Sailaja N. Joshi

Archive for the ‘Anthropology’ Category

Team CoCO x India (Oh Balle Balle!)

In Anthropology, Erwing Goffman, India, NBC on November 9, 2010 at 9:43 am

So India has been getting some love the past few weeks. First Outsourced hits NBC, then the President visits India and does some dancing, and now my man Conan.

A few sites have been trying to compare the ad with Outsourced but the  two honestly have their own space. While Conan and the team at AmEx’s ad agency had a clear vision in mind, its possible that the writers at Outsourced are just riding the stereotype train.

Here is a bit on how the ad came to be via Sepia Mutiny:

Amex has been trying to lure Mr. O’Brien into appearing in a commercial since the company sponsored his comedy tour earlier this year. Several weeks ago, Mr. O’Brien said he was finally convinced by a funny script created by WPP PLC’s Ogilvy & Mather, as well as American Express’s past ads.

Playing on Mr. O’Brien’s obsession for detail, the new ad shows the comedian taking a trip to India to search for the finest materials to make curtains for his new show. Mr. O’Brien is seen using a loom to weave the fabric; stomping on flower petals to make the dye and having a gossip session with the local washing ladies as he dyes the material.

A person familiar with the matter said AmEx paid Mr. O’Brien more than $1 million to do the commercial. [wsj]

If we’re going to use Anthropological speak (and really, we always should), then we would talk about perhaps Goffman and his presentation of self. Here in this ad, Conan is presenting himself as someone who cares about quality, down to the smallest detail. Perhaps he’s saying something about his former employee and their lack of attention to detail (see Outsourced).

So what’s your take folks? What do you think about the ad?




Anthropology 101

In Anthropology on September 24, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Remember that time I said that Betty White was a Bad Ass Anthropologist? Turns out the people at NBC really do read my blog.

BW as I’m now going to call her, has a special guest appearance in this week’s episode of Community. I don’t know what it is, but I seriously have a love affair for this gal. And as if she weren’t already cute enough, she also raps.

Outsourced: A comedy about inclusion or assimilation?

In Anthropology, Asian-Indian Americans, India, NBC, United States on September 23, 2010 at 11:21 am


So, early in my Le Sigh Blogging career I talked about the inclusion of other ethnicities aka D-List Minorities in the marketing conversation. One of my readers made the point of noting that you know you’re part of a society once you start being made fun of. Well, it seems like Outsourced may just do that.

I ranted earlier this Summer about how the show just missed the mark in terms of inclusion. While its writers claim it is an “Office-like” comedy, I find that hard to believe. Even the promotional poster makes a point of putting the white actor in the foreground, while the Indian actors hang out in the back.

More than a comedy about including Indians as part of the conversation, this comedy is about assimilation. Simply put, it looks as though a white guy ends up in India and comedy, confusion and love ensue.

Here is the big question on my mind, should we Asian-Indian Americans applaud the fact that we’re part of this picture at all? Should we get excited and “tune in,” simply because there are some Indian actors in this show?

Maybe, but I like to think that our society can progress much further. I cannot predict whether Outsouced will be a hit or a miss, but I can say it is far from inclusive of the D-List minorities. Being inclusive of D-List minorities would mean including an Indian character in one of the many Doctor Drama shows that are out there, or perhaps even a Jewish doctor.

There are so many stereotypes of Indians. Most of them have to do with us being dorks, studying a lot and then becoming some sort of doctor or engineer. We’re also really bad at anything athletic (save maybe tennis) and our version of the Olympics is actually what most people call the National Spelling Bee.

My point is, there are a lot of Indian Stereotypes. None of which (seem) to be addressed in the comedy Outsourced.  So, let’s call Outsourced what it truly is, a comedy about assimilation.

Who’s Up Next?

In Anthropology, Social Change, United States on September 15, 2010 at 12:45 pm

I’m a voracious reader. Seriously, I love reading and I love researching. I also love observing and those three things put together make me an excellent consumer anthropologist in the making.

Currently I’m reading Grant McCraken’s Chief Cultural Officer, which by the by he sent me an autographed copy of. Grant has an appendix in the back of his CCO Book for budding CCO and I’ve taken some of his advice to heart. Somewhere in his book, he makes a point of noting that in order to be a successful CCO you must understand ‘the next.’ Great CCOs have the ability to see trends before they happen, making them a valuable asset to companies.

With that in mind, I present to you, “Who’s Up Next.” A list of emerging people/sub-cultures that will shape the global landscape.

  1. Asian-Indian American Women. I’ve said it once before, and I’ll say it again. This group of people is not only affluent, but are also savvy shoppers.
  2. The Theater Peps: Thanks to Glee, all of a sudden being a drama kid is cool. These kids love theater which could mean a reemergence of stage art if community theaters recognize the need.
  3. LGBT: This group has clearly been around for awhile, but it is finally gaining the recognition it deserves as part of mainstream society. How can we tell? Well the affluence of gay characters on TV is one telling example (See Modern Family, Desperate Housewives and Glee). Once you’re on TV, you’ve “made it” in terms of being part of society. Hopefully companies recognize that.

What are some other people/subgroups that you feel are emerging? Any thoughts fellow Consumer Anthropologist/Enthusiasts?

Fair Boy, Fair Girl. What’s the Difference?

In Anthropology, India, Presentation of Self, Social Change on July 23, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Fairness Creams in India

So it’s no surprise that Indian women are obsessed with fair skin. India has a long, rich tradition of believing that fair is lovely. But thanks to globalization, or perhaps the woman’s liberation movement, it seems that the tables are turning in India and fairness is no longer just for women.

After my last post, Fair for Facebook, I got some great press via Global Voices and comments which got me thinking, What’s the difference between a fair [Indian] boy and a fair [Indian] girl?

Well to start, a fair girl is lovely. She represents the values of her family. It’s an asset for her to be fair. In the past this meant she was the top pick in the arranged marriage lot. Times however are changing in India. While arranged marriages are still popular, Indian women have a choice now.

And that choice has given birth to the fair boy.

Now the fair boy is not lovely. He’s smart. He also knows that if he wants to get married, to a nice girl from a nice family that it’s going to take more than just an engineering degree.

He has to look good too.

Gone are the days when men could rely on their Visa status and degrees. Indian men, whether it is because of globalization or shifts in population, must look good. And that looking good requires them to be fair.

So, in other words, in order for Indian men to find a ‘suitable match’ they must have fair skin.

My, how the tables have turned.  Ladies of India, enjoy your power.

Change Gonna Come Big Business

In Anthropology, Consumer 2.0, Social Change, United States on April 16, 2010 at 11:07 am

I’ve been spending a lot of time combing the web and LinkedIn for companies that are at the forefront of Consumer Insights and understand that innovation in marketing research is the key to brand success. What is awesome about combing is that I often stumble upon case studies done up by corporations I want to work for. Being the research geek that I am, I relish this opportunity to learn more about consumers through other people’s research.

Yesterday, I came upon this great case study conducted by Mr.Youth, a marketing research firm in NYC and RepNation. The study outlines five ways in which consumers have changed (understatement of the century) as a result of technology and the ‘flattening of the world.’ So, without further ado, here are those five rules and ove’ course-my take on them.

1. Authenticy trumps celebrity: “Consumer 2.0 responds to honest relevant messaging from peers over marketing speak and celebrity endorsements.”

a. That’s right. Consumers are done being lied to, cheated on and taken for granted. They’re moving on from that relationship big business. They’ve taken control of the relationship and now business must listen to them.

2. Niche is the new norm:Consumer 2.0 does not form a mass market. They relish in choices and look for products and services that speak to them personally.”

a. Enter Consumer Anthropology. I’ve been saying it since 2006 but until companies actually learn who their consumers REALLY are, they aren’t going anywhere.

3. Bite Sized Communication Dominates: “Consumer 2.0 digests short, personal and highly relevant messages in bulk while growing increasingly adept at blocking out noise.”

a. Ah, the 140 Consumer. That’s right, speak to me and speak to me in 140 characters or less. Can’t do that? BYE!

4. Personal Utility Drives Adoption: “Consumer 2.0 chooses to consume what they find useful in their own lives over manufactured needs.”

a. I wonder how the CEO’s of yesteryear are taking this one. No one is brand loyal. No one. I think the key to having some sort of brand loyalty will be by following through on point #2 above.

5. Consumers Own Brands: “Consumer 2.0 will speak out, repurpose and associate with a brand as they see fit.”

  1. a. Last week I tweeted at JetBlue telling them I was pissed that they changed my flight with one hour notice. They messaged me back within 5 minutes. On Monday I wrote a diatribe on AAA’s Facebook page condemning their customer service earlier in the day. They wrote back in two hours. The point? Companies are now forced to listen to consumers because if they don’t, the consumer will make sure their voice is heard in every which way possible.

I think these five laws can be summed up in one phrase, “The Customer is Always Right.” I think before the economic meltdown, companies were taking consumers’ for granted and assuming that slapping something shiny on the packaging will make it “new and improved.”

Now, consumers are smarter. Much smarter and they demand respect and products that meet THEIR expectation, not those of an executive board. So, companies better step their consumer game up, because like Sam Cooke say, Change gonna’ come nephew.

iPad, iPhone, iSelf.

In Anthropology, Erwing Goffman, Presentation of Self, Social Change, Teatime Theory, United States on April 15, 2010 at 10:24 am

Now, before those Mac rumor blogs start tweeting away at Apples latest gadget, the iSelf is not the latest Apple gadget but in fact my generations’ latest state of mind.

Before we talk about the iSelf, we must talk about my main theoretical squeeze and inspiration, Mister Erwing Goffman (I mean, who wouldn’t love a man named Ewring right?). Goffman is the sociologist who came up with the Presentation of Self saying that we are all merely actors/actresses within society. We assume roles, and much like the theater there are scripts that define our roles as well as props and costumes. These roles can be changed, based on our “set” and our ‘characters’ are never static.

Drawing from my man, Goffman’s ideas I believe the iPad/iPhone have become the quintessential prop in my generations’ existence. More than just the “Are you a Mac or are you a PC,” mentality, the iPad/iPhone have together with the iTunes App Store created the iSelf.

No longer are people displaying their diplomas or wearing white coats, we’re all now walking around with identical looking Pods and Pads, blissfully unaware of how these Pod-Pads have equalized us. No longer can we tell the elite members of society from the regular folk.

That is where the iSelf steps in.

I define the iSelf as the, “the manifestation of a person’s cultural values and ideologies through the download and use of Apple Applications of the iPhone/iPad/iTouch.” It is essentially, how we present ourselves through our ‘props’, in this case, the iPhone/iPad.

The crucial point of this observation is; when and how are companies going to utilize this iSelf?

By taking a look at a person’s applications, I think companies will uncover a deep seeded cultural ideals that even the owners may not have know existed.  I’m sure that Apple is out there, working on a logarithm to analyze all this information, but truth be told they need ethnography. Humans are after all, social creates and therefore developing an understanding of HOW people are downloading their Apps and what in means for them, I think Apple will gain an even further edge on the market.

And so, the next time you download an Application onto your Pod/Pad/Touch, as yourself, what does this REALLY say about me?

Not Fair Enough (for the Cover of Vogue)

In Anthropology, India, Social Change, Women in Society on April 14, 2010 at 12:12 pm

This morning my good friend, Ms. Shaily Shah shared with me an article that will be appearing in the newest issue of Indian Vogue tackling the prejudices of dark skin in India. The brief discussion of the topic via New York Magazine: The Cut section goes as follows:

Indian Vogue Tackles
Prejudice Against Darker Skin

The new issue of Indian Vogue contains an editorial heralding darker skin. To wit, five bikini-clad models appear on the cover. The demand for skin-lightening creams grew 18 percent last year, and is expected to rise by 25 percent this year.

From the issue:

“Every generation has its share of beauty myths. Perhaps it is time to bust this one,” the editorial says. “Time to say that as a magazine we love, and always have loved, the gorgeous colour of Indian skin … dark, dusky, bronze, golden — whatever you call it, we love it.”

British Vogue reports that fashion insiders in India are thrilled with the cover, and think the fashion industry is a good agent for a change in attitudes toward skin color.

The issue of skin color in India is very close to my heart as it is the central subject of my Master’s Thesis work.  What is striking about this little blurb from the magazine is the following, “Every generation has its share of beauty myths. Perhaps it is time to bust this one…”

Now first off Vogue India, you cannot “bust” any sort of beauty myth because it is deeply entrenched in culture and social values. The idealization of fair skin is more than just a ‘myth’ but, social capital and prestige for many minority women around the world.

For African-American and Hispanic women, much of this ideology is based on colonial oppression where social hierarchies were created through the stratification of skin colors. In other words, if you had light skin you worked in the kitchen and were one of the ‘cool’ slaves. If you had dark skin, you were out in the fields with the rest of your peps.

Now, for Indian women this is a much different case. Fair skin has ALWAYS been the ideal and pre-date colonial oppression. The idealizing of fair skin can be dated back as far as some ancient Vedic test, so fair skin is not a ‘myth’ but part of what it means to be Indian.

Beyond social capital, prestige and myth, beauty is much more than the color of your skin. When one views a societies perception of ‘ideal beauty’, one can also begin to understand the deeper social and cultural values that govern said society.

So getting back to this Vogue India piece. If Indian society is starting to accept darker skinned women as beautiful, then this reflects a shift in their cultural ideals and values. While cultures are dynamic and ever changing, I think a drastic shift from loathing dark skin to loving it will be pragmatic at best. Cultures and societies change, but they do so slowly.

At the end of the day, while the fashion might be a good agent for a change in attitudes towards skin color, this change needs to start with the people. Specifically this change needs to come from the women of India who are not models and gracing the airbrushed covers of Vogue.

And finally in closing Vogue India. If you are going to talk about changing perceptions of skin color India, it may behoove you to have some dark skinned chicks on your cover.

Well, the time has come.

In Anthropology, Oscar, United States, Women in Society, World Value Survey on March 9, 2010 at 3:00 pm

And it certainly has. This years Oscar winner for Best Director went to Kathryn Bigelow, for the Hurt Locker. She made Oscar history for being the first ever female director to win in this category.

That’s right folks. In the 80 some odd years of Oscar history a woman has never won the award for best director. Odd, don’t you think? Especially considering that we Americans laud ourselves as being both modern and forward thinking individuals.

Yet, we have yet to elect a female president.

Why is that? We as Americans are modern, right?


According to the World Values Survey, conducted by the University of Michigan, the United States is the most traditional industrialized nation. What does being a traditional society mean? It means we believe in traditional gender roles and are generally have one prevailing religion that tends to dominate the cultural landscape.

Being a traditional society is in our American roots. Our forefathers, well not my forefathers but perhaps your forefathers, came to America to escape religious persecution. They were however mostly Puritans and thus some of their traditional religious values became the foundation for our present day society.

Like many societies, our societal values are based the beliefs held by a dominate group of individuals. For us in America, this translated to wealthy, white men. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as if you take a look at our government today, its still mostly wealthy white men. Granted, our government has diversified itself, after all we do have an African-American president.

So, what does this have to do with Miss Bigelow? Well, it does not have much to do with her directly but does speak volumes to the fact that we continue to mention her win as a milestone for our society. I believe, by nominating and awarding Ms. Bigelow we have not only acknowledge her achievement but we have begun the process of liberalizing our own country.

We have begun to recognize ourselves as perhaps a bit outdated and in need of diversification. Thus, we are now more open to having a minority represent us in government and perhaps even a women as the best director.

I call attention to this gradual change from traditional to liberal to note that we are certainly a dynamic society. As we know, change does not happen over night and in our society, it has taken generations to elect a black president and 81-years for us to have a female best director.

And so yes, this time has certainly come for us to become a more liberalized nation. Accepting of those who have been with us for so long, and yet have hardly been recognized.

So congrats Ms. Bigelow for your award and a big thumbs up to the United States, your on your way to becoming a more liberalized society.