Voices Wednesday, October 22, 2014 - 05:30
Anagha Unlike any space missions achieved so far, ISRO seems to have concentrated on the ‘social image’ of Mangalyaan. The personified twitter account and the first person updates preceeded the launch for days. NASA had successfully implimented popularity techniques like sending the selfie globe to the moon but the direct dialogue between two orbitors did make difference. It may have taken the whole concept of interplanetary missions to a more humane concept OR may be this is the apex or core of the theory of robotics- machines speaking their hearts out and communicating for themselves, in a rather informal manner.  Yes, Mangalyaan is a social media native. On 23rd of September, what went viral by the eve than the news on successfull launch of Mangalyaan was the tweet dialogue between Curiosity rover and ISRO Mars orbitor. “Namaste, @mars orbiter”- Curiosity was very much Indian in greeting MOM – “Congratulations to ISRO’s and India’s first inter planetary mission upon achieving mars orbit.” And that was particularly political apart from being formal. It was easy, like any native welcoming a newcomer to the locality. Mangalyaan reached the destination making India the first nation to be successful in making its first interplanetary mission a success. Two other Asian nations - Japan and China - had attempted it in 1992 and 2003 respectively but failed like many by other nations.  United States had four failed missions before succeeding in early sixties. Still, the stress on ‘India’s first interplanetary mission’ conveys enough sarcasm. “Howdy @Mars curiosity?”- ISRO’s Mars orbiter seemed more of an informal global youth- “keep in touch. I’ll be around.” (‘Yes, I am new. But I’m very much familiar to the surroundings. And you beware..and do correspond. I’ll be revolving in the orbit too’- everything conveyed, in much fewer words.) Greeting one in his/her cultural premises received intact reply, flipping the coin to the other side. No later came the controversial piece of cartoon with racial undertones, in The New York Times. India, depicted as a farmer, pulling along his cow, is shown to be knocking the door of Elite Space Club. The cartoon reinforces the stereotyped identity of any third world middle class and asks them to maintain it regardless of all the technological or socio economic developments they have achieved. Thinking from the clichéd ‘cattle class’ controversy Shashi Tharoor raised earlier in 2012, this cartoon can be interpreted as that, this rural agrarian member is carrying his/her subtle cultural quotient along with, even to the elitest scientific community of the west.  But the public (/social) response and consequent upheavals took down the NYT press, till it apologized in its Facebook page. “The intent of the cartoonist Heng Kim Song was to explain how the space exploration is no longer the domain of rich western countries.”- The apology post says. This series of incidents turned the whole of mars mission projects more sociological and psychological than technological a thing. Social media took up each detail and interpreted from their perception. “But let us consider this part a little optimistic- the generosity of NYT to apologise, is appreciable. It presented a good model of mutual correspondence with its readers, before those who sell the bodily details of actresses and defend themselves, and for those who destroyed the career and personal life of a much talented scientist like Nambi Narayanan”- says Adv. Jahangeer, a social media activist.  Hashtags carrying the keywords “Mangalyaan”, “Mars Mission”, “ISRO” etc went viral on Facebook and Twitter. MNCs, Celebrities, politicians and the laymen expressed pride, opinion and regards stressing the aspect of the happenings struck them the most. Myriad aspects and numerous discussions on them were staged in the social media. In a nutshell, MOM’s journey and success was largely a social media event.  Converging across boundaries “Come to India and look after our cow. We are all busy with the Mars mission”- wrote a Keralite over the famer’s head in the NYT cartoon. A blogger, @swamy999, portrayed Elite Space Club as a slender street dog and Mangalyaan as India’s fat cow. With The New York Times posting public apology post on Facebook, victory posts and tweets from India filled the virtual premise of all social media. “Rashtra Deepika” carried the whole sequence with pictures as an elaborated ‘patriotic’ story in its online counterpart. “Following The New York Times’ apology after all swearing they received from the Malayalees, what hits Facebook now is the second part of their cartoon”- the story said. Diverse media tools are seen to converge on covering any popular issue. A print vehicle having an online counterpart writes a story about the social media response to another newspaper’s apology post in the same social media, after the public upheaval, again on social media about a cartoon the latter newspaper published in their print edition. Along with considering this as a huge leap over concrete boundaries we have been maintaining over centuries between the different forms of media and the technologies being used for that, this swift sequence puts forward a broader opportunity which evolved from the public trust and belief- yes, the social media has evolved to be a larger news source. A form of media so far considered to be a rather informal one, has now come up as the hub of public responses and a wide venue for building consensus. Most of the other media forms focus and target on the social media audience- vivid, diverse group of people, belonging to distinct social sects and classes, age groups and ideologies, environments and geographical arenas, and of course mindsets and attitudes- brought together by technology.  “India has shown its technical skills through Mangalyaan, it has embraced science and technology. Needs to adopt internet even more”- commented Mark Zuckerberg, the (co-)founder of Facebook, just before his much discussed statement, “Internet is everybody’s right.” Tweeting this out, “The Hindustan Times” hashtagged Mangalyaan. . Evidently, all these media firms have been taking up information, interpretation and of course, sarcasm to sell the brand among virtual audience. The column for best tweets of the previous day in news papers, the opinion polls conducted by T.V channels through Facebook and the prediction contests the F.M radios run through their web sites are clichéd examples for media convergence. But if all these happen over a single issue, it should be a larger multimedia event. Contempt Drowned It is true that the over flow of extremely patriotic posts drowned criticisms to a large extend. But it’s a fact that India’s MOM received wide criticisms from within the country. “India is behaving as if Mangalyaan has landed in The U.S and Modi in Mars”- Tweeted Vinay Kumar Dokania. Political repercussions which budded out when PM’s US visit received as much importance and coverage in the big media. People were seen as going sarcastic about the success of Mangalyaan and its economic side. It was a celebrated fact that Mangalyaan was spending money less than autorickshaw charges per kilometre. Regarding this, Anusha Yadav tweeted: “Compelling reason why Delhi should move to Mars- Mangalyaan costs about 11.25 per kilometre, less than the autowalahs here charge”. The news and stories about the unfair rate fixing by auto rickshaw drivers in the capital city had been a topic of discussion recently. This tweet expresses the larger economic drain the citizens have to bear with. “Sending Modi to Mars was bigger challenge than Mangalyaan to Mars. Modi took 9 years, cost- 10K cr. Mangalyaan took only 1 year & just 450 cr.”- said another status update. “India marketed the cost effectiveness very much. That is why we see such reactions from the west”- opines Shivani Sahay. Interpreting the NYT cartoon in this context, it’s true that India entered the Elite Space Club with all its economic concerns, without much luxury, in her conventional way of doing things. The attire of a farmer is so much conventional a thing in India. But interpreting the visual in a different way, Mangalyaan can be seen to have portrayed as a cow, grazing around the orbit of Mars, without much expense of manufacture and maintenance. Pulling it along, when the larger middle class in India, farmers, who spend their lives where “the roots of India lie”- the villages, enter the elitist space of International community, there should be enough tension in the existing inertia. Speaking in this manner, it is vivid undermining, The New York Times have done in their editorial page. After all, if an interplanetary mission fulfils with less money a nation has been spending over building statues of politicians and maintaining them, it’s high time we have made this scientific leap. Thanks for not obtaining the cryogenic technology on time.  MOMic views “Two countries got independence in 1947. One reached Mars while the other is trying to enter India”- tweeted Vinod S Sisodiya, hashtagging Mars mission and Mangalyaan. Serious scorns thrown at the face of our neighbours with excess pride demarks the greater Indian public as more of trivially motivated group before the global media analysts. But this tweet has a political relevance that, it appeared just a week before Pakistan made a serious attempt to penetrate India and make tensions in the border. But in the context of the much debated ‘hate speech’, a clear trace of Islamophobia can be easily spotted in the tweet above.  Prominent groups, organizations or companies interpreted the success of Mangalyaan and used it for propaganda or logo promotion. . PepsiCo and Coca Cola designed ads mixing their logo and colour code to the MOM’s images. Wipro published a special feature on the cost efficiency and technological factors of MOM on its Facebook page. MOM was turning a selling element in marketing arena, by these. Even pro BJP propagandists used MOM to generate mileage for the government. ‘INDIA TV’, a Hindi news channel gave a headline across their screen while discussing the success of MOM: “Modi’s mission mangal”. As mr.PM was delivering speech at Madison square, an image of Modi playing golf with Mars as the ball, in the space was shared on the social media. Here, Mangalyaan clearly becomes a propagandist tool. But when a photograph of a group of space scientists, women, celebrating the success of Mangalyaan, became a strong thread for an NGO working on women empowerment, MOM turned more socio cultural and down-to-earth a concept, than an interplanetary mission.  A proud lady tweeted asking the Science fiction directors to watch how the space scientists really look like. Their attire, neatly worn sarees, had much to say in a motivated cultural context, rather rebellious, breaking all prejudices and media generated stereotypes about the scientist community, the laymen stick on to. MOM and Religion “Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that Go created universe”- said Stephen Hawkings in an interview- “Religion believes in miracles. But these aren’t compatible with science” When the initial weather condition went wrong, the well wishers promised and carried out an offering at Pazhavangadi Ganesha temple at Thiruvananthapuram, to remove the obstacles in its path. The picture of Dr.K.Radhakrishnan performing classical music in Chembai Sangeethotsavam at Guruvayoor Temple is more religious than artistic a thing. “Who said that Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus? India’s women scientists celebrate the success of space mission”- tweeted Praveen Dharma. All these contradictory aspects provide Mangalyaan, a more popular and humane image. “We always look up for heaven and hell. Now Mangalyaan will find these on Mars”- hopes another Facebook user. Manglik Sarcasm  “What a week for India.. One MOM landed in Mars and another mom landed in jail. Both controlled in Karnataka”- tweeted Mr. Satish Ganesh, hashtagging Mangalyaan and Jaya verdict. MOM met success the same week former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa (widely called Amma) was arrested and sent to jail for corruption and collection of illegal wealth. Images like Shah Rukh Khan’s film shooting located on Mars and a random Keralite starting tea stall on Mars were easily circulated on social media. One of the best pieces was a cartoon appeared in ‘Irregular’, a column on his Facebook page by Manjul. People approaching ISRO office to solve manglic problems in their horoscope is so satiric that it mocks the addiction and dependence of Indians towards astrology and prediction sciences even after their nation has become a pioneer in the fields of astronomy, space science and technology.  Suggesting Hrithik Roshan not to give away compensation to his ex wife Sussane, Kiran Kumar S says that by putting another 54 cr to the money, Hrithik can send a Mangalyaan. Malayalees even spread a word that everything auspicious for the month starts with ‘M’- like Malala, Mangalyaan, Mohanlal and Mars.  Soft Yaan Prime Minister Modi reciting Gujarati Poem about success and failure, on the occasion of success of MOM was a soft news easily spread on social media. Celebrities like Amithabh Bachchan, Kiran Bedi and Latha Mangeshkar appreciating and congratulating the ISRO and government, and the discovery of a spherical thing on the surface of Mars, which seemed like a ball and thus able to decipher the mystery of life on Mars made enough soft news to cater to the emotional appeal of the target audience. The cost analysis and comparison that Mangalyaan was successfully manufactured, launched and placed in the orbit at an expense which was less than the money spent to produce the Hollywood film ‘Gravity’ was another interesting fact. Thus, Mangalyaan catered to all type of people around the world, with distinct interests and attitudes. ...and dat’s it ! With smart phones coming up with apps for clicking pictures with Mangalyaan, gradually, MOM was breaking all barriers of generic discussions and debates. A full-fledged media native, often hanging out and celebrating in the premises of social media, the concept and journey of Mangalyaan reached to the grass root levels of media users. Earlier, the detailed analysis of scientific events was confined to a group of scientifically motivated group of audience, techno savvies, or intellectuals. Now, it is great pleasure watching a group of taxi drivers at a random taxi stand, clutching some android smart phone each, and discussing why ‘we’ were denied of cryogenic technology, what we gained from that. The huge impact and reach of social media is being explored and exploited by all other media forms, MNCs, public figures and political parties. If not, could you have imagined of finding a post “Read our editorial on @Mangalyaan” from ‘The Hindu’ in any other media forms, but on Facebook?
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