'Movies, T.V. and Society' - Live Dialogue

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Yusuf Progler

Jumada' al-Akhirah 03, 1423 2002-08-12

by Yusuf Progler

Session Details

Guest Name

Dr. Yusuf Progler

Profession

Professor

Subject

Movies, T.V. and Society.

Date

Monday,Aug 12 ,2002

Time

Makkah
From... 19:00...To... 20:30
GMT
From... 16:00...To...17:30

Name

Host. -

Profession

Question

Please join us for our next live dialogue with Dr. Progler this Wednesday at 15:30 GMT. The topic will be Boycotts and Consumerism in the Age of Globalization.

Answer

.

Name

Iqbal - United Kingdom

Profession

Question

How has TV changed the character of Modern society?

Answer

Salam and thanks for the great question. At the core of understanding this deceptively simple question is the relationship between television and consumerism. TV has provided a way for people to consume images and ideas that the ordinary person would not have access to in the course of a typical life. However, while this might sound like a benefit -- and we are constantly reminded of this alleged benefit by the industries themselves -- TV is not simply about seeing new things. It is primarily about selling. TV evolved hand in hand with consumerism, first in its birthplace in America in the mid 20th century, but increasingly on a global scale. So, one aspect of an answer is that TV has spread the ethos of consumerism around the globe. It has also spread a more insidious form of consumerism, voyeurism, in the way it reveals what used to be private aspects of human life for public view, although the public nature of this voyeurism is obscured by the illusion of individuality when we watch TV alone or in small groups of people in our homes. So TV has normalized consumerism and voyeurism, and in turn these cultural preferences encourage by TV fold back over the medium itself, so there is a give an take between TV and society. The TV industries monitor this by sophisticated marketing surveys to tailor programs to what they perceive as the interests of consumer-viewers. Most people don't know it, but their viewing habits are carefully monitored and the TV industries have created what they call "audiences" which are really market segments to buy and sell in the global marketplace just like any commodity. So although think you are sitting home watching the boob tube, it is also, in a sense, watching you, and your viewing habits are turned into profits. At the very least, people should be paid for this!! This is only one aspect of the issue. TV, in a more cosmological sense, has created a weird world of what some have called hyper reality, that the reality of TV and things like movies, is more real than reality. This goes hand in hand with another feature of the TV society, the appearance of what some have termed the "simulacra," that being a copy without an original. Because the images we see on TV and in movies look real, our minds are fooled --unless we constantly remind ourselves it is not really, which ruins the viewing experience. Our minds are fooled into living in a world with no place limits, no time limits, no limits of any sort, really. A world where long dead people still make us laugh, where we are disappointed when we meet an aging actor who does not look like their TV image we watched for 20 years, a world where people sit transfixed in front of what is essentially a box emanating colored lights, at the expense of living in the reality around us. While there is more to say about this question, the two main points I tried to make here is that TV creates a consumer society and that it creates a society of people detached from reality.

Name

Fatima -

Profession

Question

Muslims' culture rarely allow learning about sex before marriage but young muslims watch Western movies to learn about it. Of course learning Western behaviours that is far from Islamic rules and ethics can bring deviation to muslim societies. How should muslims think of this problem and fight it?

Answer

Interesting question, thanks. This overlaps my earlier answer about TV creating a society of consumerism, and, more pathologically, voyeurs. Sex is an intimate relation between two people, yet TV and movies have turned this into a public spectacle. Many people see their first intimations of a sexual encounter on TV or in movies. But it has to be understood that, in addition to the moral issues at stake, that this images intrude on reality, create a reality larger than reality, a hyper reality, and create expectations that can never be met by mere reality, expectations of beauty, success, passion. All of these profoundly human issues have been turned into cheap images by the Western entertainment industries. These industries have two goals. First, to make money, and second to convert more people into voyeuristic consumers in the hopes of making even more money. But your question raises many issues. For instance, talking about sexuality used to be something negotiated by people in the context of their own culture, family, community and society. However, TV and movies have intervened and forced this discussion to take place whether people are willing or able to engage it. In one sense, this is intrusive, but in another sense it requires a new way to relate to these seemingly private issues, since, short of burning all the TVs and VCRs and PCs, these images are out there, so it is also a challenge to Muslim society to find ways to deal with those images with a certain degree of sophistication. I think this is a huge task, beyond what I can answer in a few minutes time, but I certainly would like to work with any Muslims who are interested in developing responses and deepening our understanding of this important point.

Name

Ali - Egypt

Profession

Student

Question

Dear professor, Western movies are so popular around the world and we can see how movies change culture and society. What we as Muslims can do to decrease their impressions on our societies?

Answer

That is the crux of the issue, isn't it? But the question can be phrased in a different way. We can also ask, "What has happened to Muslim society that makes sitting in front of a light emanating box instead of interacting with human beings seem like fun?" I think it is dangerous to imply a one way cause and effect relationship with movies and society. It is not that simple. People would not consume American movies unless they are somehow already lacking in some basic components of healthy human relationships. So, the bigger question is what has happened to us, to our cultures, to our forms of entertainment and other activities that encourage us to consume those things from the market, from the Western culture industries. Not to sound defeatist, but the reality it is, on some level, that you can do nothing. These culture industries are run by powerful interests that involve the highest levels of business and government, and there is little the average consumer can do to effect change on that level, except to stop watching and stop consuming. If Muslims could learn to become producers of culture, rather than consumers, then the problem will be seen as one relating to broader issues beyond just the "effect" of movies on society. Why have we become consumers? Islamic civilization used to be productive, now it is consumptive. What happened? We need, first and foremost, a more sophisticated diagnosis that links TV and movies to this broader issue of production/ consumption. It is not enough to tell the youth don't watch movies, if you cannot provide something else for them to do. What will they do? Play video games? Surf the net? See the extent of the problem? There have to be multiple solutions, or let us call them strategies, to address this problem. One is to encourage the local, authentic culture, especially those activities that involve face to face human interaction. But if we must watch movie and TV, let us raise our standards a bit, and toward that end I would say we should encourage the kind of movie production coming out of Iran, or the sort of TV production emanating from Syria. While not all of what they do is going to solve this problem, they are providing alternatives to the Western culture industries.

Name

hamidulla -

Profession

Question

can education be given to girls by non mehram men ,when board writing is involved.

Answer

Seems like the wrong forum for this question, but let me make a few comments in the context of our present concern with TV and movies. It is an excellent way to centralize the non-reality of TV that I tried to stress in another answer. In face to face human reactions, we can have norms of interaction involving men and women and for that you can look to the fatwa section and get an opinion. But for our purposes, is TV a muhram. Think about it. TV and movies reveal things to people that are either never experienced in life, or rarely, or it reveals things that are only experience during intimate private moments. One would think that part of the issue of muhram is provide for chastity, yet TV and movies, because they are not "real people" in the room with us, seem exempt according to some ways of looking at this issue. I submit that TV and movies, to go back to another earlier question, have challenged our fundamental categories that used to be easily addressed from the Shari’ah, to the point that the terms have changed, the reference points are different. This may not answer the question of "board writing" but I hope gives you something to think about.

Name

Umar - United States

Profession

Question

Assalamu alaikum,

As we all know, the past 10-15 years has shown the rapid rise of sex and nudity on TV. Now more than ever, women are dressing with less and less clothes and shows with homosexual stars are becoming the norm. Even by watching a simple basketball game, you have to worry about the commercials that come on.

I worry about how to protect muslim children from these things. Is it just easier to throw away you TV. or is there another way?

Answer

You cannot protect children from something that is as pervasive and intrusive as TV and advertising, and that is the tragedy of what amounts to a large scale cultural incursion into our societies. I would say people should watch less TV and movies first of all, not just on moral grounds, but on the grounds of what I have been discussing: consumerism, voyeurism and hyper reality. In terms of creating consumers out of children, even "clean" shows like Sesame Street are guilty. In fact, contrary to what many parents think, American "educational" TV shows like Sesame Street teach children two main things: how to watch TV and how to become consumers. Once they get older, their tastes may involve, let us say, more adult content, but the cultural practices have been instilled since early childhood. This is a vote against the usual parental strategy of limiting children to watching things like Barney or Sesame, or their recent Third World clones, since, in the context of really understanding the impact of TV on society, these programs are as much a part of the problem as the immoral type programming you are lamenting. And you don't have to go to the West for this. In fact, if you have the satellite you can see old Egyptian movies from the 1960s that reveal as much skin as their American counterparts. So a bigger question is, what has happened to our societies that we have turned the female form into something to be consumed, and how have we allowed ourselves to become voyeurs of such images? There is always the simple answer of using the remote to flip channels, and there is talk of developing a chip for digital TVs that can filter out commercial messages (something which the industry is fighting hard). Regarding throwing away the TV, it is not to far of a stretch. In fact, despite its pervasiveness around the world, millions of people are voluntarily turning off their TVs. In fact, and this is somewhat ironic, there is a movement emanating out of the US, which involves family organizations, churches and schools, that promotes "TV Turnoff Week" during the last week of April. It has been going on for about seven or eight years, and I have done it with my students as a way to reflect on the content of TV but also on the absence of TV, what we can do with out it. I think Muslims can start with these kinds of activities, as a heuristic device to get the discussions going, the bigger discussion of the role of TV and movies in society and what a post-TV society might look like.

Name

Maryem -

Profession

Question

I am not sure to what extent you are familier with the concept of info-tainement where all information presented has to be done in an entertaining way to get the message across to people. Many have attributed this phenomanan to Television and have said that this is cheapning the value of knowledge and information.

But what line do we draw in attemting to make oureducational or cultural experiance fun with out necessarily falling into this trap.

Answer

Great question, thank you very much. You must be a teacher! The phenomenon of infotainment has radically altered the expectations of children in terms of schooling. It has been an ongoing discussion among teachers, how TV has shortened attention spans and created an obsolescence of things like lectures and discussion in classrooms, which are replaced by gimmicks and games. It is a tragedy in one sense, but that fact that many people recognize this is cause for some hope. But I don't think TV is cheapening the value of knowledge and information. What TV does is create the terms of the relationship within which knowledge and information are exchanged. One can see schools now struggling with this. It used to be that schools were like factories, dreary, gray places of regimentation, uniformity and conformity. But now they are becoming places of "fun." So instead of the gray paint on the walls of a classroom, we can now find Disney characters. But is that really an improvement? It used to be that students respected teachers, but now, in the name of fun, students control teachers. Perhaps we need to reframe the entire discussion, that the issue is not replacing gray schools with pink ones, but that we should rethink the whole prospectus of schooling, the whole idea of keeping children cooped up in cages for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, 10 months a year, 12-15 years of life. Fun or not, that seems like the giant elephant on the table that nobody is noticing. But to return to your point, I think you draw our attention an important factor, that TV and movies have created a society that is addicted to "fun" but at the same time, the sense of what is fun and what is boring is also being defined by the same industries that provide us with the fun solutions to boring lives. It is a vicious circle that needs to be escaped, and involves redefining the terms of the debate, seeing issues in a new way. Why have we let the culture industries of the West, through TV and movies, defined for us the meaning of "fun"? What did people do for "fun" before these industries took it over?

Name

Malikah - United States

Profession

Question

In Neil Posman's book Entertaining our selves to Death, he advances the theory that Television has changed American society from a literary one( and all of the qualities that come with it such as anaylytcal reasoning and the ability to be more critical) to a visual one where only things in simple pictures and slogans can appeal to us. This being the case he argues that Modern American society is less rational and mature then previous generations. How do you feel about this argument and what comments to you have about it.

Answer

Thanks for this question, it seems like the last one, so let me say first of all thank you to everyone and invite you all to continue these discussions. Regarding Neil Postman, I used to read all his books and I agree with many of the things he has put forth. Yes, TV has moved the West from text based society to an image based society, and this has had a profound effect on cognition and understanding. I am less certain about the applicability to of this thesis to other societies that have not followed the same trajectory as the West. Many societies are oral based, rather than text based, and others are a combination of orality and literacy. Muslim society is a good instance, think about the relationship between orality and literacy in Islamic history, the hadith "literature" as a case in point. I think orality, literacy, text and images are part of a healthy society, and the question is to what degree are these determined by local conditions rather than distant institutions. For example, TV fulfills a major componenent of all societies, the practice of storytelling. Before TV, and without books, people used to tell each other stories. This is outside the literary/visual dichotomy that some scholars have created around the issue. How is it that we have turned over the primary role of storytelling to the entertainment industries? Instead of telling each other stories, which is what humans have done since time immemorial, with or without books, we now sit passively and let Hollywood or some other institution tell us stories. And, because these institutions are market oriented, it is their interest if everyone consumes the same kinds of stories. So I think your question is excellent for helping us to think about not only text/image shifts in humanity, but the large issue of who gets to tell the stories. Regarding Postman's idea of rationality and maturity, I think he is holding onto many modernist assumptions of the West that get bound up with the Great Books phenomenon, a sort of pining for they days gone by where ever one read Shakespeare or the classics. But this is not necessarily applicable outside the weird West, and it is also in many ways a moot point, since the shift has occurred, according to the discourse, from text to image, just like it occurred from orality to literacy, which McLuhan spelled out before Postman picked it up. It is possible to say that Americans are more mature in terms of their visual sensibilities today than their grandparents, so, in other words, using worlds like rationality and maturing are imposing foregone conclusions on the discussion. Postman is useful to a certain extent, and I encourage people to read his books, like the one you mentioned, especially those people living in the US and, to a lesser extent, Europe. But in then end these arguments are culture bound and on some level are part of the same producer/consumer issue I have been stressing. Let me stop here, but invite you to the next session, on Wednesday, where we will have an opportunity, inshallah, to discuss consumerism in the age of globalization. Thanks for all the great questions and may Allah be with you.

Name

Shima -

Profession

Question

TV and movie were born in the West sulture and have many featurs of that culture that is borrowed by other parts of the world. I wonder if Muslim film-makers can creat a special model in their TV and movie according to their religion. Some say that technology has its own culture and we cannot change it. What is your idea in this regard?

Answer

One more for the road, as they say! Good question, and it places our discussion in a larger context, that of technology and society. I think, first and foremost, that technology definately is NOT value free, as some may believe. All technology embodies some sort of cultural assumption, and all technologies have profound, and often unanticipated cultural and social repercussions. So you are on the right track to really understanding this issue, that the problem is not just the content of TV and movies, but that the form is a factor as well. The form involves technological issues, like the medium TV versus the PC, and it also involves formalities of presentation, conventions of storytelling in a particular medium. So we have three areas to consider here: 1) the actual content of a movie or program, the stories that are told, 2) the formalities of storytelling utilized in that medium, how the stories are told, their sequence, progression and parameters, and 3) the overarching messages of the form of technology used to tell the stories. All of these are culture bound and culture can intervene at all levels. Obviously, one way to intervene is to gain control of the stories we tell ourselves, and toward this end, as I mentioned earlier, there are some worthwhile efforts afoot in Iran and Syria, and some other places, there the stories are being reshaped from the Western conventions. Regarding the formalities of storytelling, this two has some place of intervention. Let me give one example but comparing two Arabic language satellite TV stations. Both feature "talk shows" with guests discussing the issues of the day. One channel has adopted the American convention of framing the stories in terms of a sort of rude argument, to the point that guests are encouraged to interrupt each other and get emotional and even yell and scream. The other channel eschews this American convention, and allows each speaker to finish their point in a more polite discussion format. The first channel has adopted the conventions of American TV programs like Oprah, which sacrifice content in the interest of ratings, and the second channel has constructed its own way of dealing with live discussions. This is a good example of the issue I am trying to emphasize here, the importance of the form of storytelling in addition to the content of the story. The argumentative, American style approach might be entertaining and exciting to watch, like a football game, but it suffers when it comes to understanding the issues. Viewers are left with an impression, not an understanding. Anyway, on the third level, that of technology and how this embodies culture, that is a fairly sophisticated argument to make, and I would draw those who are interested in this to the important book by David F. Noble "The Religion of Technology." In short, his argument, and it is very well documented, he is a superb historian, his argument is that Western technologies, from computers to space launches, embody Western cultural assumptions about cosmology, divinity, epistemology and methodology. He makes a convincing case that there the Western technologies embody the beliefs of the a form of Western Christianity known as "millenarianism" which sees technology in terms of the redemption of humanity, not through prayer or living the good life, as the great religions teach, but through technics, with scientists being the new priesthood. This book should be the starting point for understanding the basic issue of how technology (and science) are non-neutral, non-value free and that in their present day modernist form they embody the deepest cultural assumptions of Western civilization. Anyway, time is gone and we should move on. Thanks again for all the great questions, and I welcome further discussion via email. Best wishes.

Courtesy: www.islamonline.net

Privacy Policy  |  Terms of Use
Copyrights © 1436 AH
Sign In
 
Forgot Password?
 
Not a Member? Subscribe

Loading...