Sacred and profane
What is the role of the media in our social world? How much are we prepared to endure in the name of fun, entertainment and glamour? PREMA RAGHUNATH on the role that media plays in our lives today.
Thanks to the media, beauty contests are given more space in the general consciousness than issues that are far more important.
I HAVE a quiz for you, and if you think that it is an imaginary one, let me assure you that it is part of a leaflet that is being distributed to the general public, who very dangerously are not reacting to it so dull have our sensibilities become. Here it is verbatim:
1. How will you loot a bank without any weapons?
a. Pull out a bottle of poison and threaten to kill yourself
b. Tell the bank manager that you know everything about his PA
c. Flash an ID which says Counterfeit Investigation Squad
2. How do you chase away a governess you hate?
a. You propose to her
b. Tell her you suffer from a violent split personality disorder
c. Tell her the previous governess died of high BP
3. How do you buy a diamond ring when you have money only for samosas?
a. Tell the jeweller that these are all-healing ayurvedic samosas
b. Tell the jeweller that these samosas are actually bombs
c. Poison the samosas and feed the jeweller
If you have read the questions and the alternatives carefully you will have realised that basically the issues are sex, violence and anarchy. We will not go into the despairing question of what we are heading for since the answer is painfully clear. The reason for this article is to settle some underlying things that have been thrown up by this. Among these are, what is the basic role of the media in our social world? How much are we prepared to endure in the name of fun, entertainment and glamour? What exactly is it that the media barons want to do to us, both individually and severally? Are we going to silently sit and suffer all these things and are we going to, as a nation as well as individuals, allow a bunch of hoodlums, who have captured our imaginations and pockets to take over our actions?
Entertainment has been prostituted by the media and as technical advancements happen, and as the computer takes over from the human hand, the aim seems to be to show the virtuosity of the computer rather than what is truly entertaining. This brings us to another question who decides what is entertaining? The media would try and blame popular demand for the general deterioration in standards but I think it is the famous Catch 22 situation. As the media portrays sex and violence to be the adjuncts of the rich and glamorous, it implies that the rich young men who have terrific bodies are the ones who get the desirable girls with terrific bodies; naturally, that is what everyone will want more of. The real issue here is the enticing bodies and subjugation, which still remains. (Marriage is only a sub-issue). We are therefore handing over to directors and actors the responsibility of deciding the type and kind of human being who is most desirable. And who are a majority of these people? How are they equipped to handle this or any other major decision in the life of a nation?
Into this world comes the very persuasive voices of those who obviously have no ethical mores and the only currency that is acceptable is money. The Industrial Revolution of the 18th Century and later mass production, which followed as a result of the consequent mechanisation, put money into the forefront of everyone's consciousness. The many and brilliant advances of science and technology that resulted from all this made money a necessity. However at no other time in the history of the world has money, in any form, had so much influence on what people think. From being a form of exchange, money has now come to be a commodity like anything else. The idea that there is a great quantity of money to be had with very little or no work in exchange, is what has spawned programmes like KBC. Anyone who watches almost smashes the TV in frustration when the participant looks so scholarly over the simplest questions and then has to phone a friend. So who gets to take part? What is the profile of the average contestant? I would think it is Mr. Everyman or Ms. Everywoman and the idea that is generally disseminated is that there is a Crore waiting to be won. As a result simple, honest people who have need of money are inveigled into believing that if they only have the luck they would win all that lovely lolly.
Worse is to follow. Advertising and film publicity are given to people who are cleverly manipulative. Shoes, shirts, clothes, jewellery, none of it is our choice though we are the ones paying for it!! We buy what we are exhorted to buy, and these decisions we obediently hand over to people who don't care for anything but money. Film publicity is almost the greatest insult.
The quiz was part of a flier distributed as publicity for Raju Chacha and promised prizes worth one lakh. There must have been some at least who answered it and are possibly hopefully waiting even now for the prizes.
We even allow that phantom to dictate to us how exactly our body should be shaped and sized. The amount of money and persuasion that goes into the making of the ideal size is phenomenal. No one ever considers what individual persons feel about their bodies, whether they are functioning well or not. Pencil thin models wearing strappy clothes peddle youth as the ultimate goal. Who decides this? When there are much graver issues staring this country in the face, why are we handing over our thought processes, and through them our destinies, to a group who are obviously so mercenary? When whole villages are being massacred for being the "wrong" caste, when women are fighting to be treated humanely, why are the women who are coyly referred to as "bare-all, dare-all", becoming role models? Why should beauty contests be made to get more space in the general consciousness than rainwater harvesting or the education of the specially challenged? Why should the whole country be made to feel that they, the winners, have done something for the nation? They have not; it is the media that is vending the idea that these women are patriots. To ban them on moralistic grounds is puerile; they should be banned because they are so inconsequential. There is more that deserves to be publicised. What should be given centre stage is the shaded truth that Indian girls are in the limelight of all beauty pageants because India is perceived as a tremendous market. When it comes to nail-varnish it is innocuous but when tampons are hidden within the palm of a hand, we have to know more about toxic shock syndrome before our girls are told how good it is. It is a perfect conspiracy of silence and there is no aspect of our life however private we many think it is, that the media has not invaded.
The truth is that we can no longer afford the causes the media espouses they are too wasteful and anarchist. The leaflet per se is unimportant except as an indicator of the depth of the rot that has set in. That bombs, poison and counterfeits can become such trivial affairs that we depend on them to raise a laugh and not terror is the extent of our desensitisation. Nothing remains sacred, everything is profane. As a moral judgment it may be stringent, as a path to follow it is tragic. Let us reclaim our lives before it is too late....
The writer is Vice Principal of Vidya Mandir, Mylapore, Chennai.
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