Impact of Television on the Indian population.

Ever since the advent of modern communication technology that has allowed people around the world to communicate ever so easily, the world itself seems like a smaller space. Broadcasting is an especially effective manner through which millions of people are able to become unified on the basis that they are common recipients of a particular message. One of the most powerful transmitters of these messages is of course the television; programs of which can be seen around the world to serve many purposes. In most contemporary societies, television is a highly influential medium of Popular culture and plays an important role in the social construction of reality. (Morgan, 1990) The effects

of television should therefore be recognized as having the ability to alter social, economic and political situations in its places of propagation and beyond. I will be exploring these cultural shifts in detail pertaining to India, a developing nation undergoing a grand cultural shift in part due to the rapid growth of satellite television in the 1990’s and its programming.

Television is unlike any other medium of mass communication in that its social effects are prominent, and able to prompt substantial change. The strong cultural influence of television on developing nations can therefore be linked to the following factors as outlined in the book “Media and Social Changes: the modernizing influences of television in rural India.” First, television programming is easily accessible and inexpensive, which is mainly due to the fact that American television is sold inexpensively around the world after profits in its home market have already been made. Television’s potency is also a result of its broad scope and diversity of programs which therefore makes it appealing to almost anybody. Yet another reason for television’s mass appeal is its benign presence, which allows viewers to be in control of what they watch, how much they watch and when to watch it. (Johnson, 2001) Ultimately, it is these factors that propel the reliance on the medium which has the power to inflict many societal changes in developing nations such as India. Through the examination of diverse groups in India such as rural villagers, youth, women and the middle class, I intend to illustrate the vast social and cultural changes taking place in a culturally rich country, in large part due to the relatively recent popularity of television throughout the country.
According to statistics the population in India was: ( see appendix 1)
In 2000, it was 1,003 million people.
In 2001, it was 1,019 million people.
In 2002, it was 1,050 million people.
In 2003, it was 1,060 million people.
In 2004, it was 1,080 million people.
In 2005, it was 1,094 million people.
In 2006, it was 1,110 million people.

While almost 75 percent of India’s one billion people live in villages,(Johnson 2001) their thoughts and actions consequently have a large influence on the country’s social, political and economic state. One of the most prolific changes in village life which can be linked directly to the influence of television is rise of consumerism in rural India. Just as we are enveloped with advertisements and endorsements which propel us to purchase that which we deem necessary, the same is true in rural India in which such things as blue jeans and hand cream have become necessities. Villagers themselves acknowledge this growing need:
“I want many things that my parents never had. I want a motorcycle and a nice colour TV, I want to eat mutton once a week instead of three times a year” (Johnson 2001)

Through this illustration, it is evident that needs are certainly growing and it is due to television and advertisements that the economically dependent third world is now being internally pressured to make shifts that may not be financially possible yet incredibly desirable.

Another growing desire of the rural Indian population is to become urbanized, leading to a shift in behaviour and relationships.(Johnson, 2001) Not only do these villagers want to mimic the representations of their urban counterparts by changing their attire and consumer goods, their attitudes are also altered as a result. Such phenomenon can be seen as a positive shift which allows modern attitudes to flourish, through which more sensitivity and emotion are finding their ways into the rigid caste system and competition, therefore adding sentimental value to various relationships. In the case of rural parts of developing nations, mediation may also be useful as a way of educating villagers about their own country. The programs that are seen by the villagers are those which are produced in India yet reflect a Western undercurrent of values and lifestyles. The rural audience is therefore able to learn about other parts of their own country, which is useful due to the fact that many do not venture far from their village for touring purposes.

Although touring the country may not be prioritized, with the glamorization of urban life through the media, many villagers are moving to urban centers in search for a better life. (Johnson 2001) The implications of such a shift are obvious in that the villages that are being abandoned are at a disadvantage, yet the urban cities have nothing to gain other than more overcrowding.

Although the middle class in India is generally more urbanized and therefore more in touch with the globalizing effects of media, they resemble the villagers in terms of the effects of television on their daily lives. While villagers are enticed with what is outside their village, the urban middle class is able to see the correlation between the foreign and national trademarks.

“Multinational companies consistently attempt to associate their products with signifiers of the Indian nation, for instance through sponsorship of the Indian Olympic team in the 1996 Olympics or through more subtle references to specifically Indian conditions such as the monsoon season” (Fernandes, 2000)

While conglomerates such as Pepsi and Coke are striving to merge the Indian identity with their brands by sponsoring sporting events and relying on Indian celebrity endorsements, the Indian audience fails to see that what they see as sponsorship for India’s pride is actually a mere scheme to boost consumerism. It is therefore evident that just as the rural class is becoming increasingly commoditized, the middle class urban population is no different. Although many televised advertisements tug on the nationalized heartstrings, many direct correlations are also made between Indian cities and North American or European ones. In this sense, the existence of the Indian city dwellers is being justified on the basis of their city’s comparison to Western cities. It is through these processes that Indian’s are made to feel that they are being recognized, but the concern is whether this recognition is strong if it is formulated through comparison. While many of these discrete messages are being transmitted through television and advertisements, they are transforming into ideals; and, just as the rural population is in search for an urban setting, the urban dwellers are looking towards Western societies for opportunity.

According to static’s result India spends so much for their TV advertisements. (See appendix 2.)
In 2002 US $718 million was spent out of US $ 37,682.
In 2003 US $848 million was spent out of US $ 44,413.
In 2004 US $ 899million was spent out of US $ 51,812.
In 2005 US $1,034 million was spent out of US $ 61,478.
In 2006 US $1,189 million was spent out of US $ 67,672.

The effects of commercialism cannot be underestimated. Today’s children are besieged by manipulative commercial messages day in and day out, on TV, and even at school. Companies hire psychologists to help them target children and manipulate them; this is called the “art of whine-making.” The bombardment of commercial messages has created a sense of chronic dissatisfaction in children and, many psychologists think that is has contributed to the increase in teen depression.

In terms of programming, television shows are either American, or Indian imitations of them.

“Programs targeted specifically at the middle class are often characterized by a hybridized language which combines Hindi and English.This mixture, termed
‘Hinglish’ by the popular media, combines Hindi and English in different
television shows” (Fernandes, 2000)

Through this very example it is evident that Westernized ideals are seeping into Indian mainstream media through the use of television. Moreover, an important shift to consider is that while English is becoming increasingly predominant, the non-English speakers are being marginalized and degraded in their own home country. Secondly, the predominance of Hindi as the main language on television weakens the diverse languages spoken in India which have contributed to its cultural heritage for centuries.

One of the most prominent examples of the hybrid of Indian and American culture is through the phenomenon of MTV and youth culture in India.

“The two main foreign-owned music television channels operating in India, News Corporation’s Channel [V] and Viacom’s MTV, have followed a market strategy of aggressive “Indianization.” This has taken the form of programs featuring Indian film
songs and music videos…” (Juluri, 2002)
Although it may hold true that television which is geared towards youth may support Indian entertainment, these channels directly model the American versions of them; therefore, enforcing a global Americanized culture upon middle-class Indian youth.

Consumerism is extremely prominent among this group due to the cultural icons represented through music videos and advertisements, along with their parent’s willingness to support such spending. This seems to hold true as a characteristic of youth culture across the globe, which raises the question of whether this global identity was created to homogenize this particular group.

Yet another concern that satellite television and its growing Western influence has brought about is the generational reformation of these viewers.

“… graduate students of classical dance and mainly Telugu Channel [V] viewers and say that they have frequently experienced discomfort (and so have their parents)because of the growing trend of obscenity in Telugu film songs (including nudity, suggestive body movements, and “double-meaning” lyrics).” (Juluri 2002)

Families were once able to enjoy programs without any discrepancy among parents and children, the ever growing influence of Western ideology that ‘sex sells’ in the media has transgressed into the Indian market, and led to reformation of the family unit, creating obvious distinctions between tastes. The new trends in television broadcasting may therefore effectively deconstruct the family unit as the Western ideals transgressing through Indian television are slowly creating gaps within the home.

Some young viewers of these provocative music videos seem to think that due to their promiscuous nature, that these television programs are also being aired in the West; (Juluri 2002) however, it is this misconception that demonstrates the young Indian’s desire to be recognized by its American counterparts. This ideal requires placing cultural regulations on the backburner, meeting and enjoying Westernized standards and masking them with an overarching Indian identity, all in a subconscious attempt to escape that very identity.

Study has shown Television viewing occupied 10.9% of an adolescent time that is about 12 hours per week. 90% of this viewing occurred at home, 73% was done with other family members including 7% with grandparents, uncles, or aunts. This indicates that TV viewing is a typical family activity.

Adolescents’ rates of viewing were correlated with mothers’ rates of viewing, with rates for both higher when mothers were unemployed. Adolescents’ TV rates were also correlated with fathers’ rates and with fathers’ type of unemployment. Study has prove, during TV viewing adolescents reported lower than average challenge, worry, and paying attention and higher than average choice, clam and relaxation. In short TV viewing of the middle class Indian youth is a relaxed antidote to the stress of the day that they share with their families.

Television has a major impact on toddlers it influences their viewing habits throughout their lives. Since toddlers have a strong preference for cartoons and other programs that have characters that move fast, there is considerable likelihood that they will be exposed to large amounts of violence. Children do not become full-fledged “viewers” until around the age of two-and-a-half. As toddlers, they begin to pay more attention to the television set when it is on. They develop a limited ability to extract meaning from television content.

At the age of eight, children are more likely to be sensitive to important moderating influences of television content, and will not become more aggressive themselves if the violence they see is portrayed as evil, as causing human suffering, or as resulting in punishment or disapproval. However, they are especially likely to show increased aggression from watching violent television if they believe the violence reflects real life, if they identify with a violent hero, or if they engage in aggressive fantasies.

One major group which television watching has effected is the age group between 5-13 years of age. Television violence is accompanied by vivid production features; preschoolers are predisposed to seek out and pay attention to violence—particularly cartoon violence. It is not the violence itself that makes the cartoons attractive to preschoolers, but the accompanying vivid production features. With this preference for cartoons, preschoolers are being exposed to a large number of violent acts in their viewing day. Moreover, they are unlikely to be able to put the violence in context, since they are likely to miss any subtlety conveyed mitigating information concerning motivation and consequences. Preschoolers behave more aggressively than usual in their play after watching any high-action exciting television content, but mostly after watching violent television.

Another important group that has faced major identity transformations, sparked by the engagement in television is women. In recent years, viewers of Indian film and television have witnessed a shift from portrayals of females as innocent and subordinate in nature, into independent sexual beings. (Malhotra, 2000) While India’s strong traditional heritage has always been significantly characterized by the traditional roles of women as homemakers and mothers, the portrayal of women on television has challenged this ideal, and therefore cultivated a new perception of womanhood for the Indian woman.

“In the 1990s, the Indian ideal of female beauty changed to become more aligned with the Western concept of ‘thin is beautiful’. This change can be unhealthy because the average female Indian body type generally includes large hips.” (Malhotra, 2000)

It is therefore evident that the increasing popularity of Western norms through television can be equated with the changing attitudes of Indian females and their bodies. The concern here is obviously the potential damage these ideals may inflict upon the health and self esteem of women exposed to such figures.

One particular article which examined the portrayal of women in Indian television states,
“Although many of the programs continued to relegate women to the role of either the glamorous host or the traditional housewife, there were many examples of non-traditional roles for women.” (Malhotra, 2000)
Whereas traditional roles are still portrayed, and certain qualities are equated with feminism, the diversity in female roles can be viewed as an indication that women now have choices to fit into those roles that appeal to them. Through television, a range of options are presented, therefore reflecting the potential flexibility of women’s lives. The concern that arises in this case is the harsh reality of Indian culture that is caught between two contradictory gender role portrayals which may either promote female independence, or discourage it altogether. It is therefore important to consider those women who desire liberation, and are held back because they don’t coincide with traditional norms and expectations.

The very concept of woman has been revolutionized by the integration of Western ideals and practices that are seeping into Indian-produced television. Conflicts are therefore surfacing which pertain to the issues of female identity. Similarly, with the recent uproar of music-based television, Indian youth culture is flourishing into an ‘Indianized’ group which depends on Western ideals to propel their tastes. This consequently, is creating drifts within the nuclear family structure, and producing a generation gap. The urban middle class, as well as rural villagers are also affected in that they now utilize commodities as a signifier of rank, and these commodities are determined by conglomerate advertising through mainstream Indian television.
Television watching and physical activity both are related to obesity. However this has been investigated mainly in children. Television viewing takes up 10.9% of an adolescent’s time (about 12 hours per week) study proves. Children get glued to the television and do not exercise. They watch one program after another with out giving them self’s a break. They do not even have half an hour to do any kind of physical activities. This finally results in obesity.

Socially, one of the greatest problems plaguing India today is the consequences of Americanization. Indian’s have eroticized the culture of America to such a degree where they do not realize that they are constantly consuming high priced merchandise at the expense of their own enriched diverse culture. The Indian economy is so motivated by the capital gain from multinationals that they often try to counterbalance the impact of the western images by enforcing radical Nationalistic themes. The growing popularity of television in all parts of India is therefore making way for a homogenized Indian culture whose cultural identity is becoming ever so fragile.

Appendix 1.

Asia Pacific Demographics
Population By Country

2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006(P)
Australia 18.8 18.8 19.5 19.7 19.9 20.3 20.7
China 1,267 1,267 1,287 1,287 1,299 1,307 1,307
Hong Kong 6.7 6.7 6.8 6.8 6.9 6.9 7.0
India 1,003 1,019 1,050 1,060 1,080 1,094 1,110
Indonesia 210 213 216 235 238 219 221.9
Japan 126.9 127.3 127.4 127.6 127.7 127.6 127.6
Malaysia 23.3 24.0 24.5 25.1 25.6 26.1 26.6
New Zealand 3.9 3.9 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.1 4.1
Philippines 76.5 77.9 79.5 84.6 86.2 84.2 84.4
Singapore 3.3 3.3 3.4 3.4 3.5 3.6 n.a.
South Korea 47.0 47.4 47.6 47.8 48.1 48.2 48.5
Taiwan 22.1 22.3 22.4 22.5 22.6 22.7 22.7
Thailand 60.5 62.9 62.8 63.1 62.0 62.4 62.4

Appendix 2.

Asia Pacific Demographics
Advertising Expenditure By Country
(US$ Million)

2002 2003 2004 2005 2006(P)
Australia 1,963 2,159 2,322 2,441 2,504
China 12,520 18,138 23,971 30,797 36,612
Hong Kong 702 766 845 900 1,019
India 718 848 899 1,034 1,189
Indonesia 864 1,208 1,436 1,810 2,145
Japan 15,172 14,989 15,838 17,080 16,426
Malaysia 249 270 352 354 368
New Zealand 339 389 423 438 461
Philippines 940 1,169 1,348 1,912 2,218
Singapore 405 422 489 453 311
South Korea 2,113 1,991 1,878 2,245 2,323
Taiwan 959 998 1,016 959 930
Thailand 738 866 995 1,055 1,166
Total 37,682 44,213 51,812 61,478 67,672


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• Juluri, Vamsee. “Music Television and the Invention of Youth Culture in India” Television & New Media, 3 (2002): 367 – 386.

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