Book Excerpt | Isn't audience to blame for consuming lies spread on reality shows?
Deccan Chronicle. | DC Correspondent
I did have my voice and an ability to share my version of reality with the media and on my own social media platforms
Cover Image of the book 'She's Unlikeable And Other Lies That Bring Women Down' by Aparna Shewakramani. (By Arrangement)
Someone once asked me what my turning point was — the moment I knew I had to take matters into my own hands. It was the death threat. It shook me in ways I can never fully explain.
I’m relieved that 99.9999 percent of people in the world will never know the sickening feeling of that very moment. But here’s what I realised then. While I would never have the reach of an international show to create my own public persona, I did have my voice and an ability to share my version of reality with the media and on my own social media platforms.
The press had already shown up on "my side" and here, at week two, I only had to ride it out. [A friend of a friend whom I had turned to] advised I craft a delicate balance of not being defensive but also explaining my perspective to the media and on my social media platforms. I should gently remind everyone that reality television is expertly edited with very little accuracy in general.
I knew he was right, but I felt so overwhelmed by this new industry. I connected with other female reality stars with strong personalities or vilified portrayals, including Jessica Batten of Love Is Blind and Olivia Caridi from The Bachelor.
These women are kind and compassionate, and truly understand my unique position. They also confirmed something I had never fully considered before: the vilification I was experiencing from the world had happened before on reality television — countless times. The way I saw it, I was ready to use all my resources and skills to tell our collective story. I also knew I had to speak up for the women to come. The resolute and ambitious women who would be the next "villains" on the next show.
Let me make this very clear. In my opinion, it is no coincidence that Jessica Batten was vilified on television with untrue narratives and crafty editing of her personality. She was, if you’re taking note, the only woman on the show who had her own home, a sweet dog, and a six-figure income. I saw memes when Indian Matchmaking came out that showed "Jessica, 34" next to "Aparna, 34"— begging the viewer to vote on who was worse. Who deserved love less? And who was more unlikeable? "Neither" is the correct answer, but the keyboard warriors did not get it right. Believe it or not, you as a viewer are constantly consuming stories on your television that oversimplify people into tropes and stereotypes.
Let’s see if Indian Matchmaking is an example of such oversimplification.
I’ll give you my personal take on it — the Aparna breakdown, if you will. First, draw a T chart: label the first column Villains and the second column Victims. I believe every person on this show fits into one of these columns. I am in the Villains column. Every man I dated was thus a victim (of my villainous ways). Nadia was a victim. Every man she dated (except for the unfinished ending with Shekar) was thus a villain. Let’s summarise my take here.
Villains: Me, My mother, Pradhyuman, Akshay, Akshay’s mother, Guru, Vinay, Manisha, Richa.
Victims: Nadia, Vyasar, Srini (the irony of all ironies), Shekar, Dilip (aka, every man who went on a date with me), Rupam.
Let’s go a step further. Rupam, one of my absolute favourites, is an incredible woman. She is strong, fiercely loyal to her family, and happily in love with her own match from Bumble. In real life, she is a highly accomplished paediatric allergy doctor with advanced training in dermatology. She is a no-nonsense, pragmatic and independent woman. She is by no means the victim the media made her out to be when the show aired. She is a woman who is thriving in a life that is fully aligned with her values and solidly reflective of her own self worth.
So what is the show really about? It’s about seven singles with one unsuccessful matchmaker who all went on lacklustre dates with people who weren’t right for them. Shekar and I went on a few dates. We were certain there was no chemistry, but we knew we got along well. To this day, we remain really good friends. The same goes for Dilip and me, and Jay and me. We are all friends. In fact, those three guys started a group text called Aparna’s Guys and are independently communicating without me being involved. And I love it. For me, that’s what the show was ultimately about.
Ask yourself this: who curates and benefits from the story lines that are created on unscripted shows? Go a step further and ask, for all so-called reality television you consume: What information is missing? Who stands the most to gain from you not receiving that information? I understand this is entertainment, and I fully support it for that one function. But am I upset that people believe Indian Matchmaking to be true? Yes. Do I blame these viewers?
On a bad day, yes. I do blame them for their ignorance in the way they consume media. Is that fair? Probably not, but I’m being honest here.
At the head of it all in Indian Matchmaking, there was Sima, who brought her own beliefs to the table. Steeped in her own cultural norms and her general disdain for a woman who was strong enough to express what she wanted from her future partners, to many viewers, she reinforced the ugliness of South Asian patriarchal culture. South Asians around the world were triggered by her direct words and her underlying sentiments that it was a woman’s exclusive obligation to "adjust and compromise." But let’s be clear, her misogyny was not isolated. News outlets and social media platforms called it misogyny. I had to ask myself later, many months after the show aired, Were these comments and behaviours just sexist? Or were they straight-up misogyny? Until it was blatantly hurled at me on camera, I had never stopped to consider the distinction.
Excerpted with permission from She’s Unlikeable And Other Lies That Bring Women Down (HarperCollins India) by Aparna Shewakramani, chapter titled "Refuse to Let Yourself Be Erased from Your Own Story"
She’s Unlikeable And Other Lies That Bring Women Down
By Aparna Shewakramani
pp. 204, Rs.399