Gouri Dange: TV, that exhausting hyper child

11 Jan,2012

By Gouri Dange


Someone once said: the best intelligence test is what we do with our leisure. Oh well. I watched television recently for long hours, and now I am in a dilemma. Chicken and egg kind of dilemma. Does my watching television as leisure activity signal my lack of intelligence or did the telly reach out and extinguish my intelligence, whatever little there was of it?


Because now I’m walking around in a daze of altered reality. For instance, I can’t watch a bird on a tree any more and relax into the moment because, fresh from my TV-watching stint, I’m expecting it to look up and chirp and trill: “Back after this leeetle break” or “Kahin pe mat jaiyega, milte hain break ke baad!” And if earlier I could identify this bird, now I dully wonder if it’s a Crested Shahrukh, or Huffing Arnav or a Rambling Rajdeep or a Ballistic Barkha or some such. I’m also looking at the bottom of my window, searching for those meaningless headlines, or daft messages from viewers (prime example: “All da politishens shud b deported b4 this country can b clean”) crawling right-to-left while the main frame has the bird doing its thing.


This is because watching television has forced me to function in the jargon, the time-slots, the sound-bites and the visual constructs of TV-land. The overwhelming features of TV seem to be advertisements repeated till you are seriously sick, promos of other programmes, and a hundred other interruptions to the programme that you want to watch. I have whined piteously about this before, but I have to say it again. Somewhere along the way TV has taken away your dignified right not to be shouted at, not to be interrupted, and not to be told-sold the same thing again and again, all in the span of half an hour. I mean, even the heart-in-the-right place ads asking youngsters to vote… even those are repeated so heavily that instead of taking their advice and voting, those youngsters that these ads are meant for are likely to run out for a drink.


Only on TV. No other medium is that presumptuous. Imagine a newspaper trying to chop up a report or a feature with a print ad popping up in the reader’s eyes at every other paragraph – would you not immediately throw such a publication away, stop subscribing to it, or keep it only to wrap dirty things in? If newspapers can have ads bunched in the Classifieds or specific pages, where those interested can go and browse, while the rest of us can avoid having things sold to us, then why not TV? Guys, bunch your ads at the beginning or end of the program so there is a chance that people will go look at them.


Interestingly, after 26/11 (which marked a high point in hysterical reporting), news channels, especially the English ones, have cultivated a more sober, quieter tone. Less like children having a blue fit and more like adults having a conversation. All much more sophisticated and ‘responsible’ sounding than the pre and during 26/11 manic hysteria that they were all free to luxuriate in. Something has happened. While these channels and their star yellers did at that time behave as if anyone criticizing them for the way they covered the attacks and aftermath was committing high treason, they seem to have realized that they need to come down off their high and sober up. How this was change effected overnight is an interesting speculation. Lobotomy? Daily dose of tranquilizers? Homeopathic meds in the water supply? Or perhaps a crash course in voice correction and modulation to look and sound less like avenging ghouls and more like humans. But this chatty thing too is all part of the act of ‘acting out’ the news. My grandfather, when TV first came to India, was appalled to see newsreaders smiling at the end of the newscast. He thought it was terribly forward and insolent of them to smile at viewers. Deliver us the news and disappear, was how he and people of his generation liked it. What would he make of all the banter and bonhomie act of the newsgivers today, I wonder.


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