Ad breaks in an Indian dream


I was recently lodged for a long period in a Chennai hotel and have to admit to having watched far too much TV during my stay. The more I watched, the wearier I became. The advertisements were almost carbon copies of the ones in the West, in terms of the products and the shiny coca-cola lifestyles promoted.

The advertisements and the game shows that interrupted the commercial breaks were exponents of the kind of self-seeking materialism that now all too often passes for entertainment. I switched off. I think that the euphemism for all of this stuff is ‘globalisation’ or indeed ‘westoxification.’

Consumer paradise

We now live in a kind of global box that, when opened, contains a model hand which pulls the lid shut to prevent light from entering and scrutiny of what goes on inside. Boxes normally contain something that can be looked at. Not this one—it has steel fingers to close the cover.

Why be aware of the world’s ills and challenge anything when you can live in the dark, drink Pepsi, wear Reebok and shop till you drop? We live in a consumer paradise where unfettered desire is a virtue and obsession is the faith. The advertising industry oils the hand that closes the box. Welcome to the nightmare.

Where on earth do advertising agencies get their sanitised screen images of urban India from—probably Singapore, with its gleaming skyscrapers, sterile streets, and super deluxe cars. Those images bear little resemblance to what I see in reality. The gap between the glossy world of adverts and reality may be big in the West, but in India it’s gargantuan.

Reality may bite, but advertisements suck. In fact, reality lacerates. The sensation cuts deep, it’s real, can be grasped and is free. Advertisements, on the other hand, deal in fantasy and create a thirst that can never be quenched. And for those who crave, it’s an expensive endeavour. Billions are spent by the ad industry telling us that somewhere at the end of the rainbow there is a pot of gold. But as day fades to night, the rainbow disappears, and illusion gives way to reality—there is no gold.

There is nothing that can make teeth whiter than white, skin smoother than smooth, and hair shinier than shiny. Wearing the appropriate designer label product will not miraculously turn us into bright, young things. And—believe it or not—drinking the right type of cola will not suddenly make us God’s gift to men or women—despite what the happy, smiling faces say.

Wonder brands

The world of the TV commercial treats the viewer to the life-changing wonders of brand named alcohol, coloured fizzy drinks and labelled clothes. Just luxuries that we could do without? No. They are the necessary, must have, must be seen to have, lifestyle products, all because they are endorsed by some beaming cricketer, game show host or Bollywood star. If we do not possess them, then we are failures.

If we do possess them, we will feel even bigger failures because by that stage we will have bought into the lie and will be wanting the newer, brighter version of whiter than white toothpaste which we acquired when it was newer and brighter than the previous bright, new version. Despite the trillions spent by the consumer in pursuit of the dream, there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, just a bag of rotten teeth.

It's a precarious world we live in, based on hollow myths and promises. But don’t tell anyone; it may shatter if people look too hard. It’s a fragile invention and because of that the label on the outside of the box probably reads ‘Handle with care.’ Maybe it also reads, ‘Do not disturb,’ as people bask in their emptiness and watch global TV with eyes wide shut.

Somewhere there is a rainbow, and somewhere over the rainbow there is a new tomorrow. But it’s just the old yesterday recycled and sold back to us at a profit. If you chase it you will go full circle and will eventually end up back where you started from, wondering what was the point. The best things in life are free. Well, for the time being at least.

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