Wednesday, Sep 28, 2022

The Heat is On

Using the military for politics and allegations of plagiarism point to an imagination on its hinges

Dark clouds cover the skies of Cochin. (Express Photo: Nirmal Harindran/File)

The diaspora is alive and well-connected. While the onset of the monsoons is a standard feature of the news cycle at this time of year in Indian media, it is surprising to find that Trinidad and Tobago, and Uganda, too, are just as interested. Along with Kashmir Times and The Pioneer in India, London-based veteran Gwynne Dyer’s syndicated piece on the delayed monsoon in India has appeared in the Trinidad Express and Uganda’s New Vision. Actually, it’s a wonder that it hasn’t appeared elsewhere in a world that is getting unbearably hot. Parts of France touched 44 degrees Celsius last week and every day, the morning news on the BBC usually began with the words: “Yet another scorcher.” And in large parts of the US, the mercury was expected to touch 90 Fahrenheit on the Fourth of July.

Over there, eyes were not scanning the sky only for rainclouds this year. There were Hornets and a stealth bomber flying in formation over a bulletproofed president at the parade in DC, which has turned militaristic under Trump. The Salute to America parade was Washington’s fiscally prudent version of a Soviet Victory Day bash in Red Square. Trump the businessman knew that the city authorities would present him with a whopping great bill if he allowed Sherman tanks to demolish the capital’s tarmac, so they were kept on standby while lighter vehicles were driven, and the focus was on air power, which could be kept at a safe distance from municipal facilities.

Even so, CNN has gone at the show to expose its problematics. Foremost among them is the use of the military for political objectives, which the Democrats have been voluble about. But the economics is just as important. Trump had tweeted that the show was practically for free, since the US government already owned all the hardware and personnel on display, and aviation fuel was the only expenditure head. Not so, the Washington Post and CNN declared: the National Park Service, which keeps public recreational spaces in good repair, had had to divert $2.5 million for Trump’s nationalist jamboree.

Soon, this is likely to be disparaged by the president as a nugatory sum for the national capital, which it is. But as the chairperson of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks told CNN, these funds are collected from visitors’ fees and are meant for local improvements, not political events. Which it was, since a PR instruction sheet from the Department of Defence was supplied to all participants. It’s the standard list of dos and don’ts that is handed out to personnel in uniform who must engage with the press, but the last tip offered is most intriguing: “Execute. Relax and speak to America.”

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Here at home, Sudhir Choudhary of Zee spoke to India, flubbed it, turned an American writer hitherto unknown in India into a celebrity, and is crashing in flames. Zee accused TMC MP Mohua Moitra of plagiarising her thunder-and-lightning maiden speech from an article by Washington Monthly web editor Martin Longman. She didn’t, actually. She referred to a rather famous list of the early warning signs of the rise of fascism at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, which has been seen by lakhs of visitors and has been circulating on the internet over the last half-decade, coinciding with the rise of right-wing personality cults in several countries, including the US. It has caused hearts to sink and minds to expand everywhere, and Moitra only referenced the same document as Longman.

Longman has dismissed Choudhary while Moitra has lit into him on Twitter, with the same visceral energy displayed last month by the rapper Hard Kaur. Trolling is no longer an occupation without its hazards, especially when the targets are women who speak freely and command vocabularies that extend into parts of speech that the more genteel do not generally deploy. In a rare departure from the present norm of strident, over-the-top commentary (the non-controversy over Zaira Wasim’s exit from the film industry, for instance) the original content is much livelier than the coverage.

Zee is one of several channels which face another serious crisis: the exit of Rahul Gandhi. In human terms, it is like losing the hypothalamus very suddenly. How will they fill the void in programming time that used to be allocated for Rahul-bashing? Will they do real news instead? But they have forgotten how to do that. For them, this is a far sharper existential crisis than it is for Rahul Gandhi.

First published on: 06-07-2019 at 12:50:49 am
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