Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Can I spin you straight to a thought?

The funny thing about studying political communication is that we seem to constantly criticize it. We agree that the media needs to be more responsible; we agree that politicians need to be more responsible. As academics we seem to distance ourselves from the problem, as if pointing out problems in a society somehow separates us from them because we have the power of knowledge on our side. The downside to all this is that once done with university or grad school, students of politics look to join this system they all unequivocally agree is messed up. I have the same problem right now; the classic case of ‘to be or not to be’. Let me explain, there is this whole debate about spin doctors and political consultants--- that because of these smart mouthed lot democracy as we know it is being undermined- a ‘packaging of politics’ if you will. At the same time, with 24/7 news channels always on the alert, always asking questions (right ones or wrong ones), a need for information is created, and this is how the vacuum is filled in.

There is a documentary called The War Room. It focuses on Clintons campaign managers et al during the 1992 elections against the incumbent George Bush. James Carville seems to leap up from the movie and remind you that politics is fun; it’s a game; it’s a chase. There is a side to it that’s not just governing but the getting there. The 1992 elections changed the way elections were fought because of the intense nature of the campaign, the idea that Carville and his lot were tracking all developments- media, Republican etc and were ready with an answer or a spin. Spinning, which is now frowned upon for good reasons, was considered an art at the time and the best spinners pitted against each other after important political events.

I was walking to Sainsbury the other day, talking to a friend of mine about 1984. We were discussing how limiting vocabulary limits thoughts because how can you have thoughts if those words and concepts do not exist. This is probably the main reason new words and slang keeps getting incorporated into dictionaries every year; each new word is a new thought, a new idea, a world of possibilities. I remember taking a class where we discussed the Enlightenment; because people were more interested in studying concepts such as (for example) homosexuality instead of condemning it straight, they founded a whole new medical language to understand different aspects. The opposite can happen too; some outdated forms of conversations can fail to have an impact because the meaning just is not the same today. Baz Luhrmann tackled this very same problem twice (that I can think of right now), in his movies ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’. What did he do? Well for Romeo and Juliet he shot the movie in such a way that many a times the Shakespearian language took on a literal meaning so that the audience could understand the dialogue. Two incidents jump out; firstly the guns were called “swords” where sword was the brand name of a gun. So after establishing that connection, it did not seem odd that for every duel the characters called for swords but whipped out their guns. The second scene, which I think might be the first scene in the movie shows the two gangs of boys fighting at a gas station; and the tension is mounted because a stray gun-fire or match could cause the whole place to go up in flames. By creating a very modern but tense scene, he brought the play into the modern world. Luhrmann had an opposite problem with the dialogue of Moulin Rouge; for no love songs that he could write could quite capture what he was trying to explain; the immediate connection between Satine and Christian (that’s Ewan McGregor). So what did he do? They made a medley of 20th cent love songs that were hits because that is the language of love for his audience. The result? A very different and brilliant movie.

The point of this deviation was to stress the importance of language in communicating thought. Be it science that creates it own language or movie/films that seek to reinterpret their language to suit a modern audience, the signal can be quite strong. And politics in the same way needs to have a language of its own, something so simple yet so strong that it does not get lost in the vast array of entertainment and news we consume everyday. And when such a mechanism is applied in a democracy, sooner or later, allegations are made that it is in fact, trying to subvert it. So what becomes of the joy of it, the challenge of it.. the reason democratic politics came about in the first place? Can I really sit and write a paper on how bad political consulting is for the common man because it gives him less access to the candidate in question when all I can think of after reading Carville’s account of the election is how much I want to be part of one!!![Read this book for fun; its quite a roller coaster—called All’s Fair: Love, War and Running for President. He wrote it with his wife Mary Matalin who was working for Bush’s campaign so it’s got a bit of a love story in it too!] It’s a funny world we live. I remember once I was completely unable to study for a history exam. It just was not happening and this friend of mine came to my office and suggested w play chess. We got so involved in the game that afterwards I thought of that piece of history as a game of chess—who made what move- it became a game in my head and I wanted to see who the political superior was-- and everything remained in my head. We talk of the decline of empires and everything else, and in our valiant effort to criticize (even if from a academic POV) we forget to have fun with it. We forget that politics is a tricky game and you need to be very sharp to do well.

I think I AM going to get into politics. Someone once told me that in order to do so I needed to put all my idealism in a box and lock it. Well you know what, I’m going to be idealistic for as long as I can, I’m going have fun with whatever form of politics I get into- consulting, campaigning, writing--- because I am going to be there because I enjoy it—and who knows? Maybe someday I’ll come up with a new word to really capture this feeling. And hey, I would have created a new way of thinking about something!


Arjun said...

hey! nice blog.
i dont think thoughts really need a vocabulary, as is also the case with feelings. Sometimes you have words to express them, at other times you dont. That won't mean that you don't have those thoughts and feelings. As someone much wiser than me once wrote.'there are certain things better left unasid'
p.s Politics? Really?

mahima said...

Arjun.. like from modern school? Hey?! But you are right aboout the feelings part, but to express thought you need the words. Well in most cases anyway :) Thats basically what I was trying to say.

Arjun said...

yup.. Arjun frm Modern School. Hey.. Really long time... neway.. i dunno about u but i sometimes find it hard to verbalise my thoughts, does that mean those thoughts dont exist. Do u really think the human mind is bounded by the vocabulary? In that case did the civilizations which which didnt have a vocabulary as vast as ours think less? something to 'think' about :)

mahima said...

Nah, not at all. I meant only in terms of COMMUNICATING those thoughts. You're right, sometimes its difficult to verbalize... I mean, it happens all the time. But I mean that more often than not, to make someone understand exactly what you mean you need the right words.. and those can be difficult to find..

Arjun said...

Point taken! but just imagine a world where one need not talk to communicate, a betazoid reality(see star trek).. communicating through thoughts.. words would be meaningless, wouldnt that b fun..

Cyberswami said...

I didn't know you had a blog.

Damn fun to read, especially under the influence, as such. You're a crazy woman, and they are crazy ideas haha.

Now I have to wade through the backlog.

Cyberswami said...

it's madhav, by the way.

Kundan said...

detailed comments will follow shortly
as usual you have managed to get me hooked to something else on the net after hi5 etc