Thursday, July 30, 2009

All Truth, No Lies!

We all have heard the famous quotes – “Honesty is the best policy”, “Truth is bitter” and many of us have even read “The story of my Experiments with Truth”, an autobiography by the father of our nation.

However, truth has received a completely new and unparalleled dimension on television right now. One gets monetary rewards for speaking the truth, for disclosing the most sacrosanct secrets of his/her private life, for unveiling them in front of loved ones whom we would never want to hurt or betray. Money for ripping apart one’s respect and self esteem, the most heavily regarded and thereby guarded elements in full public view.

The questions are all prepared in such a way that the answers are meant to expose only negative traits. The person in question is seated in an apparently uncomfortable position, in one of the perfect executive-like cushioned chair to face a volley of questions, all of which induce stress in the contestant & his/her near and dear ones. When the current era talks so much on stress management, skilful techniques of handling stress at work/school/home and every place on earth, why does this TV show aim at creating bouts of it?

A test used by investigating agencies after serious contemplation on criminal subjects is the central instrument of the show - polygraph test. Did one know that the polygraph test measures physiological responses of the sympathetic nervous system like changes in blood pressure, pulse rate, respiration/breathing patterns, skin temperature etc in human? These patterns are believed to be different for deceptive responses. Is one prepared to go through this test for sake of some lakhs and crores ? Instead, it would save a million lives if people volunteered for an early diagnosis of many fatal diseases and silent killers like hypertension, cardiac problems, diabetes, cancer and sexually transmitted diseases.
If one was seriously interested in coming out clean, then why not do it in front of loved ones in confinement? That one is prepared to face the whole world while confessing on dark, inner secrets of life, sweating out and breathing faster as the process happens, goes out to show how mercenary people have become.

The show airs the truth about lives of many biggies and celebrities. So the next time India lost a cricket match, why not the captain be subjected to a polygraph on the actual reasons, why not politicians involved in many scandals get free of guilt through this instrument? Wish this show had started earlier, we could have got Ramalinga Raju of Satyam participate and check the veracity of his company’s revenue/profit reports and thereby averted the worst ever tech debacle.

Below is the link to a very well written article on what this TV show offers to the society apart from big bucks – by Santosh Desai in Times of India, dated July 26, 2009.
Below is the complete text of the article -
The Very Naked Truth
It has happened. The parliament is seized of the Sach Ka Samna question and the clouds of outrage are darkening visibly. Charges of vulgarity and fears about potential damage to the Indian way of life are rife. On the face of it, it is easy to see why this show should cause such offense. A participant performs the ultimate act of pornography as he disrobes himself in full public view of all that he considers most intimate, stripping himself of not only dignity and self-respect but dismantling in the process, the trust he evokes from those he loves most. We watch in voyeuristic disbelief, with a combination of fascination, horror, guilt and smug superiority at someone's else's misery. That a channel should produce a show like this makes us cringe, for what could be more exploitative and destructive than a spectacle like this?

And yet, the issue is not that simple. We keep talking about the virtues of honesty in our life and personal relationships. And all that this show does is to deal in the truth. Participants know not just the kind of questions they will be asked but have been exposed to the specific questions that come their way. They know their family will be at hand. The format produces a forced kind of honesty, but at least it deals with the truth and isn't that supposed to set us free?

Maybe not. This is where the motivations that surround this show become important. The show is not interested in the truth but specifically seeks that truth which will cause damage to the individual's self esteem and poison relationships. It is a spectacle only when participants disclose something scandalous. The reason why the family is such an important part of the show is because in some ways it is the show. We have in effect created a market for preying on someone else's personal misery. Once we accept a show like this, what stops us tomorrow us tomorrow from going further down road- for instance why not do an organ donation show tomorrow where a donor chooses from among a long list of critically ill patients vying for the life saving donation? The word 'elimination' will have an altogether realistic meaning then. Or why not make siblings fight for their parents attention and have a panel of esteemed judges give them points?

The commoditization of truth is part of an overall movement towards taking all that constitutes the personal and private and giving it exchange value in order to make it marketable. We can make money on the basis of our looks, education, ability, luck, our willingness to do stupid things and our openness to making our private life public. Everything has exchange value; we can monetize all parts of our life as evidenced by people marrying, dying and selling their virginity on screen for a price. Reality shows in general and Sach Ka Samna in particular serve to turn society's instruments against themselves. The individual is extracted from the folds of her inner world as all that constitutes ones private inner world is laid bare with the seductive aid of money and fame. We become consumers of ourselves as we turn our insides out for the consumption of the outside world. In effect society turns cannibalistic as it feeds on itself and its most cherished institutions. Of course, these institutions themselves are not built on any absolute truths and are riddled with contradictions. Even in this case, we can see how the professed ideal of honesty in relationships comes with clear limits. Relationships are not based on absolute honesty. Given the way society has been constructed, they cannot be. In fact they are based on the opposite- they need others to be insulated from all of an individual's real feelings. It is revealing that almost all viewers who recoil at the show and vow never to take part do so not because they have nothing to hide but because they do and are smart enough not to hurt their loved ones with the truth. This is not limited to a few of us, but is close to being a universal truth.

The trouble with Sach Ka Samna is not that India is not ready for it- at a certain level no society in the world is, given the way it challenges the fundamental assumptions on which we build societies. It is also almost certainly not illegal- nothing that is said or shown in the show is particularly shocking or new. That husbands stray, wives fantasise and siblings betray is hardly anything we have not around us in our lives. It is also unlikely to specifically lead to permanently damaging the fabric of Indian society. The trouble with Sach Ka Samna is that it crosses an invisible line we had drawn for ourselves. It tells us that we are comfortable consuming all that we value in our own lives in the name of entertainment. In the guise of modernity it takes us back to the primitive, as we take pleasure in a new and refined form of an ancient bloodsport.
The most striking thing about this show is that the channel thought it was alright to produce it, that so many participants took part and most importantly so many millions watch it for now. Sach Ka Samna is not a sign of the changes to come; it is a symptom of the changes that have already happened.

1 comment:

Juhi said...

very well said indeed!!
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