A Blog on Mythology and occasionally on Reality.

This is a Blog on Mythology, both Indian and World and especially the analysis of the myths.

In effect, the interpretation of the inherent Symbolism.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Reality Shows, Gladiator Style


In ancient Rome, events that took place in the Colosseum and other such amphitheaters were of general interest to the people. Among the most common were gladiator fights and leaving prisoners of war and slaves in front of hungry wild animals. People in the Colosseum cheered at the sight of men fighting men and animals tearing men to shreds.

Today, TV reality shows have become a great source of entertainment. Bigg Boss is a very successful show. In this show, a
set of losers, ex-convicts, out-of-work-models and stars and other such also-rans live in a house together, under the full glare of multiple cameras, with no interaction with the outside world.  They shout, shriek, fight, romance, backbite and scheme, all of which provides much entertainment to viewers. People watch these programmes for the crass display of vulgarity and foul-mouthed behaviour, which is despised in family situations but accepted when it is on television.

In ancient Rome, gladiators volunteered to fight. If they did not live up to expectations, they face disgrace and shame. If successful, fame and fortune were theirs. The gladiator would be accepted in society as a free man.

On shows such as Bigg Boss, Sach ka Saamna and Temptation Island (the Indian version of this one has not been launched yet. Thank God!), volunteers have agreed to live under banks of cameras for hefty sums — and the ultimate prize of fame and fortune. In the process, many face disgrace and are sometimes rejected for their unacceptable behaviour. Sometimes, though, the disgraced gets them more attention and success than the winner of the show has reaped. Fame, whichever way it is achieved, can lead to new career opportunities for the star whom the world would have otherwise forgotten.

With the Roman gladiators, the loser’s life was in the hands of the spectators. When a gladiator was overpowered by his opponent, the loser would raise his hand accepting defeat. The winner would let go of him and appeal to the audience for a decision. If the spectators showed thumbs-up signs, it meant the losing gladiator should be killed. Thumbs-downs indicated that he should be pardoned.

In reality shows, the contestant’s fate is in the hands of the viewers, who vote an inmate out of the house every week, thus eventually selecting the winner. Meanwhile, a minuscule percentage of the audience has realised that such shows are an insult to one’s taste and mental faculties, besides being offensive. So they prefer to be old-fashioned and tune in to the news or a quiz show.

What is the reason for the continued success of reality shows, then? It is Man’s inherent appetite for voyeurism.

Every individual has a secret desire to know what’s happening in people’s homes, behind closed doors. We all want to know — Rukmini Rukmini, shaadi ke baad kya-kya hua… khidki mein se dekho zara? This peeping-tom habit was always clandestine but television has brought it out in the open. Such open acceptance of voyeurism, and that too being satiated for children even without their asking or realisation, is making children lose their childhood before time and making all of us seem like hungry, salivating hounds.  

When such shows are promoting a culture of exhibitionism, glorifying humiliation, then why not ban them?

Times have changed. We do not live in the times of the gladiators and we do not have Roman emperors who could act on a whim. We supposedly live in an age of free speech, emancipation, self-control and, of course, democracy. Can we exercise some control and use the finger for the right button — to change the channel?

Do not degrade yourself just because a set of also-rans have decided to sell themselves to an audience hungry for scandal.

You decide!
The above has been published in the Mumbai edition of Hindustan Times dt. 12/12/10.

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