Representation, we are told, is a good thing. People want to watch relatable things on TV and when that content is made available to them, they watch more and will even pay money to watch it. But what if the things people want to watch represent the worst aspects of their culture?
What if, for the sake of argument, people find casteist religiosity is relatable because that is what their real lives are surrounded by? What if they think patriarchal family structures are what their TV needs more of because that is, after all, what their own families look like? What if people want to watch blatantly sexist behaviour in their cinema - "heroes" molesting their "love interests" while they lip-sync to the bawdy lyrics of pre-recorded songs that will, in the weeks to come, be played in buses, markets, and high school canteens?
And what if, when issues like social discrimination, unequal power structures, and gender disparities are what TV and cinema focuses on, people find it... well... unrelatable? What if they long for a return to the sweet "nostalgia" of barely disguised homophobia, sexism, and bigotry.
There is an oft-repeated maxim in entertainment circles - give your audience what they want. I am personally of the opinion that it is not the storyteller's job to give the audience what they want. It is the storyteller's job to give the audience what it needs. And toxicity, no matter how nostalgic it makes us, is not what the audience needs.
I will apologise for sounding like a petty dictator in this regard before I move on to my next point. And my next point has to do with a conversation I had with a TV studio executive some months ago.
A chat with TV folks
Last year, and the year before that, I was consulting with a prominent TV entertainment channel about a program they were running to bring in talented writers for their new crop of entertainment shows.
Over the course of our conversation, I asked them why they felt the need to bring in new talent when they were already doing well with their present crop of saas bahu serials. They told me Netflix was drawing away the new generation. They told me the new generation likes shows that have actual stories. They told me their old shows which were kind of made up as they went along and continued for decades with no end in sight, were not being enjoyed by kids these days.
All this was understandable. If you have ever watched a "controversial" new series on Netflix or Prime, you don't need me to explain to you how different they are from the garbage we had on TV in the early 2000s.
The channel I was consulting with, was therefore focusing on their own OTT platform and wanted to create shows with story, message, and a little edge.
How far their experiment succeeded is not a matter for this issue, but the fact that a major TV player is aware of the problem says a lot. The things we have gotten audiences used to will not keep them occupied forever. They will rebel, and they will take their money to places that fulfill their needs. If the ethics of this don't matter to us, then the business side of it will, eventually.
Who wants the bans?
The calls for bans on OTT platforms, or the calls to "regulate" them that we are hearing all around us, are actually the sounds of old TV clashing with new TV. The toxic nostalgia we talked about earlier serves the interests of a certain sort of audience. This audience loves stories featuring a never-ending stream of patriarchal roles, thinks casteism is okay, thinks women should be bahus and matas only, and often votes for a very specific political party and supports its ideology to the fullest extent possible (either vocally, or with helpful silence).
So while we call for a ban a certain kind of show while encouraging another kind of show on the same platform, we are essentially turning OTT platforms into TV channels of yore. And we know what happened to them. They were made obsolete by new tastes, better storytelling, and the natural process of audiences growing up.