movements of justice for Jessica but it should not succumb to warnography’s visceral allure. Warnography — with all its profitability must be thrown out with the bath water of cannibalistic war mongering. In this post-truth era, truth must not be exchanged as commodity for higher TRPs.

Endnote:

William Henry Mauldin (29 October 1921 — 22 January 2003) was a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist from the United States, who became famous for his "Willie and Joe" cartoons during World War II.

References:

Cep, Casey N. (2005): “Warnography’s Visceral Allure,” viewed on 25 February 2017,http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2005/10/13/warnographys-visceral-allure-winston-churchill-once/ p 1

First Post (2016): “#JNURow: Caught in media frenzy, TV channels dump journalistic norms to pin Kanhaiya Kumar” viewed on 27 February 2017, http://www.firstpost.com/india/jnu-row-caught-in-media-frenzy-tv-channels-dump-journalistic-norms-to-pin-kanhaiya-kumar-2632490.html, p1.

Jenkins, Simon (2017): “Post-truth politics will be debunked by online facts,” viewed on 26February 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/26/post-truth-politics-online-facts-donald-trump, p 1.

Naughton, John (2017): “Is technology smart enough to fix the fake news frenzy?,” viewed on 26February 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/04/technology-fake-news-frenzy-google-facebook-donald-trump, p 1.

Warren, Beatrice (1990): “The importance of combining forms,” in Contemporary Morphology, Wolfgang U. Dressler (ed), Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp 117-118.

Authors:

Navneet Sharma PhD is Assistant Professor, Department of Education, School of Education, Central University of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamshala. (navneetsharma29[at]gmail.com)

Khem Raj Sharma PhD is Assistant Professor, Department of English, School of Languages, Central University of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamshala.(drrajksharma162[at]gmail.com)

Corresponding Author:

Navneet Sharma, Assistant Professor, Department of Education, School of Education, Central University of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamshala, Kangra, Himachal Pradesh — 176215. Email: navneetsharma29[at]gmail.com

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