Bhamini Lakshminarayan (M2015MC013)
Dr. Sunitha Chitrapu
23rd July, 2015
Mythology and the Myth of Free Press: The Dravidian Movement and the Media
“In political terms, the communication system may serve to enhance democracy, or deny it, or some combination of the two.”
– McChesney and Schiller, 2003
McChesney and Schiller (2003) discuss the evolution of the media industry in the United States of America, and, in doing so, critique the claim upon which it is founded – the idea of the “free press” enshrined in the First Ammendment. Despite the transformation of the American media industry from state-owned to a private enterprise, the political interests of the dominant groups that own the corporations that run these media houses are still reflected in the style and the nature of the discourse and programming one is exposed to on them. They thus contend that the “free press” is a “myth.”
McChesney and Schiller, as well as Pendakur (1985), go on to argue that the internationally dominant systems and mechanisms under which the media operate have been exported to developing nations. The dominant cultural paradigms and aesthetics have also been exported to these countries through film, television, news media, and so on. This is in line with the theory of a “culture industry” (Adorno, 1975 ) which reproduces on a mass scale the mainstream political discourse, prioritising a particular narrative and marginalising alternative interpretations and voices. This also furthers the argument of the existence of “media imperialsm” (Fejes, 1981) and the development paradigm of the dependency model, under which developing nations replicate external structures in countries that have existing internal inequalities, and examines the dialectical interaction between the two.
Drawing on these arguments, I attempt to look at the media industry that exists in my home state of Tamil Nadu.
Barthes (1972) argues that the politically dominant use the signs of language, art, film, television, and “culture” in an attempt to naturalise a particular political standpoint – he refers to this as the creation of “myths,” or when a dominant discourse is naturalised as ideology. Similarly, perhaps alluding to this, Schiller and McChesney argue that the dominant media and communication corporate houses have great power and influence over the perceptions of the people who subscribe to their work, and more often than not use this power to “propogate[ing] a mythology to protect their priveleged role in society.”
The Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu was established as a response to the dominant North Indian discourse during the independence movement, with the construction of the “Indian” as Aryan, Hindi speaking, and upper caste. It gained its initial momentum through accessibile media, in the form of street theatre and stage drama. Annadurai and Karunanidhi both engaged with politically satirical drama that effectively functioned as propaganda. Murasoli Maran and Kurunanidhi wrote and established newspapers.
India imported its ideas of and structures within the media, the tools and methods of production, and the aesthetic and utilitarian perspective, from its colonisers. In fighting against the idea of the pan-Indian identity, these very tools which helped propogate the nationalist discourse were utilised by the Dravidian movement. In 1949, Dravidian propaganda transitioned to the screen with the hugely successful Nallatambi and Velaikkari directed again by Annudurai. The political scenario has never been the same since the Periyar movement; the DMK won its first election in 1967, and ever since, the Tamil Nadu politics have been dominated by the DMK and AIADMK.
These parties are aware of the media’s powerful influence over the people. In 2011, the DMK made waves when it offered colour-televisions as a soap, as per its declarations in the 2006 manifesto. This is merely scratching the surface of the DMK’s association with media and communications. In 1993, Sun TV was established by Kalanidhi Maran, a channel which controls over 20 liscensed channels, seven FM stations, and magazines and publications. The founding of Summangali TV to reach out to women with “female-friendly” content has been met with a positive response in the state. The DMK has reached out into remote Tamil Nadu with its control over cable. If this was not enough, the Sun TV offices occupied the top floor of the DMK office building, until a recent family rift led to the creation of a new channel – Kalaignar TV, again, with explicit political affiliations. Based on the Radia tapes, Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi was accused in the 2G scam based on her “”active role” in the operations of Kalaignar TV.
In response to the DMK’s stranglehold over the entertainment industry, and their explicit political discourse though it, the AIDMK established Jaya TV in 1999. Raj TV and DMDK’s Captain TV have had little success in breaking into a market which is run by the dominant political parties. The Star News-affiliated Vijay TV receives even less attention with its focus on national politics and its centralist outlook – there is a clear dominant discourse, even though there are two players – the DMK and AIADMK – within it, that is both propogated and preferentially consumed through the media.
The active role of film and television in propogating the dominant discourse and the relationship between the actors in both fields is one that cannot be easily dismissed in Tamil Nadu. MG Ramachandran, Tamil film’s first superstar, led a successful political career and term as the AIADMK’s chief minister. In 1998, Rajnikanth made an appearance on Sun TV in which he urged watchers to vote for the DMK-TC alliance that would dethrone Jayalalithaa’s government, an appearance that was reportedly replayed multiple times, in violation of electoral codes, until the day of polling. In 2010, Endhiran was only produced when Kalanidhi Maran’s Sun Pictures agreed to fund an otherwise financially unviable project.
It is to be noted, however, that the aesthetic of Tamil film has been changing in the recent past. Blockbuster hits are the new trend, rather than the art film that privileges verbal rhetoric. Fejes’ media imperialism seems to be at work here, with the import of a Bollywood aesthetic – imported from the Hollywood aesthetic, whose history of import Pendakur discusses – changing the face of Tamil cinema and communication. Adorno’s culture industry is at work here, as the distinction between “high” and “low” art gets blurred, and, instead, blockbuster films that can be dubbed and translated into multiple languages and understood by a pan-national homogenised mass audience are the most financially successful and apparently, appealing.
The vice grip with which the AIDMK and DMK hold on to the media and communication industry in Tamil Nadu might be loosening ever so slightly, with Pudhiya Thalaimurai TV and others, but there is no doubting the role it has played in shaping and propogating the dominant political discourse in Tamil Nadu over the last sixty-odd years. One needs to merely look at the recent news coverage of the Jayalalithaa corruption scandal presented by Sun TV and Jaya TV, which showcased the alternative perspectives of the sycophancy of the party followers, and the apparent victimisation of the party leader, respectively, based simply on the direction in which the camera was pointed during the arrest, to realise that politics and the media cannot be divorced in this state Thus, I argue that the Dravidian movement, with the tools and structures that were imported into India from the colonisers, challenged the very idea of the Indian and the dominant, North Indian discourse, reproduced several aspects of it in a heirarchisation of the Tamil identity by adapting it to its own internal structures, and have replicated an atmosphere of myth through a dominant ideological discourse produced and distributed as lucrative entertainment.
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