By Omair Faizullah

“The spectacle grasped in its totality is both the result and the project of the existing mode of production. It is not a supplement to the real world, an additional decoration. It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society. In all its specific forms, as information or propaganda, as advertisement or direct entertainment consumption, the spectacle is the present model of socially dominant life. It is the omnipresent affirmation of the choice already made in production and its corollary consumption. The spectacle’s form and content are identically the total justification of the existing system’s conditions and goals. The spectacle is also the permanent presence of this justification, since it occupies the main part of the time lived outside of modern production.”

–  Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle.


So, we enter 2017!

The welcome wagon stands in the middle of the road, flanked by motorbikes too close for comfort, a driver who has just recently discovered the horn and dipper of his expensive car; dips and honks incessantly, he clearly owns the road. An old man in his dingy little car, combs his beard as he stares into his daughter’s past and future simultaneously. The auntie in her shiny ride, dressed up to match the colors of the mithai she had the previous night, keeps looking into the rearview mirror to see if her makeup is just the right shade of whiter than her skin. A young man on his shiny new motorcycle, pockets the packet of gutka he just took a dose of, to semiconsciously cope with all that is around him. Two colleagues on different bikes discuss the latest political debacle, office politics and the aforementioned auntie’s hair streaks and makeup. A million others give company to the ones mentioned above, too engrossed to notice their own selves but each single fixated on the super shiny, colorful welcome wagon as it towers above them. Too far out of reach. Sad smoke billows out from the rear of these horrible machines, and everyone keeps whiffing a breath because there is nothing else to breathe in…breathable air, being a distant heaven.

The wagon is a clear contrast to the cacophony of sound and vision that surround. It is embellished with stickers of myriad colors and the branding of an international brand. No, make that multiple international brands. In fact, the wagon is made up of international brands entirely. Logos, products, ATL, BTL, WMD, NWO, WTF, LOL!

The wagon stands in the middle of the road, so stark in contrast to the grime and paan spewing organomechanic hybrids around it, that it is all one can see. Its surface is grime proof, so whatever pollutant touches it, it falls off – leaving the surface shinier than ever. The miasmic colors enthrall and entice everyone who notices, hypnotized; their eyes run around in concentric circles like something from an old cartoon. Mouths open, drool gathering at their feet, they stare on. Periodically, music blares from the wagon, spectators vacating the confines of their vehicles and swaying to the sounds, mesmerized and enthralled with the glorious spectacle.

It is a painful sight. It hurts my eyes. It hurts my mind. I refuse to look at it, consume it or be influenced by it, but I cannot help myself become victim to its beautifully perverse magnificence.

That, dear reader is essentially how advertising communication is being practiced within our borders; every single form of communication, taken over by product managers, client service executives and creatives serving their great multi-national overlords. Nothing wrong with that really, but it just makes me feel a little better phrasing it like that. The metaphor of the shiny wagon in the middle of rush hour traffic is the perfect example of the reality we live in. Multinational advertorial content dominates the behaviors and patterns that govern our wants, needs and quite literally, the business models of indigenous thought and advertorial development.

Truth of the matter is we are in the age of consumer commodification where it is not the products that are commoditized, but those that consume them. Let’s all witness the spectacle of human commodification. Ladies and gents, this is the age of everything!

Our TV screens littered with toothpastes, soaps, cleaning liquids etc. Our phones constantly pinging to the sound of the latest new mega meal that will rot our intestines. The walls where we walk, plastered with beverages and their glorified icons. Our social streams blaring out the latest deals and offers of whatever they feel is relevant to our browsing habits. All of it in a foreign context and resolutely oblivious of our indigenous reality. Where have we, as individualistic people, disappeared to?

A little while back, in a fit of rage, madness and logic, I decided I am going to stop buying bottled water and start drinking normal tap water. I couldn’t do it, not because it gave an immediate disease, but because the advertising content I see around me is constantly telling me to buy its “clean” water. Which, by the way sells for more than a bottle of bottled dark beverage that is essentially glorified toilet cleaner – just look up that fun fact, you’d be surprised at what’s really being sold to you. I mean, bottled water is more expensive than an artificial chemical concoction. Something is certainly wrong with the picture here.

I mean, just look at it, our music industry has been single handedly taken over by a beverage. Unless a musician is endorsed by a multinational brand, they don’t really come to the forefront. Record labels are a non-profitable business. The moment an episode drops, we take off our kaala chashma and start swinging to the fused beats wherever we end up hearing them. And when the season ends, absolutely nothing of consequence is heard by the masses through the year. Sure, some smart people keep making great music, but their art stays limited within their niches.

This is open to disagreement, but it can be argued that as good as the commodification of thought may be, it causes more harm in the longer run. It creates dependencies and limits individual expression. Everyone wants a piece of the multinational pie; and what everyone wants, everyone gets. And the truth of the matter is absolutely nothing can be done about it. Well, unless the multinationals decide to do something. Which is about as likely as the whole of the world to stop chewing and spewing paan.

So here is what is going to happen in the coming years, remember that shiny wagon in the middle of the road we started out with? Well, that wagon keeps evolving and getting bigger and shinier. It spawns multiple other wagons like it that take over the skies, burrow underfoot and periodically spew nanities into the air. We breathe and the advertorial content literally becomes a part of our genetic structure. Our DNA turns into multinational brands. Our skin will be layered, multicolored and marked with the brands we consume most. We will be mindless zombies going about our lives while our overlords in huge multinational corporations, will own our souls and will eventually decide where our lives lead.

I ended up painting a picture much darker than I set out to, but really, think about it, it isn’t too far. And when you do think, you’ll realize that the distant future is instead a little too close and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. So sit back, relax, sip some nanite laced multinational chai, and enjoy the ride. This is the language we speak now.

Previous articleNew Stakes: Business Mergers and Acquisitions in Pakistan
Omair Faizullah is an educator, designer, and communications specialist. Currently, he heads the Dept. of Visual Communication Design at the School of Visual Art & Design, Beaconhouse National University. His work centers around visual appropriation, design culture, and immersive technologies.