In deception we trust?

 Published in: The Daily Star on May 30, 2018
In deception we trust?

Actor Morgan Freeman, the latest star to have been accused of sexual harassment. PHOTO: REUTERS/CARLO ALLEGRI

I loved Morgan Freeman. Somehow, that beard and that skin always used to give off a sincere feel. Having a penchant for films that address afterlife, watching Freeman has always been hugely entertaining. I remember a particular scene where it opens with a janitor wiping the floor, followed by the same man becoming an electrician coming down from the ladder and then, soon after, changing out of the working clothes. Suddenly, the Boss had appeared. And out came Morgan Freeman playing God in Bruce Almighty meeting Jim Carrey.

Morgan Freeman has always charmed his audience by his roles of reverence. His follow-up film Evan Almighty in 2007 also was a huge success. And then, with National Geographic, Freeman led us through different theological streams by featuring in The Story of God. But this time around, the 80-year-old Freeman, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, with an acting career of nearly 50 years, has finally been accused of abusing women. The fan in me was shattered. Ironically, it was only a year ago that Freeman had expressed his desire to play the devil and said it made perfect sense for him to switch from playing God to Satan as “They’re both sides of the same coin.” After hearing the detailed accounts of eight women who have suffered his abuse, I laughed at myself. How naïve could I have been in thinking that a man who plays God would be godly?

The world today is based on projected and alternate realities. A leader can be made and unmade by manufacturing data and manipulating consent. Hence, one ought not be surprised by dramatic overturns. Examples of Trump-like frauds running amok in apparent democracies all around the world are of no surprise to any of us anymore. And so, we all should exercise restraint when it comes to expectations relating to governance, anywhere around the globe.

Very recently, Pablo Iglesias, the Secretary-General of Spain’s leftwing party Podemos, has been subjected to critique. He has been perceived to have betrayed his party by having joined the bourgeoisie. His 268-square-metre villa with a swimming pool outside Madrid has attracted a lot of criticism. Being the founder of a group of leftwing academics, Podemos entered the Spanish political scene in 2014 from the Indignados Movement. At a time when Spain was in recession and unemployment hit as high as 27 percent, Iglesias bagged 69 out of 350 seats in parliament, by leading Spain in the aftermath of the 15-M Movement protests against inequality and corruption. After all that promise of greatness, the image of the political scientist Pablo Iglesias’ personal wealth did not sit well with the Spanish people and has left them wondering…

Speaking of high-profile disappointments, one cannot but refer to Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein is a man of many titles and accolades. He’s the co-founder of Miramax and the co-chairman of The Weinstein Company. He’s also an Oscar and Tony Award-winning producer. He has been hugely successful in keeping bad press away and very often his tales of transgressions never made headlines. Moreover, he also convinced the world of his grand narrative of being a liberal feminist who could raise enough money to support the campaign of the first aspiring woman president of the USA. Yet, Weinstein is currently facing allegations of decades of sexual harassment and was in handcuffs only a few days ago.

Another story of a 34-year-old American entrepreneur taking the world by surprise must be mentioned for the sake of relevance of this piece. In the name of democratising healthcare, Elizabeth Holmes, through her company Theranos, valued at USD 9 billion, falsely claimed to have devised revolutionary blood tests using very small amounts of blood. Two years after Forbes named Holmes as the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world, she was accused of potentially misleading investors and the government about Theranos’ blood-testing technology. Holmes became one of the “World’s Most Disappointing Leaders” (Fortune) overnight and eventually, in March 2018, Holmes and Theranos were sued for fraudulently raising more than USD 700 million from investors through exaggerated claims. Unfortunately, earlier, the American people had pinned their hopes on this young woman to break stereotypes, wearing black turtleneck (just like Steve Jobs). Instead they watched her pitching a company tale based on falsehood and her myth evaporating into thin air.

At our end, we seem to be breeding similar disillusionments. The morning starts with at least one story in print narrating the pitiful state of the banks. And we routinely raise our eyebrows and think. In spite of all the big business houses with shining lights and fleet of fancy set-ups, why do we not see the volume of business increasing? The reality is, a few business houses have amassed huge wealth overnight with their debts being rescheduled in the banks for more than ten times over the last couple of years while a substantial number of genuine, well-meaning entrepreneurs have failed to make any headway. While the light shines on these bubble business houses and they carry on with their glitz and glitter, neither do they reflect the real picture of our economy nor do they do the policymakers any good. (The scanty reference to the national scene may kindly be forgiven, considering the limited length of the column.)

However, if we remember: “Gilded tombs do worms enfold” (The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare), we may then also realise that an apparent smooth green patch may not be necessarily grass and may actually be artificial turf. So it’s best not to fall into traps that promise gold. They may very well be cheap aluminium, brush painted in gold. Projections and pitches don’t mean a thing, as a virtual Aladdin may at best satisfy a juvenile fancy but cannot help or heal the ugly. Thus, let us all remember that transparency is crucial especially when governance is subjected to the ultimate test of the public. Magic wands won’t usher miracles in, nor will disappearing inks erase any trace of shame.

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