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Fake, phantasmagoric icons

Patricia Pereira-Sethi

Recently Kim Kardashian informed her fans that she is en route to becoming a lawyer “to reform the American criminal justice system”. Those who religiously follow her movements gushed and cooed. Others peppered the net with sarcasm. Our dailies wasted precious newspaper space reporting the episode, fascinated as they are with the Kardashian gang’s deeds and doings, even though they hardly matter a jot to any of the readers. Does the local media wish to project them as role models for our youth?

Most plebeians must produce a college degree before sweating through four years of law school to sit for the bar exam, which gives them the legal bedrock to enter a court to defend or prosecute an individual. In contrast, Kim will merely “apprentice” with a local California law firm, complying with a minimum attendance schedule before confronting the bar exams in 2022.

Kim’s prerogative to the legal profession rests on two prongs: the genes she inherited from her father, Robert Kardashian, a well-known criminal attorney who defended football player OJ Simpson, accused of killing his wife and a visitor to her home. And the fact that she was able to talk US President Donald Trump into releasing a 63-year-old grandmother whom Kim believed received an unfair life term for a nonviolent drug-related crime. Given that Kim’s husband Kanye West lionises the American president – he even composed a rap number celebrating him – Kim was able to sashay past the White House guards, hips swinging, into the Oval office for publicity shots with the Prez. She then scooped up the prisoner’s clemency papers, signed, sealed and delivered with the presidential seal. All the ad companies in the world combined, led by acclaimed adman Piyush Pandey, could scarcely have staged a better promo.

The plethora of false gods that are being projected by the media is staggering. People who don’t impact the average Indian, whose lifestyles are completely alien to the desi culture, still remain on the front burner of our news-scapes. Fast-ageing men and women, Botoxed into balloons and surgically strapped into tightly stretched skin, are supposed to turn our browsers on. The lives of Bollywood and Hollywood nobodies are the stuff that current history appears to be made of: who divorced whom, who is their latest flame, the parking tickets they receive, their bikinied beach frolics. Their children are forcibly thrust into our sights as well: tiny tots clad in designer garb, holding exceedingly expensive toys, en route to luxurious overseas vacations, displaying a cheeky indifference to the world. Solid news, in-depth political analysis, important deliberations be damned: all erudite musings must take second place to the nonsensical goings-on.

One also cannot help be baffled by the number of celebrities who pose for ads. Does anyone truly believe that they use the stuff they promote? Do the long silky smooth tresses that crown their heads result from the hair products they peddle? Do they really cleanse themselves with the cheaper soaps they urge us to bathe with? Do they actually wear the inexpensive watch they sport for a commercial? Do they indeed eat the local biscuits they nibble at on our television screens or gulp down the sugar-boosted soft drinks they market when they are so conscious of that extra pound of flesh? Are their houses built with the cement they hold up alluringly at us or painted with the deluxe paints they profess are the best in the business? Will you and I then rush out and demand that the contractors use that particular cement and paint for the building that we are buying into? Do we scurry to sign on to a bank because some attractive dusky actress uses their app, as she smiles winsomely at us?

Here one has to commend the Hollywood crowd. Big name stars in the US simply refuse to promote a product to the public. They feel it is unethical, incorrect, and just plain wrong. They worry that by lending their face and voice to merchandise, they could be misleading the citizenry. They decline to trade in their self-respect for a few bucks. An admirable sense of responsibility prevails there: since they cannot vouch for the product, they simply will not propose or persuade others to purchase it.

Ad companies argue that celebrity endorsement sells a product or service. After all, such postulations are what keep everyone afloat in the heady business. They contend that the benefits of using a celebrity for advertising are manifold, because the use of a famous face helps to influence the way consumers envision a product. If a glamourous model or film star advertises a new moisturiser or fragrance, the customer subconsciously equates that product with the appearance or star-quality of the celebrity. Customers then purchase items being hawked in the hope of emulating the star to some degree. But some analysts question whether this is true? Is it indeed accepted by our intelligent and highly educated youth of today? Will people who have the brains to manipulate the web and the intricacies of technology with such incredible ease, fall prey to scurrilous sales pitches or do they make up their own minds based on logical analysis and personal economics? Can people be swayed into purchasing stuff being thrust into their faces without first thinking it through completely?

After several interactions with Gen-Next, I have realised that it is impossible to pull the wool over the eyes of the smart and savvy youth of today. They are articulate, rational, conscientious, methodical, and solid. Very different from the youth of yesteryear who were virtual babes in the woods. We followed our elders’ advice unquestioningly. We accepted a senior’s comment as fact. We did as we were told. Gen-Next is a new breed, however. They know where they are going and how to get there. They are fully aware of the complexities of life in their early teens. Most have raised the bar on all experiences which were considered taboo in our days. Gen-Next will listen politely to their superiors, they will smile and nod graciously, but eventually they will make up their own minds. More power to them.

So no matter how the media promotes Kim and similar personalities to us, no matter how many celebrities flood the market touting stuff, our youth will look, think, analyse and do precisely what they want to. Fortunately!

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