Vipareethangal: Malayaliyude Madhyama Jeevitham by Shaji Jacob is a difficult book to categorise because at different levels it deals with both media politics and cultural dynamics. The majority of people in Kerala are politically conscious with more than 70 percentage of the population having television access and over 60 percentage claiming access to at least one newspaper. It is also an extremely complex and mediated public sphere where the interests of caste, class, party affiliations and even religion can determine or undermine media habits.
Vipareethangal…, as the title suggests, points towards the paradoxes inherent in the average Malayali’s media-centred, media-controlled life where ironically enough all tall claims of a society based on literacy, political will and egalitarian values dissipate in the face of voracious media consumption patterns. Thus the Malayali consumes and is in turn consumed by the media, argues the author.
Vipareethangal: Malayaliyude Madhyama Jeevitham explores the paradoxical process whereby media consumers might themselves end up becoming products. How the media manufactures consent, the ideologies of a booming culture industry, the agendas of media imperialism, the rise of popular culture in the context of globalisation and post-modern conditions of existence – are all taken up for detailed analysis by the author.
From the advent of modernity in Kerala and the arrival of print to the rise in popularity of newspapers, magazines, cinema, music, and the radio till the age of the new media, the book attempts a chronological analysis of the circuits of culture and power within which the discourses of media are so embedded.
The introductory chapter places media studies in the methodological framework of inter-disciplinary cultural studies. On the surface it might look as though this chapter sometimes falls into an uncritical acceptance of Western communication and cultural theories. However Shaji Jacob does provide survey reports and analyses from the Indian context to substantiate his arguments.
The ensuing chapters span topics from the Kerala Renaissance and its media lessons to popular television and a political reading of the Mahabharatha serial. From the Malayali’s cyber worlds to the priming and framing of the Gulf Wars, the book goes on to make an intriguing study of the representations of the body in media as a site where power writes itself.
The uniqueness of this book probably derives from the fact that not many attempts have been made in the specific context of Kerala to conceptualise and formulate critical theorising on media, society and commodification.
However, this is a book that the Malayali reader might constantly quarrel with, very vigorously at certain points, which could have been the intention of the author too. In a language that is sometimes jargon happy, which seems to have become a necessary calamity in books of this kind, yet mostly witty and provocative to say the least, Vipareethangal… will make Malayali readers think aloud and ponder over many of the issues taken up in its pages.
This book brings out a key aspect of contemporary life in Kerala – its media ‘saturatedness’. Through this it explores the truisms and subtle idiosyncrasies that are so much a part of our culture today. Shaji Jacob writes with studied balance, bringing both a sharp wit and impressive analytical skills to his critique.
One can see an intellectual rigour that is usually reserved for research papers and dissertations within the academia, which could both be this book’s strength and its weakness depending on who reads it and how.