Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Television Tantrums

Marconi's invention of radio waves heralded a great new mode of mass communication and entertainment. Speech & music could then be spread across the world literally through thin air. Receptors in a nearly portable device would capture these waves and decode them into legible audio which the patrons could sit around and enjoy. It was a revolution. 

But, man is credited with evolution more than revolution. Visual communication and entertainment had far reaching impacts and had a far greater demand compared to mere audio. People would visit the cinema houses in droves to watch their favorite artists display their histrionics and exercise their vocal chords. Hundreds would pack the opera houses to watch the tenors and sopranos tear the roof with their high octaves. People just loved to experience the visual enticement where drama unfolded and tales of romance & adventure were acted out. It left very little to their imagination unlike the stale radio which made them exert additional pressure on the right sides of their brains for a creative reconstruction of the stories being narrated on the radio. 

Scottish engineer John Logie Baird invented the television in the mid 20s and he changed the perception of the entire modern world about entertainment and communication. The idea of the common man having his / her own personal entertainment system where acts of Hollywood artistes and news of the world would be streamed right to their living rooms was simply path breaking. The modern world took an instant liking to this invention and the television was an overnight phenomenon. Film makers who made movies for the big screen now turned producers of shows tailored to suit television audiences. Organisations that would usually advertise their products through news print, cinema houses and of course radio, invested significantly for the growth of this industry by sponsoring advertisements shown in between shows. 

If the television can be likened to a human trait or phase of life, then I would liken it to a child and an old man. Lets take it from the television being likened to a child or an infant. The child is an attention seeker. It always craves for the immediate attention of its mother and then of the others living in the house. The child needs pampering and constant caring and feeding. It also needs a lot of protection and a nice cozy cradle to sleep in. 

Just like that modern day television demands the attention of the house audience. Television of today has more than a couple of hundred channels to surf and offers literally all imaginable genres of content for the viewers to select from the comfort of their couches. If one listens carefully, the television lets out, first a whimper and then a loud shrill cry demanding your full attention. If you don't believe this, just turn of your TV when you are at home in the day and try avoiding it for more than 2 - 3 hours. Just like you pamper your kid with toys and chocolate, you pamper your television with expensive cabinets & attractive show pieces to give it company. The child's cradle provides it a nice sleep and recharges it's juices while the voltage stabilizers protect your TV and a nice warm cloth covers it from dust. 

The child throws around a lot of tantrums if you devoid it of the attention it deserves. It holds its breath till it turns blue and it shouts and cries and throws things here and there. The TV in turn makes you throw tantrums if you are pulled away from it. If you are interrupted between your favorite show or movie or a game then it is you who hold your breath till it turns blue and on rare occasions people are known to re-enact their childish days. 

The TV could be likened to a grumpy old man who resorts to constant grumbling when devoid of attention. One would have underwent the grumpy old man syndrome when the wife, completely ignorant of the importance of the cricket league match that you are so staunchly following waltzes into the living room demanding to switch over to some sob story on prime time TV. You have no option but to meekly hand over the 'remote' or change the channel yourself silently grumbling about the lost opportunity to follow a pulsating thriller of a game which obviously your bachelor friends are enjoying with beer and a bucket of chicken. 

The TV in itself does not take up different personalities, they have the effect of bringing out such interesting personalities from within us, consciously or otherwise. 

We have all come across a lot of stories in the new print and of course on certain 'commercial' news channels about couples sparring over what channel to watch during dinner time and who controls the remote. 

I recall my boyhood days when a certain entertainment - sports genre had taken the Indian teenage generation by storm. It was the WWF now called the WWE. We used to watch these athletic men with bodies of greek gods pummeling each other to pulp in front of a huge live audience. Our under developed brains could not identify that all this was for mere entertainment and the acts on TV were orchestrated and those blows and kicks were all fake. Nevertheless, oblivious to all this, children of our generation including me, became worshipers of these martial artists. Watching these shows sub consciously created such a rage in our minds that we would stupidly enact those sequences at home and would often end with broken teeth and bruised knees and elbows. Such was the craze that even the dumbest kid in school with a memory span of a goldfish would rattle out facts and figures of these wrestling superstars without twitching an eyelid! 

There were several other 'kid shows' on TV that would necessarily bring out the hidden Mars  (Roman God of War) in us. He - Man and the Masters of the Universe, GI Joe, The Jungle Book and later the Swat Cats would engage the kids in animated battles with their imaginary foes. Television was the new corporate weapon and these superhero shows on TV would be accompanied with a suitably timed launch of action figurines, comic books, collectibles, apparels etc in the market. Kids would literally bring the house down holding the poor parents to ransom to buy them the latest action He man & GI Joe action figures. Mattel and Funskool were the biggest beneficiaries of this corporate blitzkrieg on TV. I recall how I had pestered my parents to buy me these stuff which I hold on to very dearly even to this day.Strategically placed inside large showcases, these entice the passing kids to act like stubborn mules until the parents yield to their juvenile demands. 

Commercial advertisements on newsprint and radios do not garner much attention as the TV does. Kids are the biggest targets of many many brands and sometimes they target naive adults as well who succumb to their well camouflaged preaching about products and services they endorse. The earlier day ads were not regulated by any regulatory body and exaggerating facts were the order of the day. Short kids who were regularly bullied at school were enticed by an ad by a major dietary supplement brand that guaranteed a rapid increase in height if taken twice a day, one disclosed their product was the secret behind a sporting legend's energy and one declared that it would make the kids stronger, sharper and taller. Innocent & gullible, the kids would pester their parents to include such 'dietary supplements' to the monthly grocery list. If the company roped in a popular sporting or acting face then the sales were assured to double and treble within no time. These companies banked heavily on the convincing power of kids and more on the convincing power of television and they have been right so far in thinking so. 

I have been a willing partner to their business strategies since I had started personally endorsing without a fee these 'health drinks' and had pressed hard for their inclusion in the monthly purchases. I had literally tried all the brands in the hope of getting at least a fraction of the miraculous effects that the brands endorsed about their products. Television has been successful in creating a mass hysteria and it has a long hypnotic effect on buyers. The advent of internet and the free flow of information has somewhat diluted its powers of entrapment, but the TV ruled our minds just a decade or so before. 

The tantrums are not restricted to kids and grumpy old men alone. Television has not spared even the most demure of housewives. America's one of the most popular television show 'Who wants to be a millionaire' was remade to suit Indian audiences at the turn of the new millennium. The channel producers managed to rope in a hugely popular Bollywood artiste to endorse and host the show during prime time TV. The chance of becoming an overnight millionaire led to an exodus from the state controlled national network to the Rupert Murdoch owned STAR (Satellite TV Asia Region) network. TV history was being made. A history of sorts was brewing in my own house also. My usually silent mom who would hardly ever watch TV, was also hooked on to the idea of making a million bucks. This TV show was a nexus between the program producers, the show sponsors and the mobile phone service providers. A chance to participate was through an SMS sent at a nominal charge of INR 3 per SMS and the more you sent the more were your chances of qualifying. You could also call through the national telephone service provider at a charge. Our very first cell phone was purchased after a quick trip to the nearest showroom and we soon started spending quality time as a family sending out messages and calling from the fixed line to increase our chances of qualifying for the show. 

Rapid advancements in technology was instrumental in the de-addiction of television in the young generation who have now moved on to get addicted to even more enticing means of entertainment and social networking and gaming. 

No matter what, the television has become an indispensable part of our lives and it is really hard to maintain our entertainment quotient in the absence of it. A sparing use and a cognitive introspection of our genuine needs and wants have to be exercised to unburden the idiot box of its tainted image of zombifying healthy minds. 

Television could perform a great service in mass education, but there's no indication its sponsors have anything like this on their minds.

 - Tallulah Bankhead, American Actress (1902 - 1968)

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