Pop Stuff: New News, Old Blueprints
Are we spouting our own opinions or those of our favorite pundits; can we even tell the difference?
At a recent dinner in New York, I wasÂ catching up with a close friend fromÂ Mumbai. We were trying Sichuan hotÂ pots in a new east village spot and she wasÂ enthusiastically describing a sea change inÂ India with respect to the female narrative. SheÂ cited feminist zine, The Ladies Finger, as aÂ place where women explore taboo topics. So, I asked her; is itÂ changing perceptions? Well, she told me, yes, but it’s mostlyÂ preaching to the converted. We assume that more access andÂ more freedom of expression means more open minds. But asÂ our news feed spills over with options we consume whatÂ resonates. I can be the ”˜educated liberal’ who gets my news fromÂ John Oliver and my Chinese food in Alphabet City, but does thatÂ make my point of view any less limited?
While globalization has become a 21st-century mantra,Â isolation has become its unlikely twin. Americans obsess overÂ Trump, gun violence and racial inequality, Brits over BrexitÂ and Indians over a globetrotting Modi. Sports fans dive fromÂ Euro 2016 into the Olympics and activists fixate on theirÂ crisis of choice. Climate change, discontent fueled by incomeÂ inequality and cyber warfare might be the most prevalentÂ threats but they take a backseat as we pick headlines, blogs andÂ channels tailored to our tastes. As opinions proliferate acrossÂ burgeoning networks, each one takes more of a stance to standÂ out. In tuning in to a voice, whether it is Sean Hannity on FoxÂ or Arnab Goswami on The Newshour Debate, we risk becomingÂ more passive players in our interaction with world events. AreÂ we spouting our own opinions or those of our favorite pundits;Â can we even tell the difference? Only last month FacebookÂ announced an update to their news feed prioritizing posts fromÂ family and friends. Ironically, the platform that propelled theÂ Arab Spring ensures that, while six degrees of separation holdsÂ true, our world view is dominated by just one or two.
Groupthink is exacerbated as narratives on center stage areÂ driven by the most powerful nations. On June 12, in an OrlandoÂ nightclub, the US experienced its deadliest mass shooting.Â While this was deservedly emblazoned across every frontÂ page, the 20 people dead in air strikes in Syria that day wentÂ largely unnoticed. Last month when Jihadists killed scores inÂ Istanbul, Bangladesh, Baghdad and Saudi Arabia, coverageÂ seemed perfunctory in comparison to effusive pages followingÂ the Paris attacks last year. The news dances circles aroundÂ Trump because we’d rather debate a racist quip from a podiumÂ bully than hear from, let’s say, a women’s rights activist. AndÂ what more proof that we’re woefully unaware of what the otherÂ side believes than surprise that an exclusionary bigot is a USÂ presidential front-runner.
We can’t read every point of view. But we can become moreÂ open minded by engaging the opinion furthest from us andÂ more informed by reading the buried stories. So if you’reÂ a liberal, watch a conservative talk show; if you think thatÂ feminists are ”˜feminazis’, spend an hour reading The LadiesÂ Finger and if you feel Islam is the problem, take a deep dive intoÂ the disenfranchised communities spawning radicals. The scaleÂ of information flow alone won’t expand our horizons, unless weÂ try something new on the menu.
Soleil Nathwani is a New York-based Culture Writer and Film Critic. A former Film Executive and Hedge Fund COO, Soleil hails from London and Mumbai.