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Media & Culture

By Br John Manimala

A question that has been constantly baffling me is: has the culture grown hand in hand with the growth of the media or has the media subdued and suppressed culture? Sometimes, I make a hasty conclusion that culture grows together with the advancement of communication media. But, in a tranquil moment, if such a thought springs up in my mind, I realize that it is not always true. The two pictures of culture-media relationship flash in my mind, one showing the media promoting culture, and the other showing the media suppressing and destroying culture. It is at this juncture that I feel the necessity to gauge these imbalances.

Communication media help in the promotion of culture. Today media is the link that connects civilizations in the world. In the past, people belonging to one side of the globe did not know what was happening on the other side. But today thanks to the media we know one another well. We know what is happening over there and they know what is happening over here. We know everything about them: their behaviour pattern, their culture, their habits, their religion and what not. In fact media has blended all the cultures into one unit.

Sometimes, we are unaware of our own culture. There are many persons who are natives of one state but are residing in another state. These persons very often may not know the cultural and traditional wealth of their own states. But when they see some of the documentaries on the cultural and traditional heritage of their state in the local or national TV, they are overwhelmed with pride in the fact that they are heirs to such traditional and cultural wealth. This helps them to appreciate their culture.

Moreover, our national culture is diverse. People living in the South do not know the cultural traits of the North and other parts of the country, and vice versa. But media integrate these cultural diversities. For instance, Doordarshan frequently shows many documentaries on the cultural wealth of different states of the country. It demonstrates the diverse art forms of the states, the living conditions of the people, the diverse food habits etc. These programmes not only promote awareness of our national culture in the citizens, but stimulate national integration also.

Magazines too are not lagging behind in the performance of this function. For example, The Teenager publishes a column titled destinations. It enumerates the cultural heritage of different states in India. Last year, it published in a series, the cultural heritage of the North Eastern states. They were of great help to me because I have a few North Eastern friends in my college. The cultural barrier was a hindrance to our free interaction. But after I read those columns I came to know of a few distinct features of their culture. This knowledge helped me to interact with them more freely and jovially.

Today we have the National Geographic Channel, Discovery channel, Animal Planet etc., which present the life style of people living in different parts of the world. We become wonderstruck seeing the life style and habits of some of the aborigines, tribals and eskimos. I was amazed to see on TV how people live in the south pole and north pole. When we see these programmes, we feel that we are a part of their culture, the traditions and habits. Sometimes we are even impelled to assimilate some of the good traits of their culture and traditions.

But, this is not the end of the story. Media has negative impacts too on the culture. Let us look at our culture. The invasion of foreign media has resulted in the erosion of our culture. Mr Ramanujam, a lecturer of ALC, wrote in a column in a daily: "English by becoming a global language has marginalized many other languages and caused even a linguistic genocide." Along with him I would echo that western media too by its dominance over other native media and culture has caused a cultural genocide. Western media, thanks to its sheer dominance, has already imposed its own cultural assumptions on our culture.

Today due to the influence of the western media, our people try to speak like the westerners, behave like the westerners, and dress like the westerners. I have been amazed to hear some people speaking their mother tongue with a foreign accent. Children in the metropolitan cities do not like to hear and watch anything vernacular. Owing to the influence of the western media they like to hear only English songs, and watch western belly dances and English action movies.

The invasion of western media into our culture has caused the erosion and complete extinction of some of our fine arts. For Instance, once upon a time Chakyar Koothu was a famous art form of Kerala. People used to gather in groups to watch this. But today it has completely vanished from the society. Today there are no such artists because they have no audience. This is the condition of all our fine arts like Kuchipudi, Kathakali, Bharathanatyam etc. It is a usual sight in every function that people prefer western songs and western dance to Indian classical songs and classical dance.

 

Our culture is filled with rich heritage. But we did not sufficiently promote or enrich our inherent culture through our own media. On the contrary, we are busy assimilating and transmitting other cultures. Hence we ourselves should share the blame for letting the western culture dominate our culture. As an act of atonement, we should assert ourselves and make use of our own media to promote our inherent culture and nullify the negative influence of the western media. There are only two options before us to prevent a complete onslaught of our culture by the western media: either nativise the western media or discard it.