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Fire in Satire, Evasion as Opposition

Fire in Satire, Evasion as Opposition Bhupendra Yadav The commentary by M K Raghavendra (


Fire in Satire, Evasion as Opposition

Bhupendra Yadav

he commentary by M K Raghavendra (“Peepli Live and the Gesture of Concern”, EPW, 25 September 2010) makes interesting reading for two reasons.

First the writer has rightly pointed out that in the 1950s and 1960s, the star-studded films on rural India were political narratives of class conflict. On the other hand, the star-less Peepli Live, made in 2010, is like a lullaby for the English-knowing “nation”, only a gesture of “humanist” concern. Asking searching questions in the fi lm would have been desirable at a time when the agricultural crisis is severe.

The second reason why Raghavendra’s article is interesting is that it says the economy is nowadays commandeering culture and social criticism. The article argues that the corporatisation of fi lms has caused a united front of capital against socio-economic criticism and that there is greater censorship today because the job of the censor board is being done by the economy. Here the writer is over-stretching his argument and is being pessimistic about the possibilities of subversion.

Much is known/said about politicians most of the time. So, let us take the media. The media is powerful and much of it is capitalist. But ordinary people subvert the power of the media in everyday life through simple ways. Years ago, Jean Baudrillard, in his The Vital Illusion, suggested two things about representation of reality by the media. First, he said, the virtual is becoming the enemy of reality and, second, even masses can manipulate the media.

Baudrillard said that, in the past, reality was the destination of virtual representation in theatre and literature. Now, however, the virtual does not stand in for the real

Bhupendra Yadav ( is with the MD University, Rohtak.

but functions to banish it. We find a few sequences in Peepli Live where this seems true. Sometime after he is tricked into becoming the suicidal scapegoat, Natha develops cold feet. He asks his elder brother, Budhiya, to commit suicide instead. “But how can I? The TV has declared you as the courageous one and your photos have already been broadcast”, says the wily Budhiya.

Representation of Reality

After theatre and cinema, the media marks the highest stage of representation of reality. Those in power may think that they can use the media to manipulate and seduce the masses. However, the reverse is also possible. The beleaguered object of media scrutiny, like any virus under attack, also “invents strategies to counterfeit, evade, disguise, disappear” (Baudrillard: 79).

The media expands and thinks it creates reality after its wish. From just one dedicated news channel, i e, Star News, in 1998, we have more than 40 today. The screen and networks are more important to them than the scene and the people. So much information is generated that there is an information overload. So many images are pressed into service, through the in-house digital archives or OB vans, that the anchors themselves look bewildered.

On the other hand, as consumers of the news channels we forget in the morning what we saw the night before. We greet all the self-serving efforts of the media by either forgetting or remaining passive. The term “couch potato” is coined to tease us out of our passivity. To seduce us to remember the milestones of TV programmes come programmes like “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?”

No one asks just why we are so passive to TV or why we so easily forget its content. I can think of two reasons for this indifference. First, the flashy media has substituted style for substance. News is sexed up and tabloidisation of its content is frequent. Sting operations are an everyday occurrence. To top it all, we get “Breaking News” every hour (Thussu: 103-04).

Second, the subjects that interest the media may not interest all the 400 millions watching satellite and cable TV in India. For instance, the news channels use cinema, cricket and crime to infotain us 24×7. But all of us may really be interested in knowing why glaciers are melting and how close the deluge is. Why does the best food not reach us at reasonable prices? How is the power to change land use being misused by the governing elite? Is there any thought given to improving the police?, etc.

The corporate media is always decked up and is trying so hard through newer products to catch more eyeballs than the competition. Yet, most of the time, it ends up making a fool of itself and not us. What should I believe? Are the Murdochs of the world, with all their big bucks, talented specialists and creative professionals, calling the shots? Or is the viewer a winner, behaving as s/he is like a “disobedient object” with innovative techniques to evade, disguise and disappear? We would like to believe that there can be fire in satire and evasion is also a form of opposition.


Baudrillard, Jean (2000): The Vital Illusion (New York: Columbia University Press).

Thussu, Daya Kishan (2007): News as Entertainment: The Rise of Global Infotainment (London: Sage Publications).

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october 23, 2010 vol xlv no 43

Economic & Political Weekly

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