Monday, 4 October 2010

Response to the Shoma Munshi extract

Response to the Shoma Munshi extract

I have several bones to pick with the author of the book about the Jensen and Oster study which she seems to quote with enthusiasm in this extract. PADMAJA SHAW has trouble accepting the links put forth here between soaps and development.

Posted Sunday, May 23 16:17:27, 2010

Read the excerpt from Shoma Munshi's ‘Prime Time Soap Operas on Indian Television' that's posted on The Hoot.

It is interesting to see that the much-maligned positivist tradition of research pioneered by Wilbur Schramm, Daniel Lerner, Everett Rogers and others is back with a bang (or did it ever go away?).

I have several bones to pick with the author of the book about the Jensen and Oster study (which she seems to quote with enthusiasm in this extract. I have not read the rest of the book):

Ø How is the causation established in the Jensen study? Since it is an empirical survey, was there pre-soap and post-soap exposure data on ‘women's empowerment' that was compared?

Ø Since it was between 2001 and 2003, what were the sizes of the families where men were helping women? What was the geographic location of the respondents? Close to major cities like Delhi and Chandigarh? Were women in this sample wage earners in the outside world?

Ø Was there already a declining trend in fertility (as is the case in a large number of Indian states since the 1990s), specially in states like Tamil Nadu?

Ø Also, since these are cable households, the sample has to be from the rural upper and middle classes with disposable incomes and with already established interactions with the outside world ' in 2001, certainly innovators and early adopters as the diffusion model would tell us. Women from such households are more likely to be educated and therefore more autonomous in some respects?

Ø Social researchers have established the link between women's education and decline in fertility rates ' also women with better SES (socio economic status) profile will do better. Women can be better educated where there are schools accessible. Where a conducive social environment exists for women's education. Of the states chosen for the Jensen study, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Haryana also happen to be three of the top five Education Development Index states in India, the other two being Kerala and Gujarat, according to the data provided by National University for Educational Planning and Development. Several states in India have failed to provide for basic educational infrastructure. Then, how much of female education and empowerment can be credited to the soaps? Or are we happy with the innovators and early adopters among the audiences?

Ø There may be intervening variables like expanding urbanization, migration of men, changes in social and economic equations within the family structure that could well have given the findings, even without the intervention of the soaps. Were these considered in the study as a significant factor?

Ø How can the analysis glibly imply introduction of cable TV has resulted in decreases in fertility and increases in the enrolment of girls into schools? Taking both Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu as an example, both AP and TN are high on cable density and fertility is declining in both but AP has performed the worst as far as education is concerned. It stands 28 among the states in literacy (with the BIMARU states). It is also performing quite poorly in other indices of women's empowerment. Education infrastructure like schools in the neighbourhood for girl children is obviously a prerequisite for literacy than introduction of cable television.

Ø “Smriti Irani [Tulsi] and Sakshi Tanwar [Paravti] as drivers of long term economic growth. Now, that's a thought!”, says a channel boss. One would like to thank one's luck that soaps seem to have a natural ‘novelty life cycle' and disappear from screens as soon as the audience figure out the game plan at work. Even within their ‘life', for a year or so the soaps are dragged on while the producers try to keep the audience interest up.

Ø One of the most insidious things about the passages is the assertion that only satellite television is capable of delivering transformation, (while citing Hum Log as a success!). There is no need for public service advertising, no need for state television. They cannot match the pull of a bedecked Smriti Irani. We have forgotten ‘Udaan' and several other shows on Doordarshan that were avidly watched and provided role models for women to get educated and live a life of dignity.

Ø The advent of satellite television has taught some Indian women to lose sensitivity to what's fashion and what's trashy dressing; taught some to think that doing well is to be ostentatious; taught some that to be traditional is to be clannish; taught some others to navel gaze and become body-centric when what's needed is a humane understanding of society and the happenings in our surroundings. In a three year soap, there may be an ‘empowering' dialogue or two that we can all quote with conviction. But exceptions don't prove the rule. It's the garish sets, jewellery, inherent lack of social goodwill and intrigue that are ever present in a subliminal way.

Ø It is unfortunate that AK Ramanujan is invoked to support something that has very little to do with what he was talking about ' he was talking about women's stories in folk tales, we are talking about synthetic media kitsch that is concocted week after week, not always based on lived and inclusive experience of a society.

Ø Back in mid 20th century, the mainstream media messiahs came up with the media formula for development: 10 newspapers, 5 radio receivers, 2 television receivers, 2 cinema seats for 100 population. UNESCO, which was greatly influenced by the scholars, also promoted the formula. Of course, now per capita telephones and ICTs are added to the list of ‘media minima' recommended by UNESCO since 1960.

Ø This ‘input orientation' carried over by the structural-functionalist school into media theory without acknowledging the social/economic structural issues in development has been much debated and discredited over the years. The scholars asserted that the media through ‘modernising' content form everywhere would be the trigger for development. The assumption being that it's the lack of imagination that keeps a population poor, not the systemic constraints.

Ø The media market in India has seen an extraordinary expansion, with foreign players thrown in for spice. But the last two decades have seen an extraordinary growth also in poverty, crime, religious fundamentalism, and corruption. Can media research afford to gloss over the existential reality and ask only questions about media's role in some nebulously defined social ‘transformation'?

Ø What really amazes one is, when it comes to impact of violent programmes on impressionable young minds, the scholars from the positivist tradition would dismiss the link citing the impossibility of establishing a causal relationship between violent behaviour and viewership with the existing tools of research, and invoking genetic propensity, impact of family and environment (anything but media!) as the possible reasons. But for ‘women's empowerment' here, a giant leap of faith is being attempted to sell soaps shown exclusively on satellite/cable television (and not on state TV) as the panacea for the emancipation of women in the backwaters of India.

Ø In Telugu, we have a saying ' trying to tie the bald head and the knee cap together …. Not going to work!