Friday, May 11, 2018

Social Influence of Visual Media

Recently, while I was sharing my views on the impact of Visual Media (movies, TVs, print and phone) to a friend who was collating points for a talk on the topic, she suggested that my passion on this would probably make me a more apt speaker on this and that I should probably write on this myself as well. Here is my take on the same.

Reach of Media

Let us first look at the reach of Visual media. In the current age visual media is a given, not just in every household but in the hands of every individual through the smartphones held by them (sometimes even as an infant). With this kind of deep integration in very individual’s life, the visual media wields immense power of influence over different age groups, and demographic spread of population. They can create the maximum impact with the least effort and time. Simple things like the colours used, the usage of words and the posture and gestures of the persons on the screen can send a very strong message to the viewers. One of my previous post on ‘Today’s Media Boon or a Bane’ touched upon the tip of the iceberg of an aspect that needs attention. It talked about the overall media impact including, Social Networking, Print, Audio and Visual media.

Voltaire said “With great power comes great responsibility” (or if you would prefer a more recent and relatable reference Uncle Ben from Spiderman gave the same advice to Peter Parker).

Progressive (or Regressive) changes of Visual Media

From the time of its inception, the visual media has undergone enormous changes starting with print form (newspapers, magazines - dailies/weekly/monthlies, television, computers & mobiles). Initially when television was launched, the choice of channels and the variety of programmes offered were very minimal (one channel shared between national broadcast and regional broadcast). Now we have unlimited choices of channels not just for entertainment but even news.

For instance, NEWS (explanation as learnt when in school - North East West South - the first words from these together form the word NEWS and hence) was supposed to be neutral delivery of the happenings from all over the nation during the course of the day till that time. It used to be one time when the whole family sat together to watch and listen to the news headlines at 7:00 (or 7:30)  p.m. and then the detailed news bulletin an hour later. No sensationalisation, no hype, no bias, no emotions, no noise… just plain news a two minute section for world news as well. Content was good enough to be watched anyone from any age group, and everyone was encouraged to watch it not just for knowing about the news but also the learn oratory skills (of how to pause, stress, and pronounce). Even in print form, the headlines always had some kind of achievement by the central or state government, progress of financial institutions, achievements/awards by individuals, incidents/anecdotes of bravery and valor while the supplements had educational and learning material mostly with very less space for gossip columns and speculative news.

The so-called debates on television are another ball game where you have 6-8 panelists talking on every topic (irrespective of the topic’s value, relevance or need) possible - when I say talking, not in turns (which is what we instruct children to do when two or more of them start talking at once), but all talking (or rather shouting) at the same time that you only hear noise and no words. Whoever shouts the loudest gets his/her point across. In this situation, if you decide to watch the news with the entire family (like we used to when I was young) I wonder what message we would be giving our children - That it is okay to shout, be abusive and hurtful, angry and talk out of turn and if you manage to shout the loudest then you will be heard maybe something in those lines? It has been a few years now since we stopped watching news channels. I prefer to read news, more specifically search for news that I would like to read about and read only that.

Negativity and Gossip sells!

Now, with news channels cropping up like crazy, one would assume that there is so much going on in the world that you have so many news channels covering worldwide news. But sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. It is a race to who first makes the breaking news and grabs the attention of the viewers and in turn increase the channel’s rating, and each one vying for top ratings by maximising eyeball capturing. In this race, news channels have become like reality TV with Facebook (FB) and WhatsApp forwards feeding the headlines of the news only to be later (after the damage is already done) followed up with (very rarely an accompanying apology for spreading false news) coverage stating that the hoax form FB or WhatsApp was justified or not. 

Negative news is the in-thing now. First page news or headlines on almost every news channel is either a gossip or a disaster, a mishap, a protest, a chain snatching, an abduction/rape/acid attack/.... If you search long enough then you will eventually find a positive news somewhere amidst all this negative news for meager 1-2 sec screen time or a 3 inch by 3 inch space on print.

Things that used to belong in tabloids and supplements now are becoming main topics of discussion. If this is news, then what would be the state of affairs of Advertisements and Soaps (or serials)?! There are some good advertisements and serials like the ones in my other blog post Welcoming Positive Changes in the Indian mindset !

But then there are others which convey messages like

  • a person’s (male / female alike) self-worth is determined by their skin colour and if they can make it a shade brighter, they can rule the world or it would instill the confidence that they would need to take on the world.
  • Mental abuse and physical torture of a child (traumatising to watch even for an grown adult) by an adult or child (individually or as a group) is acceptable/partly acceptable if done in private away from the eyes of the family or the society.

Adverse Stereotyping

One of my favourite Tamil movie is Indira. I am probably biased because it was a movie directed by Suhasini Maniratnam (loved her in the movie Sindhu Bhiravi, among other movies of hers). Indira had the female protagonist playing the lead role in bringing a change in the social setup that she lived in. Added is the fact that I loved the hero of the movie (me being a young adult gushing over a handsome and sensitive male portrayal that the hero of that movie had in comparison to the all macho perspective that all other movies give to the hero). Very few movies show a cast that you can relate to in real life. Most of them come with a kind of hero worship characters where the hero / heroine is either portrayed as larger than life or have pitiable backstory from which they grow to reach overnight success. The latter probably does happen in real life as well but the more common occurrence is when you are able to relate to a major chunk of the population.

The constant portrayal of stalking tendencies in the movie where the hero/heroine cannot understand the word NO even when it is told clearly and continue to pursue their counterpart till they succumb, sends a message that it is okay to do that and that NO does not actually mean NO. After all this, we then blame the adolescents who are already in a confused age (state) of self discovery of derailing from the path of progress. I do not mean to say that all movies have to be made with a message, but is it really necessary to show the typical wooing of hero/heroine only by pursuing to the extent of stalking? Are there not better ways to show their attraction to each other?

Another aspect is where body shaming, gender discrimination/stereotyping dialogues/conversations are justified as being culturally acceptable. This paves way to the existence of the blind spot to real life issues in schools, colleges and even work places relating to the above areas and more.

Parental Role in leveraging Visual Media for the good

The visual media plays a very impactful role in shaping the minds of different generations including the one that is just in its nascent stage of growth. What kind of human beings do we want that generation which is in their formative years of 5-16 yrs to grow up in to when they become adults? One that would stand up for the right reasons or one that would give up on living (and resort to ending their life) for the smallest of challenges /failure that comes their way?

As a parent, the main challenge I face now is deciding between letting them watch movies and cartoons that are less damaging to their psyche and behaviour (because we discuss and dissect movies or cartoons that have questionable content to understand the intent behind it) than letting them watch news and ads (that are totally damaging and till now I have not been creative in coming up with plausible explanations for unacceptable behaviours in these) or completely avoid visual media and just read text books and story books to them instead of newspapers/magazines!

Most of our discussions now revolve around:

  • how to recognise fake news from real news
  • how to be sensitive and yet be assertive
  • not be too quick to judge and be empathetic (importance of empathy cannot be stressed enough)
  • Not to fall prey to stereotyping and to look deeper than the surface for meaningful character
  • Being non-judgemental and accepting and accomodative of others' shortcomings and inabilities
  • Be helpful when and where possible
  • Not whine and be thankful for what we have and what we can do.
as these are the traits that are lacking in today’s visual media. Wish that the media would notice this and do the needful to impact the society positively and instill “Growth mindset” in the people involved in it and those that are being impacted by it.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Obstacle or Challenge?

When faced with a problem, the instinctive notion is to look at it as an obstacle. Very few people have the courage to look at it as a challenge. This is despite the complexity/simplicity of the problem that faces them. One such person who saw every obstacle in his life as a challenge to overcome is Stephen Hawking. His life itself is an inspiration (I am sure to many) for me. When diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) he focused all his energy into doing what he loved doing the best which was to keep going, and went on to do quite a lot. His contributions speak volumes about the person that he was. To smile while living with ALS, having to depend on someone to do even something as basic as getting out of his bed in the morning, is something that should teach us all to be appreciative of the comfortable life that we are all blessed with and be thankful for it. 

Hawking compared black holes to depression, making it clear that neither the black holes or depression are impossible to escape. " holes ain’t as black as they are painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought. Things can get out of a black hole both on the outside and possibly to another universe. So if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up; there’s a way out,” he said.[1]

On the day Stephen Hawking’s passing away was known to the world, my daughter, 10 yrs old, came back from school and we discussed about what they did that day in school. Of course, the school had discussions and activities centering around Stephen Hawking and his work. I happened to be reading the article on his message on depression and we both came across the quote he had made:

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. If you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.”

“Mom, what does that mean? I remember reading another quote which says ‘Reach for the stars, you will at least land up in the moon’. Do both signify the same thing?”

“Not really. The one about reaching to the stars means, aim as high as possible. Even if you fail to reach your target and fall short, you will still fall at a much higher level than where you started. The one made my Hawkings has more to the quote than just aiming high”.

“So what does it mean?”

“Just defining the words that makes the sentence, it means that do not look down on the floor and below your eye level, rise your head high and look up into the sky and be curious about stars and beyond. Now if we go deeper and try to interpret it in the context (of depression), then he means to say that you should not crib about the problems and obstacles that you face in your life but always be eager to know more about life and the reason for our existence and turn every obstacle into a challenge to be overcome; like the tree stump that grew around the fence (obstacle in its growth path) that we saw on our way to your school. Be curious about everything but safely. Love what you do - the work that you do whatever it might be - as the work you do gives you a reason for the life that you live and without it there is nothing. Lastly, be thankful for being surrounded by loved ones who are willing and able to help you in your time of need.”

“So very true Mom. We should not be mean to ourselves by always being sad. We should try to not be rude to others and be willing to help them out whenever they need help. How difficult it must have been for him but he still did so much.”

Being able to inspire children with the life he lived, I think, is one big achievement as it helps shape the next generation that is going to take over the world. Nudging them in the right direction with the right attitude is a job well done. I am thankful to him for enabling me to have this conversation with my daughter and instill the quality of “Never giving up” by quoting his life itself as an example. He was and still is an influencer because of all that he accomplished not just in his professional life but also due to his attitude to want to ‘keep going on’ by looking at every obstacle/problem in life as a challenge to overcome and make a positive and meaningful contribution to the world that we live in.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Interview of Mr. Rajan Radhakrishnan

Wanted to share a recent TV interview of our multi-faceted family friend - Mr. Rajan Radhakrishnan (also known as Raj Thilak - his Tamil movie industry name, who acted in many movies incl. 60 Naal 60 Nimidam). He narrates his life journey in simple words, not just boasting his successes but also gracefully about the failures in his life, the way he overcame them. Today, he runs a succesful restuarant chain - Madras Pavilion - based in Texas, USA. He continues to produce several Tamil movies including Nandha, Mounam Pesiyadhe and Kadhai & contributes to chartiable causes like Udhavum Karangal.

He also gives an insight into the struggles of a foreigner moving to US, wanting to live the American Dream, and progressively integrating into their lifestyle. In the 90's where information was not available at the click of a button with Google :-), setting up a business from scratch, making it successful and keeping its USP a success for several decades, in a foreign land, is a feat worth learning for our GenNext. His simple advise for success is to Stay Focused and Enjoy Life

Here is the interview (in Tamil):

A few more articles featuring him and his passion:
  1. Fundraiser event for Udhavum Karangal
  2. Fundraiser for Houston Tamil Convention
  3. Sponsoring events with South Indian singers/actors