Edwin H. Friedman once said that “the colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change. Communication does not depend on syntax, or eloquence, or rhetoric, or articulation but on the emotional context in which the message is being heard. People can only hear you when they are moving toward you, and they are not likely to when your words are pursuing them. Even the choices words lose their power when they are used to overpower. Attitudes are the real figures of speech.”
This is a quote you must’ve come across in those last few pages of Mumbai Mirror on more than one occasion. I have. And I’m not even a regular reader. I am however, a regular subscriber. Which is my point exactly. Mumbai Mirror is not a newspaper. It’s a tabloid. The editorial page is one sixteenth the size of the editorial of a regular newspaper. It’s usually worth reading, particularly Gautam Patel’s article that I actually happen to wait for. The other writers are pretty good too. But it’s appalling if Mumbai Mirror is your only source of daily information and opinions. Once again, I’d like to clarify that I quite like Mumbai Mirror. It’s short and to the point. And entertaining. But it’s also SHORT AND TO THE POINT. I realize that those who do in fact read Mumbai Mirror are actually several notches above those who don’t even bother to read a newspaper at all, thus relying solely on our News channels. The incorrigible Hindi ones and the English ones that sail in the same boat steered by Arnab Goswami and Barkha Dutt, our profound scholars of journalism. While I lack Goswami’s gusto to put my point across, I’ve done my share of unofficial research on the subject. Very few students of my age group read newspapers regularly. Most of them were in complete support of the Lokpal bill and yet few actually knew what it contained. Rather shockingly, most of them will appear for several entrance exams soon that will probably have a passage or two directly lifted from a newspaper. And I can bet my vital organs on it that it won’t be from Mumbai Mirror.
“People who read the tabloids deserve to be lied to.” – Jerry Seinfeld
Adam Carolla asked a rhetorical question in his podcast “Are we just keeping up with the dumbasses or are we causing the demise of the intelligent people? Think about it. You’re smart, that’s fine, but everyone listening to you is dumb. So dumb it up for them.” He said this with reference to the radio. And while I don’t particularly listen to lot of American radio, I do tune in to some of the Indian frequencies and it bugs me. It bugs me a lot when I complete scanning through all my preset frequencies right from 88 to 108 and the guy from the first one is still yapping about some nonsense that no one really cares about. Or perhaps some people do. They’ve developed an acquired taste for it. They can relate to his way of thinking and expressing which is tragic because he’s dumbed it up. For them. Thus, The Great Indian Retardification. Radio is a mass medium. People tune in to get their dose of news, and to listen to music. The Radio Jockey has almost complete discretion on the latter. The former, however is tricky. Even if someone’s definition of news is Bollywood hook-ups or catfights and the radio channel has decided to cater to such an individual’s needs, it doesn’t justify the Radio Jockey dishing out his opinion. News reporters and correspondents are supposed to report and relay news. No one asked them what they think about the situation. Like, “Vivek Oberoi was wearing a white shirt. I think he’s expressing remorse for what happened”. No, you stop at “Vivek Oberoi was wearing a white shirt” Because that’s the news (Yeah, unfortunately it is). I don’t need your opinion about his state of mind. The expert in the studio is hired to do that. Because a lot of people who lack the ability to form their own opinions (and judging by the subject matter, it’s going to be a majority of the people who are watching) will take the reporter’s opinion and make it their own. Which is not fair because Vivek Oberoi may have been wearing a white shirt because there’s dandruff in his hair or he thinks he looks good in it…or whatever. The viewer needs to form that conclusion on his own. He doesn’t need to have one thrust on him, much less by a reporter. And I’m mindful that it does sometimes seem incomplete to just relay news like it’s a bulletin. Most radio stations are in the business of entertainment so a little saucy opinion is okay. A witty feedback is welcome. But it needs to be short and to the point. I want to listen to music while I form my own opinion. Don’t dumb it up for me, by spoon-feeding me the opinion that I’d exercise my brain while forming.
The media is said to be the fourth pillar of a democracy. It sits pretty in the elite company of the government, the legislature and the judiciary. Let’s come back to television. Television, yet another mass medium just like newspapers and radio is an audio and visual medium and perhaps the dumbest of them all. The television is a powerful medium. It has access to everyone. Our sitcoms are substandard, the actors are second rate, the content is ridiculous and it’s almost specifically catered to numb the audience’s mind. The exceptions are precious few and the alternatives, non-existent. There are about ten major entertainment channels and most TV serials have a standard 20 minute duration. On an average, each channel telecasts about ten shows. Which would mean at least a hundred TV shows are played in the course of one day. And this is only on the ten channels I’ve counted. Isn’t it appalling that not one of them is worth watching and yet most of them have exceptional viewership? Categorical Retardification. There’s absolutely nothing intelligent to watch on Indian TV. Kaun Banega Crorepati was essentially the only show that managed to stimulate the brain. Our only crime show is C.I.D. Our only sitcom is Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashma. We don’t have a science fiction show…wait there was Shaktimaan that inspired our kids to jump off roofs. An exemplary execution of retardification by Indian TV.
It’s downright scary. Even for a bar that we’ve set far lower than it should be, our media falls frighteningly short of it. And it doesn’t just end there. It’s a pandemic. We spread it as we go along. Our daily interactions are governed by it. Our topics of discussion are limited to it, our thought process is limited to it and the scariest part is the demographic that’s being tapped. I’m part of it. I’m part of this Great Indian Retardification.