Nation wants to know: TV news that turns you off

The effect of “tabloidisation” is that of turning viewers into a dispersed, invisible crowd in order to lay claim to them as one's own herd. This mindset can be easily discerned from the use of terminology.  Each TV news channel – barring rare exceptions – claim to be “your channel”.

Almost every channel is a “national television”. Anchors interrogate because “the nation wants to know”. And questions are necessarily asked in a pronounced rhetorical fashion, meant deliberately to appeal to the presumed craving for a potent experience that, in a different context, boxing and mixed martial arts cater to.

What most viewers overlook is the harmful effect of the tabloidisation of news on their personal identity. Addiction is an escapist phenomenon. The addict is no longer an individual. He is one who has surrendered himself -his capacity to think and act responsibly, his sense of right and wrong – wholly to a sub-group (the herd) to which he craves to belong, body and soul. Addiction involves the renunciation of individuality.

An addict is, simply, an ‘addict’. He is the compulsive consumer, a perfect analogue to the captive viewer of the tabloidising idiot box; for that is what tabloidisation does to television: it degrades TV into an idiot box. In the process, you gain a new identity.  You are an addict of this channel or that channel, which determines the way you talk, the views you advance and, if you are young, the way you conduct yourself.

In the meanwhile, Descartes turns in his grave. “I doubt; hence I think,” said he, “I think; hence I am”. Those addicted to the tabloidised media neither doubt, nor think. The consequence is only too predictable. The core purpose of journalism is to provide objective, credible information – to raise, in short, individual awareness – so as to facilitate independent thinking. The tabloidised media does all the thinking for you.

You open the channel and shut your mind. You shut your mind and open your mouth. You lap up whatever is dished out to you, or so you think. In the process, you cease to be an individual and become unawares, part of a homogenised herd monopolised by a channel that takes upon itself the task of spouting your views, blaring your sentiments and safeguarding the ‘interests of the nation’.

Of course, there is psychology in tabloidisation. It is obvious enough that the tabloidisation of the media is an index to the rising frustration and rebelliousness of the masses in a consumerist society. The hallmark of consumerism is its capacity to disable the spirit of resistance. Yet, the reality of frustration, of anger -and the desperate need to protest – remains. So what is the individual to do? The safest and least costly option is to resort to “arm-chair” rebellion and to let someone else do all the homework and shouting for you.

You identify yourself with the anchor and derive a world of vicarious satisfaction. You end the day on the illusory feeling of having done your bit by simply being a couch potato.

Tabloidisation provides for the substitute ritual of arm-chair animadversions. In that sense, it is good news to the powers that be- the reason why an extra-ordinary extent of tolerance is extended to this obvious degradation of journalism. Tabloidisation of the media is the substitute for organised mass action impelled by shared convictions.

The mounting boredom of contemporary life is yet another factor that drives tabloidisation. Boredom results from an inadequate application of intellectual and imaginative energy.

This breeds a nagging sense of low self-worth, which is hard to live with. Every human being, as Abraham Maslow said, has a fundamental need to experience and accentuate his self-worth.  Samuel Huntington identifies the “self-accentuating individual” as the foremost insignia of the present age.

Eerie vacuity
But a sort of eerie vacuity stalks the timid and tentative footsteps of the modern self-accentuating consumerist individual. Self-accentuation can happen only through meaningful and significant actions – actions expressive of one’s character and convictions, with which the spirit of consumerism is in direct conflict. The addictive power of the tabloidised media owes much to the wide-spread epidemic of popular boredom to which it contributes, ironically, by promoting addiction through tabloidisation.

From a cultural point of view, the foremost danger in this media illness is the corruption of popular taste and the erosion of good manners. The spectacle of half a dozen so-called experts shouting at each other for long spells of incoherence, during which not a word can be deciphered, is utterly unedifying and extremely annoying.

This is rendered worse both by the brazen-faced attempt to justify the unthinkable and by the shameless practice of justifying one's wrong-doing by alleging similar acts of depravity on the part of the adversary. This is not even entertainment! It is sheer shamelessness: an insult to the common sense of the viewer. It is high time we worried about the potent sub-human impact this has, especially on the youth and children of today.

It is not the work of the media to do all the thinking for me. I do not wish to surrender my right or duty to think for myself. The work of the media is to report objectively, dispassionately, truthfully and leave me to figure out the truth for myself. I am an individual, not a mentally challenged member of a herd.

I feel insulted when someone arrogates to himself the right to lead me by the nose. The sight of people shouting at each other puts me off. The cacophony, for days on end, of the pot calling the kettle black hacks my nerves. I want a civilised and civilising media; not channels that spout vehemence and violence, corrupting public taste and spreading moral anarchy for a mess of pottage. 

(The writer is Principal, St Stephen’s College, Delhi)

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