With the age bar in entertainment getting lower every day, is reality TV going too far?
One hot Tuesday afternoon saw me on the couch switching channels on TV. As someone who loves to cook, I was drawn to a show which seemed to feature midgets clanking about in specially designed kitchens, in the process of making a bewildering mix of gourmet delicacies.
Fifteen minutes of mouth watering and I found out that the show was called Junior Masterchef Australia, and the midgets were children between the ages of 9-12. Pierre Khoury, a 12-year-old, presented his perfectly rendered herb crusted lamb cutlets to the judges, and couldn’t take it anymore. Children on reality TV are almost commonplace today. These shows provide a respite from the melodrama and conniving in-laws that have taken over entertainment TV. There is something refreshing in being pleasantly surprised by a 10-year- old’s vocal skill.
“These shows equally encourage children from all backgrounds. They also provide huge financial support,” says Priyanka Bangari, who occasionally watches talent shows. For a skilled little girl from an obscure village, a talent hunt is the ticket out of poverty and illiteracy. Additionally, the winner of shows like Paadutha Theeyaga is assured a good entry into the music industry. Oh yes, there should be more of these around.
Then there’s the other kind. I’m baffled by the almost perverse pleasure people seem to take in watching children reduced to wearing scraps of ill-designed cloth, slaving it off while attempting a Shakira on so-called dance shows. With the age bar in entertainment stooping getting every day, I cannot help but wonder if the public is yet to learn where to draw the line. You want to see your kid on TV producing technique driven gastronomical delights? Fine. Would obscene dance shows fall under the same category, now? Or one in which children are made to parade in swimsuits to win a beauty pageant? How about Pati, Patni aur Woh on NDTV Imagine in which potential celebrity couples had to learn the ideal way of handling children using borrowed infants?
Morality is just one part of the story. Are eight-year-olds truly ready for a career? Specifically one which takes competition to a different level? “That was not your best. You need to live up to expectations,” may seem like constructive criticism to a 20-year -old participant. How will an eight year old read into it? Didn’t they like me? But I worked so hard! My mother will be so angry with me! With the pressure mounting like mercury the child could be scarred for life by a bad experience on set.
And then there’s the money. What could `1 lakh mean to a ten-year-old? Is it what the child wants or is it what the parents want? At such a tender age, decision making is definitely not one of their strengths. Children are also emotionally just developing. Rejection is not something they have not yet learned to handle.
“Personally, I think they encourage creativity. I would let my child participate in such a programme if it was a talent show which did not compromise her academics. However, I wouldn’t let her continue if the pressure becomes too high,” says Deepa Menon, a parent. However, it seems psychological well being is not the only thing affected. “It damages not only mental health, but also has physical repercussions. Of late, I’ve come across many girls developing fibroids when they’re as young as eleven,” says Veeraja Rao, a clinical psychologist. Occurrence of fibroids, a kind of uterine tumours, has a direct correlation with hypertension.
“All TV channels should set a benchmark for what is acceptable,” Veeraja says. “If a child displays vulgarity in her dance moves, her score should be cut down accordingly.” The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) recently drew up some guidelines concerning the issue. According to them, a child can only participate in one TV show at a time and not work for more than one shift every day, with a break every hour. Children now cannot shoot on weekdays, but preferably on holidays or during vacation so that they do not miss school. And it’s now mandatory for one of the parents or a guardian to be present with participant all the time during the shoot. As of now, the rules seem to have made little difference. “Ultimately, it is everyone’s responsibility. We cannot point to the media or parents alone, because it the general public that views these shows,” points out Veeraja.