Indians Fixating On Celeb Tweets: What This Says About Us Elites
“The fixation over celebrity tweets reveals a conceit that exaggerates the value of our opinions & those of celebs.”
There is a lot being said about what has transpired in the last 48 hours on Twitter. In case you have been living under a rock, I am referring to celebrities crawling out of the woodwork to weigh in on the farmers’ protest and the deluge of commentary that has followed in their wake. At this point, I have enough material from my timeline to churn out multiple opinion columns.
For example, I could seek to interpret what the adage, ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’ means in the context of the history of Indian cinema. Or analyse why some celebrities yield to pressure from the government – does their lust for money and power know no bounds, or are they simply amoral, or perhaps, they are over-leveraged, and more vulnerable due to weakened democratic institutions?
Alternatively, I could hold forth on how our lens tends to be trained on the Delhi-Bombay axis when it comes to defining celebrity. Or attempt to deconstruct the mania an American pop star’s comment on an article on the farmers’ protest has unleashed on two sides of the political and ideological divide.
And, I could talk about the vicarious embarrassment I feel from the sheer lack of dignity in the government’s knee-jerk responses. There is also low hanging fruit – pit Indian stars against American stars and sit in judgement.
You get the point.
Social Media Debate Over Celeb Takes On Ongoing Protests — The Worst Kind Of Navel-Gazing
The scope for chatter on the subject is endless and so is the temptation to stay on it. It has all the makings of a blockbuster. A riveting plot revolving around celebrity cat fights, unfolding in real time and an all-star cast – Rihanna, Kangana Ranaut, Karan Johar, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli and a powerful but unhinged State machinery. Who would not want a seat in the peanut gallery? But that is not the only reason we are transfixed.
The social media debate over celebrities and their positions on the on-going protests is the worst kind of navel gazing. For the majority of those who have jumped into the ring, their sense of entitlement is so entrenched that they cannot see what is playing out on ground for what it really is.
They are incorrigibly blind to both the cause and consequence of the gory theatre of oppression put up by the State over two months of relentless struggle against it in the harshest of conditions – the bitter cold, the price of it all, the loss of life, livelihood and hope, the arrests, the illegal detentions, and the stakes.
They consume ground reality filtered through clickbait and headlines, cherry picking the ones that align in their favour and using them as pawns in a seemingly never-ending round of chess between armchair ideological warriors. Their performative outrage eclipses the anger of the wounded protestor. They risk little relative to the woman and man going to battle for their rights, and yet they do not hesitate to appropriate the canvas, draw their own battle lines and bicker to settle petty, inconsequential scores – back-slapping, flinging brickbats and basking in the glory of their celebrity of choice.
How We, The Elites, Distract Ourselves From Our Own Complicity
The relentless navel gazing has its uses. It doubles up as a distraction for the liberal elite, from their own complicity. The farmers on the borders of Delhi have taken a long, arduous road, over decades, to get there. The farm bills they are opposing are not the crux of the problem – they are the last straw.
The crux of their problems lies in the social and economic structures that benefit us elites, the pursuit of market reforms that underpin our aspirations, the institutions of justice that we are comfortable having priority access to, a financial system that is exclusionary, strictures of class and caste that we employ to our advantage, and the concept of growth that has precipitated climate change, depleted natural resources and equated development with rural migration to urban centres.
If a fraction of the time being spent on lambasting celebrities was spent, instead, on asking ourselves some hard questions, many of us will find ourselves complicit — both in the misery of the protestors and in the political and institutional systems that are oppressing them.
The classic tale of the emperor with no clothes has not been updated for democratic countries. If it were, the moral of the story would be that if our emperor is naked, then so are we.
The Elite Instinct Is To Respond To Muzzling Of Authentic Voices By Speaking FOR Them
The fixation over celebrity tweets is also revelatory of a conceit that exaggerates the value of our opinions and those of our celebrities. Media is no longer the exclusive domain of a handful of filmmakers, columnists and editors – the protestors are telling their own story, running their own broadcasts and broadsheets, and in control of their own narrative. In this, they are ably assisted by ground reporters and members of the civil society who understand that true solidarity is more expensive than talk. This is precisely why the State is attempting to restrict their access to the internet.
The elite instinct is to respond to the muzzling of authentic voices by speaking for them instead of joining them in battle to restore their means of self-expression, and then getting out of the way.
This instinct is rooted in history. James Baldwin spoke to the liberal elite across centuries when he said, “You can’t help but feel that there is something that you can do for me. That you can save me and you don’t yet know that I have endured your salvations so long, I cannot afford it anymore. Not another moment of your salvation..but I .. I .. I..can save you”.
Borrowing from another teller of uncomfortable truths, Ruth Bader Ginsburg — perhaps the farmers need no favours; they merely need us to take our foot off their neck and allow them to save us.
(Pragya Tiwari is a Delhi-based writer. She tweets at @PragyaTiwari. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)
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