Whenever a media house (including TNM) publishes an article about Bigg Boss or any other entertainment show, several readers take objection asking "Is this news?" and also wish to know why such shows must be given any kind of prominence. It's also true that many of these readers, who take great interest in commenting on such articles, either completely ignore the other stories done by the media house or have nothing to say about them. Stories on caste violence, child sexual abuse, political turmoil, natural disasters, the state of the economy and more.
But leaving that aside, it's curious that those who complain do not consider popular culture, which is consumed by millions of people, to be worthy of discussion. For instance, the launch episode of Bigg Boss Tamil, two years ago, had 3.4 million viewers. Since then, the show has grown steadily and Season 2 of Bigg Boss was reportedly the reason for Star Vijay reaching 1000 GRPs (gross rating points) for the first time ever.
Media houses must certainly be pulled up if they do not do the big and little stories which affect people's lives, but the fact is that entertainment too has a huge hold on the population. Consider these numbers - in 2018, the number of homes having a television set in India grew by 7.5% to 197 million in two years, according to a survey by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc). In 2018, there were 298 million homes in India, of which more than half (197 million) had a TV set. How can media houses ignore TV shows when they have such an extensive reach?
These shows, it must also be pointed out, are hotly debated and discussed by people on an everyday basis. From memes to Facebook pages and WhatsApp chats, viewers passionately dissect what they watched on the show. Some of these discussions may be fuelled by PR agencies but much of it is also organic. For instance, Telugu Bigg Boss contestant Kaushal was such a hit with fans that several even contributed money to his foundation for social causes. Such was the hold that the star had on them that later, they were puzzled and unhappy when things did not turn out the way they had hoped.
"When he was in the Bigg Boss house, we spent time from 6 am to 3 am casting votes for Kaushal. We rallied so many people to support him and invested so much of our time into this. But once he came out, his attitude changed," a fan had told TNM in February this year.
Bigg Boss Tamil Season 1 contestant Oviya's popularity was unprecedented, with 'Oviya army' fan handles emerging dime-a-dozen. From her one-liners to how people in the house behaved with her, the romance with Arav and finally her controversial eviction, the audience closely followed her every move in the house. None of this is of national importance but it is a show to which people are dedicating a good part of their time and energy - why must a media house stay away from engaging with them? As long as the engagement is meaningful and done sensitively (no, we're not batting for stories with headlines like CLICK TO SEE HOT BIKINI PHOTOS OF WHICHEVER ACTRESS or CLICK TO SEE THIS KISS FROM THE BIGG BOSS HOUSE)?
Further, media houses do not just cover popular culture, they're also in a position to influence the audience on how to think about it. A few days ago, contestant Saravanan was evicted from the Bigg Boss Tamil show because of his irresponsible gloating that he'd molested women on public transport in his college days. Star Vijay had aired the episode, giving the impression that what Saravanan had said was comic. However, following outrage and articles in the media condemning the same, he was removed from the show. The bad press was not something Star Vijay could ignore and get away with, not in the times of #MeToo. The media thus furthered the narrative set by those like singer Chinmayi, thereby contributing towards building a culture where there is zero tolerance for sexual harassment.
The media has stepped in on several occasions to act as a check for the entertainment industry. For instance, many articles have been written on how children are sexualised on reality TV shows like Laughing Villa (Malayalam), without paying heed to Child Rights guidelines. This is an important issue that needs attention and it may be ignored by the concerned authorities if it does not get the eyeballs that the media is capable of bringing. In the past and recently, too, Bigg Boss Tamil has been slammed for how it handled mental health. In the first season, when the contestants were asked to act like inmates of a "mental hospital", several prominent psychiatrists objected to the show's depiction because they know how such stereotypes can negatively impact the work that they do on ground.
So, the next time you feel like lamenting about the state of media houses, do your due diligence. First, see if they have ignored the "important" stories that you think they should cover. And second, ask yourself why of all the articles that the media house has covered, you felt like engaging with this one. Let's lose the hypocrisy please.