BY RAJPAL ABEYNAYAKE
The method of the propagandists attempting to vilify the Government is to try and caricaturise the President, Prime Minister and other key Government figures. They feel that if they can neatly fit the Government frontliners into caricatures, their job will be done.
The problem is that the folk who try to caricaturise the key figures of the Government, are already caricatures themselves. Harin Fernando is a caricature first and a politician second.
Caricature is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “A picture, description, or imitation of a person in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect.”
If the comic or grotesque effect is imbued in the personality of an individual, he or she becomes a living, walking caricature.
Sir John Kotelawala was successfully caricatured and those who glorified his lifestyle became living caricatures. Senaka Weeraratna, writing to a website, states that one cartoon sealed the fate of Sir John and his Government. The depiction was of a milling crowd of Westernised folk descending on a Buddha statue, with a calf to be barbecued, sketched being transported on a handcart.
But yet, the caricaturisation of politicians doesn’t need pen and ink — doesn’t need any type of sketching on paper at all. Caricatures are created in the mind’s eye by fitting political figures into a stereotype — and then keeping them within that frame by lampooning them in a subtle way.
This can be done by others, but the types who are a godsend are those who caricaturise themselves without any help from outsiders. Harin Fernano falls into that category and so do Premadasa and Harsha de Silva.
But yet, these are the very people that try to caricature the President and the frontliners of the Government and they fail because flesh and blood caricatures can’t make caricatures of others.
These people are trying to caricaturise the key State leadership because once upon a time, they tried to demonise them and utterly failed. They did succeed in demonising folk, such as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for a while and then all of that began to unravel.
The people rejected this exercise in demonisation. Now, the attempt is to lampoon and fit these same leaders into a convenient stereotype so that they could be cast as living caricatures, such as Sir John was before he was ousted.
But, before explaining how all this came to this pass, here is a story of how the past Government caricatured itself. They didn’t really need cartoonists because they lampooned themselves so well by just breathing.
It was not for nothing that Ranil Wickremesinghe was called Mr. Bean among the younger tykes in particular, but let that pass. With the memorable Volkswagen caper, Harsha de Silva became the air cooled version in the caricature blooper-rail.
Now, that was the fun that was!
Harin Fernando, of course, came to fame via his father, who also became famous for more than the regulation fifteen minutes, because the son chose to become a cartoon character with the story about the dad. But then again there were so many now SJB figures that caricatured themselves, that they are far too numerous to mention here.
However, it is important to assess the social dynamic behind the fact that the Opposition has seen it fit to transition from essentially demonising the President and the front rankers of the Government, to try to lampoon them and fit them into some sort of a stereotype.
Their finger-wagging and the lie machine has failed miserably. As the two-thirds majority at the General Elections showed, the people are no longer bamboosled by the lie machine of the opposition players.
Therefore, they have tried to tinge the lies with a bit of lampoon, knowing that the old tactics are not working.
Note the shift away from the old tactic of crying thief, thief.
Since that didn’t work obviously on the long run, they have resorted to using the ‘incompetence’ and ‘insensitivity’ card, alleging that there is insensitivity to environmental concerns, and a lack of ideas.
What’s happening is a resort to emotion— an attempt to whip up strong anti-Government emotion by using proxies, such as a fifteen year girl on a private television channel etc.
This fifteen year old stated that the Sinharaja is being laid waste, whereas the forest clearing she is talking of is not happening within the Sinharaja reserve. But when that misrepresentation is being called out, they say “but after all the lady is only fifteen years old”.
They found that caricatures such as Harsha de Silva cannot caricaturise a Government that has competence as its strong suit. Proxies such as young children are being deployed instead, because they know that the old bumbling image of the comic UNP type cartoon like figure doing the finger pointing will not do.
The Government has more serious issues to deal with, than all this ham-handed lampooning. Those such as Sajith Premadasa, that try to lampoon, end up lampooning themselves, because it’s a character trait with Premadasa. He can’t say two words without sounding buffoonish.
The Government has to focus on the serious issues and let the Opposition stew in its own juice. The President and his administration has to look into the fallout from the pandemic, foremost on its agenda. Opportunities have to be created for tens of thousands that have to transition to self-employment because a sizable segment of the workforce lost their jobs due to the work from home rules and the layoffs that resulted.
This is a serious issue, that requires focused attention and optimal strategy on the part of the Government and not the type of flailing of hands that the Lakshman Kiriella, Ranil Wickremesinghe duo displayed in Parliament as a substitute to solving problems.
The private sector has to grow, but perhaps with a shift in focus from small business, to the smallest business. Mom and pop outfits are proliferating, with many retrenched workers innovating by selling things out of their cars etc.,
Some of these people have already made an advantage out of a disadvantage. They have struck out in business, and found opportunities they never dreamed of with their nine to five jobs that they were retrenched from.
Of course, not everyone is a businessman, and there has to be a safety net to catch those who fall through the cracks of the new system.
The previous Government had one solution to all this – they called for those who did not have bread, to eat cake. Refer Harsha de Silva’s metaphor for cake eating, which was basically, “we have girls now knocking about in high heels, so there.”
They taxed business – small, medium, large or any size, out of their existence.
Today, business has been made lean, which was not resulting from Government policy, but became the unavoidable result of the pandemic. But lean workforces also mean that businesses have the opportunity to start over, making use of the growth friendly economic policy of low interest and minimum taxation.
There is a transition taking place that’s a very rare occurrence as it’s tantamount to a structural overhaul of the way we run the economy. The Opposition’s tactic of lampooning all this has been met with a rebuff from most quarters, especially businessmen. Business leaders, for instance, are taking on the task of articulating how printing money under controlled conditions is good in some circumstances.
They are not ready to accept the stereotyping; one environmentalist, for instance, made a detailed takedown of the environment related criticism of government policy, and explained why those who politicise environmental issues do a disservice to the cause. He says that the focus on Dahhayiagala, for instance, was misplaced because that situation had been going on for over nine years. Politically motivated focus on these issues detracted from the real environmental concerns.
Caricature like characters trying to stereotype and lampoon in the midst of this serious business, cause the boomerang effect. The cartoonists end up becoming the cartoon.