Wednesday, November 19, 2008

To be (free) or not to be!

I don't watch TV. Not because I don't like watching it, or that I don't get the time, or that I have better things to do. I just don't watch it. There was, a time when nothing could separate us - the TV, and me that is! I knew every show, on every channel, every time slot, every re-run that ever re-ran, every actor (their real and reel names), every soundtrack of every movie and TV series (my favorite is the soundtrack from the BBC series - Pride and Prejudice :) ; those who have seen it/know it, might agree), every character, every storyline, etc. etc. etc. This was way too long ago. It's amazing how school and college seem like the time when you could do all you wanted and still have time for more. You need to finish that assignment for your History project tomorrow? No problem, it'll get done before dinner, and you can still watch Dr. Doogie Howser M.D. Need to help your kid brother with a math problem, no sweat. You can do it in-between the commercials for the X-Files :)

Those were the 'real' times. When watching TV was not such a bad thing after all. I would totally credit my fluency in the English language and the ability to understand different accents to watching so much of Star Movies, and some of the English channels that don't exist anymore. Now, the point that I am coming to is not whether we are free to watch TV or not! Hey, just because I don't watch it anymore, doesn't mean you don't have to either ;) You are free to do whatever you want. Or are you?

Extraordinarily, one night I find myself switching on the telly while having dinner. Maybe I just wanted to catch up on whether a person who was supposed to die in a serial 5 years back was dead or had been re-born for the 8th time :-D So, there I was, trying to make sense of all the moving 'news' and up comes a commercial. Now, I like commercials. They are more informative than probably all the "theory of relativities" put together. Snippets, that are to the point, no frills, decent (most of the times at least!), educative (a lot of them are), and most of all - fun! At the end of a commercial, a good one, you are left with a feeling that what you just saw, might actually be useful to you. Plus, they are a logical break from the guy who was supposed to get a heart transplant episodes earlier, or has been in a coma, for God knows how long! Now, the commercial that came up was a good one, a very educative one at that. It was about contraceptives.

Without giving away the name of the product, it was about emergency contraception for women. This is not a run-of-the-mill ad. Far from it! A sensitive subject such as emergency contraception can never be run-of-the-mill :) For those who do watch a lot of TV, you might be aware of different variations of the portrayal of the product, the need as well as the benefits of emergency contraception. I happened to see 2 variations. One where the friend literally demands for the 'time' and shouts (nay, advises) that the girl may have to go through abortion; and the 2nd where the friend and the girl are traveling to a family planning/abortion clinic (this was the one that came up when I was sitting down for dinner that night). And as this ad came up, I immediately found myself paying attention, and connecting it to the first version. I must say, I didn't like the shouting friend. I know she meant well, but she didn't have to be so rude.

The 2nd variation, I felt, was more subtle, with actions and emotions and faces speaking louder than words ever can. As I sat there for the rest of the dinner, I hardly remember what I saw on TV next, cause my brain was already working overtime trying to analyze both these commercials. Somehow, in the 2nd ad, what struck me was the helplessness of the girl who has to make 'the decision'. And, the way in which she is looking at the friend for an answer, a solution, something. I started thinking... the ad clearly provides women the 'choice', but does it provide them freedom to exercise it? A woman has the choice to go in for emergency contraception. That is what the ad is talking about... and of course, they are trying to sell the product, right? But, how many women will use/have used it? 1 in 5, 10, 30, 50, 100, 1000? After all, you might argue, that this is not like some bathing soap that people need to use everyday. True. Absolutely correct! But, for those women who need it, are they 'free' to exercise only their choice, and not their freedom?

In today's day and age, we hear of women reaching heights like never before, shoulder to shoulder with men, even beyond! Scientist, astronauts, philanthropists, industrialists, geniuses even! Women are doing things we never thought possible 2 decades back. Then why is it that the ad portrayed the girl with her looking all lost, and seeking for 'help'? If women have reached the sky, why is it that the girl did not know about emergency contraception beforehand? Or even if she missed out on that education, why is it that she is all 'scared and afraid' when she has to make another choice, quite possibly, the right one! Was it because the company was trying to gain the viewer/public sympathy for the young girl who might lose out on her life because of this incident, and thereby gaining acceptance for emergency contraception and their product? Was the ad trying to tell people (read women) that things could be set right by taking the product, and that otherwise unavoidable circumstances, can now be avoided? I don't have anything against the makers of the ad or the product. Its decent and they are just trying to make a living. But, are we listening to what is really being said?

How come there is no ad that says, that as much of a choice you have for taking emergency contraception, you also do for undergoing abortion? Why is it that the former is acceptable (even skeptically), but the latter is not? Why should a woman hold her head high and take an emergency contraception, rather than do the same thing when walking into a clinic? Should she always turn to a friend, to tell her what to do? Have we as a society equipped her with only fear and helplessness when it comes to making decisions that can be life-changing? This piece doesn't even have to be about women. My trail of thoughts has only come from these 2 types of ads that I have seen till now, and the emotions and underlying meaning that it has evoked in me. Even if you take the case of children, have we given them 100 choices, but no freedom to exercise it? How many parents would let their kid turn into a rock-star, even though he was promised at the age of 10, that he could be 'whatever' he wanted to be? How many kids will paint pottery for the rest of their life. No siree! Not my kid! Isn't that what you thought to yourself? Which child would want to tell its parents that they want to be a doctor rather than join the family business of collecting garbage!

So my question to you is - "Are you really free?" and more importantly "Do you want to be?"

1 comment:

Sri said...

Very thought provoking questions! I would say "we are as free as what we think" but unfortunately we only "want to be free" but "not really 'be free'"! A very thin line of demarcation... This advertisement is a clear depiction of the "reality". We live in a country that religiously celebrates its freedom every year-mind you its 62 years since freedom!!! But are we really free??? I would say "no" - Because our 'freedom' is still 'controlled' - reigns are in different hands : parent, family, politicians/goondas, and the biggest of all "SOCIETY". Look around & you will find most of them living their life by societal norms, family norms, or politician's norms! Till the time one doesnt break free of all this and start living their life for themself, the answer to these questions would be "no". Because if we want to be free, we wont be bothered about norms & succumb to thoughts like 'what will others /society say if I...' Might be the advertisement can be more 'forward thinking' -> why not the lady do some "self thinking" and take decisions - "Do I need this child? Can I take care and give a good/decent life & be a single parent?" -> answer is a 'no' then option to use Contraceptives or Abortion. Now that I would say is exercising our freedom of choice! So, I do voice your thoughts again "are we free" and "do we want to be free"?