Comedian Hasan Minhaj’s latest episode on his Netflix show Patriot Act takes some clever swipes at politicians while analysing the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It starts off with interviews with Indian Americans recoiling with horror at Minhaj’s foolhardy idea of venturing into the murky zone of politics. After comparing democracy in India to a jalebi that has no end or beginning, one of them asks him with a hint of kindly contempt whether Minhaj has considered the full implications of his name ‘Hasan’. It means ‘nice’ in Arabic, replied Minhaj hopefully, only to be told gently, ‘No, in India your name means terrorist’. Patriot Act is well researched and brutally unsubtle, so of course Minhaj was trolled by netizens who called him biased and anti-Hindu. For a brief while #boycottnetflix was trending on Twitter.
There are no numbers available of how many people actually disabled their Netflix accounts because a show ran contrary to their political beliefs but I’m willing to bet my left leg that there aren’t very many. If there’s one thing you can be sure of humanity at large, it’s that people are motivated first and foremost by self-interest and it’s in absolutely nobody’s interest to eliminate an excellent source of entertainment. The only person I know who has unsubscribed from Netflix is my mother who says the overwhelming amount of content available paralyses her into a state of indecision. By the time she’s made up her mind what to watch, it’s time to go to sleep. Fed up by this problem of plenty, she terminated her connection and claims to be much happier for it. For the larger population though, options to alleviate the cruelly meticulous passing of time are few and far between. It’ll take a lot more than snarky remarks by a gimmicky comedian to opt out of what has become an important benchmark of popular culture.
The internet has no coherent shape or one particular direction and people tend to be endlessly whimsical while surfing. The forces that propel individuals into participating in challenges and political boycotts online remain mysterious but you can be sure there is a vast chasm between the Like button and what’s really going on in their heads. Yet, it’s far easier to rile up an angry mob for a perceived injustice, while tweets encouraging people to be compassionate have no effect at all. Just a few days ago, in Delhi, after a Nigerian reacted aggressively to being prosecuted by a policeman for a traffic violation, 12 bystanders joined the cops in thrashing him. Hypothetically, if the Nigerian, or even an Indian was injured in an accident, would there be 12 bystanders helping them get to a hospital? It’s extremely unlikely. Tweeting and hashtagging ultimately follow the rules of herd mentality. It costs nothing. But convincing people to give up something they enjoy like ice cream or Netflix — for the greater good — is a whole different story.
For instance, a couple of years ago when Aamir Khan voiced concerns that India was becoming so intolerant that his wife had suggested leaving the country, there were protests and calls to boycott his film Dangal. Khan received violent threats from keyboard patriots who were furiously trying to hit him where it would hurt the most, by spoiling the opening weekend of his movie release. The calls to boycott had zero impact. Dangal collected close to 30 crore on its opening day, and became the highest grossing Indian film, domestically, ever. The young may be big on beliefs but they will ultimately veer towards the social default—it’s life over political principles any day. Minhaj’s Patriot Act, critically listed the pros and cons of various political alliances and how the lines could be drawn next month. You can be sure that till the last minute citizens will be looping around, making up their minds and being Netflix subscribers or not will have very little to do with their final decision. (firstname.lastname@example.org)