It’s the reality, not the ‘narrative’ | Daily News

It’s the reality, not the ‘narrative’

We are exposed to a lot of hype by talking heads on different media
We are exposed to a lot of hype by talking heads on different media

Hyperbole is at no time, a great determiner of the current state of play. Hype creates ridiculous levels of negativity, and the recent issue of pressure to lockdown was created by a predilection for hype. There are dangers inherent in a pandemic that is still out of control, and who doesn’t know that.

But hype is not the appropriate response from a news dissemination point of view, or any point of view for that matter. The sad fact is that it is not necessarily the Opposition politicians that are guilty of the COVID-19 hype.

From politicians, these things can be expected to a great extent. It is their bread and butter. They oppose without any rhyme or reason, and they exaggerate, and people know that — but don’t care half the time. But when the civic-minded citizenry and the middle level officialdom that’s supposed to be taking decisions rely on hype, that’s an entirely different matter.

The hype with regard to the lockdown was more scare than hype, but it doesn’t matter — the word hype would do. Those who make decisions based on fear often do so because of their own hubris. The sad fact is that though the supposed anxiety of those who recommended a full lockdown is all couched as a national concern, these officials are not thinking of anything other than their own need for recognition — or as Warhol said, those fifteen minutes of fame. (The Government has demurred, and ruled out a full lockdown in the current circumstances.)

Every public servant going before the television cameras is not a good fit for public service efficiency either. But there is addiction to power that is involved. Certain public servants are powerful due to the professional bodies they represent.

Hankering

There is no need to go into the detail here. People can guess what some of these professional organizations are. This is not to say that those professional bodies have not done their own bit for the country at certain times. They may have, but that is not a reason power should go into their heads.

There is hype everywhere, and that is not a concern limited to the lockdown issue. Sometimes, it seems as if the entire media industry is built on hype. This is true for both this country and other democracies all around the world.

The hyperbolic aspects of media are more profoundly felt in this age of electronic and digital media. Hype and only hype sells — that seems to be the motto of the managers of media institutions, particularly in the competitive world of television. But who feeds the hype that the various channels are hankering after?

It’s again, the so-called civil society elements, the elevated sectors of the Government service that are pushed to the national spotlight during times of crisis, and of course the politicians themselves that deal in hype. The TV talking-heads hype everything from the COVID lockdowns to the war on drugs.

On the latter issue, they talk as if this Government has reached Duterte’s levels of impunity. The fact is that there is no impunity here in Sri Lanka at all. Duterte has had his own reasons for the crackdown on drugs in the Philippines, but that is the concern of the Filipinos. The media hype here is that our Government is using the crackdown on drugs as a prop to enhance its own image.

Attempt

The Government does not need the drug issue — the victims of drug proliferation need the Government to end the menace. The parents of teen addicts and other victims to the drug scourge would give anything to keep the drug barons in check.

But it does not take much effort for a pundit on TV to pontificate based on the hype that has been created by the reportage on the war on drugs. One such TV guest had said that the previous Government also tried to shore up its image with an unsuccessful war on drugs. But that war failed, and the pundit’s theory is that therefore this Government will also fail in the attempt to use the drug war as a prop.

The Government does not need any props. Critics are forgetting too soon that it is on the first few months of a tenure that was heralded by a two-thirds majority granted by the electorate.

That sort of mandate does not require any sort of exhibitionist hubris. Of course any dispensation will have to deal with various crises, and the sudden second outbreak of a COVID wave is one of them. But though there is no complete eradication of the spread yet, there is also no dramatic proliferation of the virus as seen in most other countries.

What is almost more scary than the virus itself is the level of hype that can be seen in the public space, particularly the media space. The scare culture that surrounded the issue of the 20th Amendment cannot even be called hype.

It was a campaign, and the problem with that was that its instigators thought it was a movement. This was, mind you, after an election in which they had suffered a humiliating defeat. Imagine the level of hubris in that. Those agitators against the 20th Amendment had imagined that immediately after a complete political wipeout, they could stage a political comeback using the agitation against the 20th Amendment as a prop.

Imagine the level of self-conceit in that. What were they thinking? That they could force some kind of impasse that could bring down the Government that had just secured a two-thirds majority?

It is hype and hubris, and the two conditions are like conjoined twins. They march together and are the tools that accompany failure.

Delusion

Hyperbole is, loosely put, an exaggerated narrative, and most of the hype regarding the issues of the day happens due to the exaggerated image that most purveyors of hyperbole entertain about their own abilities and effectiveness. At a political party level, the JVP for instance are the champions of hype.

But theirs is on the other hand more spite and cantankerousness than hype per se. The inferiority complex of the party leadership cabal is at spill level. They don’t think that they have just lost an election because they seem to be under some delusion that they are the Government.

Hyperbole commonly means extravagant exaggeration. When people say that the Government is compelling people to be under a military jackboot, that is extravagant exaggeration. 

But even worse, when they say that the 20th Amendment to the Constitution is the death knell to democracy, that is extreme extravagant exaggeration. My larger point is that a nation’s intellectual elite should not live on a diet of that kind of embellishment of fact and overstatement.

On the one hand, people will begin to desist from taking them seriously. On the other, their intellectual discourse should be something more than mere prattle, and to be substantial, it should be something more than mere hyperbole.

Time was when there used to be political slogans. President J.R. Jayewardene had Dharmishta Samajaya (A Virtuous Society). Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s Sanga, Veda, Guru, Govi, Kamkaru (Maha Sangha, Physicians, Teachers, Farmers and Working Class) was not a mere slogan, it was a rallying cry.

But, to say that the ‘Government is militarizing society’ or some such thing is not a political slogan — it is a gripe, and it is just idle intellectually dishonest hyperbole. The Opposition is trying to build a political journey on the strength of that. It is not a mere tall order, it is bound to be counter-productive because as C.A. Chandraprema observed in a recent interview, the people are no longer willing to believe in any lie or exaggeration peddled by the Opposition. Sri Lankans are well past that. Disruptive criticism is intended to harm the Government; instead it is bound to bury the critics.