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Why we need a Patriotic and not a Nationalist Media

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Message Prakash Kona

The distinction George Orwell makes between nationalism and patriotism in his essay "Notes on Nationalism" is true of the media as well. A nationalist according to Orwell is basically a power-monger and nationalism an ego-centered discourse whereas patriotism stands for "devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally." More importantly what the nationalists lack is individuality which comes from critical thinking and having a sense of selfhood. If Faustus gives away his soul to Mephistopheles for the comfort of a few years it is because he cannot bear to be an individual. It is the weight of his selfhood that he rejects. He prefers instead to sacrifice his nature to be what he is essentially not. Therefore his pleasure can only be intolerable pain constantly drugging itself to bear the semblance of being human.

What I say might be true of most parts of the world but in a country like India it is rather too obvious to miss the slightly naked eye. A popular film star like Aamir Khan is talking about female feticide in India and the media is busy praising the naked emperor. There is no single movie of Aamir Khan or for that matter any Indian hero in which a woman is portrayed as a normal human person with complex thoughts and feelings of her own. I blame actors like Aamir Khan as much as the other so-called heroes on the Indian film screen who have generously contributed to female feticide by showing women in a pathetically degrading light. If women in India have such poor social status the actors and mainstream Indian film industry need to take great deal of moral responsibility for it. Today, all of a sudden Aamir Khan is the defender of female fetuses. I mean, it is hard to believe we're living in a serious nation and not a nation of jokers and mockers. This however is the projection of a nationalist media. This is not a media that understands what India or Indianness is all about. It is the agent of the west in the third world.

It is not that I personally decry westernization. We need to study the history of western humanism. We definitely need Marxism, feminism and anarchism. We need Shakespeare and Faulkner for the same reason that we need Saint Francis and Martin Luther. Everything that brought Europe to the path of modernity and gave women and the poor a chance to participate in the making of a nation -- of course we need that. What we don't need and frankly we can do without is "Sex and the City" and rubbish soaps meant for bored upper and upper middle class men and women. What we also don't need is Bill Gates and Steve Jobs --pseudo liberators and enslavers of humankind. We've our own way of life. We were a civilization long before Europe and the United States that we shamelessly imitate. We don't need dumb actors and dumber sports people playing the role of intellectuals. We can do without that kind of superficial Americanization.

What is destroying India as nation is the general lack of patriotism and the media exemplifies it. A deeply repressive privatization is the only solution that the media can think of in this country to any problem in the public sector. The debates are framed to perpetuate nationalism which means the common Indian reduce his or her individuality to the level of a yes-person and denounce his or her real self to live a life of complete falseness. This is the blatant agenda of the center-right Congress Party and the main opposition the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party as well. It is less of patriotism and more of nationalism that is destroying the third world.

Whether it is a debate on the completely unethical strike by the pilots of AIR INDIA a national carrier who I blame for lack of basic human concern in the harassment of passengers that this strike is causing or the crisis of a cartoon depicting an important political leader who represented the oppressed communities in India -- either way the one thing we will not talk about is what is happening to the majority of Indians, the downtrodden classes who are struggling to merely exist and not live. When I say exist I mean barely exist -- so bare that is burns the retina to one sensitive enough to know that when we use the word "Indian" we ought to ideally mean those left outs as well.

Patriotism will decolonize us as a nation and cure us of the horrible need to blindly imitate the west in an uncreative manner. Imitation is the disease of the upper classes and the media to disguise their hauntingly empty private lives like Faustus himself having given away their souls to the illusions called money and power. Their diabolic existence comes from living schizophrenic lives. Yet I call them nationalists because that is what they are. The nation they imagine is where everything is privatized including the ground, air and water. They cannot imagine a life where sharing can make the world a wonderful place to live in. They cannot believe that there are ways of life that people cherish. They have no notion of culture which comes from creativity. The word "soul" or "spirit" is alien to their colonial mentality because that is the thing they have sold for their petty comfort.

A patriotic media will preserve all that is best that comes from the imagination of individual men and women. My point is that in the end the patriots will win and the nationalists lose. If that were not the case Hitler and the Nazis would never have been defeated. Says the drunken Nazi officer in a moment of truth to his fellow officer in Rossellini's Rome: Open City (1945): "Twenty-five years ago I led execution squads in France. I was a young officer then and I too believed that we Germans were a master race. But the French patriots chose to die rather than talk. We Germans refuse to realize that people want to be free." That is the whole point: most people are essentially patriots. They wish to preserve their ways of living and wish to imagine whatever change possible within the parameters of their ways of life. They don't wish to submit to a soulless existence. They neither wish to give away their rights to criminal governments nor allow themselves to be indoctrinated by a conscienceless nationalist media. Like the French patriots they would choose to die rather than give away their selfhood to the nationalists.  

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Prakash Kona is a writer, teacher and researcher who lives in Hyderabad, India. He is currently Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

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