Critiquing IPL is Critiquing Our Society

Posted on May 24, 2012 in Sports

By Girija S.Semuwal:

A former cricketer and BJP-leader, Kirti Azad has declared that he’ll fast unto death if the IPL is not cleaned up. The conscience of our politicians has awakened to vanquish the evil called Indian Premier League – or ‘Indian Problem league’ – as it is being called nowadays. The hypocrisy herein amuses me.

The criticism of IPL is not baseless. Given its record of controversy, the case against it has been made stronger this season by spot-fixing allegations, alleged drunken behavior of celebrity owners and sexual assault charges on players. But the points of current criticism have deeper indications.

IPL is allegedly threatening India’s culture; it is “spoiling” it. But which Indian culture are we talking about? And look who’s talking. Haven’t our political leaders done it themselves? From unruly behavior to hurling abuses or even coming to blows; from regularly disrupting parliamentary and assembly proceedings to watching pornography within legislative institutions and being involved in sexual misconduct or even sexual crimes outside; they have personally set precedents for all kinds of misbehaviors. Then, on what basis are they taking the moral high ground?

True, these accusations don’t apply to all politicians. But it’s hardly believable that such misbehavior is possible without the intangible or unsaid consent of our changed value system-at-large. If somebody says “IPL is spoiling our culture”, I would say it’s already spoilt.

Yes, IPL seems to be a different case altogether, especially because it’s associated with a game worshipped in India and critics are concerned that it has turned a ‘gentleman’s game’ into a product for mass entertainment. But the reality is that it has worked well, it has proved to be a tremendously successful format. It has worked because there was a good market present for it. Its audience is not a post-IPL phenomenon; the market for this form of cricket was being prepared in the years that preceded it. The advent of ‘Cricket as entertainment’ happened well before anything like IPL (or its initial contemporary ICL) was being envisioned.

A widening of perspective is needed to understand this. Look around and you’ll find that cricket is not the only marker of our popular culture that has had a decline. A similar degeneration has happened in other important fields too. Take the example of Indian cinema. Many would reminisce the ‘golden days’ of Indian cinema and lament in the current scenario — there are fewer films that will be called classics, there is little substance when it comes to storylines, there’s more glamour and erotica, there is aggressive marketing and promotion of the same.

Just a thought but the IPL has just borrowed the formula from present-day cinema — glamour, presentation of celebrity and affluence, and high-flying action (even if it’s on-field action). From the moralistic perspective, this is vulgar display of money, sensuality, incivility and irreverence to traditional values. But fact is that these values reached people through cinema screens well before it reached to them through TV screens showing IPL.

These are all ingredients of ‘the good life’ that became desirable after India’s economic liberalization. As an individual belonging to the present day urban middle-class, is it not my aspiration to seek good forms of entertainment and recreation if I have the spending power to do so?

Long gone are the days of restraints imposed by morals and economics. We like to watch bigger, entertaining spectacles. From shopping malls, to multiplexes to music concerts – we have so many avenues for recreation, each trying to catch our attention and trying to cater to our ever-growing need for recreation. Our public culture has the makings of an enjoyment culture — “Life ko enjoy karne ka”. So why do we expect restraint and a spartan way of life from anyone?

We expect public figures to be responsible and their conduct to be moral and exemplary. But public figures emerge from our very own society and share most of our values. If we have issues with celebrity names in IPL boozing excessively, swearing or becoming violent, then we need to remind ourselves that he or she is not doing anything out-of-the-box of our everyday realities. We may criticize the hype and flashing of big money in IPL, but many of us like to see it as the part of the overall entertainment package.

IPL is a phenomenon reflective of the desires and aspirations of a large section of India’s urban population. Philosophically, our desires and aspirations always seek fulfillment and platforms such as IPL will be erected to fulfill them. Our real focus should be on realizing that our values have changed and are changing. So when we criticize IPL along the lines our politicians are doing, we need to realize that we are talking of the symptoms and not the real ailment.