Maverick: The Truth Behind Reality
by Farzana Versey
Covert, November 15-30
No one would go to court against ten spoilt brats getting themselves a slum buddy to live the lives of the dirt streets in the Big Switch. It was appalling in its subverted exhibitionism. Minor celebrities were taught survival skills that included the pairs to hawk wares at a traffic signal, polish boots at the railway station, collect garbage, sell fish to win and fulfil the dreams of the slum kid. This veneer of generosity is a façade. The underlying message is that small people will do small things and their needs can be realised only with a helpful and presentable sugar daddy-mommy.
Must we then smirk at reality television? Not quite. There was the heart-warming story on another show where a group of labourers won purely on the strength of their art. There is no doubt an element of voyeurism in the genre, but news channels rehearse such forced realism on a regular basis. There are instances where participants are tutored on what to say before the cameras.
The need for revelation is inherent for we are what we wear and how we think. Thoughts manifest themselves in gestures. It can be a microcosmic lesson in anthropology. The human is the performing monkey and the laboratory rat.
America has mastered the art. I recall watching the most absurd antics on the Phil Donahue show, including episodes of breaking wind and barfing into plates. Is it merely bizarre, a put on? Even if this is so, it works as an eye-opener to show the extent to which we have become socialised to curb natural reflexes.
Those sitting on their high horses use the ruse of one-liner concern about “exploitation of those poor things” while holding forth on the subject themselves.
The problem lies not in what is disclosed, but who does it. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s bedtime stories make it to the market, people salivate, and there are discussions about impropriety. The escort girl wants to share a bit of the limelight. It isn’t everyday that the head of government comes visiting. This is reality. But the big man will be considered a naughty stud; she will be seen as a gold digger. It is not about gender alone. Princess Diana’s famous television interview was catharsis, a public display of a very private life. Paris Hilton’s steamy video got her default points which she continues to live off. Drugs, sex, shoplifting, pregnancies, quick marriages, messy break-ups, are all indulged because the person is rich and famous.
No one really minds as contestants share a house, faking fights and love in the Big Boss. No one has questioned the channel that put up a Swayamwar and the couple decided not to marry. No one says anything as people watch film stars and celebrities bare their all in an attempt at being frank.
A flogging video reaches a level of frenzy because it is elevated to that point of orgiastic ecstasy akin to a vicarious comfort we get through other people’s misery. There is a genre of misery literature that operates in confessional mode, and it is often by well-known writers. Why this dignifying of the same old regurgitation technique? How different is it from opening up before an audience?
Change track. Put a middle-class person in the seat and let the skeletons pop out. The moralists fume. Court cases are filed. I bring in Sach ka Saamna at this juncture because it revealed how society refuses to accept that ordinary people can have lives that are not bound by strictures. The emphasis of the opposition was on promiscuity, adultery, sexual experimentation. No one was bothered that many of the contestants were speaking about putting their co-workers at risk, cheating their bosses, their greed for fame and money. It only shows that these are not issues that matter or cause any ethical pangs.
It is ironical that those who are cocooned leave their cotton wool existence every once in a while to show off slashes, whereas the ones who are marred and scarred on a daily basis do not have that luxury. Selective consciences are extremely territorial.