The Supreme Court’s direction on the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurants and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women (Working therein) Act, 2016, paving the way for the reopening of dance bars in Mumbai, has provided TV channels with a rare opportunity to show reams of archival footage of bar dancers with improbably long and narrow midriffs. Of particular interest — strangely, it did not draw much media attention — was a directive to patrons, who must now give tips directly to performers, instead of showering cash like in the movies. We know how direct action works. We’ve seen it in Hollywood movies, but it appears that the legal fraternity has not.
Meanwhile, serious illness has become a political issue yet again, and it is interesting to see Republic TV railing about a Congress MP’s “disgusting remark” about Amit Shah’s illness: “Hasn’t Congress crossed every limit of decency?” There was unseemly talk when Sonia Gandhi sought treatment in New York.
Illness becoming a sniping matter is a sign of deep social malaise, and it’s been on fine display in recent years. It’s not the same as the general incivility and crassness which has been visible in the last half-decade, on which India Today TV has been running a quick refresher capsule from both sides of the political spectrum. But Sanjay Nirupam calling the prime minister illiterate, or Shashi Tharoor making a parabolic reference to scorpions, is not in the same league as using political rhetoric to cash in on a malady.
A malaise of a much older vintage has been visible in London, where prime minister Theresa May has scraped through a trust vote and called for bipartisan support for a Brexit time-table that is clearly unworkable. Surf the channels, and you would be convinced that not a single journalist in the UK or US knows what, precisely, is going on. But everyone has caught on to the wellspring of the anxiety driving the movement: fake nostalgia. Far from the action in Toronto, The Globe and Mail attributed Brexit to the yearning for a mythical Eden from before Europe, and from long before India was lost and the empire shrank to the region of Threadneedle Street.
Meanwhile, the European and Irish presses are watching events unfold with the same fascination with which people watch slow-motion videos of car crashes. In fact, after May’s Brexit deal was nixed on Tuesday, L’Monde likened the UK to a Rolls Royce with its brake lines cut. Italy’s La Repubblica headlined their front page story: ‘May sull’orlo dell’abisso’ (May on the edge of the abyss’. Another story described the UK as ‘Un isola alla deriva’ (An island adrift). And the press in Ireland, which has a very immediate stake in the matter on account of geography and history, is simply exasperated. Because everyone understands that the British culture of jolly good old boys who never seem to grow up is behind the anxiety that Britain is visiting on Europe.
Despite the fact that it has lost the plot, the British press remains as dogged as ever. It is refreshing to find Stephen Sackur on Hard Talk asking French finance minister Bruno Le Maire if he thinks that British politicians have stopped lying to the British people about Brexit. It recalls the loaded question that used to be popular in the early days of the feminist movement: “Have you stopped beating your wife?”
Sackur also suggested that Macron’s government had lost the economic plot themselves, since there was no other way to explain the Gilets Jaunes. The British press has relentlessly played up British exceptionalism way past its use-by date and thus helped to mould the public mood favouring Brexit, as a vague form of independence. But now that the nation is in a mess which the press cannot make sense of, when it encounters a spade, it does not hesitate to call it by its given name.