criticalvoices

On issues that matter …

Hollywood and Silicon Valley – a match made in cyberspace September 30, 2012

Well, the future is here already… if the entertainment and communication technology experts have been talking about it, content producers are already doing it – meeting new media head on.

Leading the way is Anthony Zuiker, creator of the hit CSI series on television, who has molded his craft to fit the online  format, while dishing out tried and tested plot lines, and unabashedly mixing creativity and commerce by incorporating the sponsor front and center into the story.

I don’t know how many of you clicked on Cybergeddon, that conspicuous icon on the top left side of the Yahoo homepage this past week… I happened to notice it a couple of days ago and clicked it purely on curiosity and was pleasantly surprised to find this brand new series (or is it a movie?) packaged into bite sized chapters (averaging 10 minutes each), and ending before you latched on to it – a perfect online media experience.

Cyber geeks might find me a tad too giddy over this, but what the heck, I am excited at the real possibilities in the virtual world.

Cybergeddon is a crime thriller on … well, no brownie chips for guessing … cyber terrorism with America’s pet penchant of world-on-the-brink-of-extinction climax. The nine part web series premiered on Yahoo this week. It’s all about cyber terror, hackers (the good ones and the bad ones), the FBI and the oh-so-vulnerable-to-computer-viruses world that we live in.

You can hang me for watching Avatar on my laptop (due apologies to James Cameroon) but hey, that’s me – the quintessential web worm, happy to cozy-up on my bed watching movies (needless to say, Netflix and Hulu love me), uncannily feeling like they have all put up the show just for me. So, Cybergeddon, as a web offering, is made just for me.

As a recluse I may not belong to a popular social segment but there are millions of those newly designated ‘Social TV’ audiences who must be relishing the idea of an exclusive web movie that can be watched anytime anywhere, even on their hand held devices.

Talk of media integration and I know now this is what it really is. Zuiker says cross-platform storytelling is the future; he told LA Times the relationship between Hollywood and Silicon Valley needs to be figured out fast and he wants to be the first to do it.

To critique the drama itself, I would say I wasn’t particularly kicked with the acting talents, except for Kick Gurry (who plays the cute hacker, Rabbit) in the movie and perhaps Olivier Martinez who plays the bad guy.

The exciting new cross-platform format and simultaneous multi-country, multi-language release and all the behind-the-scenes fun and trivia in an add-on web extension apart (all with unlimited access), what strikes me most is the blatant, never-seen-before brand integration. Subtle product placements in the mise-en-scene are so passé. Cybergeddon’s co-producers and financiers Symantec and its signature product Norton Antivirus not only double up as technical advisers to the project, but Norton Antivirus actually plays a major part in the movie.

This is media economics in play, and like how.  Creativity rules, technology monetizes and audiences live happily ever after…

Srirekha Chakravarty

 

To Kashmir or not to Kashmir September 26, 2012

 

Every time a Pakistani President or Prime Minister – almost by rote – brings up the Kashmir issue at the annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session, the Indian media collectively goes: “Not again!”

Not one to disappoint on that tradition, President Asif Ali Zardari, yesterday, raked up the issue of Kashmir once again at the 67th session of the UNGA currently on in New York. In his speech to the General Assembly, he called Kashmir a symbol of failures rather than strengths of the United Nations.

As one who has covered many a UNGA session, I can tell you, it’s like déjà vu for the more than 100 member Indian contingent – including the Prime Minister or the External Affairs Minister, the accompanying delegation of ministers and cabinet secretaries, the diplomats and the Indian media – who routinely fly out to New York to be part of the annual diplomatic jamboree. They wait expectantly for the Pakistani representative to deliver the Kashmir rhetoric, and then rush to dish out their own rhetoric about the Kashmir dispute being an internal issue and that no third party can interfere.

Popular opinion in India – among those interested – tends to suggest that Kashmir is the pet flog for Pakistani leaders whenever they try to cover up or divert attention from some domestic matter.

I wouldn’t hazard suggesting that Zardari is deflecting attention from unconfirmed and unverified news that his spunky, young and married foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar wants to get divorced and marry his son Bilawal. Admittedly, the hilarity of such a situation makes one indulge in a guilty smirk, but no, I wouldn’t give credence to tabloid gossip.

The last couple of years saw much progress in implementing some of the confidence building measures (CBMs) between the two countries. Diplomatic exchanges have expanded, trade relations are picking up, and some visa norms have been eased. Only last month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met with President Zardari in Tehran on the sidelines of the Non-Alignment Movement Summit.  Definitely not signs of a brewing friendship, but signs of easing of political tensions between the two neighbors.

Bringing up Kashmir then comes as an apology to the hardliners in Pakistan for the inescapability of having to acknowledge the positive developments between the two countries.

So apart from India, is anyone else at the UNGA really listening to Pakistan harp obsessively about Kashmir? I doubt it, partly because most UN members suffer unfriendly neighbors anyway.

The periodic hurling of rhetoric is simply a cat and mouse game that India and Pakistan have perfected. Geographically, they know they are stuck with each other. So it’s like – you don’t have to take a pasta casserole to your neighbor if you don’t want to, but you don’t dump your trash on their lawn either.

(Note: This is not to trivialize the suffering of all those who have fallen victim to the many terror attacks in India, which have been traced to have originated in Pakistan.)

 

Srirekha Chakravarty

 

 

 

 

 

 

Justice vs Tribal Justice September 25, 2012

 

It is what a communication theorist would call cognitive dissonance. In simple English, for the purpose of my writing, let’s just call it a dilemma. And that’s where I am stuck – in a cognitive dissonance as it were – in my understanding of this Calcutta High court ruling ordering that Maoist prisoners be treated as political prisoners.

So where is the dissonance you ask? It’s between political hegemony and political ideologies; between systemic marginalization and peoples’ rebellion; between state suppression of the disenfranchised and killing of innocents as a form of protest; between state propaganda and media stereotyping.

For those of us who have heard of Maoists only from the media, the word rarely conjures up the image of poverty-stricken, disenfranchised tribal communities who perhaps are nothing more than a statistic in the purview of the government. Rather, what it sparks are images of violence, of beheaded cops, blown up schools and railway tracks.  Ironically, the people in both images are faceless.

How does one reconcile with a righteous war of a marginalized people fighting for their rightful place in mainstream society when the victims of that war are part of that same marginalized society? How does one sympathize with a political ideology (of people against the state) that has with time become as blurred as that of any regular political party? How does one back a movement whose leadership is as questionable as that of any other political party?

When Maoists kill cops, are we supposed to see their larger political goal or are we to see cold blooded execution style murders?

When the security forces hunt down Maoists in their jungle hideouts and kill them, do we see suppression of a peoples’ fight for justice or do we see action against terrorist acts?

Digging deeper, you do wonder how or why all oil explorations or mineral finds happen on tribal land – is it because these people are easy to displace. Well, nobody ever hears of discovery of mineral deposits in the heart of a city where it is almost impossible to displace even a slum dweller.

And then you wonder too how the state is supposed to mete out justice to the innocent victims of a war, however justified that war might be.

If the state is to blame for having failed to bring the tribal and poor villagers into the ambit of development, the Maoist leaders are equally to blame for perpetuating the status quos.

So who are the real victims here? The poor tribals (the front for a misguided ideology) and the cops (the front for callous state), both of who are mere pawns in the machinations of political leaders, be it those in power in the government or those wielding arms in the jungles.

Politics is politics, it can only be bad, if at all, but never good.

 

Srirekha Chakravarty

 

 

 

 

The ideology of money in politics September 22, 2012

Media blown controversies on the American presidential campaign trail are much like sand storms in a desert – if you get caught in one, you get sand in your eyes, and when you manage to escape it, you escape with nothing more than well, sand in your eyes.

If my sand storm analogy sounds corny, I apologize, but confess it comes inspired as it were by my brother who lives in Dubai, UAE… (UAE-desert-sand… of course you see the connection)

Okay, back on campaign controversies, let me talk about this latest storm before it settles down – Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his comments at a fundraiser on the 47% Americans who he admits will not vote for him because they are the non-tax paying, government dole taking, lazy section of the population who will vote for President Obama anyway. At the same Boca Raton, Florida fundraiser, Romney was on a roll when he went on about unskilled immigrants coming to America and not leaving; and about Palestinians not wanting peace.

To a room full of supporters who paid $50,000 a plate, for Romney to say that he is “just a church mouse” referring to his own wealth, is a cruel joke on the 47% Americans, even if he didn’t vote for him.

Romney’s own words, which came as clarification the next day, that his comments were “not elegantly stated” undermines the portentous import of the message behind them.

So here’s an ‘outsider’s’ take from the said brother who lives in Dubai, UAE, and I quote:

“There has been enough bashing in the media about Romney’s now infamous “47% American Victims” who won’t vote for him, to the Palestinians who are not interested in peace.

But the question is, why did he say this and to whom? It was his fundraiser and he said exactly what his financiers/donors would like to hear.

How about them – these (campaign) financiers? Obviously Romney was trying to appease them so that millions could be poured into his election fund. Would they have agreed to fund him if he said anything otherwise or not what they like to hear? Was Romney voicing his thoughts or was he voicing his financiers’ thoughts. Now this is scary!”

How about that? That’s a perspective, which ominously throws light on the control of the corporate class over the political class, and by extension, over the Executive in Washington DC.

Indeed, when campaigns, elections and political offices in general ride on money – and we are talking big money running into hundreds of millions of dollars – ideology and real issues become mere tag words which can be changed depending on which audience you are addressing.

Is this the real Romney? Does Romney really believe that 47% Americans do not take responsibility for themselves and want the government to take care of them? Or is the Romney that stands with shirt sleeves rolled up, before blue collar workers and immigrants and talks about understanding their struggles, the real Romney.

Perhaps neither. But the one that is sure to prevail is the persona that fits in with the ideology of the deep pockets.

Washington DC has long been the betting ground for corporate America. It is their money that shapes policy and it is their money that writes the talking points for politicians.

So whether it is the 47% non-tax paying Americans or the 52% tax-paying Americans, elections are never about them. They are and will continue to be about the 1% that funds them.

Srirekha Chakravarty

 

Translating the virtual to the real September 19, 2012

It was Fall last year, a bunch of New Yorkers, brought together through social media, launched the Occupy Wall Street movement where hundreds of protesters occupied a public park on Wall Street.

To me, every element of the movement seemed just so right – it was for the first time in decades that Americans, even if relatively a small number, actually came down to the streets to protest the big corporations; they were mostly young, they were mobilized through social media, and they were not just blue collar, they were the 99%.

Americans should pride themselves for their respect for democratic norms. Unlike elsewhere in the world where agitations rarely remain peaceful, the Occupiers have exercised their rights and responsibilities to the book.

But somehow, the movement which caught the imagination of social media savvy youth the world over, grabbed the attention of the conventional media and caused at least some American lawmakers sleepless nights, failed to sustain its momentum and numbers.

So what went wrong? Right from natural elements like winter setting in, to losing the sympathy of a predominantly hegemonic mainstream media and a dumbed down society at large, to simply fizzling out owing to the intrinsic shallowness of social media.

The now theorized Arab Spring, which was essentially bolstered by social media, worked primarily because real people in real big numbers came out from the virtual sphere to the public sphere and stayed there till they achieved their goals. The problem with Americans, however, is that their virtual numbers rarely translate into real world numbers.

But more than anything, what undermines the movement is the anti-socialist propaganda in America that has for over a century, been demonizing anything that remotely challenges the American big business – injected into the psyche of Americans, much like the hypodermic needle, that to oppose the capitalists necessarily means a takeover by communists.

On September 17, on the movement’s first anniversary, the occupiers converged once again at Zuccotti Park on Wall Street. Many were promptly hauled away by the NYPD and the rest, left without direction, simply dispersed.

It is heartening to see that the core idea of the Occupy movement is not dead, but the medium on the back of which it is being carried, is not mature enough. I am talking about social media. Typical of such a medium of communication, the Occupy movement is a level playing virtual field with no leaders. I would hate to give it to Malcolm Gladwell who said the next revolution will not be retweeted. But it’s true, because real world problems need real leaders and most importantly, real sacrifices.

Srirekha Chakravarty

 

Nudity sells, but at a cost September 18, 2012

Most of us who are not part of some form of government believe in freedom of the press. Barring the reality that most so called free press adheres to what Naom Chomsky theorized as ‘manufacturing of consent’, free societies at large do believe what they see in the media is the outcome of those Constitutionally given freedoms.

But then, how does one wrap one’s mind around the inherent conflict between such freedoms and individual right to privacy, media ethics, social mores of moral self-regulation and simple decency.

If you are already wondering where I am going with this… well, I am going to France and Italy. A French magazine last week published photographs of a semi-nude Catherine Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, and wife of Prince William of England taken while the couple was on a private vacation in Provence, France.

Reports are that despite the royal couple initiating legal action against the French magazine that originally published the topless photos of a sunbathing Middleton, an Italian gossip magazine owned by former President, the disgraced Silvio Berlusconi, went ahead and published 26 pages of the same.

Alright, I am not going to be naïve and wonder what drives a publication to go with such non-news worthy elements in today’s world where the definition of news has been obscured beyond any self respecting journalist’s comprehension. Still, for a newspaper to be hell bent on publishing semi-nude pictures of royalty or anyone for that matter as a “service” to its readers or as an expression of freedom of the press smacks of a blatant  agenda more than anything else.

That the publication is owned by former Italian President, the disgraced Berlusconi perhaps indicates a political angle here; and also highlights extreme hegemony where ownership of media automatically filters or sensationalizes what gets published or broadcast in the media.

Also there is hypocrisy at play here as British tabloids including The Sun have refrained from publishing those photos.

Sure, the royals cannot live in a glass bubble and expect people not to look. But as a student of Communication, I am beginning to understand the inherent flaws in the Uses and Gratification Theory – it is a myth if the media thinks it gives people what they need and want to read/see/hear. Really, for anyone who has seen those photographs, I wonder what ‘need’ has been gratified. And even if someone’s vicarious and voyeuristic need was fulfilled, I wonder how many readers wanted or demanded the publication of such photographs.

As a media consumer I fail to see the aesthetic value of those photographs. And as a media critique, I fail to sympathize with the economics driven desperation and debasement of mass media.

Srirekha Chakravarty

 

 

 

 

For the love of God September 15, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — srirekha @ 3:26 pm
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In my last post, I tried to stay clear of opinionating on the ongoing violent protests by Muslims in many parts of the world against the anti-Muhammed film claimed to have been made by a US-based filmmaker. But, today, ironically, I feel “provoked” enough to find a perspective.

The other day, a recent acquaintance – a woman who actively practices the Muslim faith – vented out frustration over the frequent flare ups in the world in the name of religion in general. “I am sick of all this violence,” she said. “When will they stop killing innocent people in the name of protecting religion? Don’t they fear God?” she burst out somewhat dramatically.

As one who abhors the highly commercialized and politicized form of religion (of any faith) that is practiced the world over today, I could not empathize with her. And more importantly, I could not have DISAGREED with her more on the redundancy of her rhetoric – “Don’t they fear God?”
“Fear of God,” I told her. “That’s what needs to be eliminated, not instilled.”

It does not require evidence, empirical or any other, to know that “Fear of God” is the greatest scourge that has been perpetuated and etched as in stone on the psyche of the masses across cultures and geographical boundaries over the centuries.

It is that fear which makes people defensive and therefore aggressive; it is that fear which when provoked makes them react with emotions from mild sentimentality to violent reprisal; it is that fear which makes them worship at altars in the first place.

Real power rests in the hands of the vested few who control, manage, manipulate, propagate and sell religion. And the single most powerful tool they use to sway the masses – FEAR OF GOD.

Institutionalized religion is the most lucrative commercial venture that ensures returns on investment and the stake holders don’t even have to give a product guarantee. If it works for you, you are blessed, if it doesn’t, well, you are damned!

Srirekha Chakravarty