Maverick: It is only small change
By Farzana Versey
Covert January 1-15
In a few days Barack Obama will be formally anointed as king of the jungle. It is a good way to start the year that has made democracies realise how fragile they are, how hypocritical, how very against the principle of voice to the voiceless.
We spent a large part of last year getting overwhelmed by the complete reduction of the concept of change.
It reminded me of the elections of 2000. I was in the heart of Bush territory; the whole process seemed like a reality show. Participation in democracy in the US is essentially about how much TV you watch, which channels and how the performances are rated. Interestingly, at the time ‘Survivors’ was being aired, the show where strangers are on an island together. As each act unfolded, there was a new challenge and a fresh dramatic moment. There was familiarity with one another’s habits, reactions, needs, but is it possible to understand the character of the people forced to share space for a specific purpose?
Initially I was baffled by what American television could dish out. But then you realise that it is not only the media that makes a joke out of human emotions; people too are designed to belittle and reduce themselves and others. Transpose this to the current elections. It was essentially about surviving the test in the mirror. Race, gender, ageism became questions Americans had to face in the linear mindsets that stratify its melting pot into red and blue states. How much more isolationist can politics get?
It was sheer voyeurism for the debates were ‘organised’ challenges; the public just waited to see who would become the first ‘castaway’. It is spellbinding to watch the transformation of people into characters with distinctive identities, and the evolution of identities distinct from the ones they started out being.
Islands are the worlds people live in and respond to; how they do so has little to do with them and a great deal to do with others. The environment affects the participants so that they change: friends became enemies, diverse people get together for convenience, and opinions are altered all the time.
Hillary Clinton who was rubbishing Obama in crucial aspects of policy and ideology willingly struck a deal with him. One assumes her opinions have not changed for it would reveal a lot about her ideological commitment. What does this tell us? That we often just go along, and being judgmental does not come in the way of political expediency. “The times they are a changin’”, as the song goes, but Time carries with it values and they are dissipating.
As always, the American media went into overdrive. What should have been a microscopic examination became the view from a helicopter to take aerial shots of an ongoing adventure. By that yardstick, is the winner truly a winner? Social psychologists reveal that success in the work-a-day jungle depends more on interpersonal skills than on technical competence. In the same breath, there is a belief that the bottom-line is to ‘get them before they get you.’ These are contradictory ideas. How can you form a team if you see every person in it as an opponent?
The winner is then somebody who, at the very last, clinched the deal not due to the qualities he possesses, but because he knew how to take advantage of the play of human emotions. It was not self-confidence, but just the sort of bluster that makes others be on their guard. Survival is all about manipulation.
One commentator on the ‘Survivor’ show had said: “The winner should be presented as a flawed hero who improves, and takes the prize to everyone’s surprise and delight.”
This seems most plausible for it is about catharsis. People had waited for months to see who would survive and how. They had their favourites, but they also knew that the larger game is predetermined.
The public does not choose the winners. It chooses the losers. Those who survive stereotypes and do not fall into the limited trap of vox populi perceptions walk away to another challenge.
Survival is not about the fittest. It is only a fitting reply to the wanton ways of those who remain undecided. ‘Change’ is a great anthem for fence-sitters.