Sunday, August 5, 2012

Eat. Watch TV. Get rid of your love handles.

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

Before there was the northern grid blackout, there was the great Internet blackout of 2012. Thanks to some strange conspiracy to make office workers more productive, last week the twin pillars on which internet junkies build their castle of procrastination, were unavailable for a few hours. First they came for our Google Talk. Then they came for our Twitter. Not only are they my last remaining connection to the outside world, them being out of circulation is the start of my most horrid nightmare. It starts with both these tools being unavailable and ends three thousand years later when the last remaining human with a non-primate brain takes his amphibian girlfriend and heads to what he thinks is his home to find that his whole civilization has been destroyed and the only proof of its existence is half a statue - which shares it’s likeness with the former chief minister of a populous North Indian state – that has washed up on the shore.

Thankfully, my nightmare did not initialize. But it was a very tense few hours and to avoid clicking on the Google Plus button in desperation (if you don’t know what Google Plus is, don’t worry! Neither does anybody at Google!) I had to leave the comfortable environs of the internet and head on to the chaos of television. I didn’t try to call someone or have a face-to-face conversation because why try to establish a connection with another living being when you can watch other people attempt it unsuccessfully?

Now, admittedly, the last time I had aimlessly ‘surfed’ the teevee, Manmohan Singh was still a popular reformist. But these things are like not riding a bike; it all comes back to you within the first few seconds. As I travelled through this familiar yet strange territory, I noticed a bizarre pattern. Instead of regular programming, most channels were showing ‘tele-shoppng’ adverts: Exclusive products available for a limited time only!

Even though most of these products were more dubious than the BJP’s promise to combat corruption, but for some reason they were being allowed to be sold to a large number of consumers. I noticed that no matter what these hacks are selling, their modus operandi seems to be quite similar. Hire an out of work celebrity – because nothing says ‘this is authentic’ like a person who has been out of work for more than a decade and would jump at any opportunity to make a buck – make them talk to hilariously bad extras who couldn’t convince a person about to faint from dehydration to have a drink of water; add a few doctors with vague qualifications and voila, you’ve got a product which you can sell for thousands of rupees to millions of unsuspecting customers. Remember, if you want to make your product look extra trustworthy, add a made up certificate or make sure to mention ‘ayurveda’ a couple of hundred times every two minutes.

One of the most frequent tele-shopping advertisements are regarding products which claim to help you lose weight. Shockingly, according to the sellers of these products, exercising and controlling your food intake is not the right way to go about it. The correct way is to only consume their product and not doing anything else. Eat anything you want! Don’t move a muscle! Just have an cup of ‘herbal’ tea twice a day or wear this magical belt and you will not only lose all your weight, you will somehow also look like a person who has spent the last decade living in a gym. Hey, if you don’t believe them, check out those totally truthful confessions from formerly fat people whose ‘before’ pictures are so badly photoshopped that the head they affix on pictures of obese bodies they steal from the internet doesn’t match the body either in proportion or skin tone.

Other exploitative products include dubious ‘education packs’ pretending to teach people how to speak chaste English in a couple of weeks. If you listen to this old man with a long beard and a deep baritone, then you too can speak horrible, grammatically incorrect English in a faux American accent. To make sure religious people don’t feel left out, there are hundreds of fake products that promise nothing short of nirvana. You can order amulets, conical photos, replicas of ancient palaces, and you’re all set for life. You don’t even have to go out and try to make a living. People will literally walk into your house and hand you money. You will never have to face any problems whatsoever. No one you know will ever fall sick or score less than hundred percent or take a wrong business decision. Say adieu to your ennui!

These people are successful in conning a large swathe of the population because people really want to believe them. If you ignore the kitschy production values or the obviously untrained actors, they offer a pretty good deal. Be successful without doing any hard work! You can lose weight just by having two shitty cups of our tea. You can turn into Mr. Universe without moving a muscle. You can speak English like the Queen in two weeks even if you haven’t spoken a word of it all your life. If you use our expensive amulet, God will personally annihilate anyone who dares to even think of looking at you in the wrong way.

But isn’t that how things are nowadays? Politicians are elected just because they have a famous surname. Reality show contestants become famous for being famous. News anchors win awards for never leaving their studios and passing off banal panel discussions as ‘news.’ Old fascist men from small villages in Maharashtra want to run the country without bothering to run for office.

At least these fake products have the decency to disappear into the ether after their time is up.

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