For past few weeks India is grappling with urgency of change in existing laws to ensure safer existence of better-half of population. Harsher penalty and fast-track courts would bring culprits to quick justice. This is supposed to grant partial succor to victims of rape and molestation. The leader-less movement of youth, which is pressing for these changes, underlines the strength of Indian democracy.
Yet, it is evident that this awareness in favor of gender equality, smooth process of justice is based upon rage rather than calm reason.
Television is hoarse with experts discussing issues thread-bare, pointing out lacunae in this and that. Modification in constitution and additions in penal code are forwarded to bring safety and dignity to Indian woman.
What has happened in past few decades that a nation, which believed “Gods dwell where women are held in esteem” is registering itself as one with increasing crime against women? True, economic parity has given a larger chunk to women in the work-force in recent years. The constitution from the very first days has granted them full and equal rights. Indian women are global leaders in many fields and are constantly in lime-light for faring better than males in area of study and work. With its anti-dowry and domestic-violence laws, India assures a far greater support to women than many other nations. This makes one think. It is not in laws dealing with women that laxity leads to violence.
The one single industry that sustains all others in a free market economy is advertising. Since Marcus Aurelius the simple truth has found words – we covet what we see. This is also the mantra for advertising industry.
Visuality [i] secretes desire and desire promotes sales so the relation between visual sensuality and increase in revenue is proportional.
Television came late to India; yet, today it operates on global principles. The state controlled Doordarshan functioned on certain principles and tried to do what government believed to be good for people. It lacked spontaneity, freedom and vitality. Turning it into an autonomous body – Prasar Bharati – appeared to mandarins as valid step to grant it the missing teeth. Revenue generation was mulled and thus advertising came of age in India. Soon, the sector was open to other players and now the Indian viewer has a full range of contending TV channels to choose from. Unlike newspaper, where one could subscribe to a limited number and stuck often to his choice, television is loyalty-free. It is only fancy or fatigue that makes you stay on a particular channel. It is to capture fancy of largest common denominator that channels weave sensation into sanest of topics.
It is not sensation alone that harms. Sensation serves merely to find a foot-hold. The real change in thought and behavior is effected by the sales concerns of the advertisers. Just to promote washing-soda, they will tell you that stains are good if little children play in mud or throw it on others. To sell a piece of gum, it is okay to annoy or insult an elderly person whose anger may be easily smoothed out. Finally, all sorts of objects, services may easily be related to female body in ever-exploring ways to insult human dignity. Inequality begins when desire, lust ecstasy are equated with one particular gender. Even motherhood is glamorized with pride of possession (of a healthy/ beautiful baby) or innuendo (pinching bottom of a nude baby). The constant search for mass-appeal has taken the path of rough, crude and the vulgar.
The women-related “problem is us” version is a poem in pain about the mind-set and behavior which gives rise to crime against women. While several of those referred point at archaic views, many are modern media induced.
It is time that the debate should move from ostensible to rudimentary course correction.
Television has indeed shaped culture all over the world. The words we use, the actions we find familiar, the situations in which we know what to do – a lot of it comes from television, because mimicking is the basest human instinct and talent. A picture is worth a thousand words. A movie is not just 29 times that because of frame rate. And a movie that is reduced in time between conception, production and exhibition is what constitutes main-stay of Television. One can not expect such vibrant and volatile media to be state-funded all the time. Advertising, as revenue-provider serves to keep this vital media in operation. Yet, this is a time to stop and think.
Advertising industry needs to be sensitized about the issues of human dignity. It should not be allowed to present out-of-context fiction to affect change in real life situation. There is nothing in constitution of India that promotes pain, indignity or strife to any citizen. This spirit must be adhered to by Advertising Industry. People and government should explore ways for course-correction so Advertising may return to its original ideal of well-presented information that has tasteful appeal.
[i] Visuality has become a keyword for the field of visual culture. However, while many assume that it is a postmodern theoretical term, the word was coined by the Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle in his lectures On Heroes (1841). The centrality of Carlyle’s discourse of visualized heroism to Anglophone imperial culture was such that any claim to subjectivity had to pass by visuality. Here lies the contradictory source of the resonance of ‘visuality’ as a keyword for visual culture as both a mode of representing imperial culture and a means of resisting it by means of reverse appropriation. Reading Carlyle in the imperial context leads to a distinction between Visuality 1, which is proper to modernity, and a Visuality 2 that exceeds or precedes the commodification of vision. [From On Visuality by Nicholas Mirzoeff: http://vcu.sagepub.com/content/5/1/53.short] The term here refers to Visuality 2 emphasizing commodification of vision.