I don’t watch talk shows, or drama on television, or is the latter merely a more colourful version of the former? In March 2013, I stopped watching TV, just like one has a fight with an annoying friend, and forgets to make up. Fast-forward to July 2015: nothing has changed, it seems. It was all there, and it is still there: the repetitiveness of talk shows, the agenda-driven debates, the ad hominem attacks, the sensationalism, the lust for TRPs, the paucity of subjects, the lack of investigative journalism, the sparse follow-up on important stories, the methodical inanity of panelists’ responses, and the blatant partisanship of anchors who instead of moderating their talk shows manipulate and exploit them. Moreover, a superficial but huge reason that determines the effectiveness of a talk show is the amount of time allotted to advertisement breaks. Money talks and blah rules. A 33-40-minute show is insufficient to give all panelists enough time to put forth a debate, as long breaks mar the fluidity of a talk that is already headed into nowhere.
There is no dearth of issues in Pakistan, and there are news channels galore. Switch your TV on, and there are more talk shows than the feathers in your cap. While you channel-surf, there’s an eerie feeling of being caught in a bright loop where all faces look the same, female anchors made and coiffed up in an assembly-line made-in-China Barbie doll mode, male anchors artfully relaxed in ill-fitted, badly cut suits, and in Ramazan in shalwar-kameez with necklines more embroidered than the lies that fall easily from their guests’ forked tongues. The debates are on myriad subjects, ranging from the very important, to merely time-fillers, but there’s not much to be gained from these talks. You see, to watch the famous talk show hosts — the self-avowed movers and shakers — act like spokespersons of one political party or the other, loses its charm after a dozen or so sessions of partisan court-jestering, paean-singing of the king, and finding more faults in the opposition than lice in an unwashed child’s mop of hair. The agendas are naked and so is the ambition, and the result is the voices of the few effective anchors getting drowned in the cacophony of those who equate loudness and shrillness to outspokenness and honesty. Oh well.
Then there’s one show after another with two anchorpersons, with one acting as the guest, and thus begins the drama that unfurls hearsay, innuendos that uncurl like snakes, and unsubstantiated rumours that are disguised as news authenticated by very reliable sources. On these shows, words are minced more heavily than the qeema you find at one of those old neighbourhood butchers, axes to grind, politicians to trash, scores to settle and reputations to be put into a shredder. Politics is a dirty business, as politicians behave, most of the time, with an audacity that would put a twerking Miley Cyrus to shame. On a good day. Ergo the licence given to those TV dudes to mouth stuff that becomes the gospel as soon it is aired. And tweeted to double the effect. Retweets just make it spread like a forest fire, and you know how that works.
The sheer power of TV propaganda was never stronger, while the consequences are loud on-air threats of cases that end in nothing and more aspersion-tossing than coiled, sweetened flour in that much-used, suspicious-looking oil at an open-air jalebi shop. Beware the wrath of the TV pundits; equipped with a microphone and camera, with the audience of millions, they control the narrative of public perception, and your reputation. Shady as that may be to begin with.
Amidst such glaring colours, bring in a bit of white to break the monotony. Have an unknown woman as a single guest on your prime-time shows, and visualise the TRPs soaring as the bored-but-addicted audience watches her unravel on national TV in one show after the other. While you were hoping to get an exclusive scoop on that inscrutable, complex, former president, of a-few-words-enigmatic-silences-and-big-scandals fame, all you get is a pot-pourri of disjointed statements, crazy rhetoric in an accent from nowhere, half-baked lies that are as boring as last year’s lawn prints, and doctored photos of the good doctor from la-la land, or was it New Jersey?
You watch bored as the voices on your TV turn into white noise… every night.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2015.
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