The Mirror-Image Fallacy

I was watching Zoya Akhthar’s Dil Dhadakne Do yesterday. I guess the whole point of the movie was a belaboured one about how super-smart, intelligent women like the one played by Priyanka Chopra are suppressed by the patriarchal Angry North Indian Male (a distant cousin of the Angry White Male). One of the scenes that sets off the third act shows a frustrated Priyanka yelling her head off at a bunch of rich, North Indian aunties for gossiping about hookups among their litter of Ralph Lauren clad offspring. “Get a job!”, she yells. All transformed from Doormat Girl to Angry Indian Female. Stop gossiping. Focus on self-improvement. Study hard, begin startups and ‘Make In India’ for the greater glory of humankind. But she and her other social media lecturing counterparts forget one thing. Some aunties don’t want to become self-made women. Most, actually. Some are content with buying Fendi bags and gossiping about youngsters. Priyanka’s character’s solipsism believes that the whole world is like her.

This reminded me of a prescient article on the Mirror-Image Fallacy by Charles Krauthammer from Time 1983. I read it a while back and the sheer brilliance of Krauthammer’s thoughts stayed with me. I tried to find a link on the internet but couldn’t find one. So I typed it out for you. Word for word from the hard copy of his book ‘Things That Matter’. It deserves some space on the internet.

The Mirror-Image Fallacy
Charles Krauthammer in Time, August 15, 1983.

“As is evident just from the look on his face,” observes The New Yorker in a recent reflection on the Lincoln Memorial, “[Lincoln] would have liked to live out a long life surrounded by old friends and good food.” Good food? New Yorker readers have an interest in succesful soufflés, but it is hard to recall the most melancholy and spiritual of presidents giving them much thought. New Yorker editors no doubt dream of living out their days in gourmet pastures. But did Lincoln really long to retire to a table at Lutèce?

Solipsism is the belief that the whole world is me, and as mathematician Martin Gardner points out, its authentic version is not found outside mental institutions. What is to be found outside the asylum is its philosophical cousin, the belief that the whole world is like me. This species of solipsism – plural solipsism, if you like – is far more common because it is far less lonely. Indeed, it yields a very congenial world populated exclusively by creatures of one’s own likeness, a world in which Lincoln pines for his dinner with André or, more consequentially, where KGB chiefs and Iranian ayotollahs are, well, folks just like us.

The mirror-image fallacy is not as crazy as it seems. Fundamentally, it is a radical denial of the otherness of others. Or to put it another way, a blinding belief in “common humanity,” in the triumph of human commonality over human differences. It is a creed rarely fully embraced (it has a disquieting affinity with martyrdom), but in a culture tired of ancient distinctions as that between children and adults (in contemporary movies the kids are, if anything, wiser than their parents) or men and women (“I was a better man as a woman with a woman than I’ve been as a man with a woman” says Tootsie), it can acquire considerable force.

Its central axiom is that if one burrows deep enough beneath the Mao jacket, the shapka or the chador, one discovers that people everywhere are essentially the same. Eleven-year old American anthropologist Samantha Smith was invited to Moscow by Yuri Andropov for firsthand confirmation of just that proposition – a rare Soviet concession to the principle of on-site inspection. After a well-photographed sojourn during which she took in a children’s festival at a Young Pioneer camp (but was spared the paramilitary training), she got the message: “They’re just … almost … just like us,” she announced at her last Moscow press conference. Her mother, who is no longer eleven but makes up for it in open-mindedness, supplied the corollary: “They’re just like us … they prefer to work at their jobs than to work at war.”

That completes the syllogism. We all have “eyes, hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions.” We are all “fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer.” It follows, does it not, that we must all want the same things? According to Harvard Cardiologist Bernard Lown, president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, that’s not just Shakespeare, it’s a scientific fact: “Our aim is to promote the simple medical insight,” he writes, “that Russian and American hearts are indistinguishable, that both ache for peace and survival.”

Such breathtaking non sequiturs (cardiological or otherwise) are characteristic of plural solipsism. For it is more than just another happy vision. It is meant to have practical consequences. If people everywhere, from Savannah to Sevastopol, share the same hopes and dreams and fears and love of children (and good food), they should get along. And if they don’t, then there must be some misunderstanding, some misperception, some problem of communication. As one news report of the recent conference of Soviet and American peace activists in Minneapolis put it, “The issue of human rights sparked a heated discussion . . . and provided participants with a firsthand view of the obstacles to communication which so often characterize U.S.-Soviet relations.” (The sadistic sheriff in Cool Hand Luke was more succinct: pointing to the rebellious prisoner he had just brutalized, he explained, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”) It is the broken-telephone theory of international conflict, and it suggests a solution: repair service by the expert “facilitator,” the Harvard negotiations professor. Hence the vogue for peace academies, the mania for mediators, the belief that the world’s conundrums would yield to the right intermediary, the right presidential envoy, the right socialist international delegation. Yet Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, to take just two candidates for the Roger Fisher School of Conflict Resolution, have perfectly adequate phone service. They need only an operator to make the connection. Their problem is that they have very little to say to each other.

There are other consequences. If the whole world is like me, then certain conflicts become incomprehensible; the very notion of intractability becomes paradoxical. When the U.S. embassy in Tehran is taken over, Americans are bewildered. What does the Ayatullah want? The U.S. Government sends envoys to find out what token or signal or symbolic gesture might satisfy Iran. It is impossible to believe that the Ayatullah wants exactly what he says he wants: the head of the Shah. Things are not done that way any more in the West (even the Soviet bloc has now taken to pensioning off deposed leaders). It took a long time for Americans to get the message.

Other messages from exotic cultures are never received at all. The more virulent pronouncements of Third World countries are dismissed as mere rhetoric. The more alien the sentiment, the less seriously it is taken. Diplomatic fiascoes follow, like Secretary Shultz’s recent humiliation in Damascus. He persisted in going there despite the fact that President Assad had made it utterly plain that he rejected efforts by the U.S. (the “permanent enemy”) to obtain withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon. Or consider the chronic American frustration with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis consistently declare their refusal to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the Middle East, a position so at variance with the Western view that it is simply discounted. Thus successive American Governments continue to count on Saudi support for U.S. peace plans, only to be rudely let down. When the Saudis finally make it unmistakably clear that they will support neither Camp David nor the Reagan plan nor the Lebanon accord, the U.S. reacts with consternation. It might have spared itself the surprise if it had not in the first place imagined that underneath those kaffiyehs are folks just like us, sharing our aims and views.

“The wise man shows his wisdom in separation, in gradation, and his scale of creatures and of merits is as wide as nature,” writes Emerson. “The foolish have no range in their scale, but suppose every man is as every other man.” Ultimately to say that people all share the same hopes and fears, are all born and love and suffer and die alike, is to say very little. For it is after commonalities are accounted for that politics becomes necessary. It is only when values, ideologies, cultures and interests clash that politics even begins. At only the most trivial level can it be said that people want the same things. Take peace. The North Vietnamese want it, but apparently they wanted to conquer all of Indochina first. The Salvadoran right and left both want it, but only after making a desert of the other. The Reagan Administration wants it, but not if it has to pay for it with pieces of Central America.

And even if one admits universal ends, one still has said nothing about means, about what people will risk, will permit, will commit in order to banish their (common) fears and pursue their (common) hopes. One would think that after the experience of this century the belief that a harmony must prevail between peoples who share a love of children and small dogs would be considered evidence of a most grotesque historical amnesia.

From where does the idea of a world of likes come? In part from a belief in universal brotherhood (a belief that is parodied, however, when one pretends that the ideal already exists). In part from a trendy ecological pantheism with its misty notions of the oneness of those sharing this lonely planet. In part from the Enlightenment belief in a universal human nature, a slippery modern creation that for all its universality manages in every age to take on a decidedly middle-class look. For the mirror-image fantasy derives above all from the coziness of middle-class life. The more settled and ordered one’s life—and in particular one’s communal life—the easier it becomes for one’s imagination to fail. In Scarsdale, destitution and desperation, cruelty and zeal are the stuff of headlines, not life. Thus a single murder can create a sensation; in Beirut it is a statistic. When the comfortable encounter the unimaginable, the result is not only emotional but cognitive rejection. Brutality and fanaticism beyond one’s ken must be made to remain there; thus, for example, when evidence mounts of biological warfare in faraway places, the most fanciful theories may be produced to banish the possibility.

To gloss over contradictory interests, incompatible ideologies and opposing cultures as sources of conflict is more than antipolitical. It is dangerous. Those who have long held a mirror to the world and seen only themselves are apt to be shocked and panicked when the mirror is removed, as inevitably it must be. On the other hand, to accept the reality of otherness is not to be condemned to a war of all against all. We are not then compelled to see in others the focus of evil in the world. We are still enjoined to love our neighbor as ourselves; only it no longer becomes an exercise in narcissism. But empathy that is more than self-love does not come easily. Particularly not to a culture so fixed on its own image that it can look at Lincoln, gaunt and grave, and see a man ready to join the queue at the pâté counter at Zabar’s.

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Roses really smell like poo-poo

IMG_1307.CR2 exoticIt’s a little late but I finally watched John Madden’s 2011 sleeper hit ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ the other day on tv. It turned out to be a predictable story. It was a big hit with left-of-centre, Guardian reading, Birkenstock wearing crowd in London. As an Indian, I couldn’t help but get irritated with the unending stream of stereotypes.

Ah well. It’s just a stupid movie.

Then, today I came across this article written by an Indian writer in the Guardian sneering at an ultramodern airport terminal built in Mumbai.
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His slant was to focus on the squalor of the rest of Mumbai “The size of the average Mumbai family is 4.5 people, and the average home size is 10 square metres, so some of their most private moments transpire in the midst of a crowd.”

Now I’m no fan of Mumbai. It’s a shithole. But this sanctimonious liberal Western media really need to get their heads out of their arses.

The Airports Council International rated Mumbai’s terminal one of the best in the world, along with the new Indira Gandhi terminal, while no London terminals made the list.

In the words of one angry commenter:
“Since the British can no longer tell Indians and others how to think about India, they’ll pay an Indian writer who is more than happy to pass off British racist perceptions as his own, or dress it up in high caste “brown-face”, like Pankaj Mishra, Rohinton Mistry, and Arundhati Roy (all of whom speak for lower castes but are high caste).”

It is as if the value of India resides only in its ancient contributions to human knowledge whereas its pathetic attempts to modernise or develop are to be winked at and patronised.

We all starve; we eat monkey brains; we worship rats; we worship cows. We are noble savages.

And look at that, they’re even building an airport now. How sweet.

Did you watch The Wolf Of Wall Street? I don’t know what the critics are saying, but I enjoyed it. I found it inspiring enough to google Jordan Belfort.

True, he’s a criminal, but you’ve got to admit to become a millionaire many times over like he did, at his age, needs brains and balls. And in all his interviews, the one thing he keeps repeating is “You are not your past.”

You are not your past.

Most of our limiting beliefs come from our past experiences.

Belfort takes a triumphant view on traumatic past life experiences. You are not your past, you are the resources and capabilities you glean from it. That is the basis for all change. If you survived the worst of the worse and are still breathing, you can learn from that. The more crap from your life that you survived, the more likely that you will become great. You must change the way you look at your past. Reverse the angle. View the past as a prelude to your vision for the future.

True, we are the land of Ayurveda and Gandhi. But we are also now, in a lot of ways, not too dissimilar from urban America or Britain.

Miles and miles of urban sprawl. Check.
Malls, ATMs and Starbucks on every corner. Check.
Millions of cars and traffic gridlock. Check.
Skinny hipsters ordering egg white omlettes. Check.

Oh but you also have so many poor people. It’s the Great Divide.

You want to talk about the Great Divide? 
London ranks as one of the most unequal cities in the developed world. Wider than it has been since the days of slavery. the top 10 per cent of people living in London have on average wealth worth £933,563, while the poorest 10 per cent are on average worth £3,420 – some 273 times less.
And if you think disparity isn’t a problem in America, that is just self-delusion. The highest child-mortality rate in the developed world, less social mobility even than the UK. And which country did the phrase ‘white trash’ come from? Or ‘loser cruiser’ for a public bus? No, the difference is Americans live in a state of complete denial about their rigid paralysing class structure.

While our slumdog culture, religion and the caste system are emphasised in Western discourse and movies, no mention is made of post-independence secular India’s efforts toward national integration of its minorities. No mention is made of laws and efforts against discrimination, or the country’s 60-year effort towards active inclusion of scheduled caste and scheduled tribe population in educational and employment opportunities. People also forget to introspect the fact that social discrimination and prejudice has been a widespread worldwide issue, for example the treatment of African Americans in southern United States. For every Gujarat riot, there’s the Hurricane Katrina efforts, which, succinctly put, are a strategically planned failure by the US government. The 2011 London riots were caused by welfare dependence, social exclusion, lack of fathers, hooliganism, spending cuts, consumerism and racism.

You want to talk about rape? The U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Justice Statistics counted 188,380 victims of rape and sexual assault in a year recently. These are charged crimes. 1.3 million incidents were reported. And they say rape is one of the most grossly underreported crimes in the United States. In the UK, only 1,070 rapists are convicted every year despite up to 95,000 people suffering the trauma of rape. That means nearly 98 out of 100 rapists in the UK get away with it.

My point is, there is a lot of shit over here. But there’s a lot of shit everywhere. In the words of rapper Andre 3000, I know you’d like to thank your shit don’t stank. But lean a little bit closer, see that roses really smell like poo-poo-oo. Yeah, roses really smell like poo-poo-oo.

The Hardcore Postmodernism of Gurgaon Plumbers

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I like how plumbers in Gurgaon use graffiti. Forget nihilistic subcultures and fighting the system, these guys are just vandalizing public property to advertise their services. Well done fella, you’re more of an artistic rebel than I am.

Graffiti has moved from being vandalism to being debated as a recognized art form in the latter part of the 21st century. Unregulated public art on vacant lots, subways and flyovers have added a certain youthful angst to ancient cities that were earlier defined by their grand columns and promenades. They wear hoodies and sullen looks. They fight tyrannical governments and promote world peace. But before we hail the spray can as the new black, let’s look at this whole thing dispassionately.

1. All graffiti art is not good. For every one great piece Instagrammed to death there are ten eyesores which can only be filed under ‘Vandalism’. There was some street art project in Bandra a couple of years back. The Wall Project. Most of it was eye-wateringly boring Bollywood kitsch and the “spirit of Mumbai”, whatever the fuck that means. There is good graffiti out there. (Mostly in Japan). But it is outweighed by the godawful.

2. You know how a Harley-Davidson just looks wrong on an Indian road? It just doesn’t fit. It’s such an iconic piece of Americana that it looks wrong anywhere except on an American highway. That’s how I feel about a lot of spray can art. My instant association is a Harlem ghetto and 80s hip-hop. And when the same style is replicated elsewhere it looks like a knock-off. And so hardcore wannabe. I guess you can’t fight globalization.

3. The politics of underground artists. Let’s start right at the top. The Pope of the movement, Banksy. Banksy is a pretentious boring wanker who makes pompous social comments, when his art is tired, uninspired and pretty much just a plea for attention and fame. And his minions follow his lead. They’re all recycling the same Banksy-esque armchair politics. “Don’t start wars, the government is oppressive, everyone’s in a ‘rat race’.” The less politically motivated species merely get off by signing their names. Or ‘tagging’, to go by their nomenclature. Which is about as artistic as peeing on a tree to mark your territory.

If you are going to put it out there on public display for all to see, we have a right to judge it on its merits. It’s like a person who’s just bought a violin playing at a nationally aired event. Who gave you the right to inflict your shitty art and your moronic political views upon me? What is the difference between this and Al Fayed’s MJ statue at Fulham or Mayawati statues, closer home.

Graffiti is a cultural atrocity on all counts.

Although if you are looking at solving tricky plumbing problems at home, you may be persuaded to make an allowance or two.

For those of us who aren’t newlywed soldiers

Barring newborn babies and yet undiscovered tribes of cannibals in Fiji and the Andamans, it is a safe assumption that pretty soon every human being on this planet will be carrying a mobile phone.

That is because a) human beings love to talk to each other, and as countless mobile service provider ads tells us, b) this is a good thing. This is also borne out by psychiatrists, Moms, well-intentioned HR people, United Nations officials and hostage negotiators. “Just talk it out”. Note to self: ‘Google this line. See if it’s taken. It has all the makings of a telecom pitch winning slogan’. After all, somebody at some point of time, thought all these lines were brilliant. And must have sealed the deal and won the pitch.

‘Reach out and touch someone’ AT&T
‘Connecting people’ Nokia
‘It’s good to talk’ British Telecom
‘Stick together’ T-mobile
‘Dil jo chaahe paas laye’ Airtel
‘Dil ki baat’ Airtel
‘Let’s talk’ LG

Cut to visuals of lonely soldiers in Siachen talking to their wives and sad grand-dads who go into a paroxysm of joy when their impossibly cute grand child calls them.

It’s all the same fucking thing actually. ‘Reach out and touch someone’  is the same as ‘Connecting people’ is the same as ‘It’s good to talk’. Like ‘Impossible is nothing’ and ‘Just do it’ are actually the same thing.

Somebody digs out the highest order benefit of the category and try and figure different ways to put their flag on it. Brand laddering is the more wanky term for it.

So if all these marketing geniuses and psychiatrists and moms across the world have nailed this as the great human truth behind talking, why do I hate it so much?

I hate incoming calls. They are a vexation. Don’t mind incoming texts so much. But I hate having to chat with people, even friends and family when it’s not at my convenience. And convenience is an outgoing call. Because I get to choose my moment of leisure to have a chat. Incoming calls invariably interrupt. And most people with non-ADHD levels of concentration do not like to be interrupted while they’re in the middle of doing something.

It could also be that I am a hateful misanthrope who should be locked up in solitary confinement. But it turns out I’m not alone. As I found out, there are loads of other, sane, people-loving sorts who hate incoming calls. Not loads really. But a few, at least.

This obviously does not include the lonely soldier in Siachen or sad granddads or lovelorn teenagers.

Does anybody have any concern for us Self-centred Non-Needy types?

There are some of us who aren’t newlywed soldiers you know.

That’s why I suggest we write of Rules of Etiquette for Self-centred Non-Needy People. Not too many rules in there. Just one actually.

‘Unless there’s a specific reason, don’t call. Ever.’

And a corollary:
‘If you really, really have to call, text first. Or e-mail.’

The mobile phone is a tremendously useful tool. It is vital for any sort of business communication and also good for locating lost people and killing time while you’re at the dentist’s. In the early hours of the morning, its light is also useful to find your slippers at the foot of the bed.

But it is also an obnoxious instrument that is a ruiner of concentration and moments of solitude.

So, if it’s alright with you, I would prefer very much if you would, whenever you feel the uncontrollable urge, reach out and touch someone else.

iPad Apps for India

Visit the App Store and there are hundreds of apps. But how many of these are relevant to our culture? Are you really going to cook Jamie Oliver recipes or read the e-book of War and Peace? Perhaps not. Let’s look at some apps that make sense to us.

The Shastri-Gavaskar App
Type in any forthright comment about cricket and this cleans it into a BCCI certified version of the same. Free with this is the Tendlya-Mancrush App which plays romantic music mixed with heavy breathing and occasional panting whenever Tendulkar is at the crease. $ 0.50

Customer reviews

Akash Sharma. ****
This is awesome. Check it out. I typed in “The Indian test team are a bunch of overpaid, inbred louts”. What I get is “The Indian test team is perfectly balanced”. Stalin is smiling in his grave.

The Bollywood Remix Song App
Takes any old Hindi song from your iTunes library, adds a base track of pulsating beats (doof-doof-doof-doof) and intersperses Jamaican patois/ rap in it to make your own Bollywood remix! FREE

Customer reviews

Cool_GuyDelhi *****
Gm 2 all ma sweet frnzzz…ve a gr8 day.. Njoy

Abhishek Dutta ****
gud one

Sahil Tyagi *****
kya gazab ka app hai bhai!!!

The Delhi Belly App
Been eating too much clean food? Missing out on Medical Leave?
This app ties in the GPS functions of your phone to show you those gastronomic hotspots in Delhi where you are guaranteed E-Coli, Gastritis or Hep B that can lay you low for a week. $ 1.50

Customer reviews

Richa Shreshta ****
Brilliant. It showed me some places in West Delhi that can effectively counter vaccines!

Alok Ranjan *****
I used to have conscience issues fabricating excuses to skive off work but now those days are gone.

Ajay Prajapati *****
This thing is super effective. I went in search of a simple flu and ended up with Small Pox. 6 months quarantine!! Yay!

The Ridiculous Nickname Maker App
If you were born in India and you don’t have a corny ‘house-name’, you’re probably adopted. Tonu, Sonu, Babloo, Chinkoo, Lolo? No? Tch Tch. This app finds an appropriate cheesy Indian nickname for you, based on your given name, state of origin and level of ridiculousness desired. $ 0.50

Customer reviews

Gumpoo *
Nonsense app. We have been given good names by our parents only. Why are we buying the apps for this?

The Tax Loopholes App
Self-interest is our national sport and we’d be rotten Indians if we gave the government its rightful due. This app finds all the loopholes in our tax system and generates a to-do list of activities based on your particular profession and income level. Get ready to buy some ‘farm land’. $ 3.50

Customer reviews

Krishna Desai ***
I have heard many people saying that India is not developing or is very slowly developing. Those who believe this should again give a thought to it. What an idea sirji.

NetJobs4All *****
!!!!!!!!!!!!!Work from Homedoing data entry jobs!!!! Earn $1000-2000 USD/month!!!!! No investment!!!!!!!!!!!! Free Training.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Rape Whistle App
This is the must-have app of the season, especially if you reside in the NCR region. It’s a pretty straightforward app, does what it says. There are two settings, manual and automatic. The manual one is free. The automatic version is iPhone only as it requires body contact to detect minute changes in body temperature and adrenaline levels that correlate to the body’s flight-or-fight responses and triggers a high-pitched whistle. Automatic Version $4.00

No customer reviews so far

The Bribe Calculator App
Traffic cops, registrar of marriages, the gas connection guy, excise – how do you decide how much to bribe in each instance? Fret not. Your worries are over. The Bribe Calculator App has been scientifically developed after interviews with over 5000 government employees and 7000 unscrupulous businessmen across the four metros. It even includes the correct bribe glossary in different states. Examples, ‘Kharcha-paani’ in Mumbai becomes ‘Adjustment’ in Bangalore. Between $0.50 to $16.00 (negotiable)

No customer reviews so far

The Google Nosey Neighbour App
This app uses Google Maps to identify your neighbourhood and sets up Google alerts for all your neighbours and prepares weekly bulletins with all their activity on FB, Twitter and the internet in general. Being a Google app, this is still in the Beta testing phase and you can’t download it unless someone invites you to the download page.

Customer reviews

Swaroop Dev **
What do you think? Here to stay, or another Buzz/Wave?

Vikas Rawat ***
The interface is quick, really well done. I love the integration with the other Google tools I use, like Gmail and Reader.

Help The MBA Challenged App
We live in an age where unfortunately a lot of young people are afflicted by MBAs. It is a chronic condition that causes early onset of dementia, stunted emotional growth that can result in borderline intellectual functioning, repressed sexual behaviour and in some cases even anxiety attacks. In some countries people cross the road to avoid them and children throw rocks at them. This app helps the MBA challenged cope with the real world. Helps them through basic human interactions, greetings, responses and makes them productive citizens of society.

Customer reviews

Periyaswamy Ellappan *****
App of the Year, for me.

Ankita Mittal *****
How wonderful and humane of you to do something like this. God bless you.

Shubham Bhatkande ****
Touching. Best use of technology!

At what point do you start believing in your own bullshit?

It’s like with advertising people and their company philosophies and their unique methods of unearthing the brand essence. Believe me, I’ve heard it all. Right from the old USP days to Higher Order Laddering to Hofstede, Kapferer Brand Prisms. In the last agency I worked for, the buzzwords were “postmodern” and “pop culture” which was a deconstruction of the parent company’s greatest hits.

I use all of it, whenever it suits my purpose. I see them all a means to an end. If there’s some Marketing guy who believes fervently in Hofstede, we’ll give you a Hofstede. It really doesn’t matter so long as your persuasive logic is strong and you understand the market and competition. My relationship with these methods are purely opportunistic.

But it never ceases to amaze me how, after a few hundred presentations convincing clients using the same patented logic, some planners actually start believing in their bullshit.

It’s a curious phenomenon.

It begins as opportunistic behavior. A simple means to an end. Let’s get the concept sold. But, after a while they start fervently believing in this stuff. The abyss, it seems, begins to stare back. And then, nothing else will do. Trends may come and go, consumers may change, medium might change but the old dog refuses to learn new tricks.

I still know some marketing guys who will swear by Ries & Trout.

Now I was pondering this fact in the morning while reading something about Modi being compared to Hitler. What if it was the same psychological process at work there? The late Hitler historian Alan Bullock, analysing Hitler described him as purely an opportunistic actor who didn’t even believe in his anti-Semitism at first but later became “the actor that came to believe his own act.”

Or, as John Updike put it so memorably “the mask eats the face” (speaking of the degradation of celebrity).

People like Modi and Bal Thackeray are demagogues. People roar in their thousands when they express certain feelings. After a while, like the hacks going to the meetings with their Hofstede models, they bring more conviction into their speeches by pretending to ‘feel’ what they say. And after repetitive action, the feeling becomes a real feeling. It is a most curious phenomenon. I’m sure psychology has some term, something syndrome or the other to label this behaviour.

Maybe there is a cure. Then again, there probably isn’t. Belief is a powerful thing.

Arsenal fans will know what I’m talking about.

Is Bollywood music better than Western music today?

Taking off where my last post left off, I was going through the most played tracks on my iPod today and it turns out I’ve listened to more Bollywood music than Western music over the last couple of months. It came as a surprise to me, because I’ve never really considered myself a Bollywood music person. Is it age? Senility? Is it because I’ve spent close to 8 years in the North? Possibly.

But there’s probably more to it.

During my school days in the 80’s, Western music had a certain magnetic allure. These were the pre-liberalisation days, so anything with the ‘Made in USA’ tag was accepted like gold, frankinsence and myrrh. Jeans, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna and the pre-paedophile MJ. It was a heady world. Bubble gum was cool. So was Bubbles the chimp. We craved for bootlegs of A-Team and Airwolf.

Hindi music was something akin to genital warts. In Bangalore anyway. Ocassionally when there was a blockbuster Hindi film or an impossibly catchy tune like Hasan Jehangir’s ‘Hawa Hawa’ infected people, it was a guilty pleasure. You enjoyed it but would never openly admit to liking Hindi movies because that just labeled you as common and uncool.

Probably like how listening to Country Music was in America.

30 years have passed. Kurt Cobain died a long while back. MTV came and left. The music industry is running on fumes. And Western music for several other reasons has lost its allure. It’s more about celebrityhood and fashion now, it seems. You take the top ten pop tracks and they all have that same synthetic, factory-produced Rihanna quality. I’ve never heard a single Lady Gaga track. I don’t think anyone has. But everyone talks of her clothes.

And as for rock, I have a one word summation of the state of the industry.

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Nickelback.

And there’s Beliebers and Miley Cyrus’s clitoris on display 24/7 for anyone who’d care to take a look.

Maybe I’m getting senile but Western music does seem to suck a bit.

At the same time, Hindi movies have gone through a sea change of perception. Funnily enough, it became fashionable among the hoipolloi around the time it hit its nadir, i.e. the David Dhawan era. Reverse snobbery kicked in and suddenly Govinda was cool. I never fell for that.

But things began to change slowly for Hindi films. Karan Johar and SRK brought in the overseas audiences. Multiplexes changed the nature of the old potboiler. And Hindi music has moved on from the Bappi Lahiri, Anu Malik days to more sophisticated music directors like AR Rahman, Amit Trivedi and Sneha Kanwalkar. I would even grudgingly doff my hat to Pritam who’s brought back an almost RD Burmanesque quality to melody. Is this the watershed moment?

Image

Have we finally moved on and given up the baggage of the Raj Hangover, cantonment living and convent schools to finally embrace our own culture? Only time will tell.

Your move, Western music.

I Am Bored Of People Trying To Shock Me

I don’t get musicians who try to “shock” people with their rock n’roll bullshit.

For more than a year, Lady Gaga has tried to outdo herself every day.

Her schtick – wearing next-to-nothing, strutting in super-high platforms
and childishly outlandish gear. Yawn.

She showed up at a baseball game and flashed her middle finger. Double yawn.

The overwhelming response to the news that she may have dressed up as a man for Vogue Hommes Japan? Shrug.

This is 2012.

We’ve seen Hendrix burn guitars, Sid Vicious shoot his girlfriend and OD to death. It was dazzling then. It’s just sad and boring now. Rock n roll died a long time ago with Kurt Cobain. And it’s not coming back.

I don’t claim to be an expert on music but I’m pretty ok-ok on my lowbrow pop culture and I can tell you this. Rule-breaking is so seventies, man. Once you’ve done it, it’s done.

It’s boring if you try to keep replicating that. It’s like the Hindi film industry’s laughable experiment with turning Shahid Kapoor into a clone of the young SRK. They’ve got him imitating his mannerisms, his wardrobe, even his corny arms outstretched signature move. Presumably this is Shahid Kapoor’s lizard brain telling him to do it, or his marketing people.

But enough about Bollywood. Let’s go back to talking about rock.

Rock should have died in the late eighties but marketing kept it alive a decade longer when Eddie Vedder’s ‘Ten’ and Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ delivered the defribillator shock the industry needed. Suddenly it looked immortal. It seemed like the ultimate marketing formula to youth.

Youth = angst = rebellion
Rebellion = rule breaking

Cue long-haired hippie variations, glam rock, punk rock – the ingredients are the same. A long-haired, unhygienic, often skinny young man or woman asking you to fuck the system. Let’s do something to piss off your Dad.

It’s just Marketing. It’s the Magic Formula.

Bill Bernbach said this in the Fifties.

“However much we like advertising to be a science – because life would be simpler that way – the fact is that it is not. It is a subtle, ever-changing art, defying formulization, flowering on freshness, and withering on imitation; where what was effective one day, for that very reason will not be effective the next, because it has lost the maximum impact of originality.”

1. Now remove the word ‘advertising’ from the quote.
2. Replace it with ‘popular culture’.
3. Read it again.

This is why rock is dead.

This is also why most ‘avant-garde’ art bores me.

Fountain, a urinal placed on exhibit by Marcel Duchamp, a pioneer of the form, in 1917. In 2004, Fountain was selected in a survey of 500 artists and critics as the most influential work of modern art.

Orgies of Mystery Theatre, by Hermann Nitsch, a display of music and dance in the midst of “dismembered animal corpses”, at 1966’s Destruction in Art Symposium

Piss Christ, 1987, by Andres Serrano a photograph of a crucifix submerged in the artist’s own urine.

Artist Rick Gibson made a pair of earrings with freeze-dried human fetuses (Human Earrings – 1987), publicly ate a slice of human tonsil (A Cannibal in Walthamstow – 1988) and human testicle (A Cannibal in Vancouver – 1989 and proposed to make a diptych with a squashed rat (Sniffy the Rat – 1990)

In 1996 Gottfried Helnwein painted the Adoration of the Magi with Adolf Hitler as Baby Jesus, which was displayed at the State Russian Museum St. Petersburg, the Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Denver Art Museum, Museum Ludwig and others.

And then, just when you thought it was dead, along comes Damien Hirst with sliced cow immersed in formaldehyde that became the iconic work of British art in the 1990s, and the symbol of Britart worldwide.

And he’s been dining on this gravy train ever since. Making skulls out of diamonds and whatever.

How long will this go on, I wonder?

This attempt to formulize rebellion is corny, dumb and most importantly, it’s uncool. People will get wise to it, sooner or later. Until then, if you see a long-haired anarchist musician or come across an artist making stuff with his faeces or Hitler’s pubes or something, do me a favour. Although it’s tempting, don’t kick him in the testicles. He wants you to. He’ll probably write a song or make a conceptual art piece about the experience.

Just keep walking. Nothing to see here.

We put the laughter in slaughter

Excerpt from an article published in The National, culled from various sources.

“Their dung blocks nuclear radiation, their milk makes children more obedient, touching them can lower blood pressure – just three reasons given for the introduction in Madhya Pradesh of the toughest penalties in India to protect the cow. A workshop this week also heard only people who coated their house with cow dung, a popular insulation, survived the 1984 gas leak that killed up to 25,000 in Bhopal, the state capital, the Indian Express reported.

Under the new law, which took effect last week, anyone convicted of cow slaughter or taking it interstate to be killed can be jailed for up to seven years. The law also empowers police to enter a home if they suspect a cow crime has been, is being or is likely to be, committed, raising fears it could be used to harrass minority Muslims.

The state government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), insists the move is to protect the sanctity of the cow and fixes problems in an earlier law. Academics say it may be a cynical move to bolster support for the party and the chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, who also announced the government would spend almost US$100 million on a “mega-cow pen” to provide better conditions for young calves.

An article in The Hindu newspaper yesterday made a pointed comparison to the condition of people in Madhya Pradesh, which has the country’s highest rate of infant mortality and lowest rate of literacy.

“The religious feelings of people need to be respected and therefore saving the cow is one of the top priorities of the government,” Nagendra Singh, the state public welfare minister, told the paper.”

Slumbai

Until recently I had Mumbai labeled as One Of The Shittiest Places To Live In. And if it weren’t for the existence of Patna and Kolkata, the ‘One Of’ would also be questionable.

Let’s start with that popular euphemism

The buzz of Bombay

“Everyone is always walking so fast!”

Now think about it.

If you have to spend 4 hours every day going back and forth to work, the one thing you wouldn’t want is to extend those 4 hours by another half hour.

So you walk faster.

And it’s not like you want to stop and smell the armpits of the lepers and eunuchs who are inescapable in this city.

So you walk faster.

And don’t you just love the smell of benzopyrene in the morning?

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) latest Environment Status Report (ESR) released on September 3, 2011 shows shows that the presence of benzopyrene, a highly cancer causing chemical released in the air, in the city has risen eight times from its minimum level of 0.13 µg/1000m3 in 2008-2009 to 1.09. The maximum level has increased five times, from 0.54 µg/1000m3 in 2008- 2009 to 2.56. Long-term human exposure to benzopyrene can lead to genetic damage. I bet you can’t wait to raise children in Mumbai.

The Axe Effect

I’m not making this up. Mumbai authorities have purchased 42,000 litres of perfume to spray on the city’s enormous waste dumps at Deonar and Mulund landfill sites after people living near the landfill sites complained of the stench. The Deonar landfill site, one of India’s largest, was first used by the British in 1927. Now this festering pile covers more than 120 hectares and is eight storeys high. Around 500,000 people live near the two dumps.

In March 2011, Mumbai was ranked seventh in a list of the world’s 25 dirtiest cities published by Forbes magazine, a worse rating than even Baghdad. Mumbai’s council now has plans to close part of the dumps and use the methane the rest generates to help solve the city’s power crisis.

Hafeez Contractor’s vision of hell

Mumbai is a city built without city planning or zoning restrictions. A haphazard clusterfuck of a city designed by architects from the post-aesthetic school of design.

The trouble is typified by a nascent proposal for the development of a defunct textile mill at Prabha Devi. This 8-acre plot is being allowed to use a Floor Space Index of 10: three million sq ft of built up area. In Lower Parel, a 62-floor supertall skyscraper called the Namaste Tower is proposed. At the narrow Hughes Road intersection, is planned a 60-65 floor condominium; and at the even narrower Marine Lines Road near Charni Road station we are soon to have another splendid addition to Mumbai’s deluxe hotels.

All these oversized developments are permitted because FSI and building rights are treated in isolation from all other factors, divorced from the needs and requirements of the locality and, consequently, the city itself. These constructions bear no relation to the roads on which they stand, the capacity of those roads, or, for that matter, the supporting infrastructure, let alone the physical or visual feel of the vicinity.

The people, the vibe.

Naresh Fernandes, reporting for the New Yorker in the aftermath of the recent Mumbai blasts (What Mumbai Spirit?) said it best. “It suddenly became clear this morning that the sentiment many had identified as the Mumbai spirit was probably epic apathy all along. And, really, who could blame the residents of this city of just over twelve million for being too exhausted to think about anything other than their gruelling daily routines? Behind the sparkling Bollywood façade it projects to the world, Mumbai is a city riven with gargantuan problems. It’s more slum dog than millionaire. More than sixty per cent of the residents of India’s financial capital live in shanties, with twenty thousand people packed into each square kilometre. The pollution is often throat-searing; the water supply and road systems are overstretched. The trains, which carry about 6.9 million commuters every work day, are designed to transport seventeen hundred passengers each, but in peak hour bone-crunchingly pack in forty-five hundred travellers.”

Bambaiyya Hindi

Then there’s the pidgin Hindi lingo that has evolved out of this abyss. A coarse doggerel that is best suited to low-life and those without the IQ to understand a language properly. It is a commercial shorthand that evolved to deal with a large number of uneducated people. Like, imagine you have an illiterate Marathi maid and you speak only Tamil. In a matter of time you will concoct a form of speech with few words and few complications that get the point across ignoring finer nuances. Baby talk, essentially. Bumbaiyya Hindi is a version of baby talk between Marathi and Hindi speakers.

Subhuman, abominable shithole

If you watched Danny Boyle’s much lauded Poverty Opus, Slumdog Millionaire, the term ‘Beggar mafia’ would be familiar to you. I can’t think of any criminal act more debased than those committed here. I can understand someone stealing because they’re so dirt poor that they have no option. But what sort of person, what sort of sick fuck can be so violent and amoral that they are prepared to hack the limbs off children, as well as steal new-born babies from hospitals? And abuse and starve these children as begging ‘props’ to maximise their earnings from sympathetic passers-by?

Although this problem is pan-India, you guessed it, Slumbai is the heart of this industry. The beggar mafia makes more than Rs 160 Cr a year in Mumbai alone. According to official figures, as many as 44,000 children fall into the clutches of the beggar mafia in India each year and of these, hundreds are deliberately mutilated.

Mumbai is number one when it comes to missing children. Mumbai has been partly responsible for India being placed in Tier 2 of the human trafficking watchlist by the US Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

When I say Mumbai is a shithole I don’t mean that other Indian cities are shining examples of community living. Shit happens everywhere but why does the sickest shit happen in Mumbai?

And every day I read about someone raving about how awesome Mumbai is and there’s no place in the world like it. Fuck, yeah. There is no place in the world like it. If you love it so much, live there. You deserve it.

Enjoy the benzopyrene.