The medium and the theme

May 3, 2020

Virtual media appear poised to dominate all others

Which is more important: the medium or the sensibility? This question has been continuously generating debate ever since the beginning of discourse on art. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has tipped the scales heavily in favour of the medium.

The themes relating to corona are being made into TV serials and movies. Brad Pitt impersonated Dr Anthony Fauci on Saturday Night Live while a Canadian director, Mostafa Keshvari, has already finished shooting a movie called Corona. It deals with fear and racism targetting the Asian population generated by the pandemic. However, mostly it is the theme not the medium that throws its weight around.

After the arrival of Covid-19, most of the available mediums were either cut off or became ineffective. The only ones fully functional now are the virtual media.

The Web and the connectivity facilitate it. Due to a lack of choice, it has become the only effective method of communicating in this pandemic-infested lockdown.

As the pandemic is raging all over the world with no region or country spared, the virtual media are the only form of communication that remains relevant everywhere.

One cannot say that it is effective only in Africa and not in Asia or that it is operative in the United States and not in South America.

Its impact is being felt universally. So, it is the only choice open before all of us to stay functional and relevant. What is relevant will stay; the rest will be lost to the murky shadows of the past.

The first major sign is the announcement by a group representing several major film festivals of the world that they will pool in and hold an online film festival by the end of May.

The Oscar Academy Committee, too, has announced that such films will be eligible for awards, thus relaxing the strict condition that only movies screened in cinema houses be eligible for consideration.

No one is waiting for the mediums of the pre-corona world to bounce back. Instead, everyone is looking ahead and the choice is being determined by what is deliverable rather than what is ideal for the theme or the product.

It has also been said in the recent past that TV productions, be they serials or seasons, are more popular with audiences rather than films that are seen as outdated.

In contrast to TV hits such as Game of Thrones, Downturn Abbey and Fleabag, the films no longer resonate with the audiences.

Only a few years back, it was being said that television was not good enough for art and only made up the frivolity of killing time at home.

Earlier, the divisions were even more stringent. It was believed that theatre produced actors; the cinema stars; and television, only personalities. However, times have changed due to the quantum leaps in technology.

Now no such distinction appears to hold as long as engagement with the audience is the purpose. Sitting at homes and being a couch potato is now preferred to making an effort to venture out, buy a ticket and sit in the darkness of a cinema hall.

The benchmarks of seriousness where an effort was being made are probably not all counted as necessary. The rules have changed and so have the aesthetic criteria and taste of the viewing public.

Some of the biggest beneficiaries of the current crisis have been online services such as Netflix, who are reaping a windfall.

In the past few years, since Netflix started streaming online, TV production houses have been full of activity.

Their profits started rivalling those of the biggest companies involved in film production and other entertainment ventures. They overtook all of them so soon that the new industry’s impact and consequences failed to be adequately registered.

Now the corona pandemic has affixed a seal on the rise of online entertainment. The streaming is now the new normal. It is probably going to be so huge as to prevent the ways of the past from making a comeback.

Of course, the medium will have the last laugh.

What is presented on screen will be determined by its limitations or characteristics. With it taking centre stage, the technological space will be broadened. More effort will be made with renewed vigour to enlarge its technological scope or extent.

It will then overtake the cinema and open new vistas of expression and communication that may not even be imagined right now.

At the same time, going back to the old ways appears to be an impossibility.

This does not mean that the new things will be better as standards will change too. The new generation will try to come up with its own definition of quality.

For the time being, however, definitive answers remain elusive.

Such answers are linked to stability. The rockiness that the world has been exposed to recently makes them impossible. But a change that knocks one out of complacency is always good.

Coronavirus: Virtual media appears poised to dominate all others