Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Indian television

Sometimes, you just need a personal day. For me, today was that day. 

Since I arrived here in Chennai (and, if I'm honest, even before I left Italy) I have been stressing about getting my research started, sorting things out with YRGCARE and finding a flat for my stay. And even though yesterday was generally quite a good one, I just felt completely run down and jetlagged this morning. Since my mentor preferred to meet tomorrow, I decided to stay in, relax and just rebalance my self a bit. 

To pass the time (and keep myself from napping - thereby undoing all the anti-jetlag work I've managed!) I spent most of the day in front of the television while surfing the internet. Lazy? Definitely. However, today actually gave me further insights into Indian cultural practices and norms through the advertisements and shows.  

The most obvious difference with television here in India versus that in the United States or Britain has to be the proliferation of skin lightening cream advertisements. It seems that every international cosmetics brand has created a lotion to sell here in India that promises to remove pigmentation, lighten skin's general appearance, and, as a result, give you a happier, more successful life. 

L'Oreal's Vichy skincare range
In some commercial breaks, the ads for skin lightening treatments and creams made up more than half of those shown. Its particularly strange to see an ad for a cream that I'm familiar with back home, such as Olay's Total Effects range, being promoted for different reasons. For example, instead of highlighting the anti-wrinkle factors, the focus was on the skin brightening element (and therefore giving you a lighter appearance). 

The cultural focus on lighter skin has in the past been tied to racism, the caste system and lingering ideas of society from the days of colonialism. However, the target audience seems to be, from my limited observations, to be young unmarried men and women. The ads are telling them that lighter skin will make them happier, more attractive to the opposite sex (and therefore more attractive as a marriage partner), and more successful in their careers. This makes me feel that these companies are playing on the type of insecurities that all young people have, at a point in their lives when a lot of their future is still undetermined. 

Fair and Handsome: enough said.
The other unique element of Indian television comes from the subjects and words that are considered offensive to particular audiences. While watching a show about Italian cooking and feeling a bit homesick, I was distracted by a word being 'bleeped' out every few minutes. Since delicious Italian food doesn't usually lend itself to cursing sprees, I wondered what the problem could be. The offensive word? Beef. Despite knowing that India's Hindu population makes up around 80% of the country, I hadn't realized that the act of cooking beef on a television food program would be considered so offensive that it had to be removed. 

By far, however, my favorite commercial has to be from IndiGo a low cost airline. Very clever! 

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