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Turning politics into theatre

Samarth Bansal
Samarth Bansal
2 min read
Turning politics into theatre
Photo by Fatih Kılıç / Unsplash

Tweets by an international pop star—five words, one hashtag, a linked article—and a teenage climate activist on India's farmer protests have rattled thin-skinned Indians. What an irony: A citizenry perennially subjected to state-sponsored propaganda is tweeting #IndiaAgainstPropaganda.

Liberal critics, unsurprisingly, are outraged at this mass reaction and calling out, among other things, Indian celebrities for "towing the line", asking them to "show some spine" instead of participating in this non-sensical tamasha.

This incident reminded me of a fascinating interview of documentary film maker Adam Curtis published in The Economist magazine in 2018:

No one is really sure what Trump represents. My working theory is that he’s part of the pantomime-isation of politics. Every morning Donald Trump wakes up in the White House, he tweets something absolutely outrageous which he knows the liberals will get upset by, the liberals read his tweets and go “This is terrible, this is outrageous,” and then tell each other via social media how terrible it all is. It becomes a feedback loop in which they are locked together. In my mind, it’s like they’re together in a theatre watching a pantomime villain. The pantomime villain comes forward into the light, looks at them and says something terrible, and they go “Boo!!”. Meanwhile, outside the theatre, real power is carrying on but no one is really analysing it.

This is the problem with a lot of journalism, especially liberal journalism at the moment. It’s locked together with those people in the theatre. If you look at the New York Times, for example, it’s continually about that feedback loop between what Trump has said and the reaction of liberal elements in the society. It’s led to a great narrowing of journalism. So in a way, he is part of the hypernormal situation because it’s a politics of pantomime locked together with its critics.

And it becomes a perpetual, infernal motion system, which is a distraction. It’s not a conspiracy. It’s a distraction from what’s really happening in the world. I would argue that there is a sense—in a lot of liberal journalism—of unreality. They’re locked into describing the pantomime politics and they’re not looking to what Mr Michael Pence is really up to, and what’s really happening outside the theatre.

Mr Curtis is on point. This is a circus looping on auto-pilot with a predictable script. The story may begin with a different incident, new actors may appear but the outcome is always the same: nothing happens, nothing changes. The reality lies elsewhere—ignored.