Monday, July 15, 2013

The Rooster-Coop syndrome -II

Advertisements are what Hamlet called 'an abstract and brief chronicle of the time'. The products advertised will be things that will entice the well-heeled minority and encourage them to keep miswanting in order to keep up with the Joneses, things like cars, expensive mobiles, beauty products etc. (Aside: Six Psychological Reasons Consumer Culture is Unsatisfying.) When asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton famously replied, "Because that's where the money is." Similarly, ads are targeted at this segment because that's where the money is. In The Extended Phenotype, Richard Dawkins writes:
Advertisements are not there to inform, or to misinform, they are there to persuade.  The advertiser uses his knowledge of human psychology, of the hopes, fears and secret motives of his targets, and he designs an advertisement which is effective in manipulating their behaviour.
If people are persuaded by an ad that using a particular brand of soap makes life 'awesome', it speaks more about those people than about the advertiser. In this ad, the expression on the face of the person who says 'farak padta hai' takes  my breath away - an expression that suggests contempt at the other guy's lack of knowledge about a laughably trivial product. What George Carlin calls 'the modern man' seems to be a dandy.I came across an interesting term called colourism that is widespread in ads.

Thus people with opportunities are engaged in chasing after superficialities like fancy hair  cuts, discussing loud Bollywood movies having lots of guns and explosions or the IPL tamasha, attending Gatsby-style parties, developing '6-pack' bodies etc. There seems to be a lot of pretense and one-upmanship. Jaya said that some with 4-wheelers act a bit snobbishly towards her because she only has a 2-wheeler. (This story was amusing.) The general impression is that many people seem to be like the Red Queen - running twice as fast to stay in the same place.

The rising prosperity of the 'middle class' seems to be accompanied by increasing levels of insecurity. I get an indication of this by regular reports of there being huge crowds in all the temples I hear about and copious amounts of money being spent on religious festivals. People do these things when they feel worried. These businesses do well when people don't feel well emotionally. A manager in Indian Bank once told me, "There are only sick companies; there are no sick promoters." I think a similar statement can be made here: There are only sick devotees; there are no sick temples. Apparently, there is a 'Vaastu fish' costing upto Rs. 1.5 lakhs!

Then there are people who do nothing. One physiotherapist who only had to treat a couple of cases, when asked what he did for the rest of the day, said, 'Sleep or watch TV.' I once heard Richard Dawkins say that it is possible to muddle through life without knowing the earth revolves around the sun, what a waste of a life that would be! It brings to mind what Bertrand Russell said, 'Although it is a gloomy view to suppose that life will die out, sometimes when I contemplate the things that people do with their lives I think it is almost a consolation.'

It is not as if there is a Prof. Moriarty sitting at the center of the web pulling strings. It is just that the system has developed that way. I was also on a similar 'auto-pilot' before my stroke. It is very difficult to ignore the standard norms for success that society sets for you. It is ironical that the more time saving devices there are, the less time there is to stand and stare in a world gone Madoff. Not many can act like Pico Iyer. I view things differently now, as Shakespeare said in Richard II:
Like perspectives, which rightly gazed upon 
Show nothing but confusion, eyed awry 
Distinguish form 

I think Lawrence Krauss is right in this tribute to Christopher Hitchens when he says that stupidity, prejudice, superstition, hatred, power, money will generally win. I sympathise with the views of the prisoner in Chekhov's short story, The Bet. John Stuart Mill put it bluntly:
“It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question.”
I suppose you can't expect much else from a guy whose favorite disco song is over 50 years old!

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