The crisis of the cancel culture

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When a Rajiv Bajaj takes a masterful stand replete with intent and hope and points a torch into the void, we cheer but we do not venture close to the abyss let alone stare into it.

By Bikram Vohra

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Published: Thu 15 Oct 2020, 8:46 AM

Last updated: Thu 15 Oct 2020, 10:50 AM

When we were young and inexperienced and played for shekels of silver and gold, the 'good fight' had a certain satisfying righteousness about it. We marched together to seek and not to yield and it was invariably the same end. People started off strong in numbers and then the throng petered out en route. So that when we reached the lion's den and knocked on its door there was no grand army, only a couple of diehard stalwarts. Whittled in numbers they were labelled troublemakers and consigned to a sort of professional Coventry.
This could well be the scenario that greets the current sensation in the corridors of the Indian private sector where an ethical revolution threatens to take place. But only threatens.
India's well-known industrialist Rajiv Bajaj, the big wheel of Bajaj Motors, has certainly set a cat among the pigeons by acting on his own tenet that he will not allow his companies to advertise or support toxic media elements. This is a massive move in the corporate world which functions largely on the lowest common denominator and cares little for ethics and other such hurdles to getting maximum eyeballs.
Bajaj has thrown the gauntlet and the fact that another major company in Parle confectionary has climbed onto this bandwagon could well be the start of a new trend in cleaning up the corporate-media equation. My heart wishes it would, my mind is more cynical.
In the beginning when this attitude is spanking new there will be heaps of praise and this syndrome will be set to music. I notice Congress MP Shashi Tharoor wasted no time in saddling this horse for a supportive tweet. But since it is not easy being an eagle in a world of pigeons will this option have lasting power in the long run or will it have a sporadic, sputtering life and then die out like a damp squib?
The danger here is that there is no judge and jury of what is toxic, and hate, fury, divisiveness and the whole gauntlet of nastiness that now is a virus in the media not only in India but globally is purely subjective. Even if we dilute the freedom fighter/terrorist cliché, the fact is that there is a sip, a gulp and a draining of the poisoned chalice and who will adjudicate or call it out when venom takes centerstage?
Bajaj is well within his rights to be selective. It is his money and if he finds a media organ distasteful or acrimonious he can dump it. The risk lies only in selective and arbitrary being interchangeable stances. At some point on this rocky path merely not liking a person or an opinion can result in pulling the rug on the bottom line. Taken to its not so ridiculous length that is a suffocation of free speech.
Truth be told, this Bajaj doctrine is idealist and destined for a perfect world. For most of us the base emotions dictate our preferences and if hate mongering is crudely or cleverly disguised as patriotism, nationalism, religious fervour, and flag waving extremism and contempt camouflaged as concern there will always be takers inclusive of and not limited to corporate bean counters who will yelp as sales go down.
That hate per se gets more eyeballs than love and good news rusts in its own glory is a given. That the toxicity Bajaj refers to has inked its way across the pages of the fourth estate is also a given. The watchdog of society has turned rabid. But all that said, the texture of the cancel culture however well-intentioned does leave one a little uneasy. Boycott, isolate, snub, these all negatives. Come tomorrow and we might discover that decisions are made on personal plinths, driven by our own prejudices. With mankind generally settling for the lowest bidder, the same would apply to even the Bajaj syndrome with far less takers that we imagine.or would like to hope. Unless laws are made to control the noxious fumes that emanate from the stubble of the estate nothing miraculous will happen and the rousing of the rabble will continue unabated. Much of this weeding out has to come from within the ranks of the media and that itself seems dubious. With everyone now a 'journalist' with a camera and a keyboard the era of the troll is upon us with a vengeance. The line between journalism as a profession of honour and its plastic practitioners is so blurred as to make no difference.
When a Rajiv Bajaj takes a masterful stand replete with intent and hope and points a torch into the void, we cheer but we do not venture close to the abyss let alone stare into it. Whether corporate or media, we prefer to say hurrah from afar in a muted whisper.
In the end when the hurly burly is done the battle will not be lost or won, the sword will just be passed to the auditors and accountants to slice the bottom line and raise the red flag.      

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