Has the age of the internet or the ‘Age of Rage’, made critics of us all? Yes, says Tim Adams in his Guardian article. “The blog and chat-room have become forums for hatred and bile.” It’s so easy these days to be an instrument of intolerance or a victim of one, in cyber land, as a recent incident in Kerala has demonstrated.
This episode didn’t begin online and to introduce the protagonists of the drama, one is Jagathy Sreekumar, a thespian of the Malayalam screen, an excellent comedian and a very well-loved actor who has sustained his stature with brilliant performances over the decades. The other, Ranjini Haridas, a young lady barely out of her twenties, is a very popular anchor of a reality show since 2007 and a former winner of a beauty pageant. She dresses in a way that does not exactly cater to the conservative establishment’s tastes and is a target for brickbats because of this. She speaks very fluent English but rather broken Malayalam and is again the butt of zillion jokes including one that she is ‘the mother of Modern Malayalam’. In fact she has cloned a whole chain of hostesses after her ‘Manglish’ accent. But the élan with which she carries her assignment has kept up the TRP ratings of the show and ensures her appearance every season as the anchor; this in an industry which has plenty of talent and stiff competition to boot.
It all began at the live grand finale of another reality show on the same channel where the thespian and the beauty queen were among those on stage. Things were hunky-dory till Jagathy Sreekumar took the mike for a few words. Among other things, he spoke of how anchors pre-evaluate the process of judging by making comments on the performance before handing over the mike to the experts on the panel. It was a passing comment first and then he mimicked a broken accent and gestures which were only too familiar to the viewers. The rather exaggerated manner in which the gifted comedian expressed his opinion brought in a lot of applause and laughter.
After a while, the actor repeated his dictum on how anchors should behave and not be allowed to ‘run riot’. By then he sounded a bit excited and looked like he was getting carried away. The others on stage, including the anchor in question, were still smiling but one could discern a slight tension at the unprecedented turn of events. When the mike was finally handed over, Ranjini Haridas made light of the barbed reference by saying, ‘I asked for it, no problem its part of the game’ and went on doing her job with the smile intact.
When the channel telecast the recording of the show later, they had predictably deleted the unsavoury portions of the program, but these days there is no escaping ugly truths, there are videos of the entire incident online
and going viral.
Perhaps this is what prompted Ranjini Haridas to pen this
short script in the Deccan Chronicle
about ‘exercising our rights’. She talks about the day “I was the victim of an individual who took advantage of his right to freedom of speech to publicly embarrass and ridicule me” and that “the man in question, who from now I shall refer to as Mr. Moon clearly overstepped the limits of what to say when and where, and to my aggravation, had no regard or respect for the event at hand or the people concerned.”
The anchor’s lament has set off a deluge of responses on the incident which range from outright ridicule and bad-mouthing of the lady as also direct support to the hostess like this one from Shahina KK, noted journalist and Assistant Editor, OPEN Magazine, Kerala. She says, “I really appreciate the sense of democracy and the respect to one's freedom of expression you uphold. Mr. Moon represents the entire Mallu men crowd who are terribly insecure and intolerant to see a woman who is assertive about her choices. Unfortunately, these men are unfamiliar to the ways and means of such women. Ignore them, listen only to constructive criticism and go ahead with your job. I am very happy to see that the daring lone voices of dissent in the showbiz industry of television and cinema come from women.”
The majority of responses on the page, however, refer to the so-called Mr. Moon’s comments as being justified. It’s a rather vociferous, ostentatious, justification of a public comment made in bad taste as ‘something she deserves’. As I write this, there are some 261 responses to the DC article.
But things did not stop here; soon other blogs started making their voices heard and one of them has written an “open letter to Ranjini Haridas” counting out his arguments on why the lady was NOT correct in voicing her dissent, even when she was insulted publicly on a program being broadcast live. The main issue the blogger and many others have is with Ranjini Haridas making an issue out of it even when no names had been mentioned by Jagathy Sreekumar during the initial incident.
The comments page of this blog is nearing 400 and growing and the majority of them are expressions of intolerance and spleen. Jagathy Sreekumar certainly had not mentioned names but the responses do show it was rather obvious who he had in mind; it would also have been illogical to expect that he was talking of another reality show on a rival channel and the diction and style in imitation was too close to miss. Besides, he objected vehemently to the anchor’s way of voicing her opinion and not her style of speaking. But the vitriolic responses include and concentrate on Ranjini Haridas’s ‘Manglish’ style and insult of the language.
YouTube also abounds in videos of the same incident and the balance of opinions skews heavily to the male gender. But what struck me about the whole issue brings me back to Tim Adams’ opinion. Why are we so quick to condemn? What makes a cyber public so intolerant of a comparable young achiever that they have to use the first opportunity to pull her/him down? Why are entire blogs, and pages of comments devoted to a non-issue and so much energy spent on what could have been resolved in a milder manner?
Tim Adams tells us more on this. “Do a quick trawl on the blog sites and comment sections about most celebrities and entertainers – not to mention politicians – and you will quickly discover comparable virtual rage and fantasised violence. The psychologists call it "deindividuation". It's what happens when social norms are withdrawn because identities are concealed. Digital media allow almost unlimited opportunity for willful deindividuation.” The vitriolic comments in this case, most of them, do have a name to them, but on cyber space, anonymity is guaranteed, even behind a name. You really don’t have to stand up to shout slander.
Perhaps if Ranjini had not done the write-up in DC and ignored the public humiliation, would the audience in question have been happier? As another lady commented on the bile-filled response to the anchor’s article, ‘Ranjini is a fool; she should have broken into tears and fled the stage; that way she would now have had far more sympathy than Jagathy.’
And the way in which Ranjini avoided this same choice and conducted herself with dignity to a capable conclusion of her assignment on hand has been given very little kudos. Presence of mind is a rare thing, but how many of us know it or has it?
Jagathy is known for being outspoken but does that justify his vitriol and that too on a live show? It is simply a matter of decorum what one chooses to say and how. I wonder why the thespian couldn’t have used a private moment to share his displeasure with the anchor’s style. Surely that would have been in better taste and justifying his status as a legendary actor than embarrassing a woman who is a ‘nobody’ in show biz?
Perhaps Tim Adams needs to be quoted here too, “The enjoyment comes from finding a context in which you can let go, or to use the familiar phrase 'take a moral vacation'. Here, the thespian, and the public seems to have used various media to do just that.