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What’s Lost When We Leave Traditional T.V. Behind?

Dear Sahodharan/Sahodhari,

Through this letter, I hope I can draw your attention to a problem that I’ve been observing for quite a while now. By the time I’ve explained it in detail, I’m sure you’ll join me in my concern and together we can say: Keep the traditional T.V. Channels alive!

Now, please, don’t be put off! I’m not a middle aged man trying to wax nostalgic about the power of Doordarshan! Ha! Far from it! I’m in fact a 90s’ kid – like most of you! We grew up watching a lot of T.V., remember? Back then our families didn’t go to the theatre every other week, and internet was still something we treated as a precious resource. So yes, the main way you and I watched movies was when it came on T.V.

Of course, even I was annoyed by it! Having to tune into a movie at exactly 9 P.M. so as not to miss the opening credits? And then those horrible ads that kept interrupting the action? I once pretended to be sick just so I could ditch school and watch a repeat airing of Saving Private Ryan at 8 in the morning. By the time I was 10 or 11 years old I pestered my parents to buy a VCR Player. Back then, as I carefully pushed a VHS tape into the player and programmed the record button, I could not have dreamed how things would change in just a few years!

Like you, I love online streaming. Or rather….loved. Until a few weeks ago, I was a big fan of Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube and everything else that’s available now. What’s not to love about streaming? You can watch whatever you want, whenever you want, how many ever times you want!

But, my friend, have you ever thought about what we’ve lost?

What was lost when we gained all this freedom and flexibility?

I realised the truth when I was sitting with my nephew and niece. They wanted to watch something on TV. So I picked up my phone and opened YouTube. Thanks to the wonderful Google Chromecast, we no longer need to subscribe to a cartoon channel. Freedom!

But when the kids cheerfully asked for Paw Patrol episodes, I was surprised. They’d been watching Paw Patrol when they were 4 and 6 respectively. That was almost two years ago now. And they were still watching the same cartoon?

Over the next few days, I began to notice many more instances of worrying behaviour from other children I met. For example, a cousin of mine had a daughter who wouldn’t eat anything unless she was able to watch a “bunny”. When I asked how she came to like that particular animated bunny show, my cousin shrugged and told me she probably stumbled upon it on YouTube.

But, you must understand, this wasn’t a popular show. Just a mediocre one that simply popped up in the search results when the little girl was playing with the phone!

The final incident that made me decide to write this letter happened the very next day, when I visited my friend. The last time I’d dropped by, his son was talking about volcanoes and earthquakes because a big science book he’d been gifted by someone. This time around, however, he was firing missiles at me with his hands. Turns out an older kid had used the desktop computer and searched for Avengers cartoon. Meaning in a matter of weeks, thanks to the videos suggested by YouTube, this boy became a hardcore fan of every Marvel superhero possible!

If, by now you are reading this and wondering what the big deal is, let me explain. This is not how you and I grew up. Yes, you might think I’ve already written about that. But that’s not what I mean!

When we were growing up, we were not offered entertainment options. We were simply subjected to a selection of cartoons, sitcoms and movies on T.V. You either watched something, switched over to another channel, or switched off the T.V.

Everybody talks about how limiting that structure was. But what did we gain? I’ll tell you from my personal experience, because I’m sure it’ll remind you of yours.

As a kid I did not know anything about movies. I did not know what kind of movies I liked and didn’t. At the age of 6, I would have joyfully watched Toy Story, or a kid’s YouTube video of unboxing Toy Story toys. It didn’t matter to me, because my tastes hadn’t developed yet. The magic of moving pictures accompanied by sound itself was simply enough for me.

Looking back, I’m grateful I had good channels to rely upon.  Some of us are lucky to have parents and elder siblings who introduce us to the world of cinema and art in general. But the vast majority of the creative minds over the past generations have been moulded simply by good programming!

T.V. Channels were like rigid syllabuses that we needed to follow, no matter what our personal circumstances were. Even if you were in a bad mood, you had to watch what was on T.V. Even if you were crying and demanding a particular cartoon about a particular animal, the T.V. didn’t give a shit! And because of that, every year we grew. At the age of four we could watch nursery rhymes at 8 A.M. But by the time we are six we shifted our schedule so that we saw Powerpuff Girls at 8.30 instead.

And that’s how our tastes were shaped. Sure, it wasn’t perfect. It couldn’t possibly have been, given the huge number of viewers and competence levels of T.V. executives. But think back to how your knowledge about movies evolved over the years?

I saw Braveheart and Gladiator when I was 12 years old, even though if I’d been offered a say in the matter, I would have objected to swords and skirts in a movie.

After seeing them, I was ready to explore more such movies in the genre. Today, an algorithm will feed you fantasy and medieval epics for the next six months. Back then, the T.V. channel simply offered me a glimpse of The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock. No history lesson, just a few scenes snatched while channel surfing. But that was enough to make me curious about one of the greatest film makers of all time.

We live in a world where it’s in nobody’s best interest to make someone appreciate good art. It’s the last thing on a parent’s mind when a kid is screaming for a juvenile cartoon. Media platforms like Netflix and Amazon simply want you to watch more content. It doesn’t matter to them if it’s good or not. And it goes without saying that individuals will do what’s easy, rather than what’s beneficial. You’ll have a hard time finding a 12 year old kid today who wants to improve his understanding of art in general and cinema in particular. He would never even get the time to think about that since the next video on TikTok would be playing already!

And that is why I believe we owe a debt to traditional T.V. Channels. They weren’t always convenient, but they were certainly critical when it came to making us better viewers. They were our guides. Our teachers. The strict but fair kind that pulled us along, opening our eyes to an entire world of emotions and stories revealed through various genres. They never caved in to our desire for instant gratification; they weren’t compelled to pander to our particular tastes either.

In a world of infinite choice, traditional T.V. reminds me that freedom and flexibility is not always a good thing. Now I’m left wondering if our children will have every movie available to them, and end up watching only those that are comfortable, unchallenging and ultimately unfulfilling.

What do you think?

Marwan Razzaq.


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