Cultures of the Everyday
Price: Rs. 565
When I saw the title of Pramod.k. Nayar’s book, I was immediately reminded of the famous quote of the American poet T.S. Eliot: “My life is measured out in coffee spoons.” As I began reading the book it struck me futility is not the running thread, unlike what the poet expresses in his poem,The Love song of Alfred j. Prufrock. The central theme is depicted through a picture on its cover— an open cardboard carton filled with packing material and its content , LIFE boldly written in the centre. In the inside page we find a cute receptacle (perhaps containing life in all its complexities) neatly fastened with a bow. The author says in the Preface,” Packaging Life: Cultures of the Everyday is a study of the cultural politics of health, comfort ,risk and mobilities.” His rationale for examining the cultures and discourses of health, comfort, risk and mobilities is simply that they seem to him the most dominant ones in print, visual and other media, and which constitute the most prominent frames within which consumer cultures of the everyday work today. In the Introduction that follows the argument put forth is Life itself via a scrutiny of these four components, gets “packaged ’’ through forms of representation in the media, in the rhetoric of “experts” and in the hard-sell narrative of the manufacturing house.
The gamut and scope of this cultural study and analysis is confined to metropolitan settings of shopping malls, corporate hospitals, glossy and expensive magazines and predominantly English language promotional materials. Interestingly the four chapter headings are both amusing and very contemporary as well as thought provoking.
The first chapter: Life, the Low-calorie Edition: Cultures of Health deals with The Medicalization of the Everyday, The Culture of Care and Cure and Managing Health, Promoting Wellness. There is information explosion about the importance one should attach to one’s health which is handed down through various sources in a neat package with an objective to create health awareness/ consciousness. So what do we do on our part?
Monitor our blood pressure,
Watch our calories
Check for lumps, nodules, numbness,
Measure sugar levels and examine our teeth.
The process of monitoring too has been made simple through the various devices available like the insulin pens, blood pressure apparatus, thermometers, corn caps, glucometres and weighing scales.
The culture of care and cure has very specific essentials:
It involves a notion of the body as something that can be perfected and reconstructed.
It involves very definite notion of the care of the self.
The hype that is created by the media, new media and the advertisements that “promise” instant results in the reconstruction of health, attaining perfect body are discussed threadbare with examples under this section. However it doesn’t condemn social marketing or the marketing of products and services that seek to serve as social advocates saying it is not entirely commercial in its intentions even though large pharma companies might have stakes in the sales of products and services.
The second chapter-Life, the Deluxe Edition, talks of how comfort is an essential condition of life and the various ways it is marketed to lure consumers into purchasing it. The author rightly observes that consumer culture today rarely packages necessities, even though, as reports tell us across the world that there are people living on the threshold of life without the bare necessities (I think the statement is applicable more so to India). It explores the packaging of comfort and luxury and the distinction between the two. Comfort is the cultural logic of mass manufacture, marketing and consumption, while luxury is the cultural logic of niche manufacture, marketing and consumption, says the author. Packaging the two is the deliberate creation of fantasies of transformation and in the case of luxury there is a magical air lent to the fantasies of transformation and Style is promoted as a key factor which determines consumer culture today.
The third Chapter titled Life, the Bubble –Wrapped Edition –Cultures of Risk opens with three news items which make you sit up and wish to guard yourself from risks involved in the life of man and machine at the same time you start wondering whether it is a ploy employed by companies to sell their products! The under mentioned are two examples:
With the monsoons arriving, you become more susceptible to water borne diseases. And we ensure that you get only the safest and purest water every time. Read through the following information areas and keep your family safe and healthy!
Write up on Eureka Forbes Water Purifiers
Your computer might be at risk. No anti-virus software or firewall is installed.
(Annoying) Message on desktop after PC is switched on.
The lengthy passage in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (1970(1916) where the character Yossarian worries about his health quoted in full captures the discourse of risk that haunts us. What the character seeks at the end of the passage is a bubble-wrapped life. It is no exaggeration at all because the bottom line for all product manufacturers and services offered is to make maximum profits playing on the gullibility of the human mind .The redeeming features are the subheadings that follow which talk of Demythifying Risk and
In the final chapter Life, the High-speed Edition, Cultures of Mobility, Mobility is the dominant metaphor and it is the theme and politics of the late 20th.century. A quote reproduced here in full beautifully sums up the facility provided by modern technology and its resultant “impersonality” in our everyday life.
“I can call you up from anywhere.”
“Eighteen countries,” he reminded me. Just in case, though he gave me his number in Tokyo and his office number in Tokyo. He gave me his fax number “at home” and his home and office numbers in Hong Kong. He gave me his fax numbers in both places, an 800 number for his voice mail, his mobile number, his mother’s fax number, his office fax number in London, and his E-mail address. He even gave me toll-free number for calling his voice mail from Japan. Somehow, that left no room in my address book for his name.
–Pico Iyer (2000:113)
Mobility is used in its plural form to include automobiles, food in various aspects like Food Borders, Food Cosmopolitanisms, Food and Imaginative Geography, Food and Sensual Geagraphies. Cosmopolitanism is further classified as Mundane Cosmopolitanism and Mobility and Vernacular Cosmopolitanism and the Mobilities of the Local.
Global connectivity, increase in world travel and availability of consumer products and wide food choices enables one to become cosmopolitan and this is characterized as mundane cosmopolitanism (Hebdige1990 ) and “banal cosmopolitanism”(Beck 2002). Whereas the author sees “mundane cosmopolitanism” as an instance of the great cultural “flows”, the swirl and eddy of products around us:
Apart from Hollywood movies, French fashion, European food and American sports it also includes SRK in the global celebrity arena, Hindi movies in the U.S., Yoga exports and The “curry “ in U.K.
Vernacular cosmopolitanism as the term suggests is opposed to society that is elitist in nature and it is seen as something that thwarts another mobility: a resistant mobility which is a counter mobility where local cultures, modes of production and marketing and consumer networks step in to prevent the dissemination or even channels of circulation of global brands and signs and a few instances are cited as proof of the statement. I wish he had included instances of misuse of technology, especially mobile phones and the internet and its consequences in the Indian context.
The book concludes by explaining and counseling the reader/consumer as what unpacking means—To“ unpack” is to explore the possibilities for emancipation, alternative thinking, radicalism and resistance within discourses and prevalent structures of signification by encouraging a dissident reading practice. To unpack, is therefore a political act. Sane advice indeed which needs to be essentially practised by the Indian consumer.
This is an extremely useful book to students of media studies/media professionals and serves as an eye opener to other professionals as well, particularly those in medical and the business of Beauty.
N.Meera Raghavendra Rao
Freelance Journalist and Author
This review appeared in VIDURA, JAN-MARCH ISSUE.