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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sidebar #4: More Random Thoughts from TV

Justifying my laziness, my descriptions of life here in India would not be complete without a post on what I watch and catch on TV. Like anywhere, there are good programs and bad and plenty of commercials. Personally, I mostly watch movies and the Dicovery Channel.

Here are some random things that have occured to me in those deadened hours.


The old grunt-and-shoot action movie Predator produced a remarkable 2 State Governors: Jesse Ventura for Minnesota and Arnold Schwarzenegger for California. I'd say that must be a record if there was any rational reason to regularly count and compare how many futures Governors have appeared in any action movies in the first place. Makes you wonder what poor dialogue, flimsy plots and pyrotechnics has in common with politics doesn’t it...

Catching part of the 1995 movie Johnny Mnemonic (only worthy because it is based on stories by the excellent future-noir writer William Gibson), I had to laugh at how dated its projection of future technology was already. Johnny is special because he can store a whopping 80GB in his brain as a secret courier. 80 gigs? Wow. Today you can get the same storage in an ipod for a few hundred bucks. I certainly hope my brain hold more than Johnny’s, or my ipod. Just goes to show though how fast technology can outpace fiction.

I thought it was funny that they play Shakespeare in Love here with subtitles for the English accents. No joke. I didn’t pay attention though to see if they were the same. They aren’t always, although I’d hope those on TV would be better than most. Most of the ones on the pirated DVDs that dominate the video scene here are so bad to as to be funny. Watching the first 5 minutes of The Last King of Scotland without sound but with subtitles and I could not figure out what was going on. They were not even close.

Discovery Channel Programs:

What is it about Discovery Channel programs that suck you in?

Tonight I was watching a program about the big cats of Africa. Did you know that when a lioness is in heat, in order to get pregnant she may have to mate 100s of times (and not always with the same male) and will mate twice an hour for up to 4 days. Often several females of the pride will go into heat at the same time with the alpha male mating with all of them until he tires and one of the lower males gets a chance. Social little kitties. And we joke about rabbits! (likely because it is less a good idea to poke fun at lions) But being slightly serious, the program also estimates that each lion will mate 3000 times for each cub that will survive its first year. Beyond our technology (and opposable thumbs), it is certain that our much superior ability to procreate (and again, we make fun of rabbits...yeah Kettle...) is at least as important a factor in our dominance of this planet.

I don’t know why the lion was ever considered the king of beasts though. The tiger is way bigger, meaner and tougher.

But whatever the lion’s position on the savannah and the tiger in the jungle, cheetah cubs are definitely the cutest – fuzzy furballs with big eyes and all the curiosity of domestic kittens. Cheetahs are amazing creatures to watch running, so fast and sleek and efficient. The adolescent cubs though, like all young, are far less agile and funny to see learning to stalk.

Now, the leopard however is smaller than the lion and slower than the cheetah, but is the most adaptable of the three. It will eat most anything from beetles to antelope far larger than itself. It will live in any climate across Asia from the savannah to the jungle to the snowy mountains, is excellent climber and doesn’t mind water. I think if I was a cat then I’d definitely be a leopard.

Now wasn’t that interesting and educational!

I caught a program today about base jumping from the top of Angel Falls. Oh my God, so cool. Sorry mom and dad, but I have to say I’d love to do that if I got the chance.

I caught a cooking program the other day where a UK chef was showing us the wonders of Indian cuisine and this week focusing on Tamil and South Indian regional dishes. It was great fun to see Chennai in the backdrop (as an aside, it is actually quite easy to pick out the major Indian metropolises on TV due to architectural styles and even more so, the colour scheme of the auto rickshaws. As one program coverage switched its stock background shots, I could easily differentiate Chennai from Bangalore from Delhi based on the ricks).

He did a great job showing how simple much of the cuisine is to cook and which wonderfully colourful spices form the core of all Tamil cooking (especially turmeric, chilli & curry leaves). He kept calling the city Madras though, which is a bit colonial considering the city is now named Chennai and most people use the new name.

But then he explained the venerable, but simple masala dosa and showed his total lack of local savvy. He goes to Saravanna Bhavan, a popular and recommended chain and then proceeds to explain how you break off chunks of the crispy dosa, spoon some masala onto the piece and eat it like a taco or brochetta...using both hands! I really wanted to reach into the TV and slap him. Anywhere in India, one of the most basic and first rules everyone learns is that you only eat with your right hand. No using your left hand. No using both to cup the dosa. Just no OK.


I've written some about this before, but again for the record: 1 in 4 commercials on all channels are for age and beauty products. Ponds, Olay, Dove and a dozen others local and international compete to make you believe you are ugly, unsuccessful and un-marriable unless you improve your skin and hair using their products. Age spots, glow, shine, smoothness, miracles and above all lightening all get pushed with campaigns tailored to hit every fear, insecurity and societal weakness. It’s disgusting and a plague on ourselves. And India’s caught the virus as firmly as any country.

Indian car commercials are even more outrageous in the romantic driving image than North American ones. Wide, empty highways, smooth roads, fast speeds. Here in India? Where? Trying to sell these images and roads as anything realistic in India is a seriously tall tale.

Based on the image they are trying to project and strong brand message of “High performance. Delivered”, Tiger Woods for Accenture has got to be the most ideally suited spokes-person I’ve ever seen. He just oozes clearly recognizable brand on his own that conveys hard work, perseverance, detail and reinvention as the source of excellence. Of reaching the top then starting again. And of course Accenture wants to convey that exact message that even the top companies need to retool, reinvent and research-based insight. “Having the right information. Making the right decision. Looking for ways to improve.” One of the cleanest current brand images I can think of. And what is remarkable is that it is for consulting services that are not easily differentiable and far tougher to package than a product. Tiger Woods is bar none the best sports hero to come out since Michael Jordan. Wonder how long it is before he starts doing movies with Looney Toons too.

McDonalds on the other hand though has a terrible current set of commercials here and ones that I can only assume are culturally tuned only to India. Their tag line is “call for happiness” somehow trying to connect their brand of food with euphoric giddiness and exuberance, that if you call for McD’s delivery, your life and arguments with your girlfriend will be solved. I have yet to see such an over-the-top image. I mean come on! No legal substance possibly can be believed to make such a turn-around in your evening. Indians are not ignorant consumers, but perhaps they find it funny-stupid not just stupid. Maybe McD’s just got snowed by the ad people. I don’t know, but it is not even annoying, just embarrassing. Making it even worse, their call number is 66-000-666. Not such a good number I figure for the Christian population, particularly when you’re going for associations with happiness.

You know when commercials are forced to say a “conditions apply” statement and say it really fast and in one breath at the end of the commercial, like “closed course, professional driver. If you’re a dumb ass and try this you cannot sue us” or one they use seem to have to use here, “mutual funds are subject to market risk. Read the offer statement closely”?

Yeah, well you should hear them do that in Tamil. Holy shit can they get those statements out quickly!

And that’s entirely enough TV for one article...

1 comment:

Sindhu said...

Hi McKay!

That's so sincere and true a writeup!

Here's a suggestion. The articles are absolutely interesting No doubt about that. But to get more audience, you need to cut the length of the article. Too many details are being discussed under the same topic.. example the TV section. you could have made it a series without reducing the content. People tend to skip the articles if they are too long.