I have been debating whether or not I should write this post, but eventually I decided to go ahead with it. There is no point in holding back on one’s opinions, right? So, before I start off, Happy Republic Day, India; how’re you feeling? This post reflects on a back-and-forth I got into with the fan club of a reality TV dance star on Twitter, in the light of my republic day musings. I mean you always read about the fans with the rabid Bieber Fever and all that, and never think too much about it until and unless you’re the one facing their ire. I ended up on the wrong side of an online version of a fisticuff (read on for how and why) a few days ago and had to beat a hasty retreat. I was wrongly accused of trying it as a publicity stunt and I decided since the label has already been applied, why not just go ahead and do the crime. Yes, this post is a publicity stunt and I highly recommend you go ahead and read this. If this gets even half the attention I have been getting on Twitter from the fandom, my blog stats will go off the charts. So consider this a small social experiment tinged with my own reflections on a matter of national importance. Thus, it is with massive apprehension, that I click the publish button on this post!
Benjamin Disraeli said that the youth of a nation are the trustees of posterity. In every major revolution, be it successful or not, the students and the youth have played a vital role. In some cases, those uprisings have been successful and they have been scripted as heroes or martyrs; and in others, where they have failed, they have been labeled as insurgents or anarchists. In any case, the youth has traditionally been socially active and aware, and has been embroiled in the matters of the nation, caring deeply enough to bother about how to deal with the challenges. Unfortunately, the youth of India, including ourselves, the not so sprightly anymore (but I still count our generation amongst the youth), live in a rebel-land of phantasmagoria, a civilisation of anger and intolerance, a culture of mindless disciple hood, a systematic denial of the waves of change around us, and a deep-seated apathy that is passed off as being rebellious or chic. Take for instance, this online video, shot by people who went out on the streets of Delhi and Mumbai, two of the largest metropolitan cities in India, teeming with youth, destinations for the starry eyed and warm-hearted young man (and by that I mean man and woman), and asked them simple questions about Republic Day and India. They could not have anticipated the disaster (or did they?) that eventually resulted. Spend the bandwidth and see this:
I strongly recommend you watch that video before you move on. I know they do weed out their prey from the herd and there is a massive selection bias in what they eventually show, but even so, some of the answers are hilarious, the others down right horrifying; and very few correct.
In the light of these, let us look back on my naivety from a few days ago. A twitter hashtag emerged, #getwellsoonamar, and like many, I was left asking who Amar was. Now since I do not follow dance reality shows on Indian TV, I was not aware of who Kunwar Amar was and what kind of fandom he had. At that time Delhi was in the throes of a major debate as to whether the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party was a deeply-conspired political machination or whether it was actually a revolution in progress. I admit I was a bit too invested in the social-political and economic real life drama that was going on and found the trend a bit frivolous, and, in a possible statement of sarcasm, tweeted:
Of course, this did not go down well with the fandom and I was bombarded with hundreds of tweets, literally, within the hour. I had become the focus of their hatred; and to be honest, I saw their point as well. Here they were, minding their own business and wishing their favourite superstar an early recovery, when along comes some self-righteous jerk of a grammar nazi who tries to do what their parents have been doing all along: order them around, telling them what to do. Incidentally, that was not my intention, and I only wanted to point out the fact that when someone was getting better, saying they were getting “batter” was a funny typo (or misspelling). Anyways, unified by their justified hatred of me, they retaliated in a way that a grammar nazi fears the most. With bad grammar, horrible spelling and really cryptic text-speak. Within the hour, I felt like the allergic-to-bad-grammar guy from Cyanide and Happiness!
While I agreed to their viewpoint that I had no business in meddling who they wished well or ill, I thought of pointing out that just like them, it was justified for me to have a standpoint on any damn thing under the sun. They could deride, mock or jeer at me, but it does not change the fact that just like them, I was allowed to have my opinion. Anyways. After a while, their hatred tweets started to become really creepy and borderline threatening:
More disturbing than the content is the portent that the youngsters, as a general group, are not interested “in all the serious matters” and it confirmed my fear that they had put me up as some parental figure to publicly lynch as I fit into the template of those who tell them what to do. It would be unfair for me to claim that everyone was as fanatic and biased, and some indeed were reasonable enough:
And, in my defence, I was quick to admit I might have been wrong to have hurt any sentiments, as that was not the point of my tweet:
And I also had to admit that my tweet may have come across as insensitive, especially given the fact that I am a medical doctor, and there was indeed a lot of merit to those who thought that the appropriate response to wishing someone well was not to point out that there were other bigger national issues. In any case, considering the fact that I did not want to die a painful death and lose my sanity thanks to the constant pinging of the notifications from twitter, I decided to call a truce, apologise earnestly, and retreat, with my proverbial tail between my legs:
I typo-ed “am” to “an” in this one, but since they were in no mood to read my apologies, I saved myself a lot of appropriate barbs! Further proof that they weren’t really reading whatever I wrote and were clamouring to get their own viewpoints across (being judgmental again!). The live tweet here for you to mock my ham-handedness at the keyboard:
Apologies if I hurt anyone with Amar tweets.Didn't intend to.Appreciate your love for him.But an entitled to my opinions.Respect that.Thanks
— Dr Pranab Chatterjee (@scepticemia) January 23, 2014
And if I thought that that was the end of it, I was grossly mistaken. Even today, three days since the first, fateful, misdirected tweet, am I getting bombarded with funny accusations with a trailing “@” on me. I guess all this attention and interaction is going to give my Klout score a boost, but frankly, it is not worth the pain. And to be honest, in addition to fulfilling the sacrament of a “publicity stunt”, this post was fuelled by the irritating persistence with which they have been writing in despite me having called it quits. When you have won the battle, you should know it is time to stop.
And what brings republic day into the scene? Well, India is today plagued with so many issues, so many concerns, that it is just frightful if the youth of today, the one group that can make a difference, turn their faces away from them all to turn into couch potatoes. In fact, what is even scarier is that it might appear that we, the youth of today, are “words only”, and when the time comes to take affirmative action we are nowhere to be seen. When the juggernaut of the Aam Aadmi Party was gaining momentum in the run-up to the Delhi Assembly elections, there was huge support from all fronts of social media. Twitter, Facebook, G+ and blogs were all whirring with activists speaking, advocating and demanding change. However, when the time came for action, newspapers blinked:
I wonder if all these eligible voters had been enrolled, would it have made a definitive stamp on the governance of the nation? I know there are multiple confounders that reduced this enrolment number, many of which are not due to any fault on behalf of the un-enrolled voters themselves, but, even so, not having half of your entire target group with you is flabbergasting indeed.
So what did I learn from this rather unpleasant brush with fandom?
- Never mess with the fans (no, I did not really learn that now, did I? Anyways, this is a publicity stunt, so don’t pay so much attention to this!) On a related note, I like the inherent irony in the fact that disciples of a PR-driven industry is blaming a lone guy for making a publicity stunt.
- Social media is an unpredictable beast. It can take something and blow it out of proportions very fast. Mountains and molehills, and all of that! There is an even better contemporary example of this. The Sunanda Pushkar-Shashi Tharoor-Mehr Tarar incident. Things can go really ugly, really fast and one needs to be able to hold on to reason and not get sucked into the vortex.
- There is no shame in admitting when one goes wrong. I apologised (and still do) if I ended up hurting anyone; but no apologies for refusing to get drawn into a twitter-battle with senseless chattering. Some people just like the flame wars, and trolling for fun. Rule #1 in social media:
- Engagement in social media will always have some backlash. Unless one cares to be politically correct, which, admittedly, I am not, there will be some brash interactions and one has to live with that. The problem is, someone, somewhere is bound to take offence to what you say. In my case (on this occasion), unfortunately, it was a stampeding horde of fans. In other cases, it might just be a single lone tweet, which gets lost in the cascade of torrential activity on the social networks. If you try to please everyone, nobody is going to be happy and in the end you will have to be something like this cartoon:
For all that I say, it boils down to all of us as well. We wear Che Guevara t-shirts just because we think that is cool. We do not know what he did, whether his deeds are good or bad. We wear them because:
We are a generation, so TV/film-addled, so brain-washed with advertisements and commercial enterprises, that sometimes, it is a fad to do what is cool; and whatever our on-screen idols do are the heights of cool. We are fast becoming so short-tempered, that it is “either my way or the highway” and when a mob takes on this mentality, it is just a spark away from a riot (not the good ones). We are becoming so shallow, so myopic, so self-centred, that it is with pride we proclaim that we do not bother about things that do not seem to directly impact us in the present moment. I am not saying that one should sit down on dharnas protesting the price of rice in Venezuela, but is it too much to ask to be an aware enough citizen who knows the day their own country’s constitution was enacted? Is it too much to expect the so called high-flying youth to be patient enough to deal with (or even ignore) a single voice of dissent with decency and logic? Or is it always a ride on the fourth gear in a beer-fuelled bulldozer?
Unfortunately, we live in a false world; a civilisation of plastic flowers and astro-turfs, air-conditioning and fluorescent lights; windows that don’t open and background music that never stops; a synthetic world, woven with care, where the Emperor’s new clothes are so shiny and so subtle that the naked eye does not dare deny their presence, nor the brain decree so; we are ensconced in the safe, relative warmth of our own, personal entertainment cocoons, as the world unravels in hell fire and fury around us; we are a generation fed on designer dreams and template aspirations, a generation of sleepy hearts, jump-started by caffeine, alcohol, drugs and illusions.
And until and unless we can shake off this ever-growing web of denial around us, Republic Day or Independence Day or any national celebration, will be nothing but red letter marks on our calendars.