Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Constructing the Self — Social Media Style

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

Ever since ‘deposed American President’ Al Gore “invented” it in the early 90s, the Internet and its early adopters have had an almost spousal relationship. From spending only an hour or two with each other every day in the beginning, to sleeping in separate rooms so as to give each other some ‘space.’ And thanks to the advent of social media, this married couple has been able to spice up its relationship through the magic of role-playing.

You can be a loser in real life, but you don’t have to play one on Facebook. It lets you showcase your life like you’ve always wanted other people to see it. Like a dystopian regime, you can simply edit out any unfortunate events that don’t fit the narrative that you have established for yourself and pretend that they never happened. Your life is simply one ginormous vacation spent making silly poses (ironically, of course!) in picturesque locations. You’re not currently stalking the object of your unrequited feelings; your relationship with them is ‘complicated.’ No, you never went to your friend’s bachelor party when you called in sick to work as you made sure your friends never ‘tagged’ you in any photograph. If you didn’t mention it on Facebook, then it probably never happened. Just because you use your real name, it doesn’t mean that anything about you has to be real.

And twitter is for exploring different parts of your personality. You’re not a jack of all trades; you’re an “exbert.”  As long as you don’t say what you really think. Because do you really want people to know that you really care about normal human things? Haha, you’re so naive! Human emotions are for people on Orkut!

When the car bomb outside the Israeli embassy went off, the detectives on twitter had already solved the case even before the Delhi Police could begin ignoring all the clues and the central government could briefly wake up from its slumber to ‘strongly condemn’ the perpetrators. The exberts on twitter KNEW who exploded the bomb! It was Iran! No, it was Israel! Who are you kidding, it was probably America! Nay, it was our arch-enemy and future ‘foreign hand hall of fame’ inductee, Pakistan. Or maybe it was Xenu, the overlord of scientology who finally came back to collect all our souls and bury them in another earth like planet so we could repeat the same mistakes on another celestial body trillions of years from now.

Later in the week, the twittersphere went from playing the protagonist of a Tom Clancy novel to pretending to be a cynical bastard. Everyone seemed to have finally discovered that Valentine’s day is a ploy by stuffed white teddy bears to infiltrate every house in the world so that they can learn our secrets and then threaten us into submission and slavery. People were more than eager to display their non-affiliation to a hallmark holiday. Unfortunately, it was all for nought as the only people talking about valentine’s day were the ones who had vowed, a day before, to stay away from all social media because they did not want to be overwhelmed by the sappy sentimentalism of the pro-valentines day movement  Twitter seemed to have been turned into a pageant with everyone vying for the title of ‘most ruthless takedown of love & relationships.’ The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Twitter is also for pretending to be someone ‘in the know.’ Take a widely circulated rumour, refer to it in ambiguous terms, mention a person or entity in power and viola, you are a bona fide insider! That is because people will believe anything about the object of their abject hatred.

When someone follows you or becomes your friend on a social networking website, they’re not really actually following you. They’re following the idea of you. The persona you have created online. The one which masks your sanctimony in mildly amusing jokes and links to a wide variety of interesting things. The persona which supports equality and outrages when someone somewhere says something inappropriate. The persona which says and does all the right things.

When you tweet with this false sense of security, your mask begins to slip and your tweets starts to reflect the real you. And you're oblivious to it, like the emperor is oblivious to his new clothes. People play along with your created image, praising your threads, when in fact, all they're doing is sniggering at the size of your dong.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The secretly horny shall inherit the earth

(This post first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

As I write this, the whole country has been gripped by fear and confusion. That is because on a day which shall live on in infamy, a few legislators from the Karnataka Assembly were caught watching pornographic videos while attending an assembly session. The nation watched in horror as the moral fabric of its society crumpled. There was chaos and pandemonium everywhere. People took to the streets and started making out with random strangers. It was like 950 A.D. all over again as everyone seemed to be participating in activities depicted in certain popular monuments in Khujrao. Even severely religious people were spotted wearing t-shirts which urged other people to make love not war. Television channels were holding panel discussion on the various alternatives to the missionary position. Parents were looking at their young children nervously, expecting to be deluged by a torrent of awkward questions at any moment. Grandparents were alternating between taking digestive tablets and pining for the good old days when something like this would not have happened. And the children. Oh, the children. Nobody thought of the children! We made them lose their innocence at such a young age, as if they were the offspring of a character portrayed by Nirupa Roy in a 1980s hindi movie.

Alright, none of this actually happened, but if you had turned on television or logged on to twitter, this is what appeared to be going on. People seemed to have overdosed on puritanism. It was as if all of us were back on a school playground and somebody said a word they are not allowed to say. There was insidious giggling followed by a constant feeling of guilt. Scorn was being heaped on the erroneous politicians from all corners of the spectrum. They're indecent! They’re perverts! They’ve ruined the sanctity of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly!

Let this be a lesson for all our politicians. You can lie. You can cheat. You can sell your vote to the highest bidder. You can tell women that dressing in anything less than a burkha is an invitation to be raped. But watching porn? You crossed a line there, buddy! The people of this country will forgive anything as long as you don’t force them to confront their twisted feelings about sex.

Also, it’s shocking that someone from a party whose main platform is largely dedicated to preventing people from having sex is a pervert. How can this happen? When that fool Newton said that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, he was still feeling the effects of that apple falling on his head. Sex is only good when you’re having it to produce a male heir. Otherwise, how dare you indulge yourself? If god really wanted you to have sex, he would have made it so simple that even a moron would know what goes where.

Not that the BJP is alone in espousing such sentiment. In this country, if there is one thing we love more than vegetarian food, its repressing our feelings. Our motto is, if you have an itch, wait for a few years, get a job with a six figure salary, take your parents’ permission, invite a thousand people to dinner to celebrate the occasion, and then scratch it. We brainwash our children into thinking that sex is such a dirty and disgusting act that you only do it with someone you truly love.

It’s been scientifically established that sexual repression retards human growth. If you turn it into a forbidden fruit, people will want to take a bite. That is why the subtext of almost every advertisement targeted at men is buying our product will help you get laid! That is why the juvenile euphemisms of a Rohit Shetty movie are so popular. That is why a number of people think Charlie Sheen–a misogynist, drug addicted shell of a human being, who has had more near-death experiences than a Russian politician opposed to Vladimir Putin–is worth emulating. So what if he has a miserable existence? He must get laid almost every day! Clearly this strategy of lets-avoid-talking-about-sex-like-its-the-bubonic-plague is not working. We need a Plan B, maybe?

Now please excuse me while I go take a dip in the Ganges to cleanse myself of all these obscene thoughts.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

As the pundits do UP like lunch, the cliches come crashing in

(This post originally appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

Famous rustic movie set and the country’s #1 exporter of dacoits, Uttar Pradesh, is holding elections this week. You can tell because all the news pundits can’t stop talking about it. They swoop in every five years, talk to the owner of the dhabha where they lunch at and then go back to New Delhi to do the rounds of every news studio to provide their opinion about the ‘situation on the ground.’ Every report will be peppered with useless trivia (there are more people in UP than the number of people in the world getting Brazilian waxes!) and will use patronizingly simplified descriptions for the chaos of this mammoth exercise. It’s a dance!  It’s a carnival! It’s like a wedding in a Yashraj movie! It’s how your brain feels after you smoke that epic shit from Thailand! It’s like the opening ceremony of a cricket tournament organized by Lalit Modi!

Every party’s manifesto was trying to outdo the other in stupidity and distribution of freebies. The BSP manifesto says “It doesn’t matter what we do as long as it’s done by someone from the same caste as you.” The BJP manifesto says “It doesn’t matter what we do as long as we turn everything we touch into a revered symbol of Hinduism.” and the Congress manifesto says “Please vote for us. We’ll do anything you want. You want money, you can have money. You want laptops? Tablets? Memory Cards? Shower curtains? Gold plated washbasins? Do you want the local taluka leader to come to your house every weekend and give you a blow job? Just tell us what you want, goddammit!”

Like a one trick pony, the BJP is back to prominently featuring the Ayodhya issue in its campaign. Each side in this dispute is like a petulant ten year old. “This is my toy . . . No, this is my toy . . No! I am rubber and you are glue!” The best solution to this problem is to build something on that land which pisses off the high priests of all religions. Either a gay bar or something to do with women. Because nothing terrifies a religious nutjob more than a woman who is happy without a husband and a man who is happy with one. Maybe we can combine the two and build an S&M-themed bar for Lesbians. Think of the tourism revenue it will generate! Incredible India, indeed.

‘Desi Qaddafi’ Behen Mayawati is temporarily mellowing. To prove her dedication to eradicating corruption, she has suspended so many people from her party that it seems in a few weeks she’ll be the only one left. Mayawati even gave interviews to the same English news channels that she accuses of being a cog in the wheel of the vast brahmanical conspiracy against her. Other participants in this conspiracy include but are not limited to Julian Assange, the election commission and the pigeons that refuse to stop treating her statues as a communal commode.

Meanwhile, Mulayam Singh Yadav is busy trying to get endorsements from every two-bit cleric he can find so that he can project his old ‘Mr. Minorities’ image again whilst pretending that his alliance with Kalyan Singh–that fizzled out faster than a Kardashian wedding–never happened. Yadav has also promised that if elected, he will clamp down on the criminal activities that are now part of everyday life in UP. That is like an obese person promising himself to eat only ‘one more piece’ of the cake.

From the morally bankrupt to the actually bankrupt. Our national airline and ministerial taxi service, Air India, has lost all its money again. Air India has gone bankrupt more times than Arnab Goswami has interrupted guests on his show. Air India is like that son-in-law who keeps borrowing money from his wife’s father to finance his gambling habit. Even for a country which has made bad governance its hallmark, Air India is poorly run. And just because it has lost billions of rupees does not mean that they’re going to shut down the airline. How else will they get their alleged mistresses airlifted from remote parts of the country? Or take a cut of every purchase, you know, allegedly. Our ministers are so incompetent, if they'd started a ministry of corruption they would somehow end up not taking bribes.

If only someone in the government knew something about economics.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The old king is dead; long live the new king

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

As most revolutionaries will confess, the hardest part in a revolution comes after you’ve actually gotten what you asked for. A large number of them turn into the very people they sought to displace. Perhaps, letting them make the same mistakes as their erstwhile oppressors is nature’s way of extracting comeuppance.

In its iconic 1984 Superbowl ad, Apple sought to challenge the staid dominance of the personal computing industry by ‘big brother’ IBM. It promised to bring colour to the stifling assembly line world of all grey. Apple won that shakeout and in a few years, went on to dominate the industry. When Apple became the oppressor, it was challenged by Microsoft. Like a nagging spouse, history repeated itself and Microsoft became the market leader by ushering in cheap personal computers which were easy to use and accessible to a large swath of the population. When Microsoft tried to use its dominance of the personal computing market to try to control the Internet, it was tossed out like yesterday’s newspaper by a small start-up called Google. Now, Google’s omnipresence on the web is being challenged by the Facebook juggernaut.

Right now, Google is that movie actress who is in that awkward phase between being too old to be the leading lady and being too young to play a mother, so she resorts to all sorts of ‘compromises’ like showing more skin whilst claiming that it’s an essential part of the script. So, when Google announced this week that it will finally stop pretending not to be evil and combine the terms & conditions across the various services the company provides to make it easier for itself to collect and sell user profiles to advertisers, s**t hit the fan. Everyone seemed to be disappointed in Google, like an Indian parent who just found out that his child is in love with a person from of a different religion. HOW COULD THEY DO THIS TO US, AFTER ALL THAT WE HAVE DONE FOR THEM?

Just like tyrannical governments who aim to stifle opposition in the guise of maintaining law & order, Google is using patronizing Orwellian terms to describe its new set of policies. Apparently, it’s making these hard decisions to make things easier for you. If I had a rupee for every time a ruthless corporate behemoth claimed to care about me, I’d have enough money to open a shady Swiss bank account.

Let’s face it. Despite our empty threats, we’re not going to stop using a popular web service just because the service provider is recording all our activities in a file, like an old school intelligence agency. We’re addicted to the instant gratification of the internet, and you’re going to take away this drug from our cold, dead hands. (Although, if you’re doing that, don’t forget to upload the video to You Tube. What? We wouldn’t be able to do it, we’d be dead!). The fact of the matter is that none of us really want to go back to a world in which we cannot instantly share our every thought with four thousand of our closest friends. Or drop the pretence of keeping in touch with racist relatives and classmates we don’t remember so that they don’t bother us in the real world. And how did we ever live without being able to share pictures of every moment of every vacation with strangers on the internet?

When someone is providing you a service for free, then you are the product they are selling. Databases get sold. Accounts get hacked. Companies get desperate. In hindsight, the Faustian bargain we made many years ago to provide tech companies with all our private information so that they could bombard us with targeted adds in lieu of being given limited access to hundreds of gigabytes of free space on the internet seems to be a tad unfair.

We love our privacy. Especially when it whizzes past us, waving goodbye with a lump in its throat and a tear in its eye.

I, for one, don’t trust anybody. Therefore, I store all my passwords in a file on my desktop called passwords.

What could go wrong?