Thursday, November 27, 2014

Drowning in the trivial - II

With Reliance taking over Network 18 which includes TV channels like CNBC TV18, CNN-IBN and CNN Awz, the media scene in India looks worrying. Carl Sagan says in The Demon-Haunted World:
I hope no one will consider me unduly cynical if I assert that a good first order model of how commercial and public television works is simply this: Money is everything. In prime time, a single rating point difference is worth millions of dollars in advertising....the content of commercial programming is in the course of a steep, long-term dumbing down.
Much the same can be said about TV in India. In the last IPL, there was a match-fixing controversy and there was some doubt over whether the final will be held. I normally don't watch IPL but this time I decided to watch the pre-show before the final to see what will be said about the controversy. (I am often told that I am wasting my time watching Test cricket. I never fail to be amused by the thought that I seem to have wasted a lot less time than most of those who are smitten by T20 cricket.) With the King of Hype, Navjot Singh Sidhu in full cry, I needn't have bothered.

There were the usual flashing lights, music, jokes that had to be advertised as such and raucous laughter. It seemed as if the people were living in an alternate reality. If an alien had come and watched the program it would have thought that people had nothing better to do than watch the King of Hype in hyperactive mode. In one program, a senior executive of IPL was asked whether there was too much cricket. He replied, 'There is never too much of cricket.' As Upton Sinclair said, 'It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.'

And now that many sports have IPL-style matches, it will keep everyone busy all year with the menfolk watching sport and the women watching serials. A humorous old man told me that he had stopped going to people's houses after 6 p.m. because they will be glued to the idiot box. He said that beneath their welcoming smiles they may be thinking, 'What a time for this old man to come and pester us!' It is ironical but I seem to remember watching more interesting programs in my neighbours' houses when I didn't have a TV and DD was the only game in town.

Before my stroke, I had a mental frame whereby even though I was not religious, I was deferential to religion. (In this video, Simon Singh gives a good demonstration of mental frames.) The message of respecting religion is constantly reinforced in movies, TV programs, newspapers, conversations etc. This mental frame got shattered only some years after my stroke after the full blast of the weirdness hit me. Earlier, I was hesitant to advertise the fact that I am an atheist. Now, I don't give a damn.

Most people have some irrational behavior or the other which they often indulge in especially when under some sort of pressure. It will be like the story of Neils Bohr. A visitor to his house was surprised to find a horseshoe above the front doorway. Tradition asserts that a horseshoe brings luck when placed over a door.  He expressed incredulity that a man of science could possibly be swayed by a simple-minded folk belief. The physicist replied: 'Of course I don’t believe in it, but I understand it brings you luck, whether you believe in it or not.'

But what I encounter often is of a different order. A Maths teacher said that nothing is a coincidence, everything is the work of God. Sujit was told that he should keep an empty place next to him while writing examinations where Lord Ganapati can sit. Apparently, the birth of the Kauravas is evidence for the existence of stem cell technology in Mahabharata times. I was told that Modi recites some mantras everyday before dawn which makes him invincible in any argument. I was told that a college in Puttaparti run by Sai Baba gave admission to a student because he said, 'I knew Baba from the time I was in the womb!' And this was presented as evidence of how great the college was! Spinoza's God, indeed!

The majority of people from the PM down have strange beliefs - politicians, bureaucrats, army commanders, bank officers etc. are all in the same boat.  Many well-heeled people take great pride in flaunting their religiosity and spending ostentatiously for religious events. When the Minister for Water Resources, Uma Bharati, was asked about mixing science and mythology, she said that in India, both were the same. Thanks for the clarification, ma'am. How can anybody doubt that this century belongs to India?! Considering the amount of mental baggage that people carry, if I was a believer, I would have required an Electric Monk described by Douglas Adams in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency:
The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder. Dishwashers washed tedious dishes for you, thus saving you the bother of washing them yourself; video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself; Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe.
The man from the Monk shop...pointed out that the new improved Monk Plus models were twice as powerful, had an entirely new multitasking Negative Capability feature that allowed them to hold up to sixteen entirely different and contradictory ideas in memory simultaneously without generating any irritating system errors, were twice as fast and and at least three times as glib, and you could have a whole new one for less than the cost of replacing the motherboard of the old model.
Being an irrational atheist is good enough for me. I had come to the conclusion long ago that talking to people with such beliefs would be a waste of time especially for me.It be like talking to the deaf person in the following episode. An old man I knew who was hard of hearing was going to Palakkad in a car. A friend of his was travelling in another car in the opposite direction and when they crossed each other they slowed down for a brief conversation. The friend asked, 'Are you going to Palakkad?' The old man replied, 'No, no. I am going to Palakkad.'

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