In this episode:
I talk to writer, journalist, academic, activist Krishna Ananth about 'Radia Tapes' and try to understand the current milieu in which news media are produced and consumed in India and its wider implications. It was recorded about a month ago (I know). I've split the conversation into 3 parts for easy download/listening.
Edit: There seems to be a problem with the audio player embedded earlier (playing part 3 in all players even after editing it several times). I'll try to fix it soon, meanwhile please download and listen from below.
2'-8' 'Radia Tapes' scandal - a well known secret
9'-13' Press's erstwhile approach to corruption
17'-19' Public perception of conteporary news media; corporate power
20'-25 Media outlets' collusive attitude in corporate profiteering
29'-32' Media's actual clout
36'- II Media's contribution to public discourse
'1-6' Media's contribution to public discourse (contd.)
7'-10' People's contradictory expectation of 'real' news and its cynical dismissal
10'-13' Activists, NGOs and lack of alternatives
15'-21' The much apprciated virtues of corporate corruption and 'meritocracy'
1'-7' The 'educated youth'; why some of us complain? What's achieved?
8'-18' Would the marginalized people of urban India turn the Maoist way? Why/why not?
21'-23' The missing ingredient in a large scale anti-establishment movement
23'-29' State and demography of aspiring journalists (media producers).
(There's a small technical problem between 34'-34'40")
Download as mp3: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3.
1. It would probably sway between 'proper' Tamil sentences to complete sentences in English depending on the guest.
தமிழர்களின் தற்கால அரசியல் கலை இலக்கிய வாழ்க்கைமுறை பற்றி பெரிய ஆய்வுகள் இல்லை என்ற நிலை போய், இன்று அவர்களின் ஒவ்வொரு அங்கமும் theorize செய்யப்பட்டு வருகின்றது (ஆங்கிலத்தில்). (இதையெல்லாம் யாராச்சும் மொழிபெயர்ப்பு செய்யுங்கப்பா.) இதனால் ஏதும் பலன் இருக்கின்றதா என்றறிய சில பல ஆண்டுகள் ஆகலாம். ஆனால் அவற்றால் பெரிய சேதம் ஏதுமில்லை என்றே நம்புகிறேன். ஆராய்ச்சிக்கு உகந்த பல தலைப்புகளில் இதுவும் ஒன்று என்பது என் எண்ணம்: தமிழர்களின் இன்றைய நகைச்சுவை பேச்சு வழக்கில்(லும்) ஊடுருவியுள்ள திரைப்பட வசனங்கள். கௌண்டமணி காலத்திலிருந்து தொடங்கி இன்று வரை என்று ஒரு இருவது ஆண்டுகள் வைத்தால் முதுகலை பட்டமே தேறும்.
Finding a theoretical analysis of the most prominent aspects of Tamil life -- film, politics, education, caste and lately, 'youth behaviour' -- is no longer a challenging task. The analysis may not be particularly useful for all, but many of them have really valuable field work data. Ironically, though, this apparent burgeoning of Tamil studies is probably not because of the diversification of academic interests among Tamils who are travelling abroad (although they have contributed to it quite a bit). Because, most of the research is actually done by non-Tamil scholars abroad. They probably feel like Darwin when he landed on the Galapagos Islands -- full of peculiar animals with unique behaviour. They had to be 'understood' and explained.
The MGR phenomenon was so peculiar that people like Robert Hardgrave wrote a paper on him four years before he became the Chief Minister. It's almost customary then to dedicate a small section if not an entire chapter to MGR (and Rajnikanth) even if the research is on ecological preservation of the Nilgiris. Essential or not, Tamil films are being studied and its salient features are scholastically documented and deconstructed. One area that hasn't still received its due attention is perhaps Tamil film humour and its influence on Tamil speakers' vocabulary.
I haven't lived in the 'west' long enough to know if there were verbal memes like 'more cowbell' before the 'explosion' of media sharing websites. But I have lived through the good years since Youtube's launch (and similar sites around the same period) to suggest that memetic humour here -- in 'real' life -- is very often inspired by 'regular people' in the internet than films. It is quite unlike what is prevalent among Tamil speakers.
Two very obvious reasons I could think of: 1. Lack of programmes dedicated to (re)airing funny clips from films (Tamils now have an entire channel dedicated for that). It's only after youtube you have a space where a specific moment is replayed and recursively referenced to elevate a funny moment/dialogue/expression from a film to a meme. 2. Most English films do not lend themselves to be clipped the way Tamil films do. What is called a 'comedy track' in most Tamil films are sketches within a film; they do not in anyway affect the linearity of the main narrative. So people don't have to establish the plot context, characters' specific idiosyncracies etc., to enact a scene and evoke some cheap laughter. I haven't seen 90% of the films that feature Vivek and Vadivelu, for example . But I know pretty much all their 'comedy scenes' at least until 2006.
The role of television, as noted above, is very crucial in imbuing film-inspired memetic humour among Tamil speakers. It's further evidenced by the fact that it's virtually impossible to find older people (say above 45) using references from films of their era. If any, it's the younger people who use such lines from old films (ex: 'ek gaun mein'). (And now it's gone meta -- films are ruining it for everyone by using them in their films .) An exhaustive study in the field could point to other factors too.
Anyway, what I wanted to say was: it will be an interesting research topic to study film based memetic humour among Tamils (could be in linguistics, film studies, anthropology, cultural studies etc.). And the reason I wrote a less than half-assed proposal type blogpost with so much obvious detail -- much longer than the Tamil version -- is to make life harder for someone who already thought of it and is working on an actual thesis proposal (haha, sucker!).
1. Again, I used Youtube only as an identifier for all such sites.
2. I probably have seen 90% of Goundamani's films in their entire length.
3. 'enna kodumai sir idhu,' first featured in Chennai 28, is perhaps the most sucessful in recent times. Aside: to say Nayanthara is disgusting when she tries to be funny by saying "vandhuttanya, vandhuttanya!" is being very kind.
ps. I might remove one of the tags later