An 80 + years old friend-a 1971 veteran of Sector 2- who is sort of retired would often tease me saying, “When is your next waz?” I used to frequent talk shows regularly once and he was drawing parallels between the two which I didn’t recognize at the time. Now that both are on the upswing, even defying the pandemic, both deserve a closer look. Why do they exist and do they matter? Should one take them seriously or what? What is the objective and impact of such public moralizing and preaching?
Of political and religious morality
Talk shows are essentially political moralizing contest between two contestant parties. Just as there once used to be public debates about which faith idea is superior, this is done on the same model. The difference is that the topic is a secular one- which is better, AL or BNP? But the spirit of the debate is the same.
It’s also a religious issue for the participants because they hold on to their positions in the same faith based way many preachers and evangelists hold on to their own in religious debates.
In several of these talk shows where I was present I asked these partisans why they don’t discuss matters rationally for the audience. They said that their main audience was not the general viewer but their own party cadres who were watching the show. “We have to appear strong to our supporters. We have to hit back when we are hit. TV doesn’t get votes.”
Thus it becomes a slug fest and not a debate. The purpose of neither party is improvement of the political weather but power striving.
However, there are also other participants in talk shows such as yours truly who would like to hold forth on logic and reason. At least they would like to believe that. They attend these shows to introduce calm reason and like it or not improve the political weather and political morality if one may.
This non-partisan lot is the sorriest lot on talk shows, for no labour is more wasted than that of trying to improve the state of politics in Bangladesh.
To sum it up, talk shows have nothing to do with reasoned debate or political logic based inter-action. Participants are there to be visible and cater to their own crowd. Rest are illusions if one talks of improving the scene.
If anything, they are more entertainment than anything else which also provides branding to the participants, political or otherwise, and the usual Taka 2000 fees for participants as income. No wonder that most audience take talk shows with a huge chunk of salt.
Waz mahfils and its audience
Waz shows have always been part of rural culture but over time particularly in the last two decades have escalated. The reasons are not hard to find. The disposable income of the rural middle class has never been higher before. They have more money to spend on a variety of cultural products including waz shows.
Research shows that remittance money has greatly influenced rural recreational behaviour. However the biggest consumption is also not waz or religious gatherings but digital media. And the biggest expenditure made is not on religious debates but mobile phone entertainment including porn.
Waz are big gatherings but can accommodate a limited number of people. But there are many of them held so the aggregate crowd is good. But internet has also been an aid so on social media, waz is also popular. But why and what do they say?
It’s not a debate like TV talk shows but one sided with a fan following. It’s a common format of all religious live shows where a speaker harangues the crowd, abuses all opponents and preaches to the already converted believer. Thus what the political partisan does on TV, the waz speaker does in person. But does it have any impact?
There is no evidence to suggest that all the social, personal and other values have had any impact on the viewers via waz shows. Life of an average Bangladeshi is about gaining livelihood not going to heaven – at least not before 60 years as research shows. Once he is no longer in the economic space, he has time and inclination to be bothered about sin and piety. Before that its money.
However, a section of the crowd that goes to the Waz shows are high and quite vociferous. This segment is the madrasa and mosque-based economics group who make a living from religion. For them a higher crowd indicates a better economic future and funding.
Madrasas are their livelihood guarantee so if they decline, so does their income. It’s in their own interest to keep the religious shows alive as adjunct support to the madrassa crowd.
Anyone who underestimates the entertainment value of waz should see them on Youtube. It’s a great live experience of many emotions. Very good value for any resources –time or money spent.
Talk shows and waz are both here to stay as it’s great fun watching them, they keep supporters energized and offer multiple entertainment streams. They are in the end cultural products in a society which is more focused on economic ends without morality, than politics and religion.