Readings, Misreadings and Power Play in the Mass Media

A single text lends itself to multiple readings that are often contrary to the intentions of the authors. This misreading appears to be deliberate, motivated and preposterous. Maybe the French thinker Jacques Derrida might illumine us to understand the troubled times that we are facing in our nation.

Derrida teaches that the disruptive force of deconstructive readings reside within the architecture of the text. It lies not at the centre but stays dispersed within the bounds of the text. Derrida tells us that he invented deconstruction to dismantle the working of the strong nation states with powerful immigration policies, to derail the strong rhetoric of nationalism and the politics of place, the metaphysics of native land and native tongue.

Far from these noble intentions, unfortunately, his technique of deconstructive reading is employed by power elite and their cronies to further their exploitative vested interest. We may trace this visibly at work in some of the media houses in our country who are blatantly operating as mouth pieces of the reigning ruling benches.

Sadly, the fourth pillar of democracy has collapsed as media seem to defend the government and attack the opposition much against the interest of the people. But all is not lost. We can still (un)think the meaning, opinion and values dished to us through the idiot box without becoming idiots ourselves. Instead of getting displaced and dislocated by these texts flowing from media , we can puncture their claims and counter them.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to examine and expose the binary logic of the text. Text derives its meaning relationally. Words relate with other words as well as stand in a particular order in a sentence to convey meaning. Words arranged in disorderly manner fail to convey meaning. Words are signs. They are called conventional signs. They relate to other signs which may be also non-verbal to convey meaning. Thus, for instance, the word lotus can take our mind to symbol of the BJP or even Buddhism.

Besides this architectonic of conveying meanings, words also relate to absent words. Derrida teaches us that the trace of other words and meanings constitute the meaning that irrupts from a particular arrangement of the words both present and absent. We may get an insight into this if we understand what Derrida calls binary opposition if we notices instances where one term or concept is given primacy over the other. Derrida gives examples like right and left, inside and outside, high and low, speech and writing which he says are hierarchically thought where one term is always privileged over the other.

Thus for instance, we can find that Jean Jacques Rousseau , another French thinker privileged the speech over written word and taught that written word corrupts the soul. He wished humanity to come back to nature by giving up civilization, writing and science. Like Rousseau who denaturalized and abnormalised writing by privileging speech that he regarded to be in accordance to nature , several among us attempt to denaturalize and render many normal things abnormal in our society. This manufacturing of the abnormal can be seen in the way several TV anchors misread and distort the minorities and modes of being and writing.

The arbitrary divide between who can legitimately write and who cannot is inscribed into discourse of media channels that choose emotive mandir/majid issues as news worthy at prime time while neglecting real issues of our people. This exhibited the anti-people workings of some of our mainstream media houses. Insensitive monstrosity seems to have become main stream. Maybe the issues centred on the relgious polarisation are chosen to deflect our minds from the real issues that face the nation. Maybe the choice is to terrorise the majority community and build vote bank.

Most of the time some of these national channels take up issues that divide us and teach us how to hate each other. There is little or no space for jobless Indians, agricultural distress, growing MPA’s of banks, women safety, education and health, rising prices of petroleum products etc., in the media programs. Do these channels think that we Indians are simply votes to be manipulated in favour of their masters? It appears so. This is why may be we need to remain wakefully critical and discern the messages given to us through the caged media in our country that seem to be almost working as election agents of their masters. Maybe it’s time to become aware of this grave deception and (un)read the messages of some of the mainstream media houses. We need to critically recognize the frames that these media houses are employing to control meaning and shape our thinking. We cannot surrender our mind to these paranoid media mavericks and reject the ends they serve. Critical reception is the only response that is emancipative to the context that we are faced today. Maybe we need what Paul Ricouer calls hermeneutics of distantion to critically receive and respond emancipatvely to growing climate that is endangering our democracy.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao