Whether it is the elections, a religious festival or even something as personal as happiness, Deval Kartik explains how smart marketing lures people into becoming consumers.
During a recent visit to London, standing on the roadside, on a cold, grey morning, this bright red public transport bus caught my attention. The imperative message on it Go Home Hungry was impossible to miss. This, and several other strong visuals and words got me thinking about the wave of new consumer vocabulary that surrounds us.
Just two years ago, in April 2014, India was gripped by the fever and frenzy of the sixteenth general election. For the world’s largest democracy—with 814.5 million people eligible to vote and an increase of 100 million voters since the last election of 2009 (Election Commission of India, 2014), it was a major event. 150 million young people, in the age group of eighteen to twenty three became eligible to vote for the first time.
What set this election apart from previous general elections in the country, among other things, was the rise in consumerism that was more apparent than ever before. Smart marketers did not leave a single opportunity to lure people to buy stuff that they might or might not need. Discounts were being offered to every individual over the age of eighteen, who had voted in the election on several items, locally and nationwide.
This was completely new to Indian markets and society. Liberalization that started in 1991 has now come of age in India. Any event that occurs regularly or occasionally is now being promoted as an opportunity to consume. Be it Independence day– which should be celebrating India’s progress to a self sustained, strong economy or days such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, specifically created by marketers, the focus remains on consumption. With the advent of consumerism, comes in a new vocabulary that was not evident before. With over active mass and social media, the new vocabulary gets popular even faster and spreads like epidemic. It is difficult to say whether our vocabulary has actually increased or has sharply declined due to high media proliferation.
For a minute, let me keep consumerism aside and focus only on spoken language to illustrate my point.
In earlier times, when someone narrated a conversation between two or more people, words such as ‘said’, ‘told’, ‘asked’, ‘conveyed’, ‘expressed’, ‘explained’, ‘asserted’, ‘reported’ and many such could be heard. Picture a similar conversation now and all one hears is ‘I was like…’ and ‘he was like…’ The finer nuances of words are compressed by just one word ‘like’. However, the same set of people, while using social media would use a vocabulary that is strangely elaborate and borrowed. I would like to exemplify this new consumerist social media vocabulary in two main categories.
The Lust: This seems to be primarily related to food. The most common food photo hashtag is Foodporn, referring to something that is irresistible and yet bad for you. Even the description of the food photographed (or should one say pornographed) goes, “Hot red lobster with Prosecco butter sauce running down its claws, seductively posed on a bed of creamy rosemary, garlic and chèvre yellow corn grits” (Wrightson, 2009). Another one, quite close to foodporn, is Foodgasm, that combines food and orgasm. It refers to a pleasurable experience that comes from eating food and is often used with words that express heightened sensory experience ‘Mouth-watering, Tummy grumbling, Eye-popping, Drool inducing, Finger-licking, Diet destroying, Scrumptious, Gastronomy’. Hashtag Foodgasm is mostly used for pictures of desserts and also combined with the hashtag ‘sinful’. This is only the beginning and I am sure more such portmanteaus will get added to the vocabulary.
The Violence: Killing, slaying, shaming are some of the common words on social media. It is not just about the meaning of the words and the context alone, but the violence associated with it. The choice of the words to express something that is impressive or amusing; or something that is different from one’s own standard of fitness or beauty is what got my attention as trending vocabulary. Just as our vocabulary is getting limited, it is also getting brutal and lusty. It is well known to us that some other words such as presstitute and sickluar, being used in political contexts, also come in the two categories mentioned above.
By expressing my views, I do not choose a moral ground over the use of a language being used which in any case, is not our native language, the danger of being too limited and too selective in our choice of words is imminent.
Deval Kartik has 25 years' of multicultural teaching experience and is currently Adjunct Faculty at Rochester Institute of Technology, Dubai.