When I first saw this Indian commercial for Happydent White Chewing Gum I was horrified:

But we can also look at this ad as a critical allegory for — you guessed it — capitalism. What’s horrifying about this ad isn’t the bald exploitation of humans for the pleasure of a rich, spoiled, elite few — that happens everyday — what’s horrifying is that the ad lays it bare in front of our eyes so that we can’t turn away from it and pretend it doesn’t exist.

I was walking through the mall and looking around at all the people happily spending to buy shiny, wonderful, beautiful, classy products, and I was wondering why I even bother criticizing a society that can make so many people happy (note, I was looking at in-store displays of happy babies and smiling, emaciated models). I was in one of those “what the hell am I complaining about” moods. That’s when I realized that all these displays mask exploitation — the very simple exploitation of those in the Third World, yes, but also the exploitation of those buying these products, on credit, or on whatever meagre earnings they have. Many more, of course, weren’t there to buy, but to window shop or to eat cheap fast food.

How wonderful would it be, after all, if the next time we went to a GAP store, we also managed to see how how those products were made? Would we be horrified, just like this ad makes us react? I don’t know. Mark Andrejevic talks about how even though many of us know that this kind of exploitation exists, we see no alternatives to it. We are shown no alternatives to it, capitalism is naturalized such that we accept it implicitly — we buy from malls — though we may criticize it explicitly.

More often, what we end up doing is criticizing the discursive representations, such as this Happydent ad, rather than criticizing the phenomenon itself. And then, even when we do criticize the phenomenon itself, we have no means to materially change it. At least, that’s what we think.

[On another note, if I do a few more, I could probably write a paper on television ads as symptoms of and allegories for capitalism.] this!

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