IS “Timid Giant” Mocking or Maximizing Political Leaders? By Jitendra Kumar Sharma

Whatever charisma the crowds at political rallies impart to Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, their projection on the magic screen wipes it out. Further, It diminishes the leader’s personality and makes him appear lesser than the viewer, a mere object at display. If an advertisement fails to sell a product, the sponsoring company will take that advertisement off the TV screen. Political parties and leaders, on the contrary, act like addicts and go on doing the same thing with greater mendacity.  Bharat Ratna winning scientist C N R Rao has called politicians “Idiots” but the “Idiot-box” actually depicts them as morons.

 Narendra Modi had an upper hand over the electronic media but, then, came the big rallies and larger- than- life television projection of Modi as a Crowd Master.  As the Modi message grew louder, his TV image became lesser; higher the ‘hunkar’ at the rallies, lower the impact on TV viewers, especially the urban literate viewer. Previous Assembly polls have shown that it is local BJP leaders who mattered more and ousted the Congress from Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The reverse is happening in 2018 Assembly polls in these states.

Rahul Gandhi had all the advantages  of a soft personality suitable to TV medium but he wasted them away by  appearing on TV what he is not– a hot, rabble-rouser, rolling up his kurta-sleeves, alternately shaving and growing his beard, a prentice unsure of himself.

Kejriwal is comparatively a softer personality and has remained consistently so. His TV image is that of a modest street hawker of ideas, more suitable for TV projection, compared to hyped and exaggerated projection of both Modi and Rahul Gandhi. Likewise, Dr. Harshvardhan is softer and politically more impactful than Vijay Goel who is sharper but politically less convincing on the small screen.

The question is: Is  Televisions, the Timid Giant  maximizing or mocking  our political leaders and future prime ministers? 

The answer to this question demands understanding not only of how media and technology are rendering old forms and institutions of politics obsolete but how culture and technology are interacting to create new ‘forms’ and ‘counter-environments’ too fast for our grasp. It compels us to open up new doors of perception about society, politics, elections, political parties, western model of elective democracy and innovate and re-invent new forms of politics, institutions, leadership to harmonize with our current and on-going Technology driven cultural revolution.

 

IS “Timid Giant” Mocking or Maximizing Political Leaders? 

By Jitendra Kumar Sharma 

Blaring through 800 Channels to reach more than half a billion Indian viewers, Indian Television has surely grown into the McLuhanic “Timid Giant”. Political leaders’ temptation to climb over the timid giant’s ever-rising shoulders for being sighted by the farthest viewer is understandably irresistible. Is Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, prime ministerial rivals’ scrambling to sit taller on the timid giant’s head achieving the desired political impact? Or, is it merely an amusing spectacle? 

According to McLuhan, “TV is a medium that rejects the sharp personality and favors the presentation of processes rather than of products”. In fact, television tends to transmute political personalities into junky products. Surely, TV Political Image is not the Goebbels’ lie that through repetition gets transfigured into truth. Goebbels lived in the days of the radio and microphone which in McLuahnese are “hot” media. Hot media help political leaders, dictators and democrats alike, to win and rule the masses. Television, the ‘cool’ medium, would have humbled Churchill and Hitler and their spell-binding harangue would have provided only clownish entertainment to TV viewers. 

Controllers, operators, managers of Television remain much, too much, preoccupied with its ‘content’ rather than to care for its ‘form’. They believe that whatever is fed into the channel shall be digested by the viewers. They couldn’t careless anyway; because, they are not affected, only their political guests or clients are! The obvious fallacy of equating commercial advertisement with political advertisement surpasses their understanding. Commercial products do not speak; politicians do, and most of the time, more than they ought to.  

Products get displayed and spoken about on TV; political leaders get ‘exposed’ as they speak themselves. Products retain their mystique until they get actually used by the consumer. Commercial advertisers rarely appeal directly to their targeted   audience. If they need to promote women’s cosmetics, they will highlight their products’ hypnotizing impact on men; to sell ready-made hamburger, they will bring on the small screen well-fed, hungry children demanding instant food.

According to Edith Efron [TV Guide May 18,1963], television “ is unsuited to hot issues and sharply defined controversial topics” and McLuhan glosses, “ As a cool medium, TV has introduced a kind of rigor mortis into the body politic. It is the extraordinary degree of audience participation in the TV medium that explains its failure to tackle hot issues”.  

 Whatever charisma the crowds at political rallies impart to Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, their projection on the magic screen wipes it out. Further, It diminishes the leader’s personality and makes him appear lesser than the viewer, a mere object at display. If an advertisement fails to sell a product, the sponsoring company will take that advertisement off the TV screen. Political parties and leaders, on the contrary, act like addicts and go on doing the same thing with greater mendacity.  Bharat Ratna winning scientist C N R Rao has called politicians “Idiots” but the “Idiot-box” actually depicts them as morons.

Not all faces and not all issues are fit to be projected as they are [in their original form] on the TV screen. If getting political mileage is the aim, re-making of the political image is a constant challenge. McLuhan’s insight that “the success of any TV performer depends on achieving a low-profile style of presentation” has benefitted many TV performers but they also had to heed McLuhan’s warning that low pressure style of presentation requires “much high pressure organization”. Both these essentials are currently missing from Modi and Rahul Gandhi’s TV projection. 

TV is a medium that rejects sharp personality. Both Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi are becoming hotter and sharper after telecasts of their performance at their rallies. Remember Richard Nixon’s image- maker, Jack Paar. Jack had great difficulty with Nixon’s sharp personality but he drastically ‘Paared’ it down to re-make Nixon into “a suitable TV Image”. Paar completely ignored the “slick, glib, legal” political Nixon and projected him as “the doggedly creative and modest performer” at the piano. The TV ‘form” rejects propaganda “content” or else dictators would have conquered the world by controlling television. Castro knew this; as a dictator he masked himself as a teacher for his telecasts. 

 Narendra Modi had an upper hand over the electronic media but, then, came the big rallies and larger- than- life television projection of Modi as a Crowd Master.  As the Modi message grew louder, his TV image became lesser; higher the ‘hunkar’ at the rallies, lower the impact on TV viewers, especially the urban literate viewer. Previous Assembly polls have shown that it is local BJP leaders who mattered more and ousted the Congress from Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The reverse is happening in 2018 Assembly polls in these states. 

In Delhi 2013 Assembly elections, belated change of chief ministerial candidate from Viyay Goel [A sharp personality] to Harshvardhan [A soft personality] is what added eight more seats to BJP’s total tally  of 31 from 23 seats it got in 2008. Modi TV IMAGE EFFECT SO POWERFUL IN 2014 Lok Sabha Elections withered away within a few moths  by Modi’s overexpose on TV channels and miserably failed to stop BJP’s total decimation in Delhi’s 2015 Assembly elections, reducing it to 3 seats only. 

Rahul Gandhi had all the advantages  of a soft personality suitable to TV medium but he wasted them away by  appearing on TV what he is not– a hot, rabble-rouser, rolling up his kurta-sleeves, alternately shaving and growing his beard, a prentice unsure of himself. 

Kejriwal is comparatively a softer personality and has remained consistently so. His TV image is that of a modest street hawker of ideas, more suitable for TV projection, compared to hyped and exaggerated projection of both Modi and Rahul Gandhi. Likewise, Dr. Harshvardhan is softer and politically more impactful than Vijay Goel who is sharper but politically less convincing on the small screen. 

The question is: Is  Televisions, the Timid Giant  maximizing or mocking  our political leaders and future prime ministers? 

The answer to this question demands understanding not only of how media and technology are rendering old forms and institutions of politics obsolete but how culture and technology are interacting to create new ‘forms’ and ‘counter-environments’ too fast for our grasp. It compels us to open up new doors of perception about society, politics, elections, political parties, western model of elective democracy and innovate and re-invent new forms of politics, institutions, leadership to harmonize with our current and on-going Technology driven cultural revolution.

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