Sevanti Ninan

Media Matters - Mythologising F1

The making of modern myths: Sachin Tendulkar with Michael Schumacher at the Buddh Circuit. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt  

Practically the only notable at the Buddh Circuit last Sunday whose photograph newspapers did not pick up was Chief Minister Mayawati. She helicoptered in to give away the trophy to Sebastian Vettel and his fellow winners, presuming, possibly, that it would be a wonderful photo op. It was, but only in theory. Television obviously had the footage but did you see any newspaper pick it up among the many pictures of the celebrities and the champagne-spraying winners? Okay, trophies are usually presented by sponsors and that presentation is not what makes the next day's photograph. But this Chief Minister, lately pilloried for building her own handbag-holding statue some 35 km away from the Buddh Circuit, was very much a subject of news photographs on that occasion. Why was she denied her association with the Grand Prix in the images of the event which made news?

Whose triumph?

The success of the Grand Prix which left the media smitten were not projected as Uttar Pradesh's triumph. It was billed as private sector India's triumph. And so it was. But there is no doubt that the much-praised circuit would not have become a reality without her compliance, and certainly the builders are known to be close to her. The name given to the circuit indicates as much, though the irony of associating Gautama Buddha with an elitist and deafening motor sport seemed to have escaped media comment.

The media has an inherent value system which decides how an event or individual should be mythified. Formula One is a desirable event to be associated with all those the media is in awe of. That ranges from Shah Rukh Khan and Sachin Tendulkar to Vijay Mallya and his son and girlfriend. If the young Gandhis had been there, rest assured their photographs would have been in the celebrity pantheon of F1. They belong. Robert Vadra's presence did get picked up, he was even quoted.

Mayawati will find it hard to shed her predetermined image. She cannot be the callous Chief Minister who presides over encephalitis deaths and spends money on statues rather than schools or hospitals, and also be a woman who can claim her right to be associated with F1. Cannot mix negative and positive, in the media's book, and right now the Grand Prix is lingering in first world India's consciousness as a wonderful thing to have pulled off.

The only exception I saw was a piece in First which suggested that perhaps some of the credit should go to the U P Government and Mayawati.

But the same value judgements don't apply to, say, Rahul Gandhi. Does the media go gleefully to town with the picture of this overnight visitor of dalit homes lounging in a first class airline seat on his way back from Bhutan? Do they front-page it? No. It remained a telling but under-used image.

Muted debate

The F1 event raked up the whole rich versus poor debate, though in a rather muted way. This was not an event that the media really wanted to make a class issue out of. Just one panel discussion with Mani Shankar Aiyar fuming about panchayats and kabbadi not getting their due, and the obscenity of giving the organisers six lakh litres of subsidised petrol. The media consensus on what a terrific event it was, was there for all to see. No value judgments on the exorbitant ticket prices, Rs. 300 hamburgers, and an extended traffic jam consisting almost entirely of luxury class cars. Whose passengers were tweeting as they waited for the traffic to ease up. How do we know? The papers and websites faithfully reproduced their tweets.

Formula One came, conquered and left, cheered by the glamour crowd who gave the cameras their fill. And Vijay Mallya had his comeback to the criticism of elitism. The country's economic growth, he said, was as much a reality as its poverty. Maybe the iron lady of the Bahujan Samaj Party would have said something similar but she was not quoted.

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 7:10:12 AM |

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