Is It Drugs or Aryan Khan, Who or What Do We Really Want Cancelled?
Shah Rukh Khan has the stardom that few manage to achieve; one that makes his children celebs for just existing.
'Cruise pe kaun tha, kaun tha' (who all were on the cruise), reverberated across WhatsApp groups on Saturday evening as reports of a Bollywood star's son being detained by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) filtered in. By the time the NCB officially confirmed Aryan Khan’s name, many a Sunday party plan had been cancelled as a precautionary measure.
But Aryan Khan's arrest has given us a reason to indulge in our favourite national pastime – epicaricacy, as Shashi Tharoor calls it, or Schadenfreude as us lesser mortals know of it. Come to think of it, despite being such a national sentiment, there is hardly a word for it in most of our popular Indian languages.
However, that hasn’t stopped us from indulging in it wholeheartedly.
Shah Rukh Khan has the kind of stardom that few manage to achieve in a lifetime; it is the kind of stardom that immediately grants his children celebrity status for just existing.
This privilege is why star kids are Instagram celebrities even without a single film to their credit; for example, Janhvi Kapoor and her sister Khushi Kapoor were Instagram stars much before Janhvi debuted. And Lord help us the day Taimur becomes old enough to have a social media account; even third-party accounts are able to monetise by posting his borrowed pictures.
Gone are the days when papa needed to put in a word with the director uncle for a brilliant launch, now all papa needs to do is to ask his PR team to curate his offspring's social media posts and voila, a star is born. All of which makes Aryan Khan the perfect receptacle for a collective snort of schadenfreude.
Cases Like the Mundra Port Drug Haul Are 'Too Dry' for Breathless Media Coverage
A celebrity crime case allows us to look away from the ills of the society. We can safely distance ourselves from the entire thing by saying, look only ‘they’ do these kinds of things. ‘We’ are all above that. It allows for a distraction from the larger issues involved in a rampant drug economy, because, ‘people like us’ don’t do it. It also means that ‘people like us’ don’t pay attention to news about drug hauls that do not have a celebrity angle to it.
For example, how many of you know the names of those arrested in the Mundra port drug haul by DRI? It is one of the largest drug hauls in recent times at a port and yet, not many people are interested in reading about it, because it does not give any gratification to ‘people like us’.
And no, it is not because it has not been covered at all by the media houses.
Most outlets have agency copies with regular updates and a few even have regular byline copies on the case; yes, even outlets that you may think are beholden to a particular ideology. But with no big name attached to the accused and the only name worth mentioning being too big and so far, somewhat tangential, the Mundra drug haul becomes too distant for us to relate to and hence be bothered about. And so, there will not be breathless coverage of that story, because the attention economy has not rewarded that story with clicks and likes. And you cannot cancel an entire port! Not viable at all economically.
Usually, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors see celebrity arrests as deterrent factors. The idea is that by giving exemplary punishment to the celebrity/influencer, one may prevent the easily influenced from committing a similar crime.
But one wonders about its efficacy in drug hauls as more than 30 years after Sanjay Dutt was outed as a user, drugs are still rampant. This is actually also the flip side of schadenfreude. You see, schadenfreude is only felt when there is something else about ‘them’ and their life that one finds aspirational.
Workings of the Attention Economy
The attention economy feeds our biases and our preconceived notions. This explains why it was so easy to buy into the bad girlfriend who leads her man astray stereotype that Rhea Chakraborty found herself cast into.
Or take that party at Karan Johar’s house, the video of which went viral. Internet sleuths analysed every inch of that picture to conclude something or the other was actually a line of cocaine. Vicky Kaushal, who until then was all set to prove a successor to the Mr Bharat title, was suddenly not kosher anymore, because we believe all stars do it.
It was also the logic behind Akshay Kumar and Suniel Shetty’s 1990s image building – much emphasis was laid on how they were teetotallers and non-smokers, thereby immediately setting them apart from the rest of the Bollywood pack.
The attention economy rarely tells us what we don’t know or what we need to know, but it ensures we become more entrenched in believing what we think we know.
Lastly, studying the ins and outs of the commission of regular crimes and working together to find ways to create awareness and prevent them is dull monotonous work that activists do. ‘People like us’ don’t have time for activism, come on. All that organising and mobilising youngsters and perhaps even blocking traffic, that’s not for ‘people like us’.
Cancelling drugs, that is hard work, for activists and cops. As for us, send us the next Aryan Khan meme, will you? Or is there a celebrity divorce or crime of passion we need to be distracted with? You got to keep feeding the attention economy, you know.
(Kajal K Iyer has worked as a Television Journalist for 15+ years, primarily covering Maharashtra, with stints in Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Goa. She writes mainly on legal matters and life and politics in Mumbai and tweets @Kajal_Iyer. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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