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.

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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.

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.