In praise of Idiot Box

In praise of Idiot Box

Scottish inventor John Logie Baird (1888-1946) gave the first public demonstration of televised image in motion at a department store in London. Recorded information on a) When was the first television sold, b) When was the first colour television device sold and c) When was television first used in homes, may not interest anyone barring a small number of viewers among the nearly one billion people across the country. However, the path taken by cinema, the senior cohort of television in the world of entertainment, has and continues to hog name and fame for itself, given the glitz and glamour through the star performers on the big screen. Words cannot fully bestow accolades to the ubiquitous device and its inventor for saving people the hassles of taking position in the queues before the ticket counters of cinema halls and get closeted in ill-ventilated theatres. Moreover, no measure taken by governments has contributed towards reaching the goal of inclusive society comparable to television, given its presence not only in posh residences of cities but also in the huts of villages and even slums.

Cinema, mostly because of what is being dished out in our times, may be facing the charge of causing the old image of society. Television, for no fault of the invention that took birth without any preconceived objective — good, bad or indifferent — has the ignominy of being called “Idiot Box.” It is not necessary to elaborate to whom the adjective idiot applies, certainly not to the box.

If any technology emerges with one or the other utility offering a multitude of advantages such as savings in resources, greater convenience in various activities of daily life such as cooking, commuting, communicating and so on, and subsequently results in some undesirable fallout such as its over-exploitation, unrewarding engagement such as with the television to pass time and so on, it is unfair to point the accusing finger at the technology as well as the product its legitimate child. In this regard, bestowing the Idiot Box badge to the small screen, forgetting its many positives, is undoubtedly uncalled for and also unfair. The example of not exercising care in the use of a knife and holding it responsible for hurting should be clinching.

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The point of television contributing to transforming the society into an inclusive entity, made earlier in this column, should not cloud the fact that India’s TV industry is reportedly worth 660 billion rupees. Add to this, its role in generating employment to millions of both skilled and unskilled Indians. The idiot box has done its job and let us give due credit to the devise and its inventor.

May 3, 2018

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