Searching for sanity in the age of hyper-consumerism : The Tribune India

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Searching for sanity in the age of hyper-consumerism

We are becoming increasingly inauthentic through the carefully curated social media-induced identities.

Searching for sanity in the age of hyper-consumerism

TONE-DEAF: India is ranked 111th among 125 countries on the Global Hunger Index. Yet, the Ambanis saw nothing wrong in spending over Rs 1,250 crore on their son’s pre-wedding ceremony. ANI



Avijit Pathak

Sociologist

A disturbing question confronts me: Is it possible to retain our sanity in the age of techno-capitalism and hyper-consumerism? The new form of insanity that manifests itself in the spectacular demonstration of power, money and glamour does not repel us anymore; instead, it appears to be gorgeous, glamorous and even desirable. Our role models, it seems, are those billionaires and millionaires whose fairy tales/success stories we seek to emulate, or self-help books love to valorise.

Hence, I am not very sure whether, as ordinary and unknown people, we were really annoyed or disturbed when we saw video clips of the pre-wedding ceremony of Anant Ambani, son of Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani. Possibly, with awe and wonder, we allowed ourselves to be hypnotised by the famous guests invited for the function — from Bill Gates to Ivanka Trump, and from Amitabh Bachchan to Sachin Tendulkar. And, of course, money, we felt once again, could do wonders. The three Khans — Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh — danced together to bless Anant and his fiancée Radhika Merchant in typical Bollywood style. Rihanna — the international ‘brand’ that the culture industry sells — flew to Jamnagar, otherwise a small town in Gujarat, and charmed the galaxy of celebrity guests through her heavily priced musical bonanza. Indeed, money unites — global capitalism merges with ‘Hindu culture’; cricket and Bollywood stars strengthen their bond with the techno-corporate elite; and the Indian state showed extraordinary efficiency in transforming a small defence airport in Jamnagar into an international one for 10 days.

Why do I call it insane? There are three reasons. First, a culture of this kind promotes what I would regard as vulgar consumerism — and that too in a country that has not yet succeeded in overcoming the pain of poverty, hunger, malnutrition and homelessness. Don’t forget that India’s rank on the Global Hunger Index 2023 is 111th out of 125 countries. Yet, the Ambanis saw nothing wrong or unethical in spending, as reports say, over Rs 1,250 crore on their son’s pre-wedding ceremony. In a way, it speaks of the utter insensitivity on the part of the economic elite, and the political class that watches it in silence. Second, it is insane because it promotes egotistic pride, or the assertion of the narcissistic self. And third, it erodes the spirit of democratic/humanistic striving for an inclusive/non-hierarchical society as it further sanctifies the huge wall of separation between the rich and the poor. However, the tragedy is that many of us do not see it as insane. Possibly, we envy these ‘successful’ people — the brigade of billionaires and millionaires, and their close allies: the corporate elites, Bollywood stars, cricketers and media tycoons. Or, we seek to become like them. In our own ways, we imitate their exhibitionism and flaunt whatever we have — our new cars, gadgets, diamond rings, travel destinations, apartments in gated communities, academic or other achievements, or even the fancy restaurants we have visited recently to celebrate our special days — through the constant circulation of Facebook/Instagram posts. In other words, we, too, are becoming neurotically restless in order to demonstrate and exhibit our ‘worth’. Yes, we are becoming increasingly inauthentic through the carefully curated social media-induced identities.

Possibly, there is no way we can regain our sanity unless we realise the intensity of hollowness implicit in a mode of living that techno-capitalism, its market fundamentalism and its culture industry sanctify — the neurotic urge to find one’s essence or worth in the ever-changing material/symbolic products one is perpetually seduced to buy, consume and show off. If the latest iPhone becomes a matter of life and death for a teenager, or if a young girl loses confidence if she does not have the ‘perfect’ body the beauty industry glamorises, we can realise that there is something terribly wrong with this culture. Possibly, the road to our collective sanity lies in a new mode of living that activates simplicity, the treasure of inner richness, and the joy of finding one’s humanity in truly life-affirming and authentic relationships. Only then will it be possible for us not to get carried away by the spectacle or the loud exhibitionism of power and wealth.

Likewise, our sanity lies in the act of cultivating the art of being ‘non-visible’ in a world that otherwise promotes and normalises the traits of an exhibitionist/narcissistic personality, be it in the domain of politics or culture. In fact, in this media-induced world, we seem to have become terribly obsessed with the constant dissemination, management and circulation of our images — the dresses we wear, the products we buy, the way we look and the people we interact with. This chronic restlessness makes us perpetually vulnerable, insecure and discontented.

Who knows how many boys and girls from humble/middle-class families might be trying to imitate the gestures of ‘the prince and the princess’, Anant and Radhika, in order to become more visible and market-friendly? Is it possible to resist the pathos of this tragic imitation, trust one’s inner richness, and remain non-visible? It is not a withdrawal from the world. Instead, it is the ability to live, love and work in silence without any compulsive urge to sell and exhibit one’s image. However, I am not sure whether it will be possible for us to gain the courage to be sane when glamorised insanity is the order of the day.

#Social Media


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