Will the Real Housewives, please stand up?
Early February 2020 | New Delhi: Turning the volume knob anticlockwise, I hushed Ariana Grande on the music system of my car. With my toes tucked snugly in my Nike joyrides, my head swam in the glow of my iOS twitter app that had been roaring all day, like half of India. There were six words on WhatsApp from ma Maman, that read, “All okay here. Text when home.” I glanced at my windscreen, half-heartedly relieved.
2020 has been a bully. Since January, my relatively unanimated life has been plunged into the deep end of a violent survival film. Growth is often painful, but the plot that has been unfolding before my eyes got me horrified, frozen to even as much as blink. Perhaps, it is not the brutality, but the grotesque incoherence of this plot which makes it impossible to comprehend, follow, or believe.
“Been through some bad shit, I should be a sad bitch
Who woulda thought it’d turn me to a savage?”
Traversing the five stages of grief in a month, I came to understand that if I were to retain my nationality, I were to produce birth certificates of my paternal and maternal great-grandparents and draw up a parliamentarian version of Punnett’s matrix. If I am unable to do that, I would become an illegal immigrant; and everything that I have ever known in my life to be mine will be forfeited by law. From between the pages of a lost chronicle, Offred from the Republic of Gilead peered at Shalini in Aryavarta. Women always survive.
I have seen pictures of pellet victims in Kashmir. I know Syria is a real place, with real people. I had learned of rape in school; I know poverty is discriminating against gender. I thought I was educated until the foundation of my privilege began to shake. I felt like flesh and blood, going to bones in the dust. And nothing else.
I saw the endless stream of protests and processions; arrests being made; people being lynched; internet being blacked out. Panic percolated into food and clothing. My former colleagues in the media were lashing out on-air; my friends on social media were attacking the most innocent statements. Riots. Slaughter. Hindu. Muslim. Every day, the sun would look saffron, and every night, I lay awake facing the dark side of the moon.
“Whoever said money can’t solve your problems
Must not have had enough money to solve ‘em
They say, ‘Which one?’ I say, ‘Nah, I want all of ‘em!’
Happiness is the same price as red bottoms”
It was in sheer darkness that my eye caught the glimmer of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Cut to April 2020 | New Delhi: I loved the holographic extensions in Adrienne Maloof’s golden hair. I was excited to see her buy a $40,000 HydraFacial machine for a spa day at her Beverly Hills mansion.
It was amusing to watch Camille Grammer receive a life-lesson by her retreat planner on how the 2nd pool in Hawaii didn’t need heating because Kelsey would not be there. I admired her poise at the 64th Tony’s in that earth-shattering red dress in misty New York, all in the middle of a fairy-tale divorce.
“My smile is beamin’, my skin is gleamin’
The way it shine, I know you’ve seen it
I bought a crib just for the closet
Both his and hers, I want it, I got it”
In the meantime, COVID, like a chameleon, taking on the communal color. Fake videos, twitter trends. The mid-east sacking Indians for slandering Islam. The plan was to hang out with the Real Housewives for as long as it felt good, and then return to my 20 rupees parking fee negotiations until the day my nation decided my nationality. It was brutal. And freeing, all at the same time. When you’re awake a limbo, what else is there to do than to wait and watch?
Nothing old, nothing new.
Since April 2020, I have walked out on every religious-politics conversation, even at the risk of seeming rude, detached or vain; I have meditated for ten minutes every day; I have made it a point to eat at least one fruit and drink four bottles of water daily; vitamins and magnesium supplements are kept on my bedside. To reward me for this recovery, I have already surfed the menu of Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurant. I will be ordering a Crispy Calamari ($15) a Hamptons Salad ($26) and a dry martini if I ever set foot in Villa Blanca.
American Reality TV has saved my brain from a potential Indian reality burnout. It gave me a hard reset — the one that comes by long-pressing the turn on/off button on your computer. Switching screens between the twitter trolls and prime-time news debates, I seemed to have lost the appetite for reality. It was like drinking room-temperature soda.
Watching mainstream Indian News was like navigating Macbeth with a magnifying glass — or dwelling on every single line during a breakup argument — it was utterly pointless, disappointing, and exhausting all the same.
I would have rather repurposed eggshells and created a peacock throne for my foot-tapping house-lizard. That is when the bigger narrative of Television content occurred to me.
“Look at my neck, look at my jet
Ain’t got enough money to pay me respect”
The similarity between American Reality TV and Indian News Channels is both run on sensationalism and advertising. The difference between Reality TV and Mainstream Indian News is in storytelling, and it is this — Reality TV runs on a fictionalization of reality; Indian News Channels thrive on the realization of fiction. Read that again.
American Reality TV uses storytelling to make reality appear like fiction. It runs on the script which is inspired by the life of a real person and aims to chisels out their character, making the journey of their discovery entertaining and admirable. Kyle Richards is a real person with married to a handsome Jewish realtor, Mauricio Umansky with whom she has raised four daughters.
Indian News Channels, on the other hand, run on verified or unverified news-sources, ie, on other scripts, which are forced-fit on real-life. The emphasis is on editing in or editing out to reinforce an ongoing narrative. I’d save my words and not give any examples here.
While Reality TV winks at the viewer with a flirtatious “Wow! I didn’t see that coming”, Indian Mainstream News screams a bourgeois “I told you so!”
The bottom line is Storytelling shapes content into Reality TV or Mainstream News. As content consumption patterns merge with social media, stories are being shaped by a feedback loop, which by the way, will only get stronger and faster.
The democratization of storytelling is underway.
In the next couple of years, you and I will get to decide what the story is, who is telling it, and how it is being told. The truth is people have never held so much power in their hands. Power is overwhelming, sometimes dangerous. As a species, we are in denial about the power that technology has promised us — we’re either too complacent or too busy to realize it. As technology merges with our lives, we will be told what we want to hear and be shown what we want to see.
It is purely demand and supply, except, reality will be watching us sitting on the couch with our voice-controlled VR headsets.
“My wrist, stop watchin’, my neck is flossy
Make big deposits, my gloss is poppin’
You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it
I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it
I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it”