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      Volume 10 |Issue 45 | December 01, 2011 |


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The Urge to See Thyself

Aasha Mehreen Amin

Whether we admit it or not, it is a given fact that everyone fantasises about being on telly. There is something quite thrilling if not morbidly fascinating to see what we look like on screen; definitely a lot more intense than looking at the mirror.

People, in fact, become celebrities, not necessarily for their looks (which may not be that good) but just by the sheer number of times they have been viewed. It is even possible that the reasons why some politicians attain celebrity status is not just because of the public gaffs they make but because their faces keep appearing in the news and talk shows. Blood drives and relief fund programmes are so successful, say the cynics, because they are televised.

There is, of course, nothing to be said of artistes whose job is to show themselves on TV hence a little bit of vanity is allowed, to say the least.

But there is a whole population out there who would do anything for those few seconds of fame on the screen.

Remember those old films where an intense romantic scene is being played out, say at Shishu Park and behind them an assorted mostly-adult crowd sitting on the walls or friend's shoulders gaping right into the camera? The problem is, according to the directors of films and TV serials, the public just won't budge, not even if you pay them. The only solution is to just make them part of the shoot.

But let's forget about films. Just think about TV news or a special coverage on, say, a political rally that could change the course of national politics. The political leader is screaming herself hoarse extolling the unimaginable benefits their party has bestowed on the people, while trashing the rival party leader who has done nothing but taken the country to doom. You would think when the camera focuses on the loyal supporters they would be seen glued to the podium in rapt awe. But as soon as they sense the camera is on them something bizarre happens. They completely ignore the profound words of the honourable dignitary: "We have brought power, gas, unprecedented development, to your region and they took away gas and power and looted all the state funds..."

Showing victory signs is old news. Now they just start jumping up and down and frantically wave at their moms watching at home. You can feel the camera person's embarrassment as the focus abruptly shifts to something less ridiculous- like a fruit tree or something. The political minions, too, can be seen pressing against his neighbour, almost smothering the speaker - just to be seen on camera. The same thing happens during highly publicised trials where scores of men and women in black robes just appear all around the public prosecutor who is giving the comments to the media.

Wreath-placing on days observed with 'due solemnity' is also an occasion to be in the news. During the ritual of placing identical wreathes the same pushing game begins. Ultimately it comes down to a battle of brazen shoving as members of the organisation/party literally push each other to make sure they are included in the wide shot.

Forget these formal occasions. Think of TV news reporters who have to go to all kinds of places to get a scoop. A reporter goes to a neglected neighbourhood where roads are so broken that children have stopped going to school and the sick do not make it to the hospital on time. The reporter talks to locals who pour out their grievances. Just as an elderly citizen is telling the reporter how he got injured when he fell into a pothole, you will notice behind him, some buffoon bobbing his head up and down, smiling vacuously and yes, showing the victory sign.

The seduction of the camera is so overpowering that it can even play with people's sanity. During sting operations, law enforcers sometimes bring along TV crews to get the reality show of crime fighting. The reporter often gets the very first quotes from an alleged criminal who blabs away all kinds of self-incriminating evidence: "I hacked him into about twelve pieces, put him in a poly bag and threw him into the river...Why? Oh, because I wanted his cell phone." We don't know whether such statements are allowed in court. But if this is considered a way to get a confession out of a criminal, law enforcers could easily abandon the 'strenuous', medieval methods of 'extracting information'. All they need is a newsperson to interview the accused, with the camera rolling of course.

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