Saturday, February 1, 2014

The psychology of Arnab Goswami debates

Arnab Goswami debates have been famous for fire brand narration by Arnab. I've been a prisoner to these debates everyday for the last few years. They are famous and have gone a long way in making Times Now the number one news channel. They have made Arnab Goswami and subjects of his debate trend on Twitter. They've also been converted in to some hilarious parodies like the one on Pranab Mukherjee's son Arijit Mukherjee dented and painted women.

But what is it in these debates that make them so catchy? Is it the content, Arnab's personality, or something else?

Swapan Dasgupta in his analysis of Arnab Goswami has said that, "On air he becomes a voice of indignation, anger and even insolence. These are qualities which the little man doesn’t possess in abundance. He wants to kick the errant netas. Since he can’t, he is happy for Arnab do it for him."

Delving in to the psychology of Arnab's debates, the famous super prime time News Hour, I feel it is just an amazing story that unfolds like reality TV. It is not actually a debate but a powerful narrative. If you look carefully, Arnab Goswami's debate has a villain, a very powerful villain, which is sketched out early on in the debate. 

The story of Arnab Goswami's debate is the story of the fight against the villain. Villain can be the state, the government, a political party that has said/done anything controversial (according to media). It is built up very well before the show from 6 P.M. till the beginning of the debate when Arnab Goswami sets the tone for the narrative.

The debate enacted like the crusade against a villain or a set of them is one reason why Arnab Goswami's debates often take a very aggressive tone. I am unsure whether this is characteristic to a usual debate.

The debate has a set of heroes who are constantly propelled by Arnab Goswami. When these heroes are not able to speak in a firm and affirmative manner Arnab Goswami takes on the role of a crusader. In presence of some powerful heroes, he simply catalyzes the process.

In the end it becomes a plot with a powerful villain, which is quite similar to a classic Hindi movie potboiler. If you closely look at the language of Arnab, he uses words such as "Do you apologize", "Will you change", "Do you admit your mistake", when he talks to the villain. This again reinforces the story that is being unfolded on The News Hour. It also adds up to Swapan Dasgupta's observation that his presence are qualities which the little man doesn’t possess i.e. taking on the powerful villain. This is also one phenomena that has lead to the success of many Hindi movies like Sholay, Mr. India and many more.

The whole process of this march against the villain trying to make him bend down has been a feature that is also reflected in Arnab Goswami parodies created on the internet. One interesting parody that did rounds on Facebook was after Arnab's Frankling Speaking interview with Rahul Gandhi shows Arnab as a Cheetah. It is a reflection of the Chase against a person who is considered powerful shown as weak in the presence of a hero.

Madhu Kishwar's open letter to Arnab complaining about The News Hour debate has also made a similar observation. He says that Arnab has made it fashionable to see every issue through a prism which allows only two colors to permeate– black and white. That prism enables the anchor to see himself as lily white knight in shining armor out to save India from its various real and imaginary enemies and ills and ensures that all those whose alleged misdeeds have been exposed or whose views are being targeted come out pure black, pure evil.

There are other view points that tool talk about the villain, but indirectly. In a blog post Atulya Mahajan says that "All these years, i have longed for the day when you would, on prime TV, announce your real superhero identity, and fly off to stop a group of terrorists trying to wage battle against India." Super heroes are only created in the presence of super villains. The News Hour narrative in fact is propelled not by Arnab but the super villain he creates.

Arnab Goswami debates are unlike debates on other news channels where they aren't taken up as a crusade against a created villain. In the end this creates a very powerful narrative, which has definitely managed to hook me on for quite a while. It is good marketing through some very good story telling. 

But is it good journalism? I leave that to you.