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Televangelism:new avatar of irrationality

By Aziz Ali Dad
August 24 2012




Because we lack institutions that produce knowledge, even educated people fall back upon false prophets like a water car “engineer” who promises to resolve the collective challenge of Pakistan’s energy crisis

A study of communication technology and social change reveals that Pakistan deviates from the normal pattern. Instead of creating a rupture in the continuity of the cultural ethos and traditional outlook, the electronic media consolidates prevalent biases and reinforces an irrational mindset. With the emergence of private TV channels Pakistanis are exposed to myriad images. These do not challenge irrationality or religiosity but strengthen irrational social biases. It is a marriage of convenience between TV channels and sensationalism.

Televangelism is a new avatar of irrational forces. This explosive mix drowns out saner voices.

The recent episode of Maya Khan’s show, and the hype about the purported invention of a car that can run on water, illustrates TV’s crass commercialism. Devoid of rationality in its semiotic universe, the show uses only one source to make sense of modernity. Such is the power of TV that it succeeds in reducing educated minds to an irrational agenda as scientists of the state certify the claim of the engineer who invented the water car.

Our electronic media is so poor in substance and so powerful in sensationalism because it is peopled with individuals who do not have the required intellectual background to think and discuss any issue. Unlike the print media, they were hired to increase the station’s ratings. Thus they are eager to pander to the sentiments of society’s most obscurantist segment.

Second, in modern societies universities are the hub of knowledge production with professors considered the qualified authorities. A. N. Whitehead rightly says that in the modern age professors have replaced prophets. This knowledge production helps society to understand natural and social phenomena by providing a new and rational paradigm. Thus the electronic media can diffuse specialized knowledge far beyond the university. Over time a more sophisticated and rational understanding of natural and social phenomena increases.

Unfortunately universities in Pakistan are not producers of knowledge. Because we lack institutions that produce knowledge, even educated people fall back upon false prophets like a water car “engineer” who promises to resolve the collective challenge of Pakistan’s energy crisis.

To bring about rational thinking processes it is important to equip ourselves with modern scientific knowledge. We also need to be well acquainted with the modern social science discourse. That is, we desperately need to critically evaluate the role and place of electronic media within the ideological structure of Pakistan’s state and society. All the channels are owned by capitalists who do not aim to produce critical thinking or social change but the maximization of profit.

In the 1930s Walter Benjamin wrote his famous essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in which he discussed the transition from painting to photography and theatre to cinema. Although the medium of TV was available then, it was cinema that was in vogue. Benjamin was not very optimistic about the progressive role cinema can play under capitalism. Through film people become viewers whose “thoughts have been replaced,” to quote Duhamel, “by moving image.”

We have passed the stage of training masses about pros and cons of media for it is superimposed in a sense that it transcends education. It means that it informs our opinion.

Today, whether we are literate or not, the electronic media shapes our worldview. We are in a perpetual engagement with the media. Hence we are caught in infinite loop. The loop can only be broken if we are able to cut through the prevalent structure of knowledge formation by a paradigm shift that is not currently visible on the horizon. Concomitant with probing deeper into the structure of how the media in Pakistan penetrates our vision, we also witness irrationality daily. The reason for such paradoxical situation is that there is disconnect between scientific knowledge and the media’s presentations.

Aziz Ali Dad is a social scientist hailing from Gilgit and is associated with a rights based organization in Islamabad. He studied social philosophy and English literature at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He can be reached at azizalidad@hotmail.comOriginally published by View Point
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