The shoulder of shoulders

IN Media Practice | 27/05/2011
There are shoulders and shoulders. Then, there is Gautam Gambhir’s shoulder. Healthy, it fetches money for Gambhir. Injured, it fetches money for the channels and publicity for Gambhir.
Gambhir’s shoulder went on and on like a yarn till he seemed all shoulder and no person, says SHYAM G MENON
After those TV grabs of Gambhir grimacing in pain his shoulder has become the stuff of national news. Mid-week, the shoulder pushed its way into media content. Anchors and reporters questioned how it could be neglected although the head right next to that specific shoulder wasn’t among those talking as madly on the subject. It was trifle bizarre – when the news broke, the most prized shoulder in India belonged to everyone except its owner.
What I understood goes somewhat like this – there is this famous cricketer, who like all cricketers has a shoulder; one of two. He injured it in the course of a competition that has come to resemble more show business than cricket (something we enjoy thoroughly all the same). The channels reported that he had hurt his shoulder; the channels reported there was a doctor’s report on the injured shoulder; the channels converted it into a national debate questioning how the crucial shoulder could be allowed to play with injury while matches under the national flag (not club or money) were due. The rest, as often happens in 24x7 news, was words, sentences and yapping to fill the unstoppable roll of the medium.
The crux of the suggested outrage was this – playing for money versus playing for the country. That’s an old theme and a nice one to drum up some viewership and conversation around the subject. Nobody really knows what a sense of nation or national pride is. Is it GDP growth; saffron-waving, cricket, Pakistan-bashing, China-watching, moving to America, Aryan pride, reliving the epics, monolithic patriotism, exclusive societies – what is it? National pride for our times is one of the least explored, yet most easily cited notions in day to day discourse. Nowadays we sense it as reaction to developments and often therein as response hijacked, shaped and thrust upon us. At times, it is a distraction accidentally integrating country – which is what cricket does as the game moulds a nation of seeming incompatibles into a fighting unit. That’s what makes Gambhir’s shoulder juicy to talk of, injury and all. It occupies the sweet spot of the free market, the entity that touches maximum scale when the country is seamlessly united. But because the `national shoulder’ treads the thin line between distractive oneness and a more powerful sombre reality, discussing the shoulder eventually succumbs to what the Rolling Stones sang, `` it’s a gas, gas, gas......’’ Pegs downed, pakodas eaten, point made, conversation wrapped up you abandon Gambhir’s shoulder to Gambhir’s head and make your way home. That’s good business for those engaged in the business of chatter, even if Gambhir’s head speaks little on the issue. As a matter of fact, he concluded the first day of this controversy thanking the Kolkota Knight Riders for the opportunity to lead them. Then, predictably, he started reacting to news, spawning more news. One scratch led to another till the simple mosquito bite became a blooming rash, quite like playing cricket with injury. In this 360 degree embrace by the injury syndrome it is hard to decipher who is talking injury and who, remedy. One thing is clear – it is all money.
The brouhaha about the shoulder injury wouldn’t be this high if the injury wasn’t a temporary money spinner for eyeball hungry-channels. Healthy, the shoulder fetches money for Gambhir. Injured, it fetches money for the channels and publicity for Gambhir. Any which way you look at it, that shoulder is first a bread winner then a national asset or flag bearer. Let’s face it – Gambhir’s shoulder is important for all concerned, including the channels and Gambhir, because it makes money. That’s why Gambhir’s shoulder counts and mine is one of the remaining two billion nameless shoulders in India.
 If it wasn’t the money involved directly with that shoulder and indirectly in terms of discussing the injury on TV, would the media get involved? So, why this self righteous patriotic posturing over the shoulder making its injury come across like a national calamity, even crime? Hasn’t India played before without Gambhir and isn’t the pull of money well documented in sport? Besides, whose responsibility should that shoulder be – the viewers’, the channels’, BCCI’s or an adult called Gambhir? Not to mention, the so called patriotic sportspersons, available to play for the country, don’t shy off leveraging recognition reaped under the national banner for subsequent advertisement deals. So, who’s free of money’s pull? Besides, one man’s injury can be another man’s opportunity. There must be some shoulder among the two billion less known ones that can do duty on a West Indies tour if Gambhir must rest and recuperate. That way, Gambhir continues in the game and an opportunity is provided alongside. Patriotism is served and the shoulder remains with its true owner- Gambhir’s head.
Instead, Gambhir’s shoulder went on and on like a yarn till Gambhir seemed all shoulder and no person. I found it an endorsement of today’s media as business model for conversation; intellect and maturity be damned. It is time we asked if yapping non-stop for money is as much a sign of injury concealed in the pursuit of money as Gambhir’s injured shoulder is muscle and bone lost to minting money. At least, stop claiming national service for one and reading greed in the other. Admit that both contemporary media and cricket serve nothing but money. Then it becomes what it actually is – one overlooked injury holding a mirror to another, both making money from it.

(The author is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai)     

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