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.
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.