tube talk

We, the Voyeurs

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Reality or not, the truth is that dirty linen makes for great TRPs and prime time is now grime time

Sitting, presumably, somewhere in the northern regions of this country, everyman Sagar Verma wrote the following comment under a Times of India web story on TV star Urvashi Dholakia’s performance on Sach Ka Saamna: ‘I like these [sic] show very much bcoz this show give the money on saying truth...’

In fact, what TV viewers like Verma really like about reality television is the ability to watch folks make complete asses of themselves. Hundreds of thousands of people including 12,148 Facebook fans of Iss Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao and over 500 FB fans of Sach Ka Saamna tune in religiously at prime time to watch celebrity washouts and people-like-us say and do things that most of us swear we wouldn’t, not even for money. Nobody really believes that these shows will transmogrify its viewers; that a cheating spouse will be incited to come clean because someone else did so on national television. What it does do is offer an opportunity to relish the indignities of others. Like laughing at MTV’s bakras, we watch the debasement of our fellow beings because we’re in on the joke; we know these people have made revelations with long-term repercussions. And thank God, we’re not that stupid.

It’s even more satisfying when contestants don’t even win. There’s a purer if sinister satisfaction in shaking our heads at Smita Mathai, an aunty-next-door participant of Sach Ka Saamna, precisely because she didn’t even make money from owning up to fantasising about other men and wanting to kill her husband. If she hadn’t had a sudden bout of self-consciousness over the question of would she cheat on her husband if he wouldn’t find out then she may have won a few lakhs. But as it turned out, she lied and lost, and now everyone who stands to judge her will do so knowing that she’s no better than them, at least not economically. We have always offered celebrities, even minor ones, more liberty than our peers, and Mathai would perhaps have been able to overcome her ignominy with prize money. Now, she’s doomed to spend the rest of her life convincing people that polygraph tests are largely discredited anyway.

But if a pack of politicians—universally derided as a simile for moral corruption—have their way we won’t be able to get our fix much longer. They want to check ‘obscenity and vulgarity’ in TV programmes. An utterly unreasonable cause because if we’re allowed to watch political leaders uproot mikes and yell at each other in Parliament, then we should be allowed to watch B-grade celebrities be stupid on national television. As someone said, “Let us be thankful for the fools.”