It’s important to question the media we consume on a daily basis and assess if our modes of entertainment are corruptive to helping oppressive structures in our society prevail. An important task we owe ourselves is questioning the content of daily entertainment fed to us in the form of daily soaps and television serials. Shows that get most women hooked to their television screens for a minimum of four hours every day.
Primetime serials almost indoctrinate women by targeting a specific audience set. Indian homemakers barely have the time for leisure or any to themselves after tending to the needs and demands of each and every family member the entire day. Usually, evenings are the times when after the end of most domestic chores, women get time finally to themselves. With the advent of television, primetime shows have been the most accessible mode of entertainment. Most of these serials however end up portraying significant misogyny on screen and to impressionable audiences.
A common logic given by television producers for the creation of onscreen misogyny, sexism and regressive codes of conducts or mannerisms is the logic of the cultural demand-supply chain. The basis of this logic is that onscreen portrayals borrow from what is present in society and what the audience wishes to view on screen and that commercial entertainment does not hold the responsibility of bringing about social change but work on a profit motive and provide people with what they are interested in. Despite this, several regional channels are trying to apparently create positive social change by making women-centric roles and portraying their lead roles in an apparently empowered light.
But be it mainstream or regional shows, there is always a rift created between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ woman. So while the former is rewarded, the latter is always punished. And this is the backbone of the new kind of primetime shows that claim itself to be the harbinger of social change. To create a stereotype of the good woman who devotes her life to serving the community or her family( mainly), sacrificing her own needs for the sake of her family’s well being, doesn’t think about her own wants and desires and follows a very conservative, conventional and non-rebellious lifestyle. Anyone who is the opposite of this norm is usually made into the ‘vamp’, the negative character who is malicious in proportions no real human being is capable of displaying. What these shows miss out on conveniently are the grey shades of life. Characters are either exaggeratedly black or white. And the most harmful of it all is the universal portrayal of women themselves as the ultimate enemy of womankind. In almost all shoes, men are absolved of all guilt and portrayed as naive individuals who are the ones being manipulated by evil women in their lives.
The extent to which popular culture impacts and influences social stereotypes and thinking has been studied to be extremely significant. It further enforces already present patterns of regressive value systems and prejudices already present in society. In fact, they are pretty much a tool for maintaining imbalances in social structures. They spread misinformation and untruths. In no way are television producers in any place to be relieved of blame as they are active agents in creating that which is believed to be relatable and consumable for the audience and that which is not. It is a chain of sending in a product into the consumption chain and through consistently supply making it the sole entity worth consumption.
It is true that years of social conditioning are not easy to be broken and moulded into new chains especially as long as the factor of profit-making plays a role, but sensible content creates a sensible audience and the culture shapes sensibilities, not the other way round. What is important is to rest the onus of culture making in the hands of responsible creators. The majority of the problem with shaping culture is the one who is given the responsibility of doing so. It isn’t necessary that mass culture has to spew out negativity and take humankind down a reverse spiral of social regression in the name of shedding intellectual labour. It is still possible to provide wholesome entertainment in the form of meaningful content.
OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime have achieved that in terms of their western variants. There still remains a stark contrast between the kind of content India churns out even on OTTs and the kind churned out by Korean, British or American creators. It is important for our content creators to imbibe in the positives of these writers and developers. Culture shapes sensibilities and has considerable power to mould people’s minds. And mass media is a potential agent of this process. It is important to responsibly shape the content we consume.