It’s safe to say that in our modern world things have changed; whether it’s good or bad is entirely subjective of course. We are living longer, have better access to vast amounts of information, generally have a higher standard of living and our world is ever shrinking thanks to continuing developments in tech.
Despite having the world at our fingertips (quite literally) I find that many of us are swimming in oceans of data and information. We feel connected yet disconnected, at the same time, and are unable to seek out sources that are full of originality, knowledge and wisdom. We find ourselves in a situation feeling overwhelmed because we simply have too much to sift through – let alone choose from!
An article in The Guardian stated that there is simply ‘too much television’ and estimated that there are approximately 400 shows on our televisions. And it makes sense; these days it feels like there is too much on TV for us to watch. In addition, even if we forget about the onslaught of new shows and series, the vast majority of them are poorly made and/or badly written. When I think about it, it makes me question the whole purpose of why so many sub-standard television shows are even created in the first place.
I like to think that television, at its best, is like the Arts
Which brings onto my topic about TV shows that are specifically designed to engage with and/or target a particular segment of society or ethnic group. Regardless, it is a slightly reassuring sign, to see contemporary television begin to use actors from an ethnic background or write stories which involve characters of ethnic heritage. I have found that such shows and story lines tend to be very hit-and-miss: they either become classics (like East is East) or adhere to cringey stereotypes or end up being left in the past where they belong.
There are usually a number of intentions behind the creation of TV shows made for those of an ethnic background: monetary gain, increase viewings as well as creating unique programmes which are more inclusive and reflective of a contemporary, diverse Britain. It is very rare for the latter to occur, unless there is some serious funding, a renowned film maker’s involvement or if a particularly convincing pitch has been made.
I like to think that television, at its best, is like the Arts in that it is a possible reflection of the world that we live in. However, I particularly question the originality of shows that are created with the sole intention to appeal to young British Asians. Many turn out to be the brown version of popular, mainstream television shows or films (which really is most of Bollywood if we think about it) and are not as innovative as they claim to be. For example, you can cover a pile of excrement in glitter and claim that it’s magic until you are blue in the face. The fact of the matter is that it’s still a pile of excrement. With a bit of glitter on it.
Is it any wonder that scores of young people (including myself) are heading over to YouTube
We see this happen, time and time again, whenever documentaries (or reality TV shows) are created and purport to discuss modern British Asian life. I cannot stress how disappointed I feel whenever individuals decide to create a TV format which ‘busts the myths about <insert particular ethnic group>’ or tells the rest of Britain that ‘we’re just as normal as you guys are.’ Sometimes it can be a revelation and prove to be some sort of social breakthrough. But most of the time it falls short. Newsflash: we’re not unicorns or mythological creatures who need to be discovered, diluted, patronised and scrutinised against a mainstream gaze. I’m pretty certain that many of us face that level of scrutiny on a daily basis.
However, some of the pit falls of creating television with this sole intention, is that these shows often become unintentional ambassadors/spokespeople for their target audience. This itself is hugely problematic for both ethnic and Caucasian viewers because it is impossible to represent every single person of a particular ethnic group. We cannot claim that EastEnders is an accurate portrayal of how people live in East London, in the same way that, Bollywood does not represent the lives and thoughts of South Asians living in the motherland or Diaspora.
When I was younger, I remember watching shows such as Desmond’s, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, My Wife and Kids (yes I am well and truly a Millenial child) and many more. Sure I was British Asian, but that didn’t stop me from watching such TV shows, because they were original pieces of television that were relatable and great to watch.
Fast forward a couple of decades and I still feel like I can’t relate to many of the South Asians who grace my TV screen. This comes, despite there being several films and television shows, which follow the lives of British Asian women and South Asian experiences since the 1990s. Is it any wonder that, now, scores of young people (including myself) are heading over to YouTube to watch vlogs, video series and channels that are created by people who either look like them and/or feature those who they are able to connect with?
For some television might be all about making money, becoming famous and milking particular social situations. But for the vast majority of people, television is an important format which often acts as a sophisticated mirror critiquing the types of attitudes, mindsets and societies that we are living in.