The TV Effect - Stereotypes in the TV industry
Who doesn’t love sitting in front of the TV after a long day, or mindlessly binge-watching endless episodes one after the other. It’s definitely a hobby that Pakistanis seem to share collectively and one that the television industry hasn’t failed to capitalise on. Whether it be through countless advertisements that employ all sorts of marketing tactics to sell their products, or the entertainment industry that churns out one story after another to be aired and consumed just as quickly by the masses. With such a large audience, the TV industry definitely has to be making an impact on mindsets and thinking with the kind of content they air. And while it is great to see such an effort being made to revive entertainment in Pakistan, nothing can truly grow until its importance is fully understood.
What we see on television, often for hours and hours on end, has a big impact on the way that we think. It can be something as minimal as the few minutes worth of advertisements, but visual imagery has a large impact on our subconscious even if we do not realise it. This is particularly important in the case of children who are also constantly exposed to all sorts of visual messages in today’s digital age, and can find it harder to differentiate between rights and wrongs.
A certain trend appears to have developed in the kind of content that is being aired. Part of the reason this trend is so obvious is the fact that entertainment is mostly giving people what they want to see. But doesn’t an industry that holds so much power also have a certain responsibility towards its audience? In a country where formal education standards are lacking, most people learn what they know from the media. Yet most of what they see perpetuates gender stereotypes and shows lack of progress, causing viewers and creators to get stuck in a cycle where most people don’t want the industry to progress, and so inline with the demands of the audience, nothing changes.
Most of the advertisements we see are based on how that one product can make your perfect family life even better. Sometimes it seems like what’s being marketed is not the product itself but rather, in most cases, the perfect looking woman who with one magical use can make both her family and husband perfectly happy with her. While we may not realise it, subtle cues perpetuated on tv reinforce stereotypes and what makes us realise this is the general reaction to any content that aims to break these stereotypes. They are always seen as a break away from the norm, yet very few bother to question why we refuse to break away from this so-called norm and limit any other exposure to once-in-a-while ads and tv shows.
Advertisements are not the only culprit here. The storylines for most TV shows often propagate the same gender roles and relationships that not only undersell the actors playing those characters but also fail to do more than reinforce that every household in Pakistan is one and the same. If everything we watch on TV points towards the idea that women are wanted only if they are fair, pretty and subservient and on the other hand, that a darker complexion and a dupatta somehow makes them less than, there is little hope that reality will suddenly reflect otherwise. The way genders are projected on TV can also have a direct link to the disproportionate number of men and women at the top in these industries. There’s quite a few stereotypes that Pakistan TV regularly reinforces
Imbalance in Relationships
A lot of the content we see on TV also glorifies toxic relationships and unhealthy behaviours. Finding favourite fictional couples to aspire to or fangirl over is something that has become quite common, but what happens when the kind of couples that are shown over and over again are far from the kind people should aspire to be.
Weak Female Characters
Female characters on TV are surprisingly limited when it comes to diversity. A certain criteria has been established for the kind of “good girl” that needs to be shown on TV and this criteria very rarely involves independent, strong willed women. We also need to move beyond the use of clothes as defining character. Very often, depicting the difference between a “modern” and a “backwards” character is done by the addition or removal of a dupatta rather than shaping the character’s personality.
Saas Bahu Tensions
This relationship, and in particular the negative connotations of it, is perhaps the most popularly depicted on Pakistani television. It portrays familial roles in a bad light as well as making all those involved in these tensions fairly one-dimensional. These relationships are often depicted as the dominant storyline which leaves little room for any other plot.
A favourite of TV writers, it has become a common theme to see the main romance as being between two characters who come from vastly different backgrounds. We all love seeing a romance work against all odds but there’s more to life than finances and it would be nice to see something different on screen as well.
Despite all these recurring themes, there’s always just a few works of art that break away from the mould. Dramas like Udaari received praise across the majority of their audience for their portrayal of societal evils such as sexual abuse and harrassment. Such Tv shows manage to portray popular storylines and yet still get across the message that they needed to. While not everything needs to be based in some form of activism, there can definitely be some changes in moving away from the same few stereotypes we see everywhere.
Content creators and producers should make an active effort to diversify their storylines and focus on character development. We live in a country with so many different stories and narratives so there’s still a lot left to be said. Oscar Wilde said “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” It’s time we start creating art worth imitating.