30th June 1996

Flattering fallacy

By Rajpal Abeynayake

A now well known smart alec editor, writing under the pseudonym Aravinda, has decided to try out his inconsiderable editorial skills over somebody else's newspaper.

Referring to a review of a recent documentary on the life of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike the writer takes umbrage over the fact that the reviewer "microscope in hand, was hunting for dissimilarities in the styles of government of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike and President Kumaratunga" (Observer, Sunday June 23).

It's a fairly vicious comment, given that he launches a personal tirade against the reviewer concerned, taking into account his physical attributes as if that had anything to do with the art of making a review.

Well, Mr. Smart Alec has clearly asked to be paid back in his own coin. Obviously, this medium-sized mediocrity is making a Don Quixotic attempt to score some points with those who are, after all, his employers. Though our President, the amiable lady that she is, doesn't care a whit about being called youthful (as opposed to her mother), our man henchman is miffed scarlet. He says such dissimilarities between mother and daughter were not there "for that was not the intention of the film".

The problem is that Aravinda has got his concepts of reverence and relevance mixed up. Though the President has quite graciously gone on record saying that she wouldn't even mind a programme on the lines of Yes Minister that would satirize her (refer TNL interview just prior to the 1995 Presidential Elections) henchman as usual is more Presidential than the President. A reviewer can see the dissimilarities between mother and daughter for all he likes, because that's his prerogative.

If both parties gave personal narratives in the movie (see box) such a comparison would arise as naturally as night follows day, even if you account for daylight saving time, that is.

But no, henchman decides we made a mistake. So, what's new anyway? It is common knowledge in this country that henchman is a hypocrite, and an arrogant one at that. Anything that fits in with his opinions (take it from me, the man is opinionated) is the objective truth. Anything that doesn't is a prejudice, or "the writer's own opinion." In Aravinda's world, there is only one frame of reference: his.

It's an easy guess why the man is a humbug. He wants to have his arrack and drink it too. Henchman still thinks he is an "independent journalist". Oh, if wishes were horses: The man is a self-appointed "progressive", so when the so-called "progressives" are in power, he thinks that being an apologist for the government is just right. Which is why he regularly delivers himself of diatribes against those whom he thinks are "abusers" of the right of the freedom of the press.

Henchman's favorite line is that journalists did not enjoy such freedom as they do today under previous regimes. That's a fallacy, because the Sinhala tabloid newspapers, for instance, ripped a previous President apart without any difficulty. But, even assuming for sakes of argument that our apologist's contention is correct, it seems that he expects journalists to be deferential because of the great favors granted to them by being given their freedom. Who knows, when you are this ingratiating, our good and youthful President might even ask Aravinda out for lunch?

Aravinda prides himself on being bi-lingual, so maybe he would appreciate that old Sinhala saying which paints a flattering portrait of men like him.

They used to say: 'Pinvath Samidu gen lebunath sevenella, katurasa lovina balugen netha gelavilla' (Even if the kind master will offer succour, you can't escape the curs which lick the bones). For cur there, replace lap dog or pet poodle.

(By the way, show me a lady who is not flattered when she is called youthful. Lunch anytime, Mme President?)

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