Thursday, September 13, 2007

Television: Back to the Future

Let’s start with a statement: anyone reading this post will have watched TV. Today you may watch more or less, replace it with the Web or a DVD on your laptop, but one way or another, TV has helped shape who you are.

So here’s a thought. How do you think the millions of people who are just now joining the TV Age are impacted by it? It’s an important question because the momentum towards TV is amazing. Some estimates say the number of television sets in Asia grew from 100 million to 600 million in the last 25 years or so. For these regions, the TV adventure is just beginning and the impacts can be unexpected and, yes, wonderful. For them TV is not life’s trivial pursuits on repeat, but a window to a better world.

Now for a story - actually a whole book of stories about the lives of women in rural India and what happened when their villages got access to cable TV.

Like all good stories, this one begins with a barrier; a mountain range of barriers. It is a story about women living in rural Bihar, Goa, Haryana and Tamil Nadu, as well as in New Delhi. Women who don’t have a lot of control over their lives. Around half of them require permission from their husbands to go shopping, and two-thirds have to ask to visit friends. Sons are more highly regarded than daughters and domestic violence is often regarded as acceptable.

Emily Oster of University of Chicago and Robert Jensen of Brown University found that this very common situation shifted dramatically after the introduction of TV. Cable TV. How did TV change the lives of these women? Simply by offering them emotional connections with other worlds through soap operas. Village women were inspired by a new spirit of independence and possibility. They avidly followed the lives of urban women in shows like Because a Mother-in-Law Was Once a Daughter-in-Law – one of the most popular shows of 2007. The women they saw on screen were better educated and had fewer children. They were able to work outside their homes and have control over their own money. These were new stories to rural women, and in a very short time, attitudes, expectations and behavior began to change. Six to seven months was all it took.

These effects are huge. The academic paper is here but the out-take is clear. While TV is becoming part of an and/and world in Europe, the U.S. and other developed countries, in emerging nations its unique power is just starting to be felt. If the Indian experience is anything to go by, TV is realizing its potential as a great educator.


Susan Plunkett said...

I was standing looking at an array of British DVD's in a store last week and a young lady came and stood next to me. I turned and said: "My life is there you know. I was raised on these DVD's". We shared a laugh.

It's quite true though. The DVD's, in the main, I buy now are my childhood and in many ways a tremendous comfort.

This is fascinating research and a powerful exemplar for the field.

I wondered about examples in Westernised worlds where TV has been present and relatively available for so long and the critique leveled that both men and women can learn expectations (of the other) that are unreasonable and disservice their lives e.g. women expecting white knights or young couples believing they need to be with each other 24/7 to have a "good" relationship. Of course a similar critique is leveled say at the choice of newsreaders (never anyone overweight and rarely a much older woman). Obviously the sum is how TV (and general media) inform us about what is considered of value and 'worthy' in society.

The Oster and Jensen study spin this on its head and its a blessing they do because they give us the opportunity to reconsider the potential social relevance and value of TV from another direction.

I would be curious to know, given certain laws exist in some countries that largely allow men to abuse women, whether there was or has been any behavioural backlash towards growing independence of women (perhaps before they began to form collective support groups as I am guessing is happening) and/or if legal systems are moving in pace with societal changes emerging from the media intervention.

A topic certainly worthy of further examination.

No-one can of course doubt the tremendous impact - now globally - Bollywood has had on Indian society. I know Indian families here who have set up satellite dishes just to watch these shows.

Susan Plunkett said...

I responded without having read the article first. Interesting now that I have in the sense that my comments about the length of time TV may have been shown and shifts in influence and effect (and WHAT kind of influence) are certainly raised in the Jensen and Oster piece.

I completely agree with the authors that the early period of what is shown on TV and its resulting influence, is one of the best times to capture results and responses. Longevity studies would be excellent in this area.

I could not see their tables however, against my query about beating/abuse, it was disturbing to see - tho perhaps not altogether surprising - that some indications existed that where cable TV was present beating frequencies were higher. That said, the authors make it clear that their data showed no particularly strong pattern as such.

Reporting from women as to the justifiability of beating is also a topic of note.

missmimi said...

As with so many of the other posts, this one rang a chord in my heart.

Ironically, even though TV was nonexistent (literally) in Macau during my childhood, and then basically banned growing up in NY with the exception of a few shows (Muppets, Sesame Street, Benny Hill, Kung Fu movies with Bruce Lee, and Monty Python) I am very much a product of MTV. I say this proudly as music (of all types, really) has helped shaped my identity. Of course, this was back in the days when MTV played videos and had a terrible business model. All videos all the time and no commercials! Ahh those were the days...

One of the things that I've been taken aback by is the influence of American culture on the international level. As our (I'm American) media tends to lag internationally, so does tween mimicry of "American" behaviours.

Case in point. I now reside in London. Go to any mall type establishment in the outskirts of London and "tweens" are found hanging about in a form similar to that in the states. The difference? This kids still high five each other upon greeting. Let's just put it this way, if you're a tween in any metro area of the states (and even the suburbs), high fives are a serious mark of a loser or wanna be.

The replacement is one taken from hip-hop culture (closed fist to closed fist). Give the UK another 3-4 years and we might start seeing tweens outside of hip-hop culture greeting each other in this way.

I suspect that media has as much, if not more impact on international perceptions of the US than official foreign policy. Whilst watching some of the shows that are selected for airplay in both the UK and France, it's no surprise that Americans can come across as a very mixed message. Pious, independent, left, right, capitalistic, image concious, confused, hypocritical, consistent in being inconsistent.

As for TV + violence. This seemed to be espeically true during the LA Riots. The media report of the riots broadcasted the message that authority was severely lacking. The result? People thinking, hey, if everyone is doing it -and- there are no consequences, why not join in?

Media and the social structure...what a facinating feedback loop.


Susan Plunkett said...

missmimi. You may like to consider how far behind US shows are often played in other countries.

In Oz we are slowly catching up however we would often be 12 or sometimes even 18 months behind on show episodes so naturally behaviours will show the lag you refer to.

Kempton said...

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for the link to Emily Oster's article.

Oster is one of the young and smart economist at U. of Chicago (first heard of her from the NYT). This is off-topic but I just want to share this interesting talk Oster gave at TED, "What do we really know about the spread of AIDS?"


Josephine said...

DEEP, magic, creating, dreams, tv, women, technology and connections that lead full circle...

Good Morning Kevin,

I know this is an old post but wanted to write some thoughts, so please allow me to write a really, really long post, I’d appreciate the opportunity.

This post you made on tv is very close in themes to the post straight after on women and technology.

Personally I've always had a bit of a strange relationship with tv. I love watching old movies and at various times in my life the tv has been my flat mate, the family entertainer, the bringer of wisdom and inspiration (programmes like Tribe with Bruce Parry) or the bringer of messages, information and sometimes misinformation (news etc).

I have noticed that my relationship with tv has changed as I have increasingly engaged with the internet to provide me with the same things that I used to get from tv.

My conclusions-like the women in India, I am learning that be it tv or internet, we get from the experience what we allow and what we are open to.

I felt a bit sentimental and nostalgic listening to your description of the women. They were finding out that there is more to their perception of life than they ever dreamed, that with practice and inspiration these women can get a handle on all the things that they have always regarded or been socialised to believe was in the domain of men-even though I suspect that they probably always knew that the picture didn't "feel right".

I think of all the great women I dreamt about growing up, I first experienced many of them through tv and then I went on to read about them-Cleopatra (from the movie with Elizabeth Taylor) led me to “attempt” to read through William Shakespeare’s version- Ididn’t make it through the play but the movie made a huge impact.

We often hear people debating about the amount of time young people spend watching tv or are increasingly online and I have noticed that there is a concern among many adults about what this means in terms of young people becoming isolated and not engaging in simply living and enjoying life-

There is also the flip side, the positive side, we are seeing a higher quality of program on tv (the recent series here in the UK: ROME, THe Tudors, Jane Eyre) have all made me stop whatever I was doing to go and just watch, enjoy and be captivated.

The internet can also be incredible. Use of the internet safely and wisely can bring us into connection with a huge amount of information and we can engage with lots of people world wide. Through the internet I have learnt lots from people from a wide variety of social backgrounds and experience.

I have also learnt lots about some of the people that I often see on tv, I have seen the things about them via the internet that are not shown on the tv. For example this week, I learnt about an organisation called the Jo-In Organisation. Some of the Uks favorite lovemarks have leant their support and their will to codes of conduct and best practice. This is so wonderful. I thought why don’t we see all this on the evening news? I want everyone to know about this organisation. The public needs to see a balanced view and they need to know that success often = philanthropy, wisdom, giving back, making a difference, enjoying work and making people like me smile because we are being the gift of role models and mentors that we never expected to find, we are made humble and are full of gratitude.

For someone like myself just starting out in business I find myself currently walking on air. I love everybody. I am so excited I just want to give everyone in business a big squeeze just because. To live in a country where business strives to do good and where CEOs express their love to not only their staff but to those who produce for them is truly inspirational and I for one embrace the internet for giving me the opportunity to learn.

Looking to the future and the whole idea behind Sisomo, screens will be what we choose to make of them and so will what we learn and absorb from them.

I have made an agreement with myself to understand and define and embrace technology as a unique form of human creative evolution and to absorb only the best of it.

Lastly-on Andy’s blog he talked about the University lecturer who discovered he has cancer and who talked about fulfilling his childhood dreams. Only the internet could have connected me to Andy who then connected me to the video on google. Randy Pausch made me laugh so much, he made me so happy and that is a gift that is so special that words can’t articulate that, so via this medium I return these beautiful feelings to Mr Pausch and I will take his words on board as an expression of sincere love and authenticity.

Mr Pausch says to always bring something to the table….I make incredible cupcakes…you will also receive creativity that comes from some place so wonderful and happy that your clients will feel it and so will their customers, everything created by Jo comes with white light and is touched with pure magic…the desire to learn, to do well, to give back, to make a difference, to create dreams to make you catch your breath, to strive to be impeccable with my word, to not take things personally, to not make assumptions but to speak openly and to ask questions when I have need to, to strive always to do and give my best…

So KR, Mr, General. This is my dream so therefore I am creating it as I want to and nobody is allowed to interrupt it…ahem…. This feels right. Perfectly. Completely Right. So I am sending some powerful word magic to dance in front of your eyes…you turn your head from one side as they drift from the screen and start doing a little bit of a floaty dance thing…MR ROBERTS GISSA A JOB….. You will smile, you will tell Ro and she will smile and you will tell Jim and his wife and they will smile and then you’ll get this vibe from every single business person in the UK and the USA and all the college students and interns who still believe in the bohemian spirit of childhood and all of them will be saying to you,…MR ROBERTS GIVE JO A CHANCE…then they’ll go on to elaborate and you’ll have to push your chair back because the words are flying around the room… KR you just have to have this kid on your team, there is nobody else quite like her, she’s a bit out there but hey it’s all creative.

In my dream I am in NYC at Saatchi and Saatchi and I am the best coffee maker, tea-maker, errand girl, bringer of the New York Post, Can I help you Mr Isherwood, Can I help you out Mrs Baglivo…the lady on reception needs a mocha? Ok coming up….and then one day, just one day someone says, hey Jo, come over here, would you like to learn about an ideas company…?

Thank for the opportunity

Josephine Fayxx

Kevin Roberts said...

Jo - it all starts with a dream!!