Civilised online discourse? Dream on!
The word “Stereotype” literally means “Solid impression”, but outside of the printing industry, it refers to the frequently liquid use of gaseous opinions of others we don't fully understand.
Recently, a certain Pakistani military medium pace bowler by the name of Shoaib Akhtar claimed that a middling Indian batsman named Sachin Tendulkar shivered like a chap wearing Bermuda shorts in Antarctica when he came on to bowl. You see, the national bird of India might be the peacock but the national mood is outrage. How dare a citizen of the “enemy country” say anything about the latest addition to our multitudinous pantheon, Sachin Tendulkar?
Outrage, by itself, is like a piece of dung one throws at something one does not like. But outrage plus internet access tends to result in a Bofors Dung-loading Howitzer. Anyone can now express outrage, on a blog, on Twitter, or on Facebook. So when this controversy broke out, everybody had something to say, and when everybody has something to say, the international press pays attention too. The Guardian did not miss this opportunity to sneer at the immaturity of their former colonial possessions and one of the columnists even wrote a sentence that spoke of “the wild-haired, wanton fast bowler from Pakistan and the impeccably disciplined Brahmin boy from India.” That's when I went, “Now hang on a minute!”
A wild-haired, wanton fast bowler from Pakistan? Does he have a bomb strapped to his torso too? A docile, vegetarian, skinny and shivering Brahmin batsman from India? And this, from a racist, colonialist and exploitative white Englishman? Why? Does he have small, slitty eyes like the Chinese to not see that these stereotypes don't work anymore, that we don't starve like Africans because we are miserly like the Jews or criminals like black people in the US? Does he just fear that we will immigrate and breed like Hispanics and molest their children like Catholic priests? What does he think: that we are uncivilised like the tribals in Papua New Guinea? Or too gay or girly to face fear?
I want you to pay close attention to the previous paragraph and for every third stereotype you find, say “Bingo”. That paragraph was an exercise in a new journalistic standard I am proposing. It's called the Stereotypical Balance Protocol. It states that every writer must conserve balance of stereotypical impact like the universe conserves mass.Given that we live in a country where, for every utterance, there exists an outraged party, this protocol aims, like jaggery added to neutralize spicy sambar, to assuage outrage by the cunning use of the “see, I stereotyped him also” strategy.
For instance, the problem with the sentence used in the Guardian piece is that it only stereotypes (all) Pakistanis and (some) Indians. He should've either specified a particular Pakistani ethnicity or region if he was going to use “Brahmin” OR gotten rid of the casteist term altogether. And even then, it wouldn't be enough. A subtle self-deprecatory Caucasian stereotype, like “At least the Indians shivered and faced him. We Englishmen tend to hide behind the voluminous skirts of our atrociously rainy weather and then whine about ball tampering” would've adhered to Stereotypical Balance Protocol perfectly.
Civilised discourse online is a pipe dream. The least we can do is use the stereotypes people don't mind as a placebo against those that they rage against.
Keywords: Online opinions