This face will not do: Aesthetics, class, and mediaBy Kishore Budha • Dec 10th, 2008 • Category: Audience, Commercialisation, Media Industry, Media Policy, Media Practice, Must Read
Times of India reports that in September this year the Indian airline company Jet Airways had sacked about 1000 staff as part of its organisational restructuring (read here). This had been notified to its shareholders (and strangely the media had no wind of it). However, in the month of October the airline sacked over 1000 staff who protested at the airports. The sight of smartly dressed young airline employees seemed to have made an appealing story, which was picked up by the media. The media coverage appears to have been exploited by politicians (link here) with the right wing MNS party wading into the affair resulting in the chairman of Jet Airways Naresh Goyal backtracking and rescinding the order. Monobina Gupta, writing at the blog Kafila.org, had raised the issue of faces in the media — and giving her anecdotal experience as evidence — argued that there is a newsroom culture in Indian media that plays up faces that look “beautiful” (read Gupta’s article here). Conversely, people and issues that do not fit the imagined aesthetics of its news readers’ tastes are played down.
In a thought-provoking piece Gupta asks why the articulate Sandra Samuel, who risked her life to save baby Moshe from the Chabad House was never featured in the media the way celebrities have found their way. This when they have done nothing but be part of the elite crowds that the media is a part of. In contrast, Samuel’s role is exemplary of the bravery of the “ordinary” people. So, was Samuel’s low profile coverage in the media because she does not fit the aesthetic qualities expected by a media managed by middle class professionals and catering to a middle class audience?
Ironically, the aesthetically ill-fitting can be appropriated for the fetishism of commodities (see adjacent image) or for an elite conception of a “diverse” nation (read about rural India and Indian media and communications culture here). When the National News pages of newspapers such as Times of India carry articles about Bollywood film stars (see here) and Hindustan Times rallies behind the protests by residents of gated communities in Delhi, which the newspaper frames as requiring urgent action (read here), one wonders if the media cynically exploits its audience (based on the assumption that the audience wants the same) or whether it imagines its audience as interested only in its wants and needs.
It is in this context that we should be concerned why a publicly known fact of retrenchment by Jet Airways was not reported by the media, as the Times of India report states:
According to informed sources, Jet Airways CEO Wolfgang Prock-Schauer had told investors that the company was able to synergise better between full service Jet Airways and budget airlines JetLite after trimming its staff.
“On the staff numbers, we have reduced the headcount in September by further 1,000 entries and now able to synergise the operations between Jet and JetLite,” the sources said quoting Prock-Schauer.
So, does the playing down of Sandra Samuel from the pages and screens of Indian media reflect a commercial and ideological bias or is it plain laziness on the part of journalists?
Kishore Budha is one of the co-founders of Subaltern Media and the founder-editor of the peer-reviewed Open Access journal Wide Screen. He holds a PhD in media and communications studies from the University of Leeds, UK and has professional experience in print journalism, internet news, and public relations industries. His interests include Critical Theories of Media and Communication, Semiotics, Transnational Communication, Film industry & production, Film theory, Film and history, Communications Policy, Visual Culture, Communication Technologies, Web media and Communication
Email this author | All posts by Kishore Budha