Impact of Television on The Youth
Television is a chatty medium. Those who appear on it (whether they are news-readers or sports commentators, are always directed to the viewers. Television cannot build upon fantasy because programmes have to be interrupted at regular intervals to advertise products; or to address the audience. It is a common misconception that products are sold through advertisements on television; for it is in fact the audiences that are packaged for products.
The imperatives for audience research, determining the extent of viewership and making prime time allocations is geared towards getting sponsorship from makers of one or the other product and generating information on the kind of products that should be advertised at different time slots.
The result is that television becomes a chatty medium embedded into the world of commodities, in which moral communities are created and destroyed in ways that are unique to television.
About a year ago an event on a talk show on American television led to a murder in real life. The programme was about surprise confessions. In one episode, a couple had been told that someone in their life was going to make a confession about either an emotion or an event that they could not have imagined.
While the couple was shown waiting expectantly—a neighbour was brought on the screen. The neighbour confessed that he had entertained a passion that he had never been able to acknowledge to them. The expectation was built that he had secretly nurtured an unrequited love for the wife. Then came the surprise confession—it was not the wife that he had fancied but the husband. This so shocked the husband that the next day he took a gun and shot the neighbour dead. Much of the subsequent discussion in newspapers and among many people was about the intensity of homophobia in American society.
That one min had been unable to bear the idea that he was the object of another man’s desire was seen as evidence of a deep-rooted fear of gay sexual mores. But I wondered whether the anger of the husband had also something to do with the “revelation” of the most intimate emotions in the glaring lights of television cameras to unseen tele-viewers. So I became interested in more talk shows that are telecast in America in the afternoon.
The participants in these talk shows, not only the principal protagonists but the studio audiences are women, visibly of the working classes or unemployed, with a fair sprinkling of black women and girls. The host or the hostess in contrast is clearly white, middle class, female or male.
Occasionally a professional person such as a physician or a social worker appears to “advise” or admonish from a supposed position of neutrality. In May this year, I saw a talk show in New York called “Stop partying Girl: You are Pregnant”.
In this 45 minute slot, each mini-episode was constructed around a young girl (age range 15-19), who was pregnant and was “brought” to the show by a concerned relative—a sister of a female cousin, or a friend—so that she could be persuaded to stop “partying”. In response to prodding questions posed by the middle-class hostess, the girl was made to “confess”; how she was smoking or keeping late hours or taking drugs.
“Are you not concerned that you are harming your baby?” asked the hostess with a look of concern. The response of the girl was either that she did not care, or that though she knew that she was doing wrong she could not stop.
The hostess also allowed members of the audience to gather there to ask questions, as and when they raise_d their hands. When one of the girls said that it was not easy for her to give up taking drugs, one woman stood up and said “Was it equally difficult for you to get pregnant?” Another girl, a 16-year old, who already had a baby when she was 14, was brought there by her mother, who said that it was she who took care of the daughter’s Child. “Don’t you see how much pain you are causing your mother? Do you want to bring a child into the world who is handicapped? And do you want your mother to go caring for the babies you bring in the world?”
These were questions posed by the audience with the hostess interrupting to amplify a question or clarify its intent. The tone was throughout accusatory and this was amplified by the occasional tear that the accompanying relative wiped from her eyes.
Once in a while, someone would bring in the question of the father but in general, it was assumed that reproduction was a matter that concerned only the women community who were gathered there to bring an erring member back to the fold. Towards the end of the show, -a paediatrician was introduced who lectured the girls on their irresponsible behaviour.
“You girls are ruining the future generations by your irresponsibility. Just because a girl becomes pregnant, it does not mean that she knows how to be a good mother; motherhood has to be learnt like everything in life.”
There was little compassion for the hapless girls who were little more than children themselves in being caught in the spiral in which they exposed themselves to ill health, HIV infection and repeated pregnancies; in which the only support came from their own mothers who were themselves in their thirties, and struggling with survival.
There was much display of emotion—grief, anger, bitterness. And thus a moral community of women was sought to be created out of a television talk show from which men had been virtually eliminated except as professional advisers through whom white, middle-class society spoke about the irrationality and irresponsibility of the blacks, and the underclasses.
There were other such shows—a mother 2nd her runaway daughter were brought together in a surprise reunion—bc they screamed out their emotions, took vows never to be separated again while the audience participated in this great emotional drama by shedding tears and sighing. Intimate details of emotional trauma were relieved in shows—women revealed how they had accidentally discovered the infidelity of their husbands through a homemade video of his sexual exploits with a prostitute.
Wives or girlfriends confronted the ‘other woman’• with the audience assembled there reiterating that no one had the right to steal another woman’s man. Men never appeared as having any agency in these shows—they were simply stolen, or they disappeared.
One is tempted to think that these shows allowed voices from inner cities to be represented on television. After all news coverage on American television takes notice of inner cities only in the context of disasters—violence, drug trade HIV infection.
But the accusatory tones and the constant effort to separate the good women from the bad ones tend to show that inner-city voices are allowed representation only to be dominated by the cultural hegemony of the middle-class voice. For the middle-class viewer, life in inner cities is presented to confirm all his or her prejudices of irresponsible teenagers becoming pregnant, sexual promiscuity and rampant violence.
In a way, the participation of people from these categories is an attempt to participate through the medium of television in a middle-class society that is otherwise closed to them. The cultural modes of confession and catharsis open up space for a particular kind of television culture to emerge in American society which reinforces the cultural divide between inner cities and the rest of society
In reflecting upon the dangers that globalisation of media poses to countries like India one would be much more concerned with the importing of these cultural categories of confession and accusation as means for creating a cultural hegemony of the middle class more than anything that may come in the register of the imaginary like films or soap operas.