We all love our little practical jokes – little salt in the nosy colleague’s tea, electric chewing gum, yelling “thesis submission deadline!” on a Sunday to a groggy classmate, childbirth – so it comes as no surprise that in the Fool’s Month we’d be treated to a host of naughty nuggets. But never did we realize how far we’d come with the self-depreciating humour, stripping ourselves of the little dignity we muster, until the 12th of April.
Ah, that day, that was undeniably creatively represented by The Times of India by this:
Equal Pay Day – April 12 – signifies how far into the year women need to work to earn the exact amount male workers have earned in the previous year. Commemorating this day emphasizes the need to nullify this day as a significant occasion – only with its absence can we say that another step has been achieved towards gender equality, by granting an entire chunk of the working community the same as the male section that coexists alongside them, for equal amount and duration of work.
We seem to forget that equal pay is a step towards equal (synonyms: identical, equivalent, EXACT) treatment and coverage of both (and more) parts of the human community.
Then, TOI ran with this, making it to the Delhi issue’s front page and covered extensively in the same and the rest:
This is only the first joke. As the Internet went berserk over the outrageously lecherous photographs of the Duchess (repeat: Duchess) of Cambridge and shamed TOI for stooping that low, I was compelled to notice a particularly distasteful “article” (it did have text in places) in the “entertainment” supplement – the cancerous tabloid-y Calcutta Times.
Let’s face it: the people are quite divided when it comes to who will pull out the Trump card during the elections. It is a tantalizing and frightening game, and most of Donald Trump’s words have made stomachs and hearts churn alike. What his policies are, however, do not reflect in his courting of his now-wife Melania (Knauss) Trump. Somehow, the obviously hostile tone towards a presidential candidate, continuously dictating extremist propaganda towards refugees, immigrants, women, basically anything that he’s not, seems justified enough to be used against his wife – who’s quite understandably the topic of a slanderous piece of writing in what we are to believe is, at the very least, a reputed daily.
Forget the recycled Internet trash presented as informative trivia – everything you need to know about the wife of a Presidential hopeful – because obviously, her wardrobe, lifestyle, former career, beauty product lines and scintillating modelling assignments are things to weigh the scales with to give an informed vote. But it isn’t this irrelevance that bugs you the most.
It’s not the ageist remark that kickstarts a commentary on the demure Mrs Trump, whose role seems to be limited to an occasional narrative with the public, various social appearances and posing as the “more traditionally demure spouse”, seen as ideal by decadent traditionalists who look up to her as someone who’d bring back the elegance (read: the tight-lipped yet smiling, masked, glorified image) of the White House. They are not the various high-res photographs framing the handful of text, to attract the male gaze. They’re not the denigrating captions that make you wonder if you’re reading an actual publication and not smut on a dingy corner of the Web: “nude to rude”, “bare force one”, and “more traditional than most?” that entails a much crawling fear of American parents: complications arising from children’s doubts regarding the First Lady’s scantily-clad photos on Google Images. Surely, this is a greater problem than the various totalitarian and fanatic measures taken by the President of a global superpower! It’s not the helpful study guide to Melania Trump that showcases relevant tips like her first encounter with the Trump, details of their 5-year-long courtship and 2005 wedding (guess how I know), and of course, wedding gown know-how.
In an age where humane support becomes an indicator of where the world is headed, this article makes a horrible statement on where our judgment lies. If it had solely been about Melania’s mostly-silent stance during the elections or her opinion on Trump’s daughter Ivanka’s role as his “campaign spouse”, it would not have been as nauseating or faith-destroying as this.
Sample a comment like: “…her taking the mic is being seen as an attempt to woo female voters.” This sounds perfectly sensible, for we are used to politicians bending over backwards to woo voters just before elections. But it’s the tail-end: “Will she finally end up hosting the state soirees on the White House lawns? If she does, she’s going to be only the second foreign-born first lady (the first was in 1825), and the only one to have posed in the buff.” This is where irrelevance takes a backseat and scathing, disgusting vulgarisation of an individual (virtually immaterial to the electoral outcome) comes in. It’s hard to visualise this in a world where women continue fighting for equality, claiming universal sisterhood in a bid to stand up for other women; to see a modern newspaper printing vilifying material with, to be entirely colloquial, zero filter. One can stamp it as libel not only for comments like “that her racy pictures are limited to her job might have a hand in the mostly-favourable press she’s got so far” but also for the snide tone, palpable in “she didn’t have a string of famous boyfriends like modelling peer and French first lady Carla Bruni, and settled into the role of model wife and mother pretty quick.” What is sadder is that the snark-ridden article was written by a woman – without fully understanding how media giants work, it is difficult to guess exactly what motivates one to cater so firmly to the male gaze, to speak so negatively about the former events in the highly public former career of a woman who happened to be the wife of a controversial Presidential candidate. It has been a medieval tactic to hurt the male’s ego by offending a female relative’s modesty, but this is taking journalism to a trench-like low that would make any sensible reader want to play marbles with their own eyeballs.
What follows is uncensored, dirty judgment from people, uninformed of the twisted tactics newspapers use to grab eyeballs. Because media is supposed to be the instrument of change in the 21st century – every opinion, expressed even in prominence given to raunchy photographs, gives rise to an eyebrow raise from the aforementioned, who will retain the same image from 11 years ago. Any recent work developments will be forgotten, because a woman liberated enough to showcase her body for a job is obviously someone to be criticized openly and leched at secretly. True, it was her choice, according to Mrs Trump herself, “People will always judge… that’s part of the job I’m doing.” – but isn’t there a cap to the amount of indecency and sheer disrespect you can dish out to someone who happened to be different from the cultivated image of the traditional, physically modest First Lady?
It is difficult to maintain, refuse to or take a side in an election as flawed as the 2016 US Presidential Election, even as the largest English newspaper. But to dig into the past of a woman merely for salacious fodder for a malice-filled entertainment section, merely because she’s related to a powerful man and vulgarise an entire individual on the basis of her relationship and past career developments, sets a new record for journalistic lows.
In short, could popular, influential newspapers dial down the heavily veiled trash talk and the cringe-worthy yellow journalism – above all, the stifling and overwhelming misogyny – so that our reactions every morning aren’t like this?