...and then

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

An opinion arising from a show that I do not watch.

I don't watch tv. I don't own one. I may have mentioned that before over here. So when MasterChef Australia Junior began being broadcast on Indian television recently, I couldn't quite understand the raptures into which people went. For two reasons, or three, maybe. I am not a fan of regular TV, I do not find shows on cooking interesting and thirdly, but perhaps most importantly, I am entirely loath to encouraging reality shows that feature kids.

Yesterday, on my very lively Twitter timeline a bunch of handles got into a bite-sized brawl (which I think is called a debate these days, if not a twibate) on the issue. One bunch of people, who I believe enjoy cooking and the show itself, saw nothing wrong in these kids in being cast in a reality show. That faction believed that it was okay for the kids to do so as long as it wasn't a reality show where the kids were being judged on their dancing/singing skills. This was a "life skill" and these kids were "prodigies" is what was being said. That may be so. I can't decide. (I honestly believe no one starved because they couldn't cook. Not in recent times anyway.)

The other side, as I see it, argued more than one thing. That these kids were "competing" and "being judged" and "rejected in front of the whole world." Another thing that came up was that they would be better off spending time studying/in schools instead of missing weeks of "normal" school-going time.

I feel very strongly about this kids and television/reality show issue. I'll tell you why. First let me make clear that it is not the competition issue that gets me all in a twist. Ideally, of course, I'd be happy with minimal competition but that's probably a perfect situation if I am living on a far flung island with its population being only my family. Even then it's probably unavoidable. If, as a parent, I can inculcate a sense of self in my child that allows her or him to deal with competition without thinking that's all that ever matters, then I'd not only have done part of my job as a parent, I'd have probably helped create a less unhappy person. My beef, then, is not with competition.

My objection is to putting kids in a situation that is very obviously harsh for them. Being in a studio or on a filming set is not easy. Starting from something as basic as the set lights being extremely harsh (for adult skin and hair among other things, leave alone for kids) to being closeted for weeks on end in an atmosphere that is not only unnatural on many levels but is also blinkered. Someone on the timeline argued that kids going to schools and giving exams are not natural either. I don't entirely disagree but I don't entirely agree either. I have two kids of my own. As someone with a curious enough mind, I've tried with experimenting by breaking rules (the ones that I was aware of and didn't see as the "natural" thing to do, at least) as far as parenting is concerned; I've experimented with what the books told me, just to see if parents around the world and parent-authors around the world were trying to create cookie-cutter children. One of the things I experimented with is the notion (one that comes highly recommended by paediatricians, parenting books and generally any parent who has gotten past the toddler age sane) that routine gives you happier, more relaxed, healthier (?) children. One needn't have absolute regimentation; the books say if the child knows what to expect next -- that after bathing her in the evening, she's going to get into pyjamas and then a story's going to be read after which you will cuddle... -- then a child feels more at rest, has a greater feeling of security and is generally happier.

I tried to shake that up a bit; I changed order around, timings were shunted this way and that, routine was twisted in every conceivable way. I tried it for a few weeks - this controlled mayhem. It was me trying to reinvent a wheel by making it square. My kids, people, were pissed off kids in the weeks that their routine was tossed aside. The weeks with routine? My kids responded beautifully. They were less clingy, they were easier to get along with, ate better and all of that. My point, then, is that something like a school provides a part of the routine that kids can predict and be secure with. It's like sleeping and waking. If you're going to argue that sleeping and waking are also conditioning, give me some credit and please take your argument elsewhere. You and I both know, your waking mind and body do better with sunlight than your sleeping one. So while a school setting may not be the most desirable or natural setting for a child, it provides the comfort of predictability. Apart from a whole lot of friends with people exactly like you.

In addition to being subjected to the tough conditions of a TV show, the kids are then faced with judgement. Sure, kids get judged all the time; by their parents, by their friends, by the kids they go to school with. But there's a kind of humiliation that is bigger than all of the above when you're judged for the rest of the world to see. A child has the right to privacy even when it's being told off or in some situations, depending on your parenting style, being humiliated. Reality shows take that right away. Moreoever, going back to school after being eliminated in a show cannot be easy -- kids are cruel, I've always maintained -- and the kids who don't do well will go back to face a fair amount of bullying, if not some idol worship for having been on TV. All this could happen to someone who didn't go on TV but you'll agree the intensity is multiplied when you've been a "star".

I once read a piece on how kids hanging out with adults was a good thing. I am still undecided. I am not too fond of precocity, a personification of which lives in my own home. But that has never stopped me from answering any question that my daughter has put forth. In a way, that could be counted as treating a child as an adult but I am confused about that. I think if she's smart enough to ask a question like the ones she asks, she may also figure out a way to process my usually carefully-worded answers and understand it temporarily, till she later figures out loopholes and elaborates. On a filming set, there are other kids, sure, but there are more adults than there are kids. After a point, adults that aren't part of the family grow immune to the presence of kids and behave like...well... adults. I strongly believe that can't have the best influences on a child, especially if that behavior is radically different from what the child has seen in his or her home environment. You might ask can you control your child's environment all your life? Of course not and I  hope no one ever will. But go to a set where stuff is shot; spend some time there. Maybe you'll agree with me.

Masterchef Junior aside, there are shows closer home in India that are by no means set to any standards. Whether it is a code of conduct that states what a child can perform/do on stage or the amount of time a child spends at a set acting in a show, there are no rules. In the latter case, I am yet to discover why making a child act in a TV show or a film isn't considered child labour (just to be specific, I do not talk of the Masterchef show here.) And that's my problem with reality shows in particular and children acting in TV shows specifically. How long are these kids spending in studios, what kind of conditions and codes of conduct are laid out for them, how are the parents treating all the competition, do they feel normal when they go back to their life, do their aspirations take a different turn once they've tasted fame to whatever extent? I don't know. And I believe those answers, in general, might be uncomfortable ones.

My take:  if it's healthy competition and the child's virtuosity that you want to encourage, then aren't school, interschool, state or national-level competitions enough? What extra thing are you getting from putting her or him in a studio or a set and then their perhaps-humiliation/jubilation being telecast on TV? I do believe being part of a shooting schedule that focuses on a child entirely takes away a little bit from your childhood. The examples are many. You may eventually turn out to be an adult, one that has got all the rubbish and rehab out of the way, but you've pretty much lost much of your childhood, one that you had every right to, had your parent understood that a parent's responsibility is to know one's child and nurture the capacity to make decisions by increasing subtly and gradually the scope of where a child can make them. Till such time, a parent bears the cross for making a decision that may not have placed the child as the most important factor in the decision. 

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

What if it's the child's decision to be on the show?

2:04 pm  
Blogger Sandhya Menon said...

Anonymous: The last line should answer your question. If I had an eight-year-old and I wasn't confident of her decision, I would make a counter-decision to not let her go ahead. A child + big decisions = ?

2:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your assumption in 'my take' is that schools nurture child's true passions. cooking is probably not one of them (w.r.t masterchef). Secondly, we're still living in an era where only a handful of schools encourage GENUINELY encourage arts (things apart from academic subjects). Encourage enough to make the child think about it as a career. Particularly in the latter stages of school (say 10th standard onwards).
Whether kids should be on TV or not in one sense depends on how the show is conducted as well. I would certainly not lump junior masterchef australia along with the 'toddlers and tiaras' or "america's funniest videos' on TV.

2:16 pm  
Blogger Sandhya Menon said...

Anoymous 2: No, that is not my assumption. And no I am not lumping Masterchef Junior with the other shows you've mentioned, at least not in its entirety. Though it's probably the same shit. Just because they're cooking, it doesn't make them better than the kids who sing and dance. Long shooting schedules, mostly hanging out around adults who are working. Same same.

2:20 pm  
Blogger Andaleeb Wajid said...

Reality shows which feature kids ought to be banned. I don't get it. How can we watch kids dance in all those crazy ways? Is it even healthy for them? Even the singing shows put me off. I'd rather see ALL the children in school and would love to get a chance to berate any of their idiotic parents.

As for Masterchef Junior, I don't get it at all. How, how, how can kids actually cook all that stuff? Have they been trained before the show? My 13 yr old doesnt even know how to light a stove (although that can be attributed to his laziness and my attitude) but you got me thinking esp in the beginning of the argument. Cooking maybe a lifeskill but making kids cook is a bit too much. Like let them enjoy their childhood without making such a fuss over something that they may have shown a little interest in, right?

2:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I don't really care about the competition vs no competition angle, your last comment irked me. The ones who cook ARE better than the ones who sing or dance because latter gyrate their hips to Sheila or Munni or sing verses that would make a pornstar blush. Sexualization of prepubescents is a serious issue and can not be lumped with individual preferences on whether their kids should grow up to be Tigers or hippies.

-Not the same anons as above

2:39 pm  
Blogger Sandhya Menon said...

Not the same anon as above: That's a lot of judgement right there. Sexualisation of prepubescents is a HUGE issue, another thing I feel extremely strongly about, so I agree with you there too. And I am not judging the kids here -- I am judging what they're made to do. Both -- cooking AND dancing/singing -- takes talent of some kind -- that's why I said it's the same thing. Let's not lose focus of my point here.

2:45 pm  
Anonymous Krish Ashok said...

The school argument was bought up not because I support kids going to reality shows. As someone who doesn't watch TV (or read a newspaper) I am less interested in reality shows than I am in the framing of the debate itself. The problem I see (not just with your viewpoint, but with everyone's) is the tendency to draw the line arbitrarily based on perspectives one personally considers important and then constructing the argument around that. For e.g, some will say that cooking is better than a kid dancing to sheela ki jawaani while you merely go one step more and decide that a couple of weeks of studio lighting is bad for kids while 15 years of soul-sapping schooling, mind-numbingly pointless exams and asinine teachers isn't.

To the point about a TV show being a bigger stage where judgement is meted out, I could argue that nothing is a bigger stage of judgement than being told at the end of your board exams in class X that one isn't "smart enough" to do science so one must "settle for" commerce or the arts. You actually believe that the kid is going to be more scarred by a competition he/she lost on TV than being handed a judgement that will likely affect his or her entire course of life based on criteria as dubious as the CBSE board exam?

Again, my point is about the fundamental arbitrariness of any line you draw and therefore honestly speaking, I wouldn't judge any parent for the choices they make. Competition in some form or shape is part of every kid's life whether he or she likes or not. We can do our bit by learning to deal better with failure and loss than decide if it's moral in the first place to send a kid to a dancing competition on TV

3:47 pm  
Blogger Sandhya Menon said...

Krishashok: I see the point you are making. In the same spirit of debate, where you brought up the school being unnatural, I argue that school is good for them. Not the most ideal, but it is good. For the reasons I've stated in this post and a few others.
To turn the argument towards me personally, I have no lines actually. No absolute ones anyway. There are things that I as a person do not like or approve of but that is never the "right" thing that everyone else should fall in line with. It is a preference and that's all it is. I may even be brave enough to bring my kids up in keeping with that preference. And fail, maybe.
This argument of a child being told she isn't good enough to opt for science so must take something else is again a line you are drawing, isn't it? Just like the ones everyone else did. My point is when it comes to raising kids, it is entirely a parent's choice. And I am not sure I judge any parents here. Consequences must be lived with and if, as a parent of a human being who cannot make informed decisions for itself, you choose something that is a complete anti-thesis of who your child is, just because you have ambitions, then you live with the burden.
And the last bit in your comment is exactly what I said right in the beginning -- that if I can instill a sense of confidence in a child to deal with loss and failure in a healthy way, part of my job as a parent would be done.

4:03 pm  
Anonymous Nandita said...

Honestly Sandhya,
I have found school more stressful than any co-curricular competition, even though my family never pushed me to stand 1st rank. As a 10 year old, I was worried about losing my 1st rank to someone else and the wait for the final exam report card would be torturous. If kids are already attending a competitive school where they are being judged for one mark less or one mark more, or who sings better, or who swims better, then this is no different. Kids are much stronger and adaptable than what we think they are. Parents are more affected by any competition results (including school) than kids themselves, and that finally rubs off on the kids.

Coming to harsh studio lights that affect skin and hair, playing in the sun or pursuing a sport will do the same thing. That's no different than moms not sending their girl kids to swim due to the fear that the chlorinated water will 'darken' their complexion.

Masterchef Australia is the only program i watch on TV. I have followed it for the last 3 seasons. And i haven't seen a reality show like that. Even the adults there are handled with kid gloves. Therefore my whole response is based only on this reality show which I have followed closely, and not for any other reality show that I know nothing about.

I'm not saying that every parent should think it's right to send their kid to a reality show like Masterchef Australia, but judging a parent who thinks that cooking as a talent also needs to be encouraged (even though you think that no one starved for lack of cooking skills) is what irks me.

Whether a parent wants to make their kids wear skimpy clothes and gyrate to item numbers (which indeed makes us cringe) or wants to encourage a cooking talent in front of the world (which incidentally, warms my heart) is totally upto the parent and no one has a right to judge that.

Since I couldn't participate in the twitter-debate yday, i have added my two cents here.

4:13 pm  
Blogger Sandhya Menon said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:24 pm  
Blogger Sandhya Menon said...

Nandita: Where are you all getting the impression that I am judging one set of parents over another? I have two kids who I think are pretty much out of my control, so I wouldn't dare judge another parent. Also you're talking to a parent who considers home schooling on a daily basis, because she can't handle what goes on in schools. And feels a complete misfit around 95 pc of the parents she hangs out with. So I don't advocate academics the way it is dealt with now, nor do I think children should only study. If it were up to me, I'd totally bring them up in an atmosphere that I designed.
That apart, if you were scared about losing your Rank 1 to someone else, I don't think it's being in school that did that. There may have been other factors. I could be wrong of course. Also if we came down to specifics, then a debate would never end. A healthy dose of generalising is a must. Thanks for taking the time out to comment!

4:52 pm  
Blogger The Visitor said...

Parents, parents - spare yourself of judging each other.

Parenting is the toughest job I've taken up; and there's no way that I can even call it quits!

(In my opinion) parents try to give their children what they missed in their own childhood. In the context of this post I'd say that a parent who grew up in a competitive environment is likely to give the child an environment which wasn't competitive and vice versa.

They try to find out why they are screwed up (obviously due to what their parents did) and do exactly something that is opposite to that while raising their children.

Rest assured that whatever you do, you are bound to be judged, not only by other parents, but by your offspring for the REST of your life.

So cheers to all those doughty parents; you're all doing a great job.


6:58 pm  
Anonymous Roxana said...

Hello S! Long time. My comment has nothing to do with the post. Just dropping by to say hello and tell you that most of what you write grabs me by the collar, smacks me right dab in the middle of the face and leaves me wondering where that fab piece of writing came from. So I tend to take your blog in small doses :).
I've said this before and I will say it again - write more often, will you?
P.S: My e- mail tells me I have a twitter invite from you. Sadly, I never got a hold of Twitter and hence stay away from that space. :(

9:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Same 'shit' is it? OK. That is in contradiction to your argument of 'not lumping' jr masterchef Aus with other shows. And it is this easy 'same shit' argument that results in several good initiatives being quashed. Let me be more specific.

- Consider shows that are about dancing. In order to dance to a particular song (let's take item numbers as an example, as they are pretty popular), one needs to know the lyrics. As an 8-10 yr old kid, are you mentally developed to grasp/process the stuff? I doubt it. Also, what is the focus on apart from dancing? costumes? have we looked at the way some contestants dress? There is a lot of focus on physical appearance too. Also, in the context of Indian shows, let's not forget the incessant touching of feet of every arbitrary person, bending and kowtowing in front of every arbitrary person. that's a different topic though.

- now let me get back to JMCA. Consider the way in which the show is conducted. While you might lump it as 'same shit' with other shows, I seriously think that is not the case. The focus is on cooking and cooking alone. Also, the encouragement is fairly positive. Those who don't make the cut are dealt with very positively. they are rewarded for making it so far and are encouraged to come back next year and give it another shot. Sure, it's pressure and quite a bit of hard work but to me, but at least they don't have to worry about being thin or dressing up in a certain way to seriously enhance their chances of winning. The show is about cooking and that is exactly what that show focuses on. Plain and simple. the way in which the show is conducted makes a huge difference. That is why I particularly appreciate the show compared to others because I haven't seen a hint off peevishness, narcissism and petty competition yet. And THAT is what separates it from several shows which shocase young kids. The day those vicious elements creep into JMCA, I'll lose respect for the show.

Anonymous 2.

8:06 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Competition is not only "not bad" but it is good!!

More of it, I say.

2:05 pm  
Blogger Ramya said...

I'm not a parent. In fact, I have minimum familiarity with children, so anything I say here needs to be taken from that perspective. Also, I'm not so much addressing your post per se, but a lot of other related issues that cropped up in my head.

I don't watch much television but every time I've seen children dancing in reality shows, it's made me cringe. They wear clothes which aren't age appropriate, dance to songs which aren't age appropriate, there's generally a lot of drama and pettiness involved. Not to speak of the fact that it is physical exhausting.

So I was conflicted about watching Junior Masterchef Australia. I've seen two episodes so far and I think they are handling it remarkably well. The children receive a lot of encouragement and support from the judges, those who are eliminated are not singled out for elimination - the ones who are selected are asked to step forward and the rest are told that they've done a great job, and sorry that we couldn't take you, but we'd love to see you here again next year.

Sure, all that complicated cooking is very difficult, but these kids must be doing it for a while now in their homes because nobody could cook with such practiced ease if they weren't regularly doing it.

Cooking as a skill set or as an art form is as impressive as singing and dancing. But so far, JMCA is the only place where children with a flair/passion for cooking are encouraged to try it out....this doesn't happen in schools, summer camps, community events, anywhere else...so I think above all it's a great way to encourage children who are interested this typically neglected art form.

2:17 pm  
Blogger Ire said...

I think reality shows in totality should be banned. There is nothing real about them as they are entirely scripted. While they do help showcase talents unknown, what happens to the many talented ones after these shows are over? Not everyone becomes a star. It is just too taxing.

10:31 pm  
Blogger sulagna said...

Hi Sandhya reading your blog for the first time and must tell you i am so happy o find a new blogger who writes beyond fashion and cooking..most of my best blogger buddies are excellent in their fashion/food/poetry blogs but this is different. following you

about the post and your views, i know these are your views based on what you feel and gauge from what you have heard and seen of the show. But honestly this is the only show i watch on TV for the past 3 years and must tell you it feels like a breather from the regular shows i have been watching. but then again as a 10 month old's mother maybe i fluctuate my views later, but must appreciate your fluidity of thoughts and words !

8:59 am  
Blogger SuKupedia ™ :) :) said...

Personally I feel healthy competitions are good but yes what goes on with these reality shows.. all the light action thingie makes me really worried... and moreover if your kids are on some reality show and being judged by people like Anu Mallik then I really feel sorry for the parents..

10:38 pm  

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