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From Aryan Khan To Batman, How Everyone Is A Pawn In The Free Market

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Elements of pop-culture tend to serve some functions in keeping a society running. In other words, they help maintain the status quo in the society. I am not positing a conspiracy theory here, but talking about an evolutionary process of the free market that leads to this situation.

For instance, consider the recent media scandal around Aryan Khan, or the media havoc surrounding Rhea Chakraborty and her relationship with the late Sushant Singh Rajput. I am blatantly unaware of the facts of both these cases.


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Yet, I can say with confidence that there were many more important events occurring in our nation during this time. These were events that deserved more attention and frankly, were of more important concern for the average Indian.

Just to give you an example, the first wave of Covid-19 pandemic was raging in India during Chakraborty’s court and media trial.

We can only speculate what the intent of the owners of these media houses was, when they were focusing on individual allegations of drug use, or abetment of suicide, instead of the larger menace of drug abuse and the stigma surrounding mental health.

Diverting Attention From The Real Problems

But, ultimately, these stories served to deviate our attention from issues of national welfare and interest. Since these stories eventually benefited those in power, they absolutely did not care to stop this irresponsible reporting of news, using the vast array of powers that the law grants them.

On the other hand, they are very comfortable in using those very laws to neglect reportage around progressive causes. The many freedoms and rights that modern democracies ensure, can be very easily exploited by regressive forces in society.

For instance, the right-wing groups of the UK spread fake news about the powers of the European Union (EU), contributing to the “exit” result of the Brexit referendum. It is a result that many “exit” voters now regret.

When it comes to our part of the world, this is further exacerbated by the lack of literacy and education. Even among those who are educated, our society tends to push, arguably, the most brilliant of us towards an engineering education.

The primary focus in this line of studying tends to be on getting a job or preparing for an MBA (Master of Business Administration), and so on. Very few of them build start-ups with innovative solutions that truly help people.

They either go bust or become big corporations, wherein the profit motive creates a conflict of interest with making an incremental change to the society.

Our Education System Stunts Intellectual Growth

Thus, our education and employment system successfully neutralises people who are supposed to be the smartest, by making them focus only on themselves and their personal enrichment. And, why would they think to waver from that path, when survival itself is a competitive process in capitalism?

By successfully stunting the intellectual capacities of people, an “educated” working force that is pre-occupied with their jobs is born.


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In their quest for survival and ensuring their own well-being, they spend at least 25% of their week working to increase the profits of their employer (or the owner of their workplace), and in maintaining their aspired standard of living.

In my observation, most workplaces are almost exclusively undemocratic spaces, wherein the employees and workers get very little say in how their labour is used and utilised by their employers.

Thus, liberal democracies, described as the pinnacle of freedom, have somehow talked their citizens into spending a major part of their lives without any semblance of democracy. A glaring contradiction such as this can only be maintained through an educational system that bends people into submission.

Audience Prefers Sensationalism Over Introspection

When it comes to people without an education, they spend more and more of their time in undemocratic spaces and are exploited more.

Therefore, at the end of the day, after toiling away in stressful jobs, when we come back to the comfort of our homes, isn’t it natural that we want to sit back and watch a sensational story about a “witch that killed her boyfriend”?; instead of news that will make you think about the hopeless state of your government, the planet’s ecology and all the crises that are unfolding simultaneously.

When you have a “free-market” media, where people experiment with, discuss and spread ideas of all shades and shapes, it is only natural that the content that requires the least deliberation, introspection and analysis by the over-worked and tired viewer will win over the ideas that really matter.

The Modern Propaganda Machine Is Robust

Thus, the state need not fund propaganda to mislead, fool and make us submit to it. All it needs is a free-market media and a capitalist economy. In due time, they will combine to serve the function of a propaganda machine.

This is how propaganda works in modern democratic states. News that matters dies out! And, the news that caters to the status quo, survives and thrives.

This propaganda is more insidious than the dictionary definition of propaganda, because all of this happening is in a market where anyone is “free” to report news or start their own media house. It is rather naive to call a system free, when it eventually slide in to a state of being unfree.

Elements of pop-culture are, after all, a part of the media landscape and can end up functioning as a tool for the status quo. Superheroes are an interesting example that we can all relate to, and it can help us better understand how the propaganda machine precisely functions.

Are Superheroes Really As Super As They Seem?

There are two types of superheroes. broadly:

  1. The ones who tackle street crime, such as Batman, Spiderman or Daredevil.
  2. Others such as Ironman, Superman and Dr Strange, do not deal with petty thugs, but deal with threats of a global scale or even inter-planetary scale!

Very rarely, do you see superheroes who deal with the systemic issues of race, class or gender. We see Batman beat the living daylights out of each and every petty street criminal, who mugged a stranger on the street. But, he will never use his influence and wealth to solve the problems that gives rise to crime in the first place.

Of course, Bruce Wayne runs his charitable foundations and orphanages. But, he completely ignores the causal relationship between the quest for survival under capitalism and criminal activities… The idea that crime exists because of incompetent and corrupt police officers, is a rather dishonest portrayal of the world we live in.

Batman, superhero.
Batman fights crime, not its underlying causes. Why? Photo credit: Len Peralta, Flickr.

Thus, this kind of superhero keeps our attention on the criminals on the street—who is probably unemployed, hungry or homeless, and usually, a product of their circumstances. Thus, the hero succeeds in diverting our attention from the systemic causes of crime.

The other kind of superheroes: the Ironman types, spend their time fighting mythical gods or aliens who can destroy entire planets at their whim. The global warming crisis is one such impending disaster that that we face.

Superheroes Don’t Care About The Common Person

Yet, you will never see an Ironman taking on oil cartels that lobby politicians in the global north. You will never see him counter the propaganda (dictionary definition) and disinformation spread by corporate conglomerates, despite all his resources and scientific genius.

The everyday violence that the common populace faces in the form of exploitation at the workplace, poverty, unemployment, environmental and ecological decline, diseases and poor healthcare, is never even glanced at, by these superheroes.

If superheroes began examining the real causes of this perpetual violence, their arch-nemeses would be the very people who run oligarchic corporations such as Disney.

And thus, it is very convenient for media companies to have us discuss if Thanos killing half of the world’s population, to eliminate scarcity of resources, is a justifiable act.

In the process, we don’t end up questioning the pre-dominant economic system i.e., the profit mode of production that creates such problems in the first place.

Featured image, containing Aryan Khan, is for representational purposes only.
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