Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The sexual revolution for the west may have happened in the 60s- for us it is right now!
Can you Imagine this? The fortune of a TV channel rode on ‘The Bachelor’ gender bent into a telling Sign of our time – a reality show titled ‘Swayanwar’ (or ‘self choosing of a groom’, translated literally). Although Swayanwar as a practice harks back to one of the many progressive historical rituals, its re institution today is a stark implosion of the extended feminine repression in the Indian society through the colonial and post independence era. The Signs corroborating the same are many.
Flexing the gender muscle For their own good, and for everyone else’s, women are being more explicit and comfortable about their femininity and sexuality.
Perhaps the first public Signs of expression came from the Demi Mooresque Priyanka Chopra portraying the aggressive seductress boss in the Bollywood’s take of Disclosure few years back. And the shades of passion have only grown bolder since then.
Let’s begin with the first shade of mauve pink that has turned decidedly deeper - that feminine evolution tracing Brand Fair & Lovely. It first shrugged off the historical coy girl persona consumed with winning attention of her prospective groom. Going on to touch the discriminations of an Indian daughter against the favored son, and finally heralded the Power of Beauty in its current avatar.
Another shade of pink, the emerging cultural brand Scooty, had emboldened teen girls coquettishly perking up to echo the simmering conflict of genders with ‘Why should boys have all the fun?’. That too has graduated to advocating their abandoning the pillion status, leaving the boys funnily asking each other to surrogate for the missing intimacy.
Women are showing more
Continuing the emboldening and showcasing of the new feminine spirit, spaghetti tops and noodle straps emerged as the post Indo Western genre in women’s fashion. Kurtas got shortened into Kurtis and then the plunging necklines gave in to the rising hemlines to create the Shrug. Indian born French designer Promod led the improvisation of laced innerwear like ensembles in minimalist stylizations. A closer inspection of the lingerie trends too reveal interesting expressions. The ‘U Bra’ is a top down version of the d├ęcolletage; the ‘crest’ bra is the bottom up peek. And then there’s the bizarre version of A Bras, bras worn on the outside!
Is this whole thing only a way of displaying some assertive 'gender muscle'? Or is it a way of reclaiming ownership of and openly expressing – with a purposefully ambiguous non-sexual intent – aspects of a gender identity that were previously considered inappropriate or even shameful? This assertion of 'gender power' seems apparent in other fields too. We are surely seeing more media patronizing of the women reaching higher levels in business, politics or sports - a good media exaggeration for a change. Not to mention The TV where there seems to be a serendipitous trend of girl-child causes dominating mainstream programming – From ‘Baalika Vadhu’ to ‘Agle Janam mohe bitiya hi kijo’ to ‘mere ghar aaee ek nanhi pari’ to ‘na aana is des laado’. The fact that they all are leading their Channel fortunes suggests there’s a resonance of the Sign across.
But Why are women showing more?

Feminism is dead. Long live the feminine power.
Urban women to a large degree got what they wanted- they've been empowered in the classic sense, where they can work and run companies – So now what?
Well, now femininity is about exploring the new power for women. And that’s where d├ęcolletage, higher heels and shorter skirts slickly fit in. Veronica may have won over Betty in enslaving Archie, But today feminity is not about netting someone, or even looking more ‘with it’ than the peers, it is simply about using what you've got to the maximum advantage. Indeed, femininity and sexuality have become powerful tools.
And yes, women are increasingly setting agendas, including the sexual agenda. They do this by openly wearing their sexuality, using their femininity and sexuality consciously as well as insisting on sexual satisfaction in marriages and relationships. From being a passive object in the act, more gym going, sexually peaking young mums are increasingly talking about higher expectations from their overworked n tired spouses, albeit only in their kitty parties, yet.
Women are showing more and demanding more as their sexuality has, in many ways come out of the closet. While the Signs are not yet as overt as the recently introduced San Francisco Spa dedicated exclusively towards pleasuring women, but yes, there are subtly but surely increasing incidences of toy boys, male masseurs F Buddies and the binge sex on the rebound.
Besides this don’t overlook the fact that many women have invested heavily in achieving enviable shapes and would want to flash their investment just like any man would flash a new car.

Return of the coy?
These redefinitions of sexuality are creating socio-cultural conflicts for femininity and, in the subsequent future, would do so for maleness too. That is what is presenting Programmers, Content Creators, Script Writers and even Brands with an opportunity. Opportunity of creating appeasing or encouraging Myths that would provide a resolution to these conflicts and create a Cultural Connect. Or even consider imploding the trend, to create a Contra Sign. Which may amount to creating and encouraging stereotypes opposite to the masculine, aggressive put offs. May be the coy and tender will become the role models again, someday soon. And given the not so pleasant army of muscle bodied, hard faced, men-parading women; this Sign could be a welcome sign.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Everyone wants to Go. An airline wants to Go. A radio station wants to Go. Goa wants to Go. VISA wants to Go. A bike wants to dhak dhak and Go. A freshness soap wants us to get out and Go. Kids want a GoYo instead of a YoYo. India’s No 1 Mobile Network wants the belly of the market to Go for it. An unlikely Yogurt brand Govardhan too wants to Go.

Speed is the new mantra that stands unabated. Fast track Watches want us to Move On. Fanta Orange wants us to Go Bite. Philips wants youngsters to GoGear. A leading telecom service provider peddles its new Broadband offering for a generation that brashly admits it has No time to Wait.

"Arguably the two key needstates we are hurtling towards, are Indulgence & Expression. Moods that are directly linked in to Spontaneity & Impatience, respectively."

The ‘No Theory Please’ Generation
The over arching impatience seems to find an echo across the categories. There is an impatience with anything and everything that causes a delay. Theorizing, a carryover of our knowledge accumulation heritage, now meets with a stern rebuke from IBM – ‘Stop talking. Start doing’. World’s premier financial Group Citi too simply sums up its new no nonsense approach with ‘Let’s get it done’.

Rude is Good
Occasionally this impatience takes on aggressive tones of rudeness too. Rude today seems to be in. A TV producer and reality show host Raghu Ram, who would have been deemed unfit for presenting anything in the past, is the new rude dude on his popular show.

But why does everyone want to Go? Why is it that even the slowdown of recession hasn’t been able to contain the spirit of Go?

The answers to these Qs lie in our history, our present and our future.

Historically pent up desires imploding in Spontaneity
Having lived an extended past marked by destitution and denial, today’s India, beneath it’s newly acquired confident exterior, is hiding bottled up aspirations and desires. The Spartan Hindu way of life that eulogized self denial as a way of dignifying the scarcity, has had enough. It is now understandably, gushing at every opportunity of expression.

The current Rush to get there First
The present India therefore is an India released. A billion plus population trying to outrun each other to get to the new opportunities first. Rushing to make the most of now.

The Urgency of Ambition
There is also an element of future ambition playing its part in churning out the Go zombies. With a neo patriotic zest about India’s enhanced stature in the revised eco political balance, India today is too charged up to take it’s somewhat over hyped place under the Globalization 3.0 sun. And in a way, that’s a vantage sign for our resilience in overcoming the slowdown.
Even if we look at it from the defining need states and country moods perspective, the new Signs of Impatience and Spontaneity seem to make sociological sense. Arguably the two key needstates the society is hurtling towards are Indulgence and Expression. Moods that are directly linked in to Spontaneity and Impatience, respectively.

So would it be fair to say that we are all growing up in a Go Era? Should we start measuring people by their Go Quotient? Will the walks of life that haven’t already been subsumed in the Go lifestyle have a Go at it soon? And finally for how long would this Go frenzy go on? May be some Go getters should have a go at these posers.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Driving back from work last evening, a sudden commotion at a traffic signal caught my attention. The exciting disruption of a normally excruciating wait was being caused by, of all things, a live musical sound!

The sight that drew both a surprise and a smile at the same time was that of a middle aged woman driver, playing the beautiful melody on her wooden flute, as she waited for the signal light to turn green.

Yes, in spite of the pall of gloom in the downturn, there seem to be many positive Signs pointing towards a new way of “being” for us all. Signs around Brightsiding, or optimism about a positive future beyond the recession, are washing over the globe. Simultaneously, Signs around Maturlism, a new trend of mature materialism, are helping us counterbalance our past socioeconomic excesses and revert to the stable values at the very foundation of our society.

With the economy having flipped the way it has, there are signs that our idea of normalcy and everything that constitutes normal seem to have undergone a significant change. It looks like the harsher times are helping us reexamine our priorities. A refreshing wave of maturity, humility and realism seems to be imploding within the saturation of decadent consumerism, winning and expression.

One of the clear fallouts of the economic slowdown is the concept of slowing down itself. We seem to be pausing more, paying greater attention to the smaller things that were earlier lost in the rush of the work-life frenzy. Visiting Dads, used to seeing their kids grow up in sleep, seem to be finally discovering the Grade in which their sons or daughters are.

People also seem to be spending money differently. The global crash has led to the intertwined quartet of realty, credit, blue chip and oil being more affordable. But inspite of sales abound, we have all become far more conservative in what and how much we buy.

The excesses of our past may not have been erased completely. However, they definitely are catching up with us. The auto industry is a clear example. Take GM for instance, the poster company of the US and a true symbol of the industrialism that led to mass affluence in the first place, has also buckled and sworn to correct the irregularities of its past as it inches towards bankruptcy.

Big fat cats of the Stock Streets who rode the crest of notional wealth, splurged, debauched and generally thought of nothing as impossible, are being overtly rebuked for their bonuses and extravagance.

While our financial and social senses seemed more attuned to the rich-poor juxtaposition earlier, the truths we must now confront are helping us evaluate matters more deeply - examine the way we lead our lives and what we spend our precious time and money on.

Quality of life has become key. Take for instance, the growing popularity of “home do’s”, parties and get-togethers at home for friends and family. They’re quickly replacing the splurge and dazzle of yesterday’s template parties. Or the increasingly popular dual-SIM phones that can separate one’s work and family lives with just a flick.

Media too seems to be catching on. The new splash in broadcast media is around a new channel, and genre, tellingly christened ‘Real’. A showcase of real characters and real stories - a welcome change from the usual melodramatic quagmire on offer. Getting real seems to be the mood of the season.

As are hope and optimism. And in tough times, the breakdown of traditional systems and symbols of power seem to provide that very hope and optimism. The story of the victorious underdog is everywhere. President Barack Obama springs immediately to mind. As does Slumdog Millionaire - the little movie from India that raced up the red carpet and podiums of all awards to bag top honours. “Jai Ho!” has become the clarion call of the world.

Change then, is in the air. Brands and their custodians seem to have sensed it too and are reflecting freshness in approach that is more grounded and rooted in realism, yet buoyant with a sense of hope. Banks, the harbingers of the meltdown, are now speaking of ‘The Power of Belief’ and structuring their brands around a solid foundation of leadership, ideas, trust and education.

In the aftermath of the crash, there seems to be a nascent optimism and an increasing need to chip away at frivolous luxuries to leave what is real and solid underneath. People are looking for and responding to symbols of hope and trust. There are signs that we’re all just waiting for all the noise to quiet down and the light to turn green again.