30 September, 2013

Beauty is indeed skin deep !!

I came across this ad / poster when one of my friends posted it on a social networking site.  I found it really offensive but thinking beyond the gut reaction, I really did not know what disturbed me more – the ad itself or the fact that people would actually fall for the ad and that the ad would have its desired effect. 

There has been so much talk about women being objectified and that this is one of the prime reasons why crimes against women are not showing any signs of decreasing.  At all.  Women are, after all, portrayed as “things” that can effectively be bartered, sold, bought, misused, beaten up, discarded or enslaved.  The ad agency which put up this poster or ad or whatever is not really to blame per se.  They are just doing what they do best – put a finger on the pulse of the populace and exploit the same to the maximum.  As far as the media goes, they have never really been at the forefront of holding on to things like ideals, morals or scruples, have they ? 

Recently, Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America.  Someone did rightly point out that had she been competing in India, she would have been considered too dark to even make the cut.  In a country where people live by the adage that “beauty is everything” and that “skin colour is what determines a person’s worth in society”, it is not surprising that one sees these remarkably nauseating pieces of publicity.

Think about it – one simply cannot refute the fact that advertising is a huge industry.  Their job is to ensure that a certain audience is reached and the message passed on – irrespective of whether the message is right, wrong, insensible or something that makes absolute sense.  Advertising does not go into these details.  But the problem arises when one thinks a bit deeper and realizes that advertising does a lot more than just sell products or services.  They create stereotypes.  They sell values, they sell images that society eventually associates with adjectives like “beautiful” and these in turn, create a set of values (however flawed) that are associated with self-esteem and self-worth.  To cut a long story short, ads do pander to sections of the society in passing on a message but what they end up doing is toying around with the human psyche, sometimes irreparably so.

Take countries where skin colour is a huge issue.  Fair skinned people are still revered and put on a pedestal while dark skins are instinctively looked down upon by a large portion of the masses.  There is absolutely no basis to this bias except for the fact that this is something that has been handed down generation to generation.  This particular ad also takes a dig at fat women, as it points specifically towards fat women or overweight women.  It associates fat or overweight women as the ones that would “have to beg someone” to marry them.  It creates the notion that if one is not slim and trim by societal standards, if one does not pander to and fall in line with the stereotypes created by society, then one stands a good chance of being “rejected” as a life partner or a soul mate.  Sad truth is that most of the population in India, even today, will fall for such inane drivel. 

Yet again, I cringe to think of the number of adolescents who might possibly be taking this ad to heart.  Adolescents are particularly vulnerable because they are the inexperienced and thus, are very easy pickings.  They are particularly easy to influence and manipulate.  They are easily swayed.  As adolescents, they are at an age when they are in the process of learning sets of values and ideals, they are at an age when they are developing a sense of self-image and concepts of self-worth.   

Adolescents are impressionable and peer pressure definitely exerts its influence at that age. Ads like these work like magic in reinforcing cultural stereotypes that have, unfortunately, been handed down, generation to generation.  Such ads are also especially dangerous when one looks at eating disorders in adolescents, which are alarmingly on the rise. 

The other thing that these ads do is perpetuate the image of women as housewives or sex objects.  Women are expected to remain slim and trim, thin even, without scars and blemishes, without wrinkles or without stretch marks which have, in the past, been touted as “undignified” on a woman.  Women and girls are usually exhorted to conform to these images, they are pressurized into emulating the models or actresses in these aspects and are expected and pressurized into feeling guilty if they do not qualify by the societal standard of “beauty” or “slim”.  Their self-worth, their self-image, their self-confidence levels are all inextricably interwoven with their looks and what society expects from them in terms of looks.  Advertising agencies and ads may not directly cause these problems but they definitely contribute in creating an environment which validates and endorses the marketing of women’s bodies as a means to an end.

The scary prospect lies in the fact that many a women take these stereotypes to heart and in the process, pretty much scarily establish a set of false definitions which people take to heart and follow, thus leading to a new set of behavioral patterns, which make the false definitions seem true.  (Ref : Robert Merton's study in 1948 wherein he coined the term - self fulfilling prophecy). If one is to dismiss ads simply as a film on television or a piece of paper or poster, one is severely undermining the seriousness of the impact that advertisements have.  Advertising still remains one of those “necessary evils”, a pretty powerful one at that and undoubtedly one that immensely affects the way people view themselves, the way people relate to other people in society.  What ads like these do is create self-doubts, affect self-image and in the process, subjugate awareness that might otherwise have eventually led to some action which could have led to changes in societal attitudes over a period of time.

21 September, 2013

A post addressed only to the portion of the American populace that has just proven itself to be "racist and ignorant" !!

(pic courtesy : jeromiewilliams.com via Google.  There are plenty more tweets on that site, in the event that you, my dear reader, can stomach such ignorance and hate.)

Let me begin this post by saying at the very outset that I, for one, have massive reservations against beauty contests because they objectify women.  The message beauty contests send out is that “what you look like determines your worth in the eyes of people, in the eyes of the society”.   This cannot be farther from the truth.

But then again, this post is addressed to the racist populace in America that just went bonkers and started a steady stream of “hate tweets” and went out of their way to make lives miserable for many South Asian women who are as much a part and parcel of a country called the US of A, just as much as you racist bigots are.

Addressed to Ignorant & Racist Americans Only.

A lot many of you have been hopping around like mad cats on a hot tin roof, after having heard the results of the recently concluded Miss America competition.  Malignant tweets followed, which left many people around the world wondering as to how people can harbor such hatred and odium towards another fellow human being who has not done anything wrong – nothing other than having the wrong skin colour, in your books, though !!

It is not wrong on the part of the President of the USA to be so concerned about the education system there.  There is something abysmally wrong if a portion of the population (meaning you guys) have got so many basic facts wrong, in so many different subjects. 
  1. Nina Davuluri is Indian by origin.  She is not an Arab, she is not Egyptian.  Apparently your Geography lessons at school were of no use at all or maybe you guys were busy pea shooting.  Just to enlighten you and enlightenment is something you really need – these are different countries with different languages, customs and cultures.  It would be a good idea to check the nearest atlas – if you have one, that is !

22. Nina Davuluri is not a Muslim.  She happens to be a Hindu.  Not that we expect you to bother finding out about the finer aspects of a culture other than your own (we are assuming that you know yours !)  but just for your information, Hinduism and Islam are two totally different religions with very different beliefs.  Also, did you guys know that not all Muslims are terrorists ?  I know !  Shocker, right ??!! There is a large Muslim population spread all around the world that believe in, and want peace.  Not all of them are bearded, gun toting terrorists who go around shooting anything and everything that moves.  Just for your information because you seem to badly need it.

33. Nina Davuluri is an American citizen.  If your country can have a President who is half Kenyan, why is it so difficult to digest the fact that your current Miss America was born in India ?

44.  More importantly, all of you who consider yourselves Americans, do need to know that most of you are of European descent.  But of course, to expect you to know this would be asking for too much, I guess.  You’ve spent most of your time steeped in ignorance, learning racism and how to be world class racists that you probably did not pay attention during your History lessons.  
J    Just for your information, the ten largest ancestries of American Whites are : 16.5% German Americans, 11.5% Irish Americans, 9% English Americans, 5.8% Italian Americans, 4% French Americans, 3% Polish Americans, 1.9% Scottish Americans, 1.6% Dutch Americans, 1.5% Norwegian Americans and 1.4% Swedish Americans.  (Information courtesy : Wikipedia, which happens to be a page you can access on the Internet.)

55. Going by the above logic and going by your rants that scream “only Americans should be Miss America”, none of your clan can even think in terms of running for Miss America either, right ?  The Miss America competition can only accept entries from the Native American Indians, right ? Only Native Americans should be allowed to compete.   Well, we just used your logic here !!

66. Nina Davuluri, the first Miss America of Indian origin, has a degree in Brain Behaviour and Cognitive Medicine from the University of Michigan, for your information.  She plans to apply to medical school with her prize money with the aim of becoming a doctor, like her father now is and practices very much in the United States of America. 

If you cannot think beyond your own skin colour and if you cannot understand basic concepts before beginning to shoot your mouths off, trust me when I say that you are more of a burden to America than “well-wishers” or constructive contributors to that society or country.  

I’m sure the “sane”  portion of the American population would more than agree with that statement.

18 September, 2013

Abused Goddesses and Domestic Violence - The Taproot India Ad

(Pic courtesy : behance.net via Google)
A lot has been seen and heard about the new anti-domestic violence campaign by the ad agency Taproot India.  Their “abused goddesses” ad has been making the rounds in social media websites, social networking sites and has received a lot of coverage in many newspapers and journals in India and around the world.  Many newspapers have tagged the ad as being “incredibly powerful”,  “controversial” and many more. 
When I first looked at these ads, the question that kept repeating itself inside my head pretty much in an incessant loop was “Are these going to be effective ?” “Are these going to make as much as a dent towards quelling a problem as endemic and widespread as domestic violence ?”. 
Admittedly, the ad agency, I guess, intended to implant the seed of thought which says women are like the goddesses you revere and worship.  They should not be subjected to violence.  Then again, if one takes a good look at the pictures, you see the goddesses, bruised, battered yet looking passive and beautiful.  I’ve cried myself hoarse and continue to do so in saying that the root cause of all these problems that women face in the Indian society lies primarily in institutions like patriarchy.  It lies in the idea that has kept filtering down generations over eons in our country that a man is more powerful than a woman and that a woman is meant to be servile, submissive and subservient.    These notions that have no basis but have been instilled in the minds of men right from the time they were children.  Does this ad not pander to patriarchy as well ?  Goddesses, who have presumably been at the receiving end of violence, have been beaten up badly enough for bruises to show on their faces are shown as beautiful ?  And passive ?  What subliminal message does this send out ? 
One of the ad posters goes to the extent of saying “pray that we never see this day”.   Is that it ?  Just praying that we never see the day when every woman is at risk of domestic violence is supposed to be a solution ?  How does that work ?  What is needed is a more substantive course of action.  The “Bell Bajao” campaign, for instance, tells people what they could do in the event that they see or hear someone being beaten up or subjected to domestic violence.  To me, that makes a lot more sense than displaying posters of bruised goddesses that do not really set out a concrete course of action.  If these ads are to work then one needs to assume that men who set out to beat their wives are sensitive enough to look at these ads and actually take a few moments to let the message seep in.  If they were men with that kind of sensitivity and sensibility to read between the lines and absorb the message, I guess they would have enough sense in them to begin with, to realize that wife beating or domestic violence is simply not acceptable. 
One of the main problems that is seen worldwide today, worldwide, is apathy.  People either do not have the time or the inclination or the energy to actually stand up for causes they believe in.  Once a feeling of outrage or empathy has been evoked in the general public, where does one go from there ?  What does one do ?  If there is no course of action that people can resort to, the initial tendency is to ask “What could I do ?”.  This initial reaction of helplessness or inaction, over a period of time, usually lends its weight in creating a culture of apathy and indifference.  Are these not fuel that further rage a fire as rampant, pervasive and widespread as domestic violence ?
Yet again, the other thing these ads do is focus or draw focus and attention to the affected women rather than the perpetrators.  It is not the women that need so many pairs of eyes staring at them.   The focus belongs on the wrongdoers, the offenders.  They are the guilty party here, not the woman who has been battered.  Also, glamorizing and portraying the woman as a “passive victim” does not really help.  Society needs to understand that the root cause of problems like these need to be tackled at the grassroots as well.  Starting from families that treat boys as “special” and girls as a “burden” to families where women are seen as nothing other than “receptacles for frustration” – attitudes need working on.
I honestly don’t think a bunch of posters depicting goddesses as bruised and battered (whilst looking serene, beautiful and passive) are going to do much in tackling a problem as rife as domestic violence and I, for one, do not find glamorising gender based violence tasteful or refined, in any way.  It doesn’t quite serve the purpose it was possibly intended for, either.

07 September, 2013

What gives the US government the right to police the world ?

(Pic courtesy : 2012patriot.wordpress.com via Google)

President Obama is besides himself over the Assad regime using chemical weapons on the people in Syria.  It is commendable, if one looks at it from the point of view of one human to another.  What is happening in Syria is absolutely deplorable and undoubtedly appalling. 

Yet, when I saw a red-faced David Cameron last week on the evening news channel, accepting and acceding to the wishes of the people of the United Kingdom in not sending in troops to Syria and when one sees Obama pushing for military intervention, the one question that automatically arises in my mind is this “Does the US have a right to police the world ?”.  This question becomes even more pertinent when one sees the domino effect taking place in such situations as well.  Military intervention, as has been seen in the past, starts with the US deciding to send in their troops and then many other countries  follow suit. 

Like I said earlier, the use of chemical weapons against civilians is shocking and unacceptable.  Israel claims that Syria has been using chemical weapons and yet again, most of their theories are unsubstantiated.  Brings me to another pertinent question here – (since the US and Israel are hopping around on a moral high ground here, deploring Syria’s use of chemical weapons and using that as a base for military intervention) – Is this the first time chemical weapons are being used ?  Before you get me wrong here, let me say at the very outset that I, for one, am just as appalled at these weapons having been used and my heart goes out too, to the civilians who have been at the receiving end.  But if one thinks back, did the US not use Napalm in Vietnam ?  Did they not end up killing the civilians there with these ?  Did Israel not use White Phosphorus on the Palestinian territories ?  When these countries do something like this, which body in the world dares stand up and question their actions ?  When these very countries have done something like this, on what basis are they taking a moral high ground now ?

One might be tempted to say that the US using Napalm in Vietnam was because it was war.  In this case, they are inclined to intervene because of the civilian casualties and deaths.  But then again, if that is the logic, why did they wait so long ?  Yet again, if civilian deaths are the issue, how about countries like North Korea where civilians are always in danger of being put to death, depending on the whims and fancies of their dictators ? 

Talking of civilian deaths, how about the damage inflicted and the civilian deaths caused by the US drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan ?  How do they justify those ?  Fact remains, however unpalatable it may be, that they don’t need to.  They simply have never had to justify their own actions.  Who or which body is the Govt of the USA answerable to or accountable to, in the world of today ?  Heady feeling that must be, for sure !

The US has been browbeating many countries over human rights issues.  There have been instances where they’ve threatened some countries with sanctions over human rights issues.  How about the US government, the US army violating human rights ?  Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib were classic examples.  Yet again, fact remains that the US does not have to answer to a higher body.  Simply put, there never has been a requirement of accountability for their actions.

If it is out of sheer concern for human lives that the US government wishes to intervene in Syria, why did they not do so in Rwanda ?  It was during President Clinton’s administration that Rwanda was engulfed by genocide.  Hutu death squads were said to have murdered an estimated 800000 Tutsis .  The US government did nothing other than to bury the information in an effort to justify its inaction.  Perversely enough, one is forced, at this point, to ask if the inaction was simply because Rwanda was just a small Central African country with no strategic value or mineral wealth. 

Iraq was invaded by the US forces and sad truth is, no one knows exactly why that happened.  The only good that probably came of the US invasion of Iraq was the elimination of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.  The US government under George W. Bush then, claimed that the war was aimed at destroying weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  No weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.  The US government then claimed that they wanted to destroy the Al Qaeda base in Iraq.  News reports later suggested that Al Qaeda had not existed in Iraq up until the US invasion.  The war, the US government said, was aimed at turning Iraq into a model of democracy but what it did in reality was lead that nation from tyranny to total anarchy.

Going by the above premise, if one is to assume that the US government has a heart of gold and that they plan to invade Syria based on nothing other than humanitarian considerations, yet another question, a rather pertinent one, raises its head.  Hypothetically speaking, if the US forces were to invade Syria and topple President Assad’s regime, where does Syria go from there on ?   As of today, no one has an answer to that question.

If the US government is really interested in intervening in Syria on humanitarian grounds, if the people of Syria are truly their prime concern, why not work with Russia, China, the other nations who have voiced their opinions clearly in working towards bringing all parties concerned to the negotiation table ?  The US government, on the other hand, is being stubborn on this front, like it has been in many instances in the past.  First present a set of conditions that they know the other country will refuse to negotiate on and then go ahead with a military invasion on the basis of non-compliance or non-acceptance.

That’s precisely what they did in Iraq too and the whole world knows what happened after.  Unfortunately, the US government does not seem to have taken home any lessons from the Iraq fiasco.  

03 September, 2013

Will justice be served ?

(Pic courtesy : santabanta.com via Google)

So Asaram Bapu tried to get off the hook by claiming that the girl in question was mentally unstable.  Apparently, so were her family members.  Seemingly, this ploy did not work and Asaram Bapu now finds himself behind bars.  My question is – for how long ?  Do the politicians in India have the spunk to let the courts charge and try Asaram Bapu like they would, any other citizen of the country ?  Furthermore, would they let the judiciary act like it is supposed to, if it actually comes down to sentencing Asaram Bapu ? 

For a start, he is clad in a saffron armour.  This self- proclaimed godman (or whatever else he claims to be) has a large portion of Hindu votes under his thumb because there amazingly is, a large population that believes and falls for everything he says or stands for.  They apparently haven’t seen through the fa├žade yet.  In the light of this large vote bank controlled by this sham of a person, no politician in India would openly oppose him or go out of his/her way to make sure that this Bapu spends the rest of his life practicing yoga behind bars.

It is a known fact that most of the BJP and the VHP members first need to take the trouble of shaking off their ever persistent state of hibernation and bring themselves out of the cave that they seem to have holed themselves up in.  They need to make an attempt to step out of The Stone Age and think twice (or more) before they proceed to shove their entire foot into their mouths and down their throats. 

VHP’s Ashok Singhal is reported to have asked “How can someone aim such heinous allegations against an 80 year old seer ?” Well, someone ought to enlighten Mr.Singhal that this started because his “80 year old seer” thought it was perfectly alright to molest and rape.  But then again, that is never heinous.  If the rape victim lets people know, files a complaint and rightly points fingers at the rapist, that is heinous in the VHP’s books ?

Why is it that society still thinks it is alright for these people to commit rape and walk around with their heads high and their chests puffed up with pride while it is the rape survivor who is further ostracised ?  Rape survivors often don’t register a complaint with the police.  The rape goes unreported.  Many rape survivors have been known to commit suicide.  The rapist continues to roam free in society, while the rape survivor is forced to hide behind a shroud of anonymity.  The rapist continues to retain his identity with just as much pride (if not more) as he did before while it is the rape survivor who faces the threat of losing or “giving up” her identiy, for fear of facing further ridicule from members of the society.

We continue to live in a society that places more value on boys than girls.  We continue to live in a society that blames the rape survivors before even thinking on the lines of prosecuting the rapists.  We live in a society that associates words like “shame”, with the rape survivors when, truly speaking, that word ought to be associated with the rapists.  We live in a society that terms rape survivors “degraded” or “stained” when the degradation really needs to be aimed at the rapists.  We live in a society that transfers the onus, the guilt onto the survivor rather than place it squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator.

It is in this biased society that the sixteen year old and her family stood and spoke up against Asaram Bapu and his crime.  They deserve not derision from people like him who have labelled the entire family “mentally deranged” but rather the support of the society and the political community in booking Asaram and ensuring that the judiciary is allowed to perform its duties without fear or favour towards him and in ensuring that he is made to pay for his crime.