For six months or more, you keep a leash on your writing. You write for the most part about telecom, with diversions into other infrastructure sectors. You keep it factual and devoid of metaphors (though you indulge yourself with a PJ every so often). And what happens? The minute you decide to spice things up a little with some dramatic flourishes, you get accused of condescendation1.
Oh well. I suppose it was my fault for not being as explicit as I could have been. So let’s dive into the clarification.
Starting out, I am not accusing anybody who finds the ad objectionable of being leftist, or a fool. In fact, there are two aspects to this. First, I am only talking about the three people who have linked the ads, not everyone who dislikes them. Second, I am not calling them leftists, or fools. Nor am I saying that they are opposed to liberalisation. What I am saying that they exhibit the same behaviour that religious people do.
Now, let’s talk about why I’m saying that.
There is an undercurrent in all of the posts that I linked to that it is wrong to use the images of the poor. It exploits them, commodifies them even.
That it’s ok to use poverty in a patronising fashion, like a commodity, make a joke about it.
Millions of men and women in this country — who are NOT thieves — spend their whole lives doing backbreaking, soul-killing work, and remain pretty much in a cashless world — while we lucky few can buy things with plastic cards. Let’s make jokes about their misery on top of it.
My first question: so?
We commodify other people and make jokes about them all the time. The Coke ads have been stereotyping a bunch of ethnic communities for two years now. The new Airtel hoarding for their One rupee plan shows a Sardar and a Bharatnatyam dancer. Isn’t that commodification, when you pick people only for the fact that they live far apart and help you point out that distance has died?
So, MumbaiGirl, what is so special about the poor that you want to make an exception for them? This is the veneration I’m talking about. It’s the same sort of veneration that makes Hindu NRIs claim that you can’t put Ganesh on a thong, or Muslims infuriated when someone publishes cartoons of Mohammed. Or Parsis when Oliver Stone uses a Zoroastrian symbol in Alexander. Or Christians when The Last Temptation of Christ is made. Yes, not all these cases lead to rioting or burning embassies, but the underlying argument is the same: that only some people have the right to decide what is a tasteful and correct use of a particular symbol.
And now my second question, which should hopefully explain the later commandments.
Who is more patronising: the copyrighters of the ads, or the people who take offense on behalf of the poor? The ones who make fun of people, or the ones who think that people cannot judge for themselves whether to be offended or not, and need somebody to spring to their defence? By what authority do they assume the right to take offense on behalf of someone who may not even have seen the ad? Are the poor their property that they must worry about their welfare?
This is the other way in which these posts have resembled religion. They assume the right to take offense on behalf of someone or something, no matter whether that someone or something is alive to care, or dead, or a symbol, or non-existent, or supremely indifferent. Just like the outrage felt by ‘Hindu pride’ when MF Hussain draws Saraswati. It is perhaps worse, because these posts reduce the poor to symbols, instead of people.
1Condescendation is a physical process unique to Infamous Cartel Members. It’s what happens when you’re so cool that the waves of your condescenscion solidify around you in a frosty condensate.