The poorly received 2015 movie Thinkal Muthal Velli Vare sums up what an average Malayali thinks about serials and the hordes of ‘jobless’ housewives that watch them. Most characters in that movie are extremely stereotypical. Pushpavalli is the personification of women’s so-called ‘addiction’. Jayadevan is the ‘gifted’ man who takes pride in the fact that his badly written plots can manipulate ‘sitting duck’ housewives who can’t think beyond what he writes. Jayadevan’s father is an old man who constantly derides his wife for watching serials and his wife’s family, like those of the women in the TV serials Jayadevan writes, is shown to be more or less moronic.
The role of content in addiction: Who is to blame?
If you asked me my opinions about some of the serials that are popular today, I would say that those reels ought to be flung into eternal darkness. The backwardness that some of these mega serials perpetrate is simply astounding. The paradox is that it is the viewers who get targeted for watching such misogynistic concepts, rather than the people who actually write such stories. Does this sound familiar? Cough, cough…victim-blaming, anyone? First of all, these people, who operate under the excuse that they write what women want to watch, despite knowing how outdated they are, should be called out for their greed for popularity. Almost all of the people who write serials for women are men. Let’s leave it up to the reader to decide how accurately these writers portray the feelings of their women characters.
When did we start taunting women for their ‘addictions’?
The common perception is that women, especially housewives are addicted to serials. It is true that they have an undeniable fondness for household drama but society’s attempt to condense this interest into a sort of pathological addiction reeks of gender stereotyping. Such gender stereotyping is not an invention of modern society via mega serials. The derision directed against old wives tales, women addicted to soap operas and now fangirling are all part of the same story where women, their interests and values are trivialised. The labelling of women as ‘addicts’ is clearly the product of a sexist mechanism of judgement.
Because housewives have a lot of free time, no?
There are several reasons why women of a particular age and situation have an affection for TV serials. The most common answer you would get is that they have so much ‘free time’. While real housewives and sympathetic viewers of The Great Indian Kitchen can tell you the reality of this ‘free’ time, it is quite true that these homebound women have enough opportunity to sit before the easily accessible TV. They don’t have to pull up the confusing computer or smartphone and navigate through the burden of choice all while doing chores. All they need to do is switch the TV on and shows tailor-made for their situation plays.
Women, content and catharsis
Consider the theme of the serials they watch. Most of the stories that these mega serials tell involve individual households, the drama between relatives and the people in a house – all things housewives can relate to. If you would just try to see the explosive drama on-screen as things these women themselves have had to suppress in their lives, then you would understand why it is so appealing. These ladies find their catharsis not in high-end car chases or long-winded video games but rather in the small-time, absurd sounding yet relatable TV serials. A friend commented on this saying, “Make a serial about a retired dad obsessed with politics and you will get addicted dads too!”
Also read: WHY WE NEED BETTER MALAYALAM T.V. SERIALS
Serials have a bad influence on women, or do they?
When we talk about themes, it is also necessary to talk about how people often say that the content women watch induces in them a sort of violence. They ‘talk back to husbands’, ‘neglect to spoon-feed children’, ‘quarrel more with in-laws’, begin to be less ‘forgiving’, begin to want ‘revenge’ and so on. Well, if some of these flawed serials help women voice their suppressed thoughts, are they that bad?
Some of the revenge plots these serials have are, in all honesty, a little excessive.
However, saying that they teach women to be violent is like saying Fast & Furious has increased rash driving in young men. If you agree with the former, then you must agree that all people, regardless of gender, are influenced by the content they watch, whether it is some serial with a generic ‘sthree’ based name or a billion-dollar superhero movie
Addiction or patriarchy, what gives avid serial fans a bad name?
Those who taunt women for being addicted to mega serials should be aware that this ‘addiction’, if we can call it that, is the product of their own convoluted, impossible social system where anything a woman does, from what she wears to what she sees is ridiculed. We all know what they say about women who spend as much time as men outside. Yet, if they try to find comfort in exaggerated stories within the walls of decorum they are confined to, that is ‘silly’. What can a woman ever do except housekeeping that will never get mocked by this ostentatious society? Perhaps nothing, as long as patriarchy endures.