Heart of Darkness
On the Sarai Reader-List, Ananya Vajpeyi has made a long, angry posting about how she is disillusioned with her job as the editor of the Op-Ed page in a paper edited by a baldy, a paper which has been in relentless self-congratulation mode for months now. Her post reads like a rant with little substance, but it is worth reading for its Arundhati Royesque emotion - it tells you a lot about how the media is so full of talented people whose creativity is stifled because of 'organisational needs'. I'm pasting the full text here, the link is here anyway.Heart of Darkness
By Ananya Vajpeyi
If it's not in the news, my editor says every single morning, then don't write about it. Or, if I'm writing something anyway, he wants to know what the "news-peg" is, on which I will hang my piece. But this article is not about elections. It's not about the economy. It's not about cricket. It's not about the Left parties. It's not about international affairs. I guess you could conclude, then, that it's not about what's in the news. It is about the news. Note, editor of mine: this article is about the news.
There are three fields about which I know a little bit, from my admittedly limited life-experiences: academia, the arts, journalism. I can tell you something about the way these spheres of activity function in this and a couple of other countries. I can tell you, after struggling for the past few years to find a way to contribute to these arenas of public life while making ends meet, in big cities and small towns all over India, that at the bottom of my heart I am beginning to lose the faith. Just like I was told I would, when I was younger. It's only a matter of time, young people are told, before the dying of the light. One doesn't believe it. Until one day the darkness is upon one.
And the news, again? What does the news have to do with this sense one gets, of fighting a losing battle, of being aboard a sinking ship, of – choose your own metaphor – not being able to discern a ray of light by which to find one's way? This is my hypothesis: the news enacts, performs, dramatizes, and exemplifies everything about our society that reeks of cynicism. News takes the darkness that lurks on the edges of our sight, like an impending loss of consciousness, and writes it bright across our television screens, or black on the white of newsprint. If news is an index of our collective life as a nation, a symptom of what ails us, then our sickness is clear, we suffer from that terminal disease of the soul: cynicism. I think I'm in the early stages of infection myself, truth be told. Nothing else explains the dead weight in my heart every morning. It became considerably heavier when I started working for a newspaper.
Here's the landscape: A war zone gets hit by an earthquake. A clutch of cats, the last of their kind, is shot, skinned, sold. A young man doing his job is murdered in the back of his own car. People go shopping before Diwali, and come home without fathers, children, wives, limbs. Liars seize power. Villages are crushed under the slow-turning wheels of the perpetual revolution. A man from Kerala is kidnapped and killed in the badlands of Afghanistan. Sportsmen perform miserably, unable to master either game or ego. Girls are raped, gays treated like lepers, and no one has time for the poor and their never-ending poverty. Tribals face extinction. Cities rot, inundated with water from the sky, flooded with water from the rivers. Forests are a fading memory. Yet another Muslim woman takes the consequences of double minority. A deadly mafia don proves photogenic, his moll even more so. Workers are beaten within an inch of their lives.
Alright, so there's no appeal against natural disasters, and terrorism is practically a force of nature nowadays. Armies will do what they're supposed to do: make war. Human beings are destined to suffer, and in such calamitous times, when there is little protection for human life, who will save trees and animals? Surely it's not the fault of news that all news these days seems to be bad news?
But no, what ails us is not that there is, as the Buddha stated in his very first axiom, suffering in the world. Dukha is old news. What makes it all so unpalatable is the shameless voyeurism, the mindless reiteration, the immorality, the unscrupulousness, the insensitivity and the downright dishonesty which characterise the workings of the media, of politics, and of their unholy nexus, news. If it scares you to watch this dance of death from afar, then it would turn your stomach, trust me, no, worse – it would wipe out your faith, gentle reader – to inhabit belly of the beast.
For hundreds of years in our part of the world, people wrote of things real and fantastic in the genre of the Purana. Many of these texts contained descriptions of the chaos and corruption that would mark the world in the Kali Yuga, the last of the four great ages of humankind. Teachers will lead their students away from knowledge, rulers will drive their subjects to perdition, truth will vanish, beauty perish, and righteousness meet an inglorious end. The bull that is Dharma, they claimed, will be left standing on its last leg. The ancients got it right, apparently. Somewhere in their incoherent prescience of apocalypse, in their alarm about the fast-attenuating moral center of their society, they threw us a map with which to navigate our own nightmarish times.
Kali Yuga: the society of the spectacle. Life on TV. For a civilization that has produced some of the truest, most beautiful texts, artefacts, theories, ways of life and modes of being, we have arrived at a sorry pass indeed, the nadir of ignorance, inanity and unethical consumption, an infernal mish-mash of breaking news-page three-advertising-globalisation in our faces day and night, killing us, killing us, killing us. We rob the poor, we rape the weak, we cheat the helpless, we steal from the blind. And then we broadcast it, live, 24X7.
As though this can go on much longer. It is not possible to have a political life without ethics. It is not possible to do work when its only object is destruction rather than creation. It is not possible to use language without respect for the truth, to editorialize without commitment, to preach when your real objective is to obfuscate, to lead when you are headed straight to hell.
At the heart of darkness, incessantly generating its meaningless commotion, a television set.