I have attempted to read through the video documentary of Johnny Harris on the Russia – Ukraine conflict. There is a need to recognise the larger framework wherein we construct and maintain narrative through the usage of social media.
‘Content’ in the 21st century
Of all the metaphors, my personal favourite is the one of an ‘Aeolian Harp’. It so very amusingly helps me visualise the condition of the human mind placed in the light of constant information flow. Much of the sensory experience of human life living in the midst of a digital boom is like that of an aeolian harp installed on a high wall near the Irish coast. It constantly soaks a never-ending gust of winds which instead carries rhythm from far-off lands. We too are exposed to what may at times feel like an inescapable bombardment of information and eventually play on to its different frequencies. We participate in shaping a narrative just by peeping into that little googling screen. We don’t ‘just’ react, like or post, but eventually usher the great engine of cultural production to embody normality and establish or maintain what Antonio Gramsci termed hegemony – that is, the absolute and unquestioned dominance of a particular view or group.
This greater involvement or quest to know and voice one’s opinion in most matters need not be seen as something obstructive or forbidden. For my own indelible thirst to know the history of mankind, I can tell that it’s an ever-present thirst that all humans share – ‘to know everything’. We want certainty because the shaky altar of ignorance unsettles us and keeps us in an ever-present cognitive frenzy. That’s more or less also the thrust of modern academia which is based on this constant motivation to make sense of this world in an organised way.
Construction and deconstruction of a text
One of the ways in which the globalised world interacts is through the use and creation of video documentaries. It’s quick, captivating, readily accessible and easily followable.
Most literary products, whether be it a film or texts, are finished products wherein their abrasive edges are moulded in fine glossy and coherent ways. Not all of us buy into the Brechtian idea of literature wherein you have to be uncomfortably awake throughout and conscious of the science and art of ‘sense making’. Making sense in an academic way is something that not everyone has the patience, training, competency and motivation to do. Most often, the easier way is to bask in the enamouring ways literary product has to lead us into. In this sense, all pieces of literature and every literary endeavour is a vast project of shaping the common conscience in a desirable way. It’s for this apparent reason that literary critics feel a constant urge to unwind the literary product and make its motivation agape. Literary critics for that matter are often recited over in a foul prayer for they deconstruct a lot and construct a little of any original literary product. Or maybe they construct a lot by deconstructing a little.
Need for ‘behind the scenes’
The very act of deconstructing a text and the narrative scrapping out of it which eventually might need for re-telling is necessarily driven by an impulse to either expose or restore ideological equilibrium to the body of original discourse. The same is the motivation for this write-up.
Johnny’s video on the Russia-Ukraine conflict
Although I had watched the video on Johnny’s Youtube channel some time ago, I decided to closely watch it again only after part of its footage was picked by President Zelensky to be incorporated into his own video message to the world.
Johnny’s video and the narrative therein can be broken down into two parts:
- wherein he attempts an analysis of Russian advancement so far and then foresees how Russia, after having dethroned Zelensky, would inevitably install a puppet regime.
- he floats a theory of his own prophesying how Russia would eventually buckle under growing sanctions and isolation by the ‘entire world’. He hypothesises that Russian society will crumble from within and various pressure groups would eventually come to their senses, consequently pulling down Russian aggression along with the veil from an evil dictator named Putin. Johnny prophesies that the re-emergence of a nuclear ‘other’ would eventually unite NATO with a renewed sense of saviour mentality. However, he conveniently falls short afterwards and becomes completely oblivious of any prospect of further reaction by Russia in light of a strengthened NATO.
Firstly, prophesying war games is a chosen stupidity. Johnny’s arguments revolve around a couple of pillars often marked by the principle of ‘otherization’ in a discourse. This is problematic.
The video further hyphenates an already prevalent narrative of Ukraine’s invasion by Russia in its ‘imperial style’ expansion and contrasts it conveniently to a free and fair West, which, by the way, expands in a more ‘acceptable’ way i.e. by manufacturing consent.
Johnny ascribes the invasion of Ukraine to ‘one man’s worldview’ and the fall of Putin, who has no legitimacy amongst his people, from within the country.
Russia is a great nation full of beautiful culture and geography, history and people. The vast majority of those people don’t want imperial style expansion and war. They want to live their life, to prosper, to connect, and yet the warped delusional worldview of one greedy man has cut off the ability to do that.
What makes Putin delusional is his deliberate and convenient effort of diluting a fringe Neo Nazi thug as a mainstream force in Ukraine. I converge with Johnny’s explanation that much of the Kremlin’s effort to justify war on Ukraine is because of this Azov battalion. This is precisely the reason why Russia’s hostility toward NATO and Azov need not be carelessly brisked aside. What Johnny does is the opposite.
Johnny, while ‘busting’ the narrative around Azov, gives a fatigue narration which Labov called ‘expressive phonology’, almost in a way suggesting that this fringe group is futile or almost a fictional tale to be of any consequence. This throwing up of hands while talking about the Azov battalion is itself a value judgmental investment from the narrator (at timestamp 5:20).
The video acknowledges that Putin’s army is much stronger than Ukraine’s, at least in terms of number, but dilutes this threat by imploring the bravery of the Ukrainian people, which Johnny in the last part correlates as poetic and cliché.
Today, we all are standing at the threshold from where we can see a rise in rivalry amongst emerging powers and a highly polarised world. There is a greater risk in lapping up such an appetising explanation of a much more complicated and consequential ongoing conflict. All we can do is try to be sane.