The other day there was a Barkha Dutt-hosted, We the People on NDTV, where they debated Indians’ obsession with fairness. I managed to catch glimpses of it and it had all the makings of a typical cacophonous debate on the telly these days. There were the experts, Alyque beaming through live from an alien land (I wonder if he plugged his favourite Liril and Lalitaji story elsewhere in the show. Hee hee.), Prahlad Kakkar saying that he wouldn’t do a fairness cream ad on principle and to represent the ‘victimized one’, an actress…gasp…Deepal Shaw! The segments that I saw was all about putting the blame squarely on advertising – on how they promote bias against those who are not fair. So the topic was more like ‘fairness cream advertising – is it fair?’ instead of a scholarly debate on our obsession with fairness.
If fairness was not desired by Indians, would a fairness cream have any chance of success? Unlikely. If the society has a deep-rooted need for something, advertising can only tap on that need. Agreed that ads for fairness creams bring that need to top of mind and make it more desirable. They don’t and can’t create that desire. Gold is valued more in certain parts of India more. Retailers take advantage of that need and advertising fuels it and brings it top of mind.
On a related note, forget fairness – there is bias towards good looks and a pleasant persona in every sphere of society. It was rich for the media to occupy high moral ground on obsession with fairness, when they too place a premium on looks and glamour when it comes to their anchors. Channels place emphasis on news readers who look presentable on screen. That’s always been the case. Some of them may not be known for their journalistic abilities but are yet popular. Those who combine journalistic talent and a flair for presentation on TV are a rare breed and sought after. But a channel wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a passable talent who looks good on TV. What say?