Monday, July 31, 2006

The killer serials

In his book titled, “The Pig that wants to be eaten”, author Julian Baggini provides this thought experiment, a modern version of the allegory of the cave found in Plato’s “The Republic”..

“Members of the bizarre Weatherfield sect lived a very secluded life at St.Hilda Hogden House. All but the leader were forbidden any contact with the outside world and were taught that reality was the world portrayed in soap operas- the only television programmes that they were allowed to watch. For the Weatherfieldians, as they were known, Coronation Street, The Bold and the Beautiful, EastEnders and Neighbours were not works of fiction, but fly-on-the-wall documentaries. And since most of the members had been born in the commune, the pretence was not hard to maintain.

One day however, disciple Kenneth, who had always been a touch rebellious, decided to leave Hogden’s and visit the places he had seen so often in the altar box. This was, of course, strictly prohibited, but Kenneth managed to escape.

What he found amazed him. ….When he returned to Hogden’s and told his fellow disciples what he had discovered, he was dismissed as a lunatic. “You should never have left”, they told him, "the mind plays tricks on you” “
What struck me was that this need not be a mere thought experiment. It is actually played out in cities and towns all over India, with millions glued, for several hours every day, to the various serials that are telecast in Hindi and in different regional languages. I know that it is unfair to paint them all with one broad sweep of the brush, but I am convinced that each episode casts an evil spell on the viewers cutting across age groups, subtly manipulating their emotions, irreversibly retarding their intellect and, inevitably, eroding their value systems. The entire TV-viewing populace revels in this fantasy world and is completely lost to reality.

In a famous short story called, “History lesson” by Arthur C Clarke, a group of aliens from Planet Venus visit Earth- that had been submerged in ice, 5000 years back- looking for some evidence or clue on how life must have been here. They manage to find a videotape of a movie and take it back to Venus. Running the tape and analyzing the content, they learn quite a lot – that Planet Earth had been inhabited by a resilient, tough species capable of incredible feats and amazing speeds. The videotape comes to an end with the words, “That was a Walt Disney Production”.

If 5000 years from now, the human species is extinct and some aliens were to take back a CD of a Tamil film or a serial, no prizes for guessing what their conclusions would be.

5 comments:

Lalita Mukherjea said...

Gimme ice. We need ice. Let's all pray for glaciation. Let's will an icy rock to intercept Earth's orbit, obliterate a few key cities and bring cooling of the planet as a side effect.

I can't comment on what alien intelligent species can make of us from the garbage we are broadcasting; I don't see films or watch television.

But you make an intriguing point.

Shpriya said...

>>The entire TV-viewing populace revels in this fantasy world and is completely lost to reality.<< scary. Something to think about seriously.

Raj said...

Lalita : Yes, aim those icy rocks at the satellites beaming these soap operas.

shpriya : To paraphrase what Time magazine had said "be scared; very scared"

Anonymous said...

Well said!

Usha said...

Forget about aliens _ an American colleague who watched some of our films once was shocked when i said "we Indians are very self conscious about dancing". he thought we alwasy danced for every occasion after seeing our films!