Sailaja N. Joshi

Archive for the ‘India’ 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?




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.

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.

Fair for Facebook

In India, Social Change on July 15, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Vaseline India, Shahid KapurBy this point, I think anyone who follows me on Facebook or has had contact with me in the past, oh five years knows of my interest in the obsession surrounding fairness in the Indian community. It is a huge part of my thesis and perhaps even a huge part of my identity.

With that being said, yesterday many of my friends were kind enough to forward to me a wonderful article talking about the latest Facebook application designed to whiten the appearance of Indian men. Sponsored by Vaseline India, the application literally ‘lightens’ the skin of Facebook users so they can see just how beautiful they could be with fair skin. Which is ove’ course achieved by using Vaseline for Men.

The thing that strikes me most about this advertisement is that, it in fact focuses on the need for men to have fair skin, not women. That boggles my mind considering that in Anthropological speak; women are the ones who represent culture not men.

In one way, these advertisements are certainly progressive in their inclusion of men in the “fairness” conversation. On the other hand, why does Shahid Kapur, an already fair actor, need to go any lighter?

So, what are you thoughts? I’m all for man-scaping but is it REALLY a good idea for Indian men to start going fair?

This Blog is Outsourced.

In American Dream, India, NBC, United States on June 28, 2010 at 9:59 am

First I must apologize to my loyal readers (Hi Mom!) for my absence. I suffered a hard drive meltdown (Remember, always back up your files!) and then moved into a new house with my husband. As a result, the past month has been filled with all sorts of turmoil but never fear–I am back.

I often talk about how media and business seem to forget about us Asian-Indian Americans. Asian-Indian Americans are an untapped asset when it comes to goods and are very different from their other ethnic counterparts such as African-Americans. With that said, it looks like the people at NBC have been reading my blog and listened to my advice.

Without further ado, I present to you Outsourced. The newest addition to NBC’s Thursday Night lineup where, “…cultural differences are a novelty.”

Le Sigh.

Now, I’m not really sure how I feel about this comedy. I think its cool that some brown people are finally getting some exposure on prime time television, but at the same rate I find the comedy slightly offensive.

I mean, were there no other stereotypes for NBC to work with? How about an Indian family living in America trying to force their kid into the world of engineering when all they really want to do is be a pop star? Or an Anthropologist?

The point I suppose is that we as Indians are becoming part of the conversation. Once we become part of the conversation, we are now part of the society and that is a very good thing.

So, what are your thoughts? Is Outsourced I step towards the inclusion of Asian-Indian Americans in the media or a big flop?


In Consumer 2.0, Homo-Indus, India, Presentation of Self, Social Change, United States on April 27, 2010 at 4:58 pm

“So, is there going to be like a elephant there?” asked one of my husband’s friends in reference to our upcoming wedding.

“No, we don’t do that, it’s not our tradition. Punjabi people do that.” responded my husband.

“Oh,” said my husband’s friend perplexed. “Well, what’s the difference?”

Just a few thousand miles, a language and several customs.

People today tend to think of Indians as one large group of people who hail from India and whose traditions are homogeneous. India is in fact quiet the opposite. People from the Northern India rarely have the same customs or language as those from the South and vice-a-versa. There are no pure “Indian” traditions or even an “Indian” language. India is made up of a variety of people who speak a variety of language and have a variety of customs. (India is cool like that.)

Till now.

Perhaps its economic success or the media, but the variety of Indian customs is slowly merging both here in the United States and in India.

Case in point? My wedding. My family and my husband’s had similar customs when it came to the wedding rites, but after that we had nothing.

“Well, what about the Mendhi Laag and the Baarat?” I asked my Mom.

“Those aren’t our customs,” replied my mom.

Imagine that! The things that I thought were ‘quintessential’ to an Indian wedding (Thanks Bolloywood!) were in fact, “Not our customs.” It was in this conversation that I came to see the key difference between my generation and my parents. My parents see themselves as Telugu and are defined by the region they hail from in India, while I see myself as simply Indian.

I believe that my generations’ feelings of being simply Indian has resulted in homogenization of Indian culture. The language we speak at home or the state from which our parents came from no longer defines us. Our traditions and cultures have become mixed and intertwined. This has resulted in (drum roll please)…

Homo-Indus. A generation of Asian-Indian American who are a venerable hodgepodge of Indian culture, happy to mix and assimilate our ‘cultural’ values into one big hot-pot of Indianness.

This surge in Homo-Indus has opened up the need for products that are Indian, helping to  make way for Homo-Indus-centric companies such as, Gyanna and Alankar Decors. Companies like these start small, but I think will make huge headway in this economy because they see the need for their services among a growing, affluent community.

Companies should take note this Homo-Indus trend. Catering to the Indian population with goods that speak to their ‘Indianness’ is crucial to gaining the trust and acceptance of this population. This cannot be achieved by simply hiring an Indian actress to promote a cosmetic line. A company must know Homo-Indus and understand their needs starting from their roots.

And what better person to give your company that knowledge than a fellow Homo-Indus?

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.

A Look into the Future: The 2010 Census

In India, United States, Women in Society on April 5, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Recently I was at a networking event where Census 2010 was the word du jour. All the major C-titles in companies are looking to 2011 and thinking, who is the big IT consumer?

It’s a great question that everyone wants to know before 2011 hits and the government publishes its results. Everyone taking a stab at what the results will look like, especially the Fortune 500 companies.

So, taking a look into my own crystal ball, who do I think the next big IT consumer will be?

  1. Second Generation Asian-Indian American Women: This group of consumer won’t make up the majority of the US population by any means but they will be the ones to watch and market to. As Gen 2.0 they still have strong ties to their home countries but still want to be American. Above all else, these women are smart, rich and ready to spend. Hopefully companies will take some time to build relationships with this group of ladies before selling them another bag they don’t need.
  2. Baby Boomer Yuppies: The affluent 60+ crowd who headed to Apple to buy an iPad as soon as it was available. Look for companies to be marketing to them with all sorts of high tech gadgets that help people age gracefully.
  3. Hispanic Males: This one should come as no surprise because it’s been on the horizon for quiet some time. I think though that people are underestimating the purchasing power of this segment of the US population. I believe that while they may not be purchasing Lois Vutton purchases, they certainly want to live the American dream by achievable means.

For Business, the 2010 Census means that they need to start marketing and researching outside of their comfort zone. Even in our pseudo-multicultural society, white males dominate the business landscape and its not until companies start thinking outside of their circles.

Let’s face it, as the 2010 Census will tell us the Anglo-male is no longer of prominence in the US and its time for business to start marketing to the real consumers.

And to do so in a genuine way.

The engine of social change

In India, Marxist Ideology, Social Change, Women in Society on March 10, 2010 at 9:22 am

Karl Marx believed that conflict is the engine that drives social change and that societies are shaped by a struggle between classes.  As I read this morning’s New York Times I found a wonderful article that helps to demonstrate Marx’s ideology.

On Tuesday, the upper house of India’s Parliament passed a bill that would amend the Constitution to reserve one-third of the seats in India’s national and state legislatures for women. The vote itself is still in the early processes of being approved, however the motion has nonetheless created conflict within the Government and supporting parties.

Aside from the legal ramification of this motion, which is outlined in the New York Times article, there are several social consequences as well.  First the initial passing of this motion calls attention to the lack of minority representation within the Indian Government. This conflict, as Marx would call it, singles out the fact that those in minority have become class conscious, and thus demanding of equal rights.

In becoming class conscious, a group of people (in this case women) recognize themselves as a class unified ‘against’ a particular party. Marx theorized that by unifying themselves, they would eventually be able to overthrow the bourgeoisie.

While the Indian Parliament is not suggesting a take over by any single class, it does find it necessary to ensure that there is ‘equal’ representation in the government. The fact that the Government sees a need for this ‘equal’ representation demonstrates that they are aware of an existing inequality.  Because of this awareness of inequality, they are already steps ahead of other societies in ensuring there is some sense of ‘equal’ representation in government.

Though this motion is not revolutionary, it certainly is a way in which to mediate some class issues. As Marx said, conflict is the engine that drives social change and this motion has certainly created the necessary conflict to drive that social change. Perhaps through this motion, other struggling classes in India will have an opportunity to seek representation within the  government, thus furthering social change.