Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A modern-day soap opera

An Indian-origin nurse in the U.K. working in the hospital where Kate Middleton is admitted, gets a call from "the Royal family" which she passes on to some other nurse. Some detailed questions are asked which this other nurse replies to.  It later turns out that the call is a hoax, from a radio station in Australia.  A nice practical joke, if you ask me. There was nothing to suggest anything indecent or offensive in the call, and everyone could have had a good laugh and moved on. But the story took a twist.


The nurse, Jacintha, who passed on the call, naturally gets named  in the media, may have been a bit embarrassed by the whole affair, and had to endure a bit of leg-pulling from her colleagues. She went and  committed suicide!  I don't think being on the receiving end of a prank like this  is sufficient cause to commit suicide, and if she, well, happened to do it, it was her problem. May be she was depressed or something. Or unhappy with her family. Or slightly unhinged. Who knows? Anyway, since anything to do with the royal family grabs a lot of attention, this came to the attention of the media. Who blew it up bigtime.


The problem is, the story starts with a death – a real death. So no one can put things in perspective, and talk reasonably. Especially not if they are representing big institutions like the media, or the radio station in question, or if they are getting quoted. It is extremely politically correct to show concern at a tragic occurrence like this, while condemning those who may have been even indirectly a cause for such an action.


There is an uproar. Everyone says it is a tragic thing (which I guess it is), and everyone says that the caller (the guy from the Australian radio station) is responsible – by that logic, I can trace every death to someone or the other who had been cruel to the chief protagonist some time in their life.  The latest fashion in the media seems to be to pick up one death at a time (we will ignore incidents of mass killing like what keeps happening once every year in the US) where we can sympathize with the victim, and feel that they were unjustly done in. And then milk it to the hilt. Emotion sells. So make sure the newspaper drips with tears.  There are photos of the grieving family – notice how well they seem to have adjusted to the situation? The family is always shown with a grim visage, hugging each other, and dabbing tears – I am sure this happens whenever there is a camera in sight, since you can't sustain this kind of behaviour for days on end. 


Even if someone feels that this is being over-hyped, he or she dare not speak up. It is really, really, politically incorrect to sound so heartless. You can't even do it around the lunch table with your colleagues nowadays.  It seems to be a race to sound more holier-than-thou than the next man. Anyway, that is the subject of a separate discussion. Meanwhile, every day newspaper readers are exposed to tearful photos of the family hugging, or rather, of the family hugging tearfully, for a whole week. This happens across three continents, since the nurse who died was an Indian from Mangalore, working in the UK, and the call originated from Australia. The radio station in question is totally on the defensive and they have to be seen to be making amends. So there is a very tearful, regretful, apology from the callers in question, who are "very very sorry" and "devastated" by what happened, no doubt drafted by the communications department of the radio station, vetted by their lawyers across three continents, and released very tearfully; never mind what the callers are actually feeling. The radio station is also compelled (no doubt by its own conscience) to announce a couple of million dollars compensation to the victim's (sic) family, which I am sure, makes them hug each other more tightly when the cameras are in sight.


They follow her all the way to the funeral in Mangalore, and there are more tearful photos.  For the near future, whenever they are seen in public, they have to maintain a grim visage.  May her soul rest in peace.


What is the likely fallout of this? All big organizations, not only media houses, will be drafting fresh guidelines as we speak. No more practical jokes. No more jokes. No levity even.  It may lead to someone committing suicide.  Even jokes over the lunch table will be banned. As it is, it is taboo to mention "sensitive" subjects like race, religion, sex, politics, and anything in which there are diverse opinions. Now it will so become that you can't even pull anyone's leg, since they may take offence and commit suicide. That will not be a very good thing, so we should avoid taking any risk. What is the bet that all Vision Statements will start incorporating the word "sensitivity"?  Once they put it in their Vision Statements, you can't accuse them of being insensitive.


Meanwhile, people keep drowning by the hundreds in boat accidents, dying in fires in garment factories where the exits are blocked from outside, getting killed by pilotless drones dropping bombs into their weddings. Someone should take these tearful photos of single deaths to places like Kashmir, Af-Pak, North Africa, and ask them what they think about it. I am sure the response would be very vocal. But no one would dare publish it.

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