Coke, WTF?

 

My teacher for Brand Identity class showed us the America Is Beautiful ad (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=443Vy3I0gJs) and asked us how it made us feel. About 99% of the students said it made them feel patriotic and humbled, even though their motherland is not America. Later, he showed us this video that supposedly targets the people of Pakistan, and followed the same exercise by asking us how it made us feel. We were shocked, confused and angry.

Needless to say, none of the responses were positive. And I’ll tell you why.

  • First, this is not Pakistan. This video does NOT represent the whole of Pakistan. They missed out on a lot of communities, a lot of people. They can’t just show one side of our country and expect us all to connect with it.

 

  • Second, the use of the tagline, Hur Dum Pakistani (which translates to Pakistani, with every breath) is incorrect, because it doesn’t make sense. Where are the rest of the people in the video? Why aren’t we here? Aren’t we Pakistanis with every breath, too?

 

  • Third, we couldn’t feel the emotional attachment. Almost all of my classmates said they could not connect with the imagery in the video, because they are not used to it. I agree, too. I couldn’t feel as if I belonged in the video, although it was very real and true. Obviously, because the people they showed are not from my community, or my society.

 

  • Fourth, if they wanted to target to such classes, then they should not have used English as the medium of communication. The taglines: Where there is will, there is happiness and Hur Dum Pakistani do not make sense. If they wanted to target this part of Pakistan, then obviously the most logical explanation would have been if they had used Urdu as the chosen language. I don’t think most of the people in the video can understand English. If they had used Urdu, I am sure people could’ve related to it more.

 

  • And lastly, the National Anthem is NOT sung like this. Honestly, this is what bothered us the most. My teacher went ballistic, to be honest. I think he was the angriest one in the room. Okay. The girl has a pretty voice, but it was kinda messed up. The National Anthem is not a song, like it has been used in the video. The National Anthem has huge importance and it is very respected. This video somehow ruins that majestic quality of the National Anthem. The vocalist, Zahra Daha, has a good voice, I agree. But what is most disappointing is the fact that she cannot speak proper Urdu. At least hire a vocalist who can sing the National Anthem without butchering up the lyrics! Her pronunciation of a lot of Urdu words in the Anthem were messed up. This is highly disrespectful and a matter of humiliation for all Pakistanis.

I sincerely hope, this gets rejected as a commercial. They can do much better, to be very honest. i hope they hire a vocalist who has a good command over the National Language of Pakistan, after all this will be an ad for Pakistanis. And I hope that this time, they make sure it represents all the Pakistanis, instead of focusing on one or two communities. Coke is about sharing happiness, bringing everyone together. Please make sure the ads also do just that.

Quick facts about the video:

  1. It is directed, shot & edited by Umair Anwar.
  2. Vocalist is Zahra Daha
  3. The title is ‘Where there is will, there is happiness’
  4. The English translation (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qaumi_Taranah) of the National Anthem of Pakistan, in case you guys were wondering: Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 11.39.45 pm
Advertisements

Occupy

“Occupy embodies a vision of democracy that is fundamentally antagonistic to the management of society as a corporate-controlled space that funds a political system to serve the wealthy, ignore the poor…”

-Greg Ruggiero

Occupy, a short book, is basically a brief study of the Occupy movement written by political activist, Noam Chomsky. The book opens up with an editor’s note by Greg Ruggiero who praises the Occupy movement. In short, he explains Chomsky’s views on the Occupy movement and the promotion of democracy through the movement. He highlights Occupy’s success in the United States of America, expressing that it has positively improved media discussions by bringing national attention to the struggles of the underprivileged. He also goes on to talk about the protest movement; how it has not only helped to highlight the “heartlessness and inhumanity” of the socio-political system, but it also helped unite those “being crushed” under that very system. Their unity, at times like this, is applauded and praised greatly.

He also suggests causes for the movement’s success, and explains the manner in which people protest. He says, for example, booing isn’t enough for the people. He says “people are waking up and coming out” by blocking bridges, shutting down ports, marching in the streets, forming groups, and creating their own media. They are “finally speaking up, finally being heard.” With an end to this editorial note, Ruggiero stresses that to overturn any injustice, people should act as “citizens, and not as politicians.” He says that whining about it isn’t enough; people should work, act, organize and riot if necessary “to bring their situation to the attention of people in power.”

Image

Image

The concept of 1% vs. 99% has also risen. It basically means that the elite who are controlling the US economy are not more than 1% and the other 99% are oppressed and they need justice and equality.

Image

Chomsky’s Howard Zinn Memorial Lecture, given on October 22, 2011 to Occupy Boston in Dewey Square, follows the editor’s note. Chomsky begins stating that if Howard Zinn had been alive, Occupy Boston might have been a dream come true for him. He says he was reminded of his “call to focus our attention on the countless small actions of unknown people that are the foundation for those great movements that ultimately enter the historical record without the countless small actions of unknown people that created them.” That sounds a bit confusing, I have to admit. Basically, Chomsky says that Zinn wanted us to praise those people who carried such movements and actions that have made a mark on our history, whose identities were overlooked in the process. Chomsky believes that the timing of this lecture could not have been more perfect as it’s taking place in the heart of “countless small actions of unknown people who are rising.”

Chomsky contrasts the hope of the working classes in the Great Depression with the pessimism in the recession at that time, while discussing the changes that have occurred to the US economy since the 1970s. He says the changes have occurred due to de-industrialization, de-development and the increase in wealth of the financial sector. He also stresses that the change was partly because of the development of high-tech economy, mainly computers, the Internet and the IT revolution.

Chomsky makes reference to both Alan Greenspan and Citigroup as being corrupt in their fields and makes remarks that the political parties had come under the increasing control of the corporate sector, and how both Adam Smith and David Ricardo foresaw the situation. He goes on to stress the importance of worker sit-ins and takeovers that can ultimately help “democratizing the US economy.” Chomsky also discusses the threat posed by nuclear war and environmental catastrophe, which he fears is being worsened by the capitalist system.

He mentions the false impression that the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution provides the people. Which is that “no person shall be deprived” of rights “without due process of law.” Here, Chomsky reveals that by “person” the Founding Fathers did not actually mean “person.” He says that if there were a group of people that were not considered to be “persons” then this law would not apply to them. By this, he means the enslaved population- the Black community. However, he says that this inhumanity was somewhat rectified over the years.

Image

Image

A question from a member of the audience at the Occupy Boston asked Chomsky to provide his views on how to summon the American public to this kind of change, and he replied by saying that the only way to activate such response is “by going out and joining them.” He recommends going to places where the people are, whether it be churches, clubs, schools, unions, etc. He advises getting involved with them and creating a sense of consciousness among them.

Image

In his opinion, the most exciting aspect of the Occupy movement is “the construction of the associations, bonds, link- ages and networks that are taking place all over.”

Cyborgs and real life

Andy Clark, in his book, talks about human beings being technological to the core. Hence, the term natural-born cyborg is used time and again. When I read the word cyborg, I was instantly reminded of characters from Star Trek, although I admit I never was a fan of. The word cyborg has a very technological hit to it. When one says the word, one immediately thinks of robots made of iron and steel, with heads of human beings, shiny and metallic body, some with a robotic voice and some really strong and intelligent. One might also be reminded of movies and TV shows like Robocop, Terminator and Small Wonder. The idea of humans implanted with machines and/or attacking the human race might sound frightening, and make one feel uneasy. However, it’s perfectly normal and acceptable for us to increase our intellect and abilities by using technology, take cell phones and computers for example.

 

“As our worlds become smarter, and get to know us better and better,” writes Andy Clark in Natural-Born Cyborgs, “It becomes harder and harder to say where the world stops and the person begins.” He is quite right, that I have to agree. Human beings are extremely technological in today’s world. Like Clark said he somewhat experienced brain damage and a mild stroke in the days when he spent without his computer, I have to agree that that is quite true for the rest of us as well. One cannot think to live without their laptops and computers. And those who do not own cellphones are freaks. Cellphones are like a part of our lives, a part of us. One cannot even think of leaving the house without their cellphones. We also use technology to turn disabilities into something more, for example hearing aids for the deaf and partially deaf, prosthetic limbs, etc.

 

Clark also talks about the importance and demand of the World Wide Web in today’s world, the urge to ‘smarten up’ and the many everyday objects that are techy and have populated our homes and offices. But his interest is not primarily in new technology. “Rather,” he writes, “it is to talk about us, about our sense of self, and about the nature of the human mind. The point is not to guess at what we might soon become, but to better appreciate what we already are: creatures whose minds are special precisely because they are tailor-made to mix and match neural, bodily and technological ploys.”

 

Clark relates cyborgs with humans with the argument that humans are quite like cyborgs, because humans also evolve with time and it is because of technology that has helped man to be smarter and faster than he actually is. He also stresses out the fact that technology has made human life much easier, smarter and faster and the way it helps the human race in every aspect of life. For example, we already have devices to replace our hips, knees, shoulders, wrists, elbows, jaws, teeth, arteries, veins, heart valves, arms, legs, feet, even fingers and toes. Human beings are growing more and more intimate with technology as time goes by.

Image

The image that I chose shows a character from the hit British TV show, Doctor Who. The metallic robot that you see is called a Cyberman. According to the show, the Cyberman is an enemy of the Doctor who is the savior or rather, the hero of the series. The background information reveals that the Cybermen were once “human beings, but gradually they replaced their weak mortal flesh with metal and  plastic. In the process they lost their compassion, along with other emotions.”

 

This is what Clark fears, I think. He thinks we, human beings, will literally become like these fictional Cybermen, allowing our human bodies to transform into steel and metal, and ultimately having our brains turned into machine, too. 

 

Despite all the arguments and the conspiracies, one cannot refuse to acknowledge the benefits human beings receive from the technology in every aspect of life be it social, educational or medical. And I think it is safe to admit that technology was created and is being developed by the human race for their own advantage. 

Hyperreality and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Jean Bauldrillard’s philosophy is defined around the heart of two main ideas: Hyperreality and Simulation. These two ideas help in forming the way our thoughts develop over time, as we plunge deep into the ever-changing techno world. Baudrillard’s philosophical background helps explain the way we understand things. For example, we know a dog is a dog but that’s not only because of our understanding that he is a dog. We know a dog is a dog because it is not a cat, and neither it is a goat nor a tree. We tend to take in our surroundings and compare objects with each other to realize their existence.

According to Bauldrillard, Simulation is the process in which representations of things come to replace the things being represented. Confused? Take it like this. We understand a dog is a dog because it is not a cat. And when we are told that a dog is not a cat, yet we have a firm understanding that it is a dog. This is because it is reality that a dog is a dog and not a fish, a snake or a cat. Take simulation’s literal meaning: imitation, replication, and recreation. Sometimes, absence of reality is masked through the portrayal or a replication of something specific. An example would be the creation of the Disney World. Things like this serve a purpose to create a simulation. We tend to believe them to be real because of the way we perceive them, but in reality they may not be real at all because they are merely man-made creations.

Hyperreality, according to Bauldrillard, exploits simulation to create a world that has not even one ounce of reality. This has been made possible through media. For example, movies like the Matrix, X-Men, Alice in Wonderland, Avatar and the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter franchise have led us to believe that such worlds do exist, even only if we are imagining them. When we imagine, we automatically believe and I’m not just talking with my experience. Another good example would be the Disney movies as they create a world of their own. However, the above-mentioned films create a world that is not entirely true, or real in life.

Hyperreality can also be used to represent the way society shapes our opinions to buy products that we don’t necessarily need or things we will hardly benefit from. Take advertisements for example. Like the Pakistani Fair and Lovely ads that are, sadly, quite a popular trend in the country.

Image

Such advertisements show an unnaturally beautiful girl with unnatural skin as white as snow, and gaining success in every point of her life from getting the best grades, landing the perfect job, and bagging the best marriage proposal as opposed to the girl with unnaturally dark and dull skin. Also, celebrity endorsements by women who are born with fair skin are also hyperreal. These type of advertisements use excessive Photoshop, no doubt about that, and mislead their consumers into thinking they have to buy the product, or else fail in life. They force young girls into loathing the way they look like, the way God made them, and try wanting to become more like the stereotype our society has in mind.

However, aside from all that, what I think can define the true phenomenon of hyperreality is the Harry Potter franchise.

Image

When the books first came out, there was no cult trailing the novels. They were simply stories. Brilliant, yes, but they were just alive on paper. However, as they became popular and more popular, the books were made into films, merchandise and videogames. As if that wasn’t enough, which it isn’t, the cult culture went a step further into creating a hyperreal amusement park where Potterheads like me can experience the Wizarding World firsthand.

Image

“The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” opened in 2010 within Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. Just like Disney World, but much better in my opinion, it creates a feeling of simulation but we don’t stop two minutes to think about it. We believe them to be real because we want to see them as to be. Although I’ve never been to the Wizarding World yet, even I have to admit that just the mere photographs and videos provided me the feelings of such excitement and contentment that I don’t think I’ve ever felt before.  You can go inside the huge, yet exact replica of Hogwarts castle and visit Hogsmeade, the tiny Wizarding village. You can look into Hagrid’s hut beside the Forbidden Forest and order glasses of Butterbeer, a Wizarding drink, at the Three Broomsticks, which is a local pub at the Wizarding village.

Another example of hyperreality in the Harry Potter craze is seen at King’s Cross Station in London, where parts of the films were shot.

Image

A sign has been created on the wall, indicating Platform 9 and three quarters, between platform 9 and 10. If you don’t know what that means, it is the hidden entrance witches and wizards use to get to the Hogwarts Express that will take them to the school, and the reason it’s concealed is to keep off Muggles, er, non-Wizarding people, I mean. Also, very noticeable, is the trolley halfway wedged into the wall, which gives tourists and fans a chance to take photos if they are passing by.

This amusement park is hyperreal because it promises something impossible, yet delivers something that seems slightly possible. When we walk through the evidently fake streets of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade at the Wizarding World, we let the fake become more real than the real. This, for me, is the very definition of hyperreality. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter fulfills every Potterhead’s wish that the Harry Potter universe could be real and that fans could be a part of it.

Walter Benjamin’s theory? Agree or disagree?

In his essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, Walter Benjamin discusses the growing technology’s affect on art, the change in perception and its affects on photography and film in the 20th century. He argues that technology is changing art, just like it’s changing our perception of viewing art.

Benjamin goes on to highlight something specific about the Age of Mechanical Reproduction and that is of the affects of modernity on art in particular. He links film and photography to this belief. He further states that mechanical reproduction of art is devaluing art itself, because it has no character, or ‘aura’ as he puts it. Aura, for Benjamin, signifies the originality and the authenticity of a work of art that has not been reproduced. For example, a painting has an aura, while a photograph does not. This is because the photograph is an image of an image, whereas the painting remains completely original.

Benjamin also discusses his theories on how film is an invasion of reality with mechanical equipment and ultimately destroys the aura of art. I will have to disagree here. Benjamin lived in a time when the world was on the brink of changing, and the mere thought of him not living long enough to experience the change might have scared him into writing this piece and trying to brainwash us into hating technology. Yes, I agree that paintings and other traditional works of art are original and yes, they have their own perfect and distinct aura. But one cannot refuse to acknowledge that even film has its own aura. In today’s world it’s called the ‘cinematic experience.’ I’m sure Benjamin did not think of it in that sense, considering this piece was written in the year 1935 when the films business was just about to bloom.

Benjamin supports his argument with an example. He says that by filming and photographing the mountains, one cannot experience it firsthand as he is looking at the reproduction of, and not the original, mountains. That, according to his argument, is fake and utterly wrong.  I agree that the films and photographs of the mountains are not the real mountains, because it is indeed a replica. However, Benjamin is wrong in saying that the films and photographs don’t have their own aura. I believe they do.

Benjamin also goes on to talk about the value of the function of art. He says there are two: cult value, where art is meant to be magical and hidden from the outside world and exhibition value, where modern art forces it to be on public display as means of profit and economy. This is ironic, as this might as well apply to the poets and writers, too. If this were to happen, Benjamin, then there wouldn’t be a single book being sold in the bookstores. Writing is also an art, and if we were to hang on to the cult value of the art forever, then books wouldn’t be in the market. And as far as this goes, Walter Benjamin himself wrote pieces that went on to public display, for the whole world to see, and I believe that when he was published he even received profit from all the hard work and sweat he put into his writing.

Anyway, let’s just stick to his theory on films. Benjamin says that films are mechanical reproductions and they radically separate art from the cult by turning it into an exhibition, which changes the quality of art. I have to disagree here. I don’t think films lack an aura, or that they change the quality of art. I believe they add to the growth and manufacture of art instead of devaluing it.

Image

The image that I chose to back my argument is a movie poster from one of the bestselling movies of all time, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone. Even though this was an installment of the book, one cannot forget the experience the film provided them. The book was thrilling, yes, but the movie made the characters come out of the pages and into the screen. The feeling and aura of the film was magical and one cannot refuse to see it. This is called the ‘cinematic experience’ in its full form.

Films are designed and produced to provide the viewer the ‘cinematic experience’ that can be delivered through 3D effects and surround sound. They do, in fact have their own distinct feeling, character and aura. The Harry Potter movies do the same. One is instantly drawn into the film from the first minute till the last. The whole experience was magical, and will be remembered forever, even when the film has ended and people have gone home. Very few films have the power to do that. Another thing that I don’t agree with Benjamin is when he says that filmmakers, people who operate video camera in the film industry, are nothing like the original painters, termed magicians by Benjamin, who illustrated their world through raw talent.

And also, when he states that the film actor does not possess the aura when acting, as it is an imitation, a forgery. This is also not true when applied to films this day. The makers and actors of the film strive to convey through their film something called ‘screen presence’ which is, in fact, their aura.

Image

Take for example, Daniel Day Lewis who won this year’s Oscar for Best Actor, for his outstanding role of Abraham Lincoln in the film Lincoln. He certainly had an aura around him, when he stood up, dressed as the great Abe Lincoln, with the tall black hat and the beard, and acted out the scenes like Abe would have done. To make the aura possible, there was a lot of work done in makeup and costume design. And this concludes why the film actor’s aura cannot be fake, as Benjamin puts it.

All in all, I believe Walter Benjamin’s theories might have proven to be correct in 1935 when he wrote this essay, but does it prove correct in today’s world? Not so much. And that is because technology has been growing by such huge leaps and bounds, that it is hard to make assumptions about it for so long. Was Benjamin correct, after all? Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on you to decide, but I think we all know for sure now that it’s useless to measure the progress and growth of technology as it proves to change and evolve every single day.

Lady Changez Khan

Image

The 4th Karachi Literature Festival was met with immense enthusiasm and excitement again this year on Friday, the 15th of February. It’s a great experience for not just the writers, but also an amazing platform for the emerging writers and book lovers alike. The literature lovers and fans welcomed the speakers and the talks with open arms.  From little kids to grandmas and grandpas, everybody was seen enjoying the festival with great passion and zeal.

The most interesting session, in my opinion, was the one where Zambeel did a dramatic reading of two of Urdu literature’s finest works called Nazara Darmiyaan Hai and Ghoongat by writers, Qurutulain Hyder and Ismat Chughtai respectively. The hall was packed from the front till the back. It seemed as if everybody had came to see the show. People stood at the back and sat on the floor, despite having no seats left. It was amazing to see that not only the adults were eager to see the show; many of the university and college-going students were quite eager in the session, too.

Image

The session started off with the introduction of the two best of the best writers of Urdu literature. The audience seemed gripped from the first word till the last. As many of you might know, Ismat Chughtai, who was bestowed the title ‘Lady Changez Khan,’ by Qurutulain Hyder in return gave her the nickname ‘Pom Pom Darling’. The audience loved the humor, judging by the constant applause and their genuine laughter. The traditional sound of the tabla and the sitar at the background literally brought back the feelings of being in the olden days. The atmosphere seemed serene and simple, yet very natural.

Both writers’ works seemed fascinating to me and I am sure that the audience shared the same sentiment. Many of you, like me, might have read Qurutulain Hyder’s Nazara Darmiyaan Hai as part of their O’Level Urdu syllabus. Listening to the story brought back old memories of the good ole’ school days, where Urdu was a mandatory course to take. However, this was the first time I heard about Ismat Chughtai’s Ghoonghat. Apart from the flourishing language and the humorous plot, what interested me was the way she had shown how our society objectifies the woman.

The short story is loosely set, in a period of 30 years, about the lives of Kalay Mian and Gori Bi, starting with their wedding day and their lives afterwards. Throughout the story, one cannot ignore the messages that come across. We are reminded of individual pride, attachment to false traditions and societal pressures that ultimately destroys the married couple’s lives. Ghoonghat, like other works by Chughtai, reveals the state of women in our society and the issues that they faced then and are still facing today.

Like mentioned in the short story through elderly characters, Chughtai reveals the establishment of a belief in our so backward society that a woman’s job is only to please her husband, obey his commands and fulfill his wishes no matter what happens. When Gori Bi disobeys her husband, Kalay Mian on their wedding night by not lifting her ghoonghat when asked to, she might as well have committed a crime. Kalay Mian was furious and he left his bride. When people told him to lift his bride’s ghoonghat himself, his ego became abnormally huge. And in retaliation he never consummated the marriage. And Gori Bi remained untouched, i.e. a virgin, after her wedding night and throughout.

The elder female characters in the short story repeat the duty of a woman to keep her husband fulfilled, satisfied and happy again and again as a mantra. It is something that even today, at this day and age, is thought of as true. Basically, Chughtai highlights the issue, that is, that our society has objectified the woman as being something that pleases her husband, is inferior to his dominant self, and ultimately becomes his puppet while he pulls the strings and rules their world.

The controlling male gaze

Laura Mulvey, author of the essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, influenced by the works of Freud, is an important figure to the Feminist Film Theory Movement and has been of great influence since the mid-1970s. She explores in her essay how cinema is a voyeuristic platform that makes women the subject of the ‘male gaze’ and subject to the forms of the male-controlled society that has, for quite some time, ordered the way we see and perceive.

Nevertheless, the concept of selling sex has been around ever since TV, cinema and advertising progressed. Almost all of the fashion shoots and advertisements are based on the same concept of selling sex. There are so many wrongs with that, as one cannot refuse to acknowledge the unethical and immoral views it portrays. Ironically, one also cannot refuse that the concept of selling sex has been one of the strongest marketing implications in the Print media.

However, in her essay Mulvey argues that in classic Hollywood films, women were merely represented to provide visual pleasure to men, as the audience at that time was constructed in a manner where they were all expected to be men. This ‘male gaze’ is both voyeuristic and fetishistic, she says.

Image

Take the above image for example. This advert, like many others, portrays stereotypes of women. However, there are some ads that go beyond the line of what should be considered acceptable. This advert promotes the idea that women can be bought and sold, that women are sex objects and the female form can be dehumanized and still sell. This image shows the woman as a decorative piece- beautiful, poised, surreal- but this image also dehumanizes her. The woman is shown as a mannequin and promotes the idea that women can be bought.

Another disturbing image is this advertisement of Calvin Kleins jeans.

Image

This advert clearly exploits women’s sexuality, depicting women as sex objects and the subject of the ‘male gaze’. The dominating male models have surrounded the barely-clad woman, and while one leans down towards her, the other man holds a steady gaze at her, his expression seems as if he’s waiting for his turn to have a ‘go’ at her. This also explains the term, scopophilia, pleasure received through looking at other people’s bodies. With one look at the image, one can instantly tell that the men in this advertisement are enjoying looking at the woman’s barely-clad body.

The concept of the ‘male gaze’ can easily be applied in the above images. The male models have locked their gazes on the female model’s figures and bodies. They, along with any other man who will happen to look at the image, will think of the female model as a sexual object.

Mulvey also highlights in her essay that a man is subconsciously afraid of losing his genital organs, which sums up castration anxiety. For example, if a woman was not objectified the way she was in the classic Hollywood films, then the male would not have felt as powerful. The unconscious idea is that a male’s power and dominance over a female is through his genitals, and that a woman threatens his dominance if she does not arouse him.