Ask yourself: What are we doing watching television?

A 'Jakarta Post' reader criticizes the prevalence of unbeneficial television programs that give viewers what they want, not what they need

The Jakarta Post
Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I'm not in a religious sect that decries modern-day technology, but there are three reasons why I am not going to watch anything on television ever again; you may want to consider doing the same.

1. The most lucrative programs, on almost all stations, are the gossip shows. Known popularly as "infortainment", these shows aim to convince viewers that what they're watching is somehow intellectual. I, however, find hearing about other people's dirty laundry neither informative nor entertaining.

Such shows seem to consider it their noble responsibility to ensure you know why a singer got married, and then who caused their divorce; not to mention alerting us to what time they eat their breakfast and what their philosophy on shopping is. TV stations take this moral obligation so seriously viewers are provided with such babble morning, noon and night -- everyday.

Before I get to number two, let's consider some common gossip show scenarios: A mom has just learned her son has been killed in a motorcycle accident, a father is radiant after the birth of his first child, parents are devastated to learn that their daughter has been jailed on drug charges.

Of all questions laymen could ask in these situations, the gossip reporters have to ask, "How do you feel about it?" like empathy is an alien emotion. You have to ask yourself how these media guys believe they are improving our intelligence with this drivel.

2. Talent-scouting reality shows like American Idol. We can see these mediocre wannabes on two TV stations from 4 or 5 p.m. through to no earlier than 1 a.m.

These programs consistently encourage us to support contestants through obligatory text messages.

The impact can be devastating; these dreamers borrow money (from loan sharks) and sell everything they have in vain attempts to pave their road to fame. But the ones who fail (most of them) are forced to live on the brink of starvation in order to repay their debts.

Kompas daily reported that many of these ex-idols end up as pariahs in Jakarta and have to resort to manual and menial labor in order to survive.

TV stations are aware of this but do little to stop abuse of the voting system. A mechanism that would prevent more than one vote per phone number has never been devised and viewers are not cautioned against frenzied texting. Quite the opposite; as each message is charged at a premium rate (one message deducts Rp 2,200 (22 US cents) from your phone credit, making it fourteen times more expensive than the normal rate of Rp 99) networks do well from over-eager viewer voters. Cellular-phone-technology tabloid Pulsa reported that this premium texting business generated more than Rp 1 trillion in 2007.

3. The so-called mega sinetrons -- the high budget soaps -- because the producers gather all the beautiful and famous faces (remind me again what is so special about them anyway?) in one place.

These are the tales of the hilarious daily lives of certain tragic characters unfamiliar to the majority of us. Among the impossible others you find: junior high school students dressing like prostitutes and acting up, the ever-popular depiction of the major religion's superiority over all others and, of course, the wealthy but melancholy housewife. Again and again those people, who seem to have it all, are disadvantaged.

In the length of time it takes to air commercials, I could not help but think that TV people have done a very good job convincing advertisers that the soaps are a true reflection of the goings on in our society and that, of course, is why people love to watch them.

But when questioned if it's true that our teenage students are prostitutes or that the majority Muslim population is persecuted, the TV people I spoke to were quick to respond that such stories are just fiction, for our entertainment only.

I say TV people have a double standard; they care only for what the viewers want, not what they need. So I've shut my TV off -- for good.

Ridwan Hutasoit, Jakarta