The term “soap” was adapted from American radio shows; the term “soap” was taken from the soap and detergent commercials that were broadcasted during those shows. The main targets were the women who watched those shows while doing their household chores. And the word “opera” denoted the melodramatic character of the shows. Soaps in general have mainly a dominant female audience, according to studies only a few percent of men actually watch these shows. In India, the portrayal of men and women in the soaps are mainly guided by traditional and stereotypical ideas. Doordarshan produced indigenous soaps in the Eighties, like ‘Hum Log’, ‘Buniyaad’ and so on. The government was motivated to start indigenous shows like this to portray the hopes, fears, anxieties of Indian people and these provided them with a more or less comfortable societal setting.
Indian soaps and serials have instilled in the minds of the people a static image of a woman being a perfect housewife for her family. Men were always supposed to be the bread earners of the family. Although these serials had a humble beginning, where the outright message was not visible but there was always right over wrong at the climax. But the former originality and sanctity of art has been left behind, the television industry has gone through several changes in different forms. At present it has only geared up to earn profits through circulation of cultural products. It has catered to what the audience would like to see and thus the audience saw what they were or actually, are been shown.
The whole idea of TRP (Television Rating Point) is to judge which programmes are most viewed and also makes it evident that whatever the audience likes is what that they are producing, putting a huge limitation on knowledge and creativity. Adorno believed that the rise of culture industry has resulted in the standardization of cultural form which has eventually demolished the capacity of the individual to act or think in an autonomous way. The Television industry is standardized to the extent that it produces standard results, the viewer is provided with a smooth and a cosy storyline which does not urge that person to think deeply and criticize art in that matter. This has urged them to think in a certain way which makes them polarize gender roles. With femininity the roles attached are emotional, weak, meek, dependent, sacrifice and with masculinity roles such as rational, independent, bread-earner. The picture of a ‘perfect’ woman is painted through these soaps; any woman who breaks these societal norms becomes a ‘bad’ woman with respect to all the other women in the society. The hero on the other hand is the ‘Prince Charming’ for the ‘Damsel in Distress’, he is physically strong, aggressive, confident, mature and has everything in his control. The audience gets accustomed to these gender roles and accept them without any question; they go on to accept the patriarchal stereotypes and go on to implement them in their own lives too. The gender role stereotypes in the media are seriously impeding the struggles of women in India to achieve economic and political autonomy. Soap opera is too close to home, it revolves around day-to-day activities, everyday problems and issues of the people; so they find it much more relatable and interesting.
Adorno and Horkheimer claim that the culture industry positions the masses as objects of manipulation; this turns people into passive subordinated subjects who are unable to fully take critical responsibility of their own action which is quintessential for the functioning of a democracy. Throughout the show there are several ‘cues’, including the background score which is classified into sad and happy music, i. e. , the audience knows by listening to the track whether it is a happy or a sad scene. The whole setting gives an idea about the storyline, for example a person would obviously guess it’s a crime thriller if the scene takes place in a shabby bar. This typical psychological mechanism is adapted by the makers to create an impact over the audience. When Doordarshan introduced serials like ‘Hum Log’, it gathered massive popularity; so to branch out they produced shows like ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’ to work upon the spiritual beliefs of the people.
Mythological dramas got much popularity in India as religion is an integral part of the societal structure in India where people are superstitious and spiritual mostly. The makers have manipulated the people as religion was their weaker spot. The people don’t even realise that they are nothing but subjects of a Capitalistic industry. People were so into watching these serials that they rotated their work and leisure schedules to fit in the exact time slot. But there have been considerable changes in the tastes of the audience. What classified as good content back in those days is not considered to be good content now. People have given into newer trends of mass culture and have consumed the content in a different light. To talk about a contrast, we can see that ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’ have now paved way for ‘Sacred Games’. The phenomenal expansion of Indian television in recent years has influenced people in two ways. First, those living in remote corners have been pulled and merged into the national mainstream. Secondly television has contributed to an unprecedented explosion of information in our times.
Currently there are numerous private channels available in India, like SONY, STAR TV, COLORS, ZEE and others. The growing popularity of television led to the privatization of the channels which was ultimately a breakthrough from the government controlled content. These channels provide a variety of soaps, including reality shows. They have now grown out many regional channels in regional languages which attract a large number of audiences from various regions of the country. Talking about a popular Bengali daily soap, ‘Aamar Durga’, the protagonist is a young girl from a small village who is considered to be a deity of righteousness. So is reflected in the name of the show which is ‘Durga’ who is considered to be the symbol of good over evil. The antagonist in the said show is the protagonist’s father in law who is neck deep in crime and is portrayed as a wealthy man with no good values. Thus continues the fight of good over evil. The villain in some way or the other always tries to subdue his daughter in law or sometimes kill her, but she always comes back. The audience know very well that whatever the situation might be the protagonist will come back to fight the demonic father in law. There is no element of surprise which the audience would have to decipher. There is a latent message which cannot be considered as unconscious in psychological terms but t constantly seeks attention.
One of the main reasons for the monotonous storylines is the limited time frame along with other pressures from the decision makers. As soon as the artist sets himself with all these pressures, there is an evident impact on his creativity, he follows the rules and does not have the liberty of expressing himself fully. But still people cling on to those clichés which finally leads them to lose touch with reality. The industry is running incessantly to keep on moving, which makes the audience fearful of anything new or innovative. The numerous stereotypes present in the culture industry makes the genre very presumable, Adorno steps up here to say that all products of media had zero level of uniqueness. The Television Industry is filled with issues like sexism, masculinity, scripts beyond the plot and many others. But the Television Industry’s treatment of the LGBTQI+ community has been problematic over the years. Most of the productions include or have included in the past some form of transphobia, homophobia and have out rightly rejected the LGBTQI+ community as a whole or in part. They have often used humour in regards to these issues, which in turn has normalised homophobia in Indian society.
The ideal picture of a perfect relationship has always been a heterosexual one; all the other angles of relationships are overtly rejected. They are in favour of a man having multiple wives, but as soon as the woman has been married for more than once she becomes a subject of hatred. As a developing country India has made certain achievements, legalization of Section 377 by the Supreme Court being one of the major changes in the outlook of the country. But still people will take time to get accustomed to the fact which was never brought in front of them by these soaps and shows. In an ideal society one could expect the mindsets of the people changing before the judgement passed by the court. But India being an example is just the bang opposite; one can never say when the outlook of these traditional, patriarchal and blind people would change. The autonomy which allowed art to maintain its distance from reality has slowly been gotten rid of; the production is determined by the needs. The producer dedicates the content to the ‘target audience’ based on their likings roughly sketching the idea of consumerism in it.
The final argument posed by Adorno and Horkheimer is that people under capitalism suffer the same fate as of art under culture industry – they are reduced to the exchange value with no intrinsic or unique traits as were the dreamed outcomes of Enlightenment. Television has become an inseparable part of our lives, we cannot completely do away with it. It is a cultural commodity. At the same time, it is a mirror reflecting society and in turn being modified by it.
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