Media scholars fiercely debate the cultural onslaught of West on the other parts of the world. World over people watch Hollywood movies, American sitcoms, listen to English songs, etc. It has created an elite mass in developing countries which resembles more to the West than their own country.
If we think about India, the picture is not any different. India has a sizeable chunk of English-knowing population. This population is exposed to Western culture through media all the time. According to scholars, this has led to cultural imperialism. People are adopting western ways of living, western values, western mannerisms. Loss of indigenous culture is not a good thing in the long run. This also leads to an inferiority complex about one’s own culture.
But when people in India discuss cultural imperialism, they conveniently forget the imperialism that is prevalent in our own country, the imperialism by urban India on rural India.
In rural India, television is the most dominant media. Other medias pale in its comparison. Internet has just reached there. Movie theatres are a rare sight. No one listens to radio due to lack of FM stations and dominance of TV. And there is no legacy of reading habits among rural folks, which makes print a struggling media.
But television has captured the imagination of everyone. There are more television homes in villages than in urban India. You will see women and girls (most of the times men too) glued to the TV, watching saans-bahu serials in prime-time. They know the plots of each serial that is on air.
I always wonder what magic these serials have which makes them so popular. But that is besides the point. The point is the culture depicted in these serials is way different from the culture of villagers watching them. The difference is comparable to the American TV and India. Even if the serial is in say Marathi, the language is way different from how the villagers speak. In the Zee Marathi serial ‘Eka Lagnachi Dusari Goshta’, the language is so urban (with English words littered all around) that many rural people will find it incomprehensible. The central theme of the serial is ‘relationships’, which they will find hard to connect with. The houses shown in the serials are so posh and spacious that they seem like palaces to them. The women must be envious of the comforts and the societal mobilisation enjoyed by the women in the serials.
Even though rural India is a major audience for TV channels, serials set in villages will hardly find a place on TV. There are two main reasons for this. The first reason is that the serials with urban story-lines are doing as good in villages as in cities. This can be attributed to the rural India’s aspirational mindset as well as the general curiosity to get acquainted with the elite culture. Hence, producers find no need to change the status quo.
The second and more important reason is the ethnocentrism. The people at the helm are all from urban middle and higher class. They are not aware about rural realities. They have not seen that culture. If we contrast Marathi serials with Marathi literature, this becomes clear. Marathi literature is full of story-lines which are from rural heartlands. That is because they are written by the authors who have lived there. This is also true of Marathi cinema to an extent. The movies such as Tingya are a proof of that.
I will not call imposition of urban culture on rural milieu through media as cultural imperialism. I don’t know if it is right or wrong. But there certainly is a need to be aware of this.