TW: COVID Deaths
I recently started watching a series called Twin Peaks, widely considered to be the American filmmaker David Lynch’s magnum opus. In the first episode, I noticed a very unbelievable phenomenon, and I expressed my bewilderment to my sister. This remark was about no surrealist element or psychological spin. It concerned the death of a teenage girl from the show, who is murdered and then found discarded on the seashore. As a result, we see a whole town burning in grief as days are given off to the workers, and even the jocks break down. Schoolgirls sit in circles and cry out in loud sobs, while a heavy-hearted principal also melts down on the PA system. This is rather unimaginable, even from a white world perspective. I thought to myself, what might be the reason for this? Why have I started seeing community grief as something alien?
Incidentally, I am also reading a radical book by Neil Postman who talked about the “age of show business” back in the 1980s, when the peak of mind-numbing scrolls was yet to dawn. His perspective is not as simple as what you might have in shows like Black Mirror or even the famous documentary The Social Dilemma. It tells a far deeper truth about how we’re consuming information and bartering attention.
For Postman, the visual culture was here to challenge print as the dominant medium of information communication. That is to say, 50 years down the line, the print medium would become rather irrelevant while writing and reading essays would become as obscure as academic literary writing in India. For indeed, this is the age of show business, and intellectual sobriety is dying the death of the new pop word, “post-truth society”. A post-truth society means that the society does not give value to the truth but more often, opinions and confirmation biases.
Last year I dived into this topic and found myself reaching the very same conclusion. PR is the wor(l)d, and that is how a few unscripted words from a PM’s mouth could have caused a very real landslide.
Some would argue that perhaps visual culture- to use the school debate language- is a boon. Many educators in remote parts of the country utilize YouTube and are able to increase literacy. While this might be true, having a phone does not necessarily make you a literate being. It is a tool, and as a tool, Postman argues, that it operates with a bias. Poems have to be pasted in pictures and tales are terribly tiny. As you stand in the long-gone days of crowded metros, you hear an oblivious old lady enjoying scrollable videos that change like an annoyed toddler trying to change channels. And it is here in the writing as well, if I don’t give you answers you cannot visualize, would you rather browse something else?
And so, when the ground level reports tell you that innumerable people are dying due to a negligent government, there is no real collective action as of now. Having said that, I am not undermining the NGOs and influencers who have tried to create a domino effect, but the truth is that you’d rather watch the IPL (which is currently trending, while the world is sending us condolences on our emergency) than actually care about what might be happening a few kilometres away from you. And why should you? You can’t do anything about it.
Let me tell you, this is not a natural case. This is not how it always was. Postman tells us that the masses participated and listened to hours of political debates. The arguments were then validated on the basis of logic, and not on the size of the rallies. The local were not alien, and the foreign was not immediately remote.
Locals become increasingly alien as unnamed people die next to your societal complex, and history threatens to be forgotten every day, simply because it is not entertaining enough. We can always escape in our endless binges and hunger for the new.