Monday, January 4, 2010

Soap operas encourage the worst of social norms

Soap operas encourage the worst of social norms

ผู้เขียน: Prof Likhit Dhiravegin is a Fellow of the Royal Institute.
Source: Bangkok Post 4/01/2010 at 12:00 AM

Culture embracing values, beliefs and norms is derived through a process of socialisation through many agents. The agents include the primary agent of the family in which the parents play a most significant role in socialising their children into what can be called the social culture.

In many families, however, there is simply no room for the young members to develop their selfhood which would lead to person-hood, individualism and a free spirit inherent in a democracy. The process of family socialisation reinforced by other agents including schools, religious organisations and society as a whole may produce a process of de-individualisation which prevents the person from having his or her own self. In this regard, the nobler objective of trying to turn out a good person for the family and for society could become a process of robbing the individual of his or her free spirit and selfhood.

But that problem is now probably replaced by a more serious one. That is the appearance of the modern mass media where numerous programmes are aired to the public. Good programmes such as news reports, subjects of knowledge, geography, history and culture are also disseminated for the public audience. One such programme which is very popular in Thai society is the soap opera. Soap operas can be entertaining and good ones can serve to teach moral lessons to the audience. Mao Zedong and his actress wife Jiang Jing, a member of the Gang of Four, exploited plays and Chinese operas for political objectives. But given the demand of the audience, many soap operas portray stories which leave much to be desired and have produced a negative impact on social values leading to a number of personality traits which merit serious scrutiny.

Given the fact also that many parents keep a hectic lifestyle and busy schedule these days, children are usually left to baby sit and the "square box" is where they learn about the world, the environment and values from television programmes including movies, talk shows and, of course, soap operas. There is no doubt that soap operas are produced by business enterprises which naturally cater to the ultimate objective of making a profit. It is thus argued that the producers have to come up with the kind of soap operas which are popular among the audience. One thus cannot blame the producers, so the argument goes. The audience demands a certain plot and theme for a story in a soap opera and the producers simply have to comply. Anything that deviates from the above would get a low rating and fewer commercials.

As for Thai soap operas, one PhD student at the Asia Institute of Technology has come up with a number of observations and comments. He summarised his comments as follows:

- Most Thai soap operas aired on TV do not socialise the audience, most notably the young ones, into appreciating the well-being or success of others. Instead of congratulating other people's success or good luck, they would pull out remarks, body language and what-not of envy and jealousy. Such a scene is prevalent in many soap operas.

- Oftentimes, the actors and actresses would be portrayed as unleashing at will frustration, anger, at times with violent and hysterical outbursts of vulgarity, due to envy against another person or persons. There is no portrayal of characters exercising self-control reflective of emotional maturity.

- Thai men are often seen trying to dominate women while women are seen responding to it via a mixture of manipulation, vulgar frustration or submission by trying to be cute. The major cause for the men's behaviour could be a lack of self-confidence and self-esteem. The inferiority complex then manifests itself in a superiority complex.

- No calm discussions are seen before arriving at a solution to problems. Oftentimes, leading characters are seen crying through problems, uttering pathetically fatalistic remarks attributing the problems and the failure to resolve them to fate and resigning to the mercy from a higher authority or power. By yielding to fate and the power beyond one's command, the moral lesson is a total submission to fate devoid of an attempt to fight against injustice and a faulty system.

- A prevalent scene in many soap operas is a portrayal of quarrelling and fighting with the rival man or woman in a courtship. To make the scene sensational, it would be portrayed with scathing remarks charged with emotion and violent acts. Indeed, it reflects a poor taste on the part of both the producers and the audience.

- Scenes in which class distinction dictated by social status would also feature every now and then. Such derogatory remarks as "you are a low-class person" or "you are a prai", a term referring to members of the corvee system during the era before its abolishment by King Rama V, are uttered by characters of a higher social status. Servants, family chauffeurs and maids would be portrayed with childish acts and foolish talk. Many of these people would be portrayed as invariably coming from the northeastern region of Thailand, an area where ethnic prejudice used to prevail among Bangkokians decades ago.

- Young children from wealthy families are portrayed as spoiled brats bent on materialism, consumerism and moneyism. The dialogue among them is usually childish and nonsensical.

Bullying other members of the family and maids feature here and there. There is very little show of mercy and sympathy. The bullying is sometimes done by a gang consisting of members of the family with the mother as the ringleader. Such a pathetic scene would certainly bode ill for a good socialisation process.

The observations above merit serious attention by concerned citizens, most especially those responsible for the screening or censoring of the entertainment. The kind of soap operas mentioned above can only harm society. They also poison people's souls. It is bad enough that young children are so addicted to computer games, a situation which tends to breed a violent tendency. Reinforcing it by the kind of soap operas as discussed only aggravates the situation.

What we need is a society of sanity, friendliness, kindness, loving compassion and empathy, not one governed by crudeness, harshness, envy, jealousy, low self-esteem, sensitive egos, a lack of self-control, vengeance, vindictiveness, cruelty and an animal-like basic instinct. The kind of soap operas mentioned above cannot nurture the said social needs. It is about time Thai society re-examined the relevance of this type of entertainment.

Admittedly, freedom of expression and freedom of the mass media are to be respected as stipulated in the constitution but society also has the right to protect itself from abuses of such rights and freedom. The public has the right to protect their children from having their thoughts contaminated by entertainment programmes of poor quality. Society has the right to prevent the souls of their children from being poisoned by the wrong values and norms embedded in the scenes and dialogues of many soap operas. Indeed, this heap of social garbage is what any society can certainly do without.

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