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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Smile...you're on!



Another Op-Ed article from the Hindu, this one by Chitra Padmanabhan, titled "Television news is for reel." Ms. Padmanabhan talks about the "blurred boundaries" between film and television and how this eventual amalgamation of the two will ultimately lead to the creation of a surreal real. Focusing on the recent Mumbai Attacks to illustrate her point, Ms. Padmanabhan puts it very nicely when she says: "Filmmakers want to 'go real'; they hanker for the authenticity and immediacy of a television news frame...But television seems to be going the other way. It is very often packaged as histrionic performance, dressed up in hyperbole and melodramatic mien, serenaded by lethal sound effects and evocative background scores, invariably from films."

This is true, because since the move from a singular, Doordarshan dominated information input to the Indian public, we've seen the advent of several news channels the likes of NDTV, CNN-IBN, Times Now, etc. Vying for popularity ratings and overall viewership market share, these channels try and outdo each other by reporting the latest supposed trends and conducting strangely seductive polls on things that don't really matter. Because it was "on the news," however, it takes on proportions of paramount importance, and seems to engulf its audience. Take the discussion panel that NDTV fielded after the Mumbai Attacks as an example, starring a cross section of the city's elite. We had Simi Garewal attacking the politicians and threatening to boycott the paying of taxes because it would somehow cripple the system. Then, there was Luke Kenny who pointed out that life had returned to normal because no matter the intensity of the attack, the "spirit of Mumbai" would persevere and thrive. But who are these people? Are they representative of the victims of these hideous acts of violence? Are they a snapshot of the people who were mowed down by the attackers while they got off the train? And these people's opinions should matter to the common man who can't stay away from the workplace because no matter what happens he has to ensure that he feeds himself and his family because...? Quite ridiculous this one upmanship that we find ourselves paying such heed. Perhaps the public is to blame, too. But that's one for the other armchair philosophers.

I'd like to end with another beauty of a quip from Ms. Padmanabhan about the state of the world as it is now presented to us. She says, "In our times we are almost tempted to say that the planet is not spherical but rectangular, for that is how most of us encounter it these days -- through moving images, through the camera frame." And this rings eternally true, I think. And that is why all of this is so frighteningly sad at the same time. What is this world coming to? Well, why don't you turn on the news?

;)
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