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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  What happens when we’re exposed to stunning videos
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What happens when we’re exposed to stunning videos

What was once extraordinary has become multifarious, vast and common, but not ordinary

 The clips belie the claim of people who are barricaded from feral India that dogs and cows pose no risk to humans unless the animals are provoked. Premium
The clips belie the claim of people who are barricaded from feral India that dogs and cows pose no risk to humans unless the animals are provoked.

An extraordinary video clip was at the heart of the nominal no-confidence motion against the government of Narendra Modi. The clip shows two women being paraded naked in Manipur as part of a sexual assault against them. For many weeks before it went viral online, most of India was unmoved by the communal violence in Manipur. Not because Indians don’t have a heart, but because our threshold for public compassion is high. But the video did shock Indians. People had heard that such things were done to women as a form of communal revenge, but now they could see it. For decades, how to ‘integrate’ the north-east had been talked about; the video clip from one of its states was a sign that what unites India is all that is wrong with us.

The video, which appears to have been suppressed by the Manipur government for weeks, may well have ended the violence in the state. The humanitarian impact of mobile phones is immense. People react to an extraordinary video of an atrocity as though what separated them from compassion was hard evidence. But a clip is not just visible evidence of an event, it contains the full force of drama.

There will come a time when people stop reacting even to extraordinary videos. Already, our lives are filled with videos from real life that stun and shock us, but only for a few minutes. In fact, people have stopped reacting to extraordinariness; they are only reacting to the newness of the genre.

As I set out to write, I watched a clip from Chennai of a cow attacking a nine-year-old girl, who screams in fright. Her mother watches in horror as the cow repeatedly flings the girl on its horns, trying to gore her. There are many videos from Indian street life that show the sacred animal attacking pedestrians. Also of stray dogs mauling people, including children. In April, a 65-year-old man who was strolling on the campus of Aligarh Muslim University was mauled by a pack of dogs; he died of wounds. The entire episode is on video.

In a sane nation, these gruesome videos would have exposed the municipal incompetence that hides behind politics and the nonsense about India’s civilizational love for animals. The clips also belie the claim of people who are barricaded from feral India that dogs and cows pose no risk to humans unless the animals are provoked. Nothing substantive has come of the videos. It is probably too late for a video of a cow goring people or a dog biting off bits of a child to force the country to fix our streets. This portents a world that will be accustomed to extraordinary videos; where a clip would retain its power to shock, but will not set in motion any process to prevent what is shocking.

Most extraordinary videos are not political. I will list out, without any deep attempt to recollect, what comes to my mind when I think of ‘extraordinary clips’: Two Chinese women having an argument in a car; one of them stepping out and a tiger carrying her off by her neck; a tyre coming off a distant passing truck that rolls across the road, bounces over medians, and hits a passing pedestrian on his head who then lies motionless; a video grab of a camera inside a bus moments before and during a crash that killed most occupants or perhaps all. The timbre of these events differs from what we considered extraordinary not very long ago: Taliban executing people by shooting, beheading or throwing them off buildings.

The extraordinary has become vast, multifarious and common, without becoming ordinary. Even 25 years ago, we were so naive that the parachutes of two sky divers getting entwined would be global news. It was in such an era that two aircraft crashed into the Twin Towers. The world was stunned for days. People suffered trauma from just watching it on TV. A few years later, in 2006, Saddam Hussain of Iraq was hanged and his execution caught on camera. Few people may have seen the clip because mainstream news channels did not show it. Somehow, clips didn’t go viral back then. The media, ironically, used to protect people from extraordinary images.

Often, the most surprising thing in a viral clip is human behaviour. For instance, the final moments of Hussain showed him as a man with more courage than what we were told about despots. He looked dignified. As he spoke to his executioners, he looked like someone giving directions to his palace. He refused their offer of a hood. He was in the middle of his final prayer when the plank under his feet gave way. The speed of a human fall, that too was surprising.

At the time, most of the world had never seen a real hanging, or a person dying. Now, almost everyone has. Many people have even watched streamed suicides. What happens to a society when it cannot be shocked or even surprised anymore by a visual; only mildly entertained? It would be a familiar world; a world just before the mobile-camera, where writers struggled to captivate people about things that did not directly concern them.

When I was little, I thought people who said they believed in God were liars because if they truly believed in such a supernatural force, they would be in a perpetual trance because what can be more captivating than God? I now realize the error in my thinking. People get used to the extraordinary without ever denying its extraordinary nature. If an alien appears tomorrow, people will be stunned, of course, but only for a few weeks. The fifth alien appearance might not even go viral, unless it has anything new to show.

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Updated: 13 Aug 2023, 09:57 PM IST
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