Random pictures of mountains and canyons

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The Dark Knight Rises as Liberal Triumph

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The title of the film alludes to a rising but in reality it was no Lazarian feature, rather it was a stone over a mausoleum. It could have been better, no doubt, but at least the trilogy was decisively ended, the interpretation of the comic firmly closed.

As I see it, the problem with mainstream movie production is the sense of financial expectation coupled with that certain ‘anxiety of influence’, that all creatives have to live up to. They are acutely aware about what needs to be done for the studio’s success and are very alert to the activities of their rivals. Nolan was, no doubt, aware about the release date of The Avengers and was also conscious to an extent about the type of competition it would present at the box-office. Being both a writer and the director of the film, (two of the most important roles in production), Christopher Nolan would have been closely linked with the off-screen financial machinery of the studio. This has hampered our enjoyment of the film, because it “goes out with a bang”, too big a bang in many instances of the film. The other two in the trilogy are quite gradual and well-spaced compared to this one, in plot and action. Whether this is to ensure returns or to vocalise the swan-song, I cannot say for certain.

Nolan displays a Liberal understanding of this machinery of the market in The Dark Knight Rises as well as a keen sense of observation of current affairs. Unlike the Marvel/Disney offerings, The Dark Knight films have never been fantastic. This has been at times strength, as well as flaw. The strength they exhibit is their ability to convey the real world to us, to make us believe that such events could be realised one day. Their flaw is that they are too set on the rational, set to convince us about the sanctity of (Liberal) Science.

The entire movie is set around the premise of the ancient war between Necessary Evil and Necessary Good. This is what we are told overtly, anyway. In reality though, it has very little to do with this theme. In reality, it is in fact a cunning commentary on the state of the world today and it is no coincidence that the strongest images revolve around the financial sector. A survey of this film shows us references of the Occupy Wallstreet Movement, rioting and class warfare. We are told as much in the trailer when Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) threatens Bruce Wayne’s class at a dance. She echoes what has been a consistent message of the anti-1% front, namely, that rich people have to face up to the judgment of the exploited. Kyle is, however a thief, and we can guess from the very start (usual mainstream motif) that she ends up with Bruce Wayne so her words are those of a hypocrite. In this way, through her character, the message of the Occupy movement is dismissed as both faulty and untrustworthy. Hypocrites like Kyle.

The whole movie is, essentially, a lesson plan in laissez faire Liberal economics. We are even given a nice visual tour of Wall Street. “Invest if you want to restore balance” – one of the characters at the stock exchange tells another. He might as well be Obama speaking to the bosses of Big Business. This is interesting because, quite obviously, it is directed towards the upper class. It is, in fact, an entreaty to the owners and controllers of capital. The second part is the imperative. The rationale is that they should invest because it is not only profits that are at stake, it is, in fact, the stability (and safety) of their very society, that is endangered by economic downturns.

To “restore balance” is actually to maintain the status quo. It is a means of persuasion for people to leave their “anti-capitalist fun” and to get back to work. Balance is a carefully chosen word because it fosters notions of harmony. There is a problem with this though, in that relations between corporate and worker is not based on harmony but on intimidation. The scales are not balanced at all.

Is Bane out to punish the system? Is he a lone ideological individual or a representative of a greater mass ideology?  In the scene of the hostage taking at the stock market, even the people who maintain the status quo, namely the police, have second thoughts about helping the rich bankers retake their precious institution. John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) questions a broker about why they should bother at all. The broker responds eloquently about the central role that the stock exchange has in ensuring social stability, “balance”. Blake is rationalized into submission.

Blake, even though, he is an outsider (being both an orphan and lower class) is shown to be yet another person indebted to the system. The Wayne Foundation, after all, funded the orphanage he was raised in. In this way, Bane and co. seem to be the only ones who display a feverish hatred of the system, which as we have seen, is deemed irrational because it seeks to upset “balance”. Bane is portrayed as a brutish megalomaniac delivering one harangue after another as and when he encounters crowds of people. There is an old Stalinist trope that surfaces in this character. The rhetoric of the Old Left is used by Bane as a means of justifying the anarchy. It is not chaos but a necessary anarchy for the people to regain control of their lives and society. Bane is simply the one who seizes that control back from the old capitalist order.

Being a “businessman” himself (he and his wife run Syncopy Films which was the production house for the movie) Nolan dispels this belief quite effectively in the film. The messages of Occupy Wallstreet are mere rhetoric, they are foolhardy and dangerous like Bane’s speeches. It is interesting to note too how people are portrayed as whimsical – at one instance chasing down and persecuting the wealthy and the next they can go back to the way things were before.

Only the system is firm in its beliefs, it seems. Through Bane, we begin to distrust the Left again because it is irrational and upsetting. We recall the London Riots in a number of scenes and so dismiss the concept of revolution as being the recourse of a few crazy dissidents, hell-bent on violence for the sake of violence. The cleverest inversion of the classic template of riot control involves the police; as one scene shows them attacking, with sticks and stones, Bane’s men who are armed with hi-tech weapons. It is a humanising touch. We start to empathise with the law enforcers, with the maintainers of the system. Couple this with clear homages to American patriotism (soldiers, flags, marches) and you have a familiar American Capitalism vs Soviet Collectivism trope. Of course, it is no longer the Soviets that are the enemies but rather a (poorly sketched) Left. The same Left that is involved in struggles and protests world-wide in today’s real world. Like the Soviets though, they are depicted as liars and tyrants.

The film presents the Old Left in the light of Soviet brutality and the New Left as a wild aimless anarchy. The former is, of course, best represented by Bane and his lackeys whilst the latter seems best to represent the ordinary people who are easily swayed and emotional, non-rational. What message does this send out to the younger audiences in particular? The film is almost like damage control for the Capitalist machine.

Rather than address the very real issues raised by the rioting and the dissatisfied, we are encouraged to dismiss them. To a more-or-less politically indifferent (or ignorant) young viewer, this film is one of many, that still gives currency to the idea of capitalism. Even the most enthusiastic will readily admit to the fact that many Occupy Wallstreet volunteers have a rather untenable Utopian mindset; but it is stupid to think that this is an isolated incident and it is dangerous to dismiss them. These incidents will continue to happen, even if on purely reactionary grounds.

Nolan’s vision of the Left is also unabashedly tied up with, what can only be described as, Orientalist terrorism. True, the onscreen baddies are ‘white guys’ but they are people who received indoctrination abroad in a savage and primitive land. Would it be so wrong to say that they were brainwashed in that Hollywood fantasyland called Arabia? Located somewhere (I think) in the Middle East but geographically ambiguous, impossible to locate. They do, after all, wear something resembling a kufiya. Visibly, we cannot draw the direct link between Arab/Muslim terrorists and the Bane acolytes, but in representation, there is no mistaking the references.

Our enemies are clear now. They are non-American –no, un-American, irrational, Leftist terrorists. These are by no means benign reflections from the mind of a filmmaker. They reflect back into society a certain message that the filmmaker might not even be aware of. They confirm and affirm what the audience has a suspicion about or is curious to know more about. In this way, though they might function as a lesson for the Left to learn from, they are also harmful to the public’s relations with the Left. In this sense, Nolan’s reflections are didactic and warn people about the dangers of associating with the Left whilst insisting that the present status quo is the best solution to the woes besetting the people.

Batman is a defender of his class in spite of the fact that he might be a crusader on the side of good and justice. It would, of course, make little sense for him to undermine his own position of power by questioning the system that privileges him. Isn’t Batman then simply chasing shadows – content to beat up and arrest hoodlums without asking the reasons why they became hoodlums in the first place? I realise it is, of course, “entertainment” but all media, as I have said before, reflects society and reflects back into society. The ideology is wonderfully concealed in that, it seems, a natural schema of the way we live today. Real-life resistance is contorted and disfigured into an “entertaining” Fascist Left.

The problem within the film that is thrown up to us is this. Which, of the two evils, do you pick – the unknown or the known? Do you continue with the society controlled by the forces of Capital/Batman or do you dare jump into the discord of the unrevealed evils? The answer might seem obvious in the film, the conclusion foregone, but real life offers up something different from either. Our options are far more multifarious.

Looking East – Real lessons from the Bangalore Exodus 2012

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(Appeared in Shillong Times, September 8th, 2012)

Well there we have it. The rest of India does not care about us. Sad but true; anyway life goes on. I can’t pretend not to be affected by these events because my younger cousin came back home and is back to annoying me. We have to learn the lessons of this Exodus, but not the lessons that the mainstream media perpetuates.

I never blame media – such is the common practice these days and a vague target really – but rather I blame certain corporate houses for not analysing a situation further, for not having priorities about coverage and for being purely sensational. All done to further their own agendas.

I think media is invaluable to society but I also think we certainly deserve higher standards. When you question the “mainstream” media about the way they do things, they say that most people (excluding you, of course) won’t get the complexity of situational analysis or some such condescension.

I loathe Times Now, I hate Headlines Today etc. They supply very little information, analyse simplistically and recourse to using bright images, colour coordination, loud sounds (Arnab Goswami) and other cheap tricks to get people’s attention to the screen.

Alternative outlets have come to understand today that we need to cover fewer stories but cover them well, from a variety of perspectives.

Our dependence on corporate media houses should be broken. Our need is to read further into a situation by comparing what the national media houses have to say with more detailed local point of view. I am sure for the most part we would learn more from the latter.

With all this loud noise (O, Arnab) about Muslim infiltration, Bangladeshi invasion and the failure of the Centre to ensure peace and equality, we forget that below the surface is an undercurrent. I urge you to be very suspicious of simplistic understanding of situations. I become more sceptical when I am not directly involved in the creation of my own opinion, when I have no astute knowledge of a thing.

Some of my politically correct friends insist on the view that the problem of illegal Bangladeshi immigration is not a problem with an anti-Islamic dimension. I do not agree with them. The notion of the “invading” Bangladeshi national is closely tied in with the fact that they are not “national” and which for certain powerful organisations is inseparable from the fact that they are Muslims as well.

Religion is one of those underplayed (but nonetheless, often, convenient) cards that a number of Liberal-minded people shy away from. This does not mean it is not a real issue or even, a problem at times. Just because some have a distrust of religion, they have pretended not to see it as a powerful force in this country.

Rather than take the hardline of actually being truly secular, Centric forces have been content to project false tolerance. Such as when we saw ”tribal” leader PA Sangma jump at the opportunity to offer prayers at the Golden Temple, Amritsar. This is common practice. Most “educated” people would never discuss religious faith openly in “polite” society. They would simply decry religion and leave it at that. As though there is such a thing as religion without its social, political, economic and psychological dimensions.

But to simply condemn and not analyse is very dangerous for us. We are not draining fundamentalism of elan by dismissing it from our thoughts, we are actually strengthening it. We can see that India vs. Pakistan is really Hindu vs. Muslim. It is my belief that the diplomatic machinery between the two countries breaks down often because of this inability to understand the other’s faith or the problem of importing false beliefs about the other’s faith. Things at bureaucratic level are so different from ground realities.

Everyone seems eager to voice out their take on why thousands of people from our part of the country were forced to flee homewards.  Yet again it was tragic-comedic the way it played out because on the one hand, you had the real hardships being faced by the migrants while on the other hand you had senior politicians sharing sage words of wisdom – The Centre is unstable, The Centre cannot hold.

Very little of the ongoing dilemma was analysed. All we got were shots of refugees and interviews with the “bosses”. Let us look closely at the Kokrajhar incident. The exact motivations, for people inciting these events, are undoubtedly multiple but what is really interesting is how this has all panned out in favour of the Hindu Right.

What I have been watching, with bated breath, is how being a Bangladeshi (foreigner -with darker skin colour) is automatically equivalent to being anti-India. Why they would be anti-India, in the first place, when they come here to make a living is something no one has explained to me.

Of course, some will say that these Right wing forces are defending us from outside invasion but it is xenophobia that reeks from within this defence. Between the tribal cultural defenders and the extensive para/military presence we have, I really don’t see it being too likely a possibility. Army men are far worse than Bangladeshi labourers in my opinion (but that is probably because it is fashionable to say this).

It is easy to hate Bangladeshis because firstly, they have no rights in our country and secondly, they are poorer than us. For the Hindu and Christian alike, there is now this common enemy –Muslim, of course – that allows some unity and some cooperation. It is little surprise that our mistrust and hatred find their targets in the dispossessed poor (after all wealthy Bangladeshis have no reason to leave). In their quest for a livelihood, the Bangladeshis have become the much maligned enemy of both local and Bharat nationalists. It is a telling sign when Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar start to talk about such things openly and actually bother about what is happening in other parts of the country. As I said it is a tragic-comedy.

Coming on the back of the troubles at Kokrajhar, the problems that led to the Bangalore Exodus could not have been at a worse time for the Muslim community. At Kokrajhar, the camera crews ran after the elusive enemies without success. We could not see who these people really were. It was very easy for fabrications to be borne out based on the large number of Bangladeshis there. It would have been harder to admit that Assam is a hotbed of cultural tensions. It would have been harder to admit that ethnic tension has been a major spark for insurrection there.Compound this with the struggle for diminishing resources and you have a pressure cooker of violence waiting to burst in the face of an imposed external authority.

The Muslim community in Karnataka foresaw what the implications would be for Muslims in the country. They were quick to dispatch messages calling for peace and condoning violence. They were quick to offer help to the fleeing population. However, they were not quite as fast as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). In what seemed like a carefully planned manoeuvre, the VHP had in a matter of hours, set up a helpline to help their North Eastern “brothers and sisters” and had also managed in a cunning way to implicate its hated Muslim targets.

On the faceBOOK page of the group “Stop Discriminating People from the North East” there were a few who immediately suspected the gesture and heated arguments ensued. The troubling sign, however, is that most were content to assume that the Bangalore incidents were just the work of “jobless, ignorant people” and that the VHP were sweet Samaritans. We cannot assume such innocence.

I say troubling, and I mince no words here, because the Hindu Right is a great threat in this country. They are as manipulative and conniving as we refuse to believe they are. To think simply that the Hindu Right is busy pottering in its own little back-garden and has no grand designs for the rest of the rest is an illusion. Unlike Bangladeshi labourers, they have money, power and the will to implement their schemes. They can wait (and will wait) for the rusty cogs of their ideological machinery to turn as they subsume, under their jingoistic Hindu rhetoric.

But why did the VHP suddenly care about what was happening to the North Easterns? It wasn’t something that had been reflected in any noticeable measure in their earlier work. They have had a presence in Assam for a while, of course, but not really known in any measure in the other 6 states.

It has become apparent that just as policymakers are shifting gaze eastwards, another set of (saffron) eyes is looking this way too. This is not to say that the Hindutva household hadn’t been thinking about the North East before but now it seems to have reassessed the glimmer of the region.

In this regard, one of the shrewdest operators in cross-cultural politics has got to be the so-called non-political Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). They have adopted many stock means of penetration in the North East such as funding schools, building dispensaries etc, and crucially, have allied themselves with the indigenous religious institutions, which were adversely affected by the introduction of Christianity in the region, some 200 years ago.

The indigenous religions have had to strike an alliance in order to survive Christianisation, much to the glee of the Sangh. The Sangh and company are experts at indoctrinating tribals in underdeveloped areas. The mutable nature of Hinduism allows for a convenient reinterpretation of what both the scope and definition of “Hindu” is. It has become an all-encompassing and over-arching grand narrative for the Hindu Right, which includes within its schema the local indigenous ways of being and even religions. These all become aspects of Hinduism, not complete, beautiful systems in their own right but mere parts.

There is another third, more indirect reason why the RSS and co. have gained ascendency in the NER in the last decade. Again it is owing to a neighbour, not a fellow Paki nation though (let’s be honest, we’re all Pakis outside the Subcontinent). It is the emergence of China as the puissant Asian overlord that has abetted this interest in North East India. To many Bharat nationalists, the thought of losing the North East to China must seem a clear and present possibility. It would seem like a further insult if the Chinese managed to defeat India again in open conflict.

On this I think both the Right and Centre are in agreement over. Arunachal Pradesh, even touristy Sikkim for that matter, are heavily militarised zones. China is now viewed as a nasty expansionist human rights abusing tyrant and must be kept at bay. This fuels nationalism further among the members of the Hindu Right. Hand-in-hand with the militarisation of the North East is fear mongering and speculation. It does not help that both sides –India and China- are equally suspicious and inept at defusing. This is why the North East is now such a nice round gem for the Hindu Right parliament/think-tank. The region is important as a buffer zone, crucial at containment.

For a while, it seemed that the idea of a truly successful North East campaign for the RSS and co. was a laughable pipedream. This is not so in our current time. Part of the reasoning that helps the RSS is, of course, dictated by current affairs today. The very real, though perhaps not biblical, issue of immigration is one that is sensitive and draws the nationalist RSS into the fray.

By raising the anti-Muslim banner, they can even win support from otherwise suspicious Christians from the North Eastern states. By touting border disputes and accusing non-nationals, they can win over the undecided political set and perhaps some from the Liberal camp. By sounding the alarm against the Chinese, they can envelope the North East in trepidation and uncertainty.

The wonderful thing for the RSS is that these banners need not even be flagged in specific geographical areas but can gain currency among people, who unknowingly, carry the parasite messages homewards.Recently, we saw this in real life as a number of Shillong youth came back home having favourable things to say about the charity of the Sangh and the Parishad. (This was until the local cultural strongmen gave them a resounding admonishment)

Through their brilliant PR campaigns, the totalitarian dreams of the Sangh are slowly seeing the light of day. Like at any theatrical show, I cannot help but sit upright and clap my hands when I see good acting.

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