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Television and its Role in Everyday IITB life

by Rohit Nijhawan
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An institute-wide screening of the Game of Thrones season finale garners more eyeballs than an Institute Colloquium chaired by a speaker of national repute at India’s premiere engineering institute.

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Art work: Frits Ahlefeldt

What are we doing wrong? What’s so amazing about a classic TV show like Seinfeld or Breaking Bad that is in the wavelength of of the students it draws and the highly effervescent debates that ensue. It brings out in a student his most opinionated self, the one which was visible to a great degree in his academic ventures until he entered the hallowed gates of IIT Bombay.

What a hugely popular TV show like Game of Thrones does so well, is playing on our guilty pleasures and morbid curiosities, thus giving further vent to our addictions. It has been widely accepted amongst the IITB student community that most of us are in a state of detox, after having feverishly campaigned for an elusive berth at IITB. This is reflected in our academic performance, which is barely a shadow of what it was during those 2 years of struggle to get into IIT and our repeated procrastination is also a by-product of the same in disguise. We therefore seek refuge underneath the gloomy HD screens of our laptop, sparing no respite while attempting to topple the IMDB Top 250 movies’ list. What we don’t understand at the outset is that we are only building up our appetite. Imminently, watching movies isn’t enough and we crave for something more to satiate our fervent desires.

What dawns over a typical viewer after completing a series finale is an awareness, one of ultimate guilt, melancholy or poignancy depending upon the intensity of the show.

This is where television comes in, providing a slew of episodes from the most popular sitcoms and thrillers. Often, students comatose into week-long marathons, food and sleep-deprived, and a season that usually spans 4 months, a TV broadcast gets swiped in a day. What dawns over a typical viewer after completing a series finale is an awareness, one of ultimate guilt, melancholy or poignancy depending upon the intensity of the show. The shows today are architectured to pander to our guiltiest selves and build on our addictions, all for the sake of improved ratings. What’s supremely ironic is that there is a fair chance the TV channel or show has an IIT graduate in their ranks, working somewhere in the analytics department studying viewer demographics and patterns, thus piling on the agony.

The depth to which television has sunk to is debatable but the fact that it has, is still widely accepted. The problem is not confined only to TV dramas, but reality shows and news shows. From the confines of your TV sets, you can conveniently switch back and forth between right-wing news and left-wing news. Amidst all this, when the dust settles, there is a whole lot more that television brings to the table and its role in our intellectual growth cannot be undermined. Television has brought people together in ways that very few other media channels have. Television took us to the moon. It made the whole country leap with joy at our legendary 1983 Cricket World Cup victory and the one that followed in 2011. At the same time, it made us all lament and cry together at the death of two beloved Prime Ministers. It’s unflinching and comprehensive coverage of the 9/11 and 26/11 terrorist attacks brought the world together. Quoting lines from a famous TV show, what we have nowadays on television, especially the news, is “partisan junk, appealing to the lowest common denominator”.

Notwithstanding the effect it has on regular viewers, the IITB community is especially afflicted by amorbid urge to watch more than its fair share of TV, and I am constantly surprised at the enormousground we cover in these 4 years relative to our counterparts in other colleges. Surprisingly, television’s most prized victims are stationed conveniently at the nation’s intellectual capital. An average IITB student by the end of his third year has already watched close to 10 TV serials, and an outlier student would have raked in close to 60. A lot of this has to do with the huge gender disparity and the innate introvert nature that has flourished here for years. It hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing, as a lot of television ventures like Entertainment Engineers and Viral Fever have been raised and nurtured here, and television may proudly claim to be the inspiration for these.

The institute’s film club, Silverscreen, has claimed some of the most intensively competitive national awards of excellence in film and media, often from the clutches of nationally reputed drama schools.

The institute’s film club, Silverscreen has claimed some of the most intensively competitive national awards of excellence in film and media, often from the clutches of nationally reputed drama schools. The institute’s official media body, InsIghT, has made a huge difference to the internal affairs of IITB, striving to make the internal setup more democratic each passing day. But, is this worth the opportunity cost to be had with some of the finest minds in the country?

Educational institutes have been wary of this psyche and have been cleverly transitioning their textual study material to video formats. NPTEL and other organisations have done a tremendous job of centralising video tutorials related to engineering courses, but haven’t been able to make enough inroads. Thus, there is a tremendous scope for creative excellence at course delivery and pedagogy which needs to be clinched by the top educational innovators of the country. Michael Sandel’s video lecture series  Justice: What’s the right thing to do has become no less popular than the mini-TV

series Band of Brothers. Many of these TV series have actually served to re-ignite our creative capacities and have proved to be intellectual hot-beds for knowledge dissemination. A lot of these like Mad Men, The Sopranos, House of Cards, and Breaking Bad have been nothing short of incredible pieces of art. But, there are some like Gossip Girl or One Tree Hill, whose content leave a lot to be desired.

 

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