John Oliver on his HBO show ‘Last Week Tonight’
John Oliver devoted perhaps the longest segment to the Indian election on American television even if it was to mock and deride how American television was not devoting enough time to it. I have firsthand experience of what Oliver means when he says how a news story as obviously epic as human history’s largest electoral exercise hardly found any resonance here. I tried selling some ideas about possible documentaries to the American media as early as last year about the election but found no takers. Forget takers, I did not even get official rejection, although that may have to do with my standing as a journalist.
It seems to me that American broadcasters like the violent frenzy that often attends the birth of a democracy way better than they like the actual democracy. For the past nearly two months, CNN’s news sense has been submerged somewhere in the unfathomable depths of the Indian Ocean. I think Bluefin-21, a submersible on contract to U.S. Navy to search for the Malaysian Airline’s flight MH 370, should simultaneously look for CNN’s sunken credibility.
When it comes to foreign news coverage the American viewers may not have the attention span or the patience for the complexities of the Indian election. However, as Oliver pointed out, the contest can really be distilled down to two individuals Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. I think the contest is down to Narendra Modi versus Narendra Modi. It is between a reinvented Narendra Modi who tries to put on the mature airs of a national leader or a core Narendra Modi who cannot contain his churlish, brass knuckle political impulses.
Oliver memorably described Gandhi as India’s Han Solo. I am glad he did not extend the Star Wars comparison by calling Modi Darth Vader. To Oliver’s point that the Indian election offers enough red meat for the American broadcasters, he has already understood that the red meat they would rather like is the kind bitten off human buttocks by that leopard leaping over roofs in Ballarpur. It keeps their The Jungle Book Bagheera fantasy alive.
Even if eventually only 50% of the eligible voters vote in this election, we are talking about over 400 million people. That number is still larger than the population of any other country except China. One can always get into the deeper debate whether regular elections necessarily mean a functioning democracy but even superficially over 400 million people casting their votes makes for a great news story under any circumstances. As I pointed out some posts ago, even at its birth India’s was the largest democracy in terms of the sheer number of people it took in its fold. One is tempted to say that the American media disregarding Indian elections are in a way a tribute to the sound inevitability of their taking place without any serious challenge but that is not really what it is. It is having to deal with the easily distracted network executives that is the real problem.
That Oliver is a Brit may have played a small role in his theme selection for the premier of his new HBO show. I suppose he has a more natural appreciation of India’s democracy after what his forebears did there for over 150 years.Somewhere along the line the British take credit for setting India up on a democratic path even though that claim may be transparently false. I applaud Oliver for pointing out the follies of the American media in less than 10 minutes and simultaneously flagging the dangers of the Indian broadcast media going in the same mindless direction.
* This rather obvious headline is meant to put all key search words in.