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Friday, February 3, 2012

The "Mourning" Shows

Original Article: Daily Times
Date: Feb 02, 2012
Talk to the general public in Pakistan, or engage them in any reasonable discussion on a public forum, and you hear a patent gripe. We are headed towards doom because of the US. No doubt that the US and Pakistan both share a rather testy relationship since the 50s but it is based on ‘mutual benefit’. As much as we lambaste the American values, we are nevertheless embracing them whether on purpose or inadvertently.

Take capitalism for example. Pakistan is a far more capitalistic society, very cognizant of the value of ‘money’ — very hip and brand conscious. I remember when VCRs were introduced in Pakistan back in the mid-70s, a certain brand was the only VCR considered as the real VCR. The rest of the brands were not given much credence. Marketing and advertising galore engulfs the land of the pure with daily bombardments, simply because a thriving market exists.

With the advent of ‘private TV channels’, we have seen a flurry of shows and their respective sponsors. People are transforming into materialistic junkies. As much as they abhor Americanism on the surface, inwardly they are attracted and drawn to flashy consumer items. God bless Abraham Maslow, who left the hierarchy of needs for the marketers to exploit to the core. So with channels sprouting like wildfire, the content has to take a backseat and jingles and spots rule the screen.

If you look very closely, a majority of these channels follow American television’s format. My readers who have read my scribbles here and there or follow or interact with me on Twitter very clearly know my position on TV. I abstain from this mode of infotainment for certain reasons. To me it is a major waste of time, as one can get the news from various other methods and the entertainment provided by this conduit is mostly not worthy of my time.

When I provide alternatives to my friends and relatives back home, such as gardening, reading books, writing, praying, walking or exercising, they laugh. They ridicule me because, according to them, TV is the cheapest entertainment and what else can a common person do in Pakistan? People are afraid to walk outside or congregate due to security issues. I smile and retort, yet they go to work to make a living, do they not? Agreed that poor homemakers, the unemployed, elderly or sick, who have no other option, can be exempted from this ordeal. They are perfect victims who let their brains melt away in front of the idiot box early in the morning.

Daytime TV (for me ‘anytime TV’) here in the US is equally silly. As said earlier, Pakistan is following the footprint of American TV to the tee. The morning shows, which I would consider ‘mourning’ shows, have loudmouth, hyperventilating and occasionally rude female anchors, who are trying to ‘fix’ the otherwise sorry lives of their sisters. They opine on almost everything from marriage to sports, to cooking to you name it. The desi Oprahs if you will.

One such daring TV diva took it upon herself to go to a Karachi park in the morning for a moral witch-hunt. Of course a storm ensued, as she was trying to invade the privacy of two consenting individuals. There was no lewd conduct in progress, so both individuals had the right to their individual privacy. The anchor in the goodness of her heart was trying to highlight the ‘decay’ of our values where a boy and a girl were openly meeting with one another in a public park. One of my friends commented that had this incident been captured on tape in any western country, there would be a major lawsuit about invasion of privacy. I tend to agree with that.

Our dilemma is that we try to poke our nose in everyone’s business whether it is on this level or on a much broader national level. One has to ask the dear anchor, how do you expect a boy and girl to consent for marriage without at least talking to one another? This scribe does not endorse the ‘dating culture’, but certainly believes in the rights that our religion has provided to an adult man and a woman.

Nevertheless, the Twitterati went into action. My Twitter time line lit up with condemnation tweets. Petitions, SMS’es and BBMs were floated against the anchor and the TV channel. Most of my friends were extremely vocal and used the harshest words against the moral policing of the anchor. Some very gifted and very senior scribes wrote very moving and convincing columns echoing the same sentiments. The TV anchor gave a rather brief apology. The channel also made some comments to that effect.

The outrage was well founded and in my humble opinion a bit overdone. My rationale is very simple. A lot of my Pakistani friends are caught up in this warped mentality that they have no other choice but to get themselves glued to the box, I mean the idiot box. Very humbly, the idiot box is not what is paying for all of this. It is the mobile phone companies, ‘unfair and ugly’ cream manufacturers, soft drink makers, clothiers, bankers, etc, that are bankrolling these channels and programmes.

Please remember the remote control is in your hands. The choice and power is within your fingertips. You can send a very strong signal within days. TV channels cannot survive without advertising revenue. The companies that advertise do not blow their money on spots for nothing. As consumers, you have the right to exercise your choice. Do not succumb to temptation. These channels will disappear in no time, only if you decide to do so. Never feel gullible or vulnerable. The power resides in you. Try to use it wisely. Soon these self-proclaimed divas will be seen tasting their own medicine, getting their daily fix from some other channel.

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