Book Review: Consumerist Dating – Flirting with Things and Images

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Disclaimer: This book, Consumerist dating – Flirting with things and images, comes with an academic label. But it contains some fundamental truths about how a post-liberalized India has become so spoiled for choice that it has been caught in its own vortex of thirst, consumption and exhaustion. He considers the impact of materialism on our social fabric in the same way as postcolonial discourses on social inequalities.

We remember the cult movie fight club famous “things you own, end up owning you” dialogue as you flip through the pages. The author makes “things” or “commodities” the place of his argument with an almost Jungian push on the visual manifestation of these material commodities. The book explores the intersections of commodity and images – the integration of the material, the visual, the popular and the digital to make sense of post-liberalization consumption and social transformations.

The author, Sreedeep Bhattacharya, laments that academia has so far avoided writing about materialism and its impact on societal behavior. Methods of inquiry and analysis have also thus far been more textual, as the past three decades of liberalization have seen a flood of visual interactions, creating a visually mediated culture. He further argues that social anthropological inquiries must go beyond the search for academic pleasure in the pornography of poverty. Researchers must move from the margins to the shopping malls and become aware of the new social environment, because these new consumption spaces are now the dominant visual leitmotifs.

The book focuses on a new set of hitherto academically unexplored visual manifestations in contemporary society, be it its needs, wants, desires, materialistic aspirations; or the metamorphic symbols of capitalism emerging from socialist structures; or the new signifiers of technology, globalization juxtaposed with the self-image and unique identity of the individual signified. Bhattacharya calls these “commodity narratives” that shape and mold our thinking, our relationships, our behavior in the emerging consumerist landscape.

He alternately wears the hat of consumer and scientist. He sees himself as the “excited, excited consumer” at heart, with his erudite self, casting an academic eye, while commenting on the journey of the liberalized consumer from repressed consumption to ostentatious indulgence.

He gets more personal on this consumerist journey where he tackles an eclectic mix of commodity surfaces, ranging from cellphones, cars, jeans, t-shirts – how their messages adore the human body, how the budding aspirations of the middle class are recovering to possess a unique identity; how new age call center jobs are fueling new consumerist desires; how visual culture captured from a professional lens shifted to user-generated images; how liberalization has fomented consumer use and behavior; and, finally, how this transient relationship with commodities also reflects our real relationships with other humans, technology and nature. Everything is ephemeral, contractual, temporal and promiscuous, with no deep commitment to anyone. Loyalty becomes at best a canine value and at worst an opportunity!

So, is liberalization responsible for the weakening of the moral fabric of our society? Or, has it had a positive impact on our collective psyche, other than the obvious economic benefits our country has reaped?

Read the book to find out for yourself. There is a bit of everything for everyone. For a student of consumer culture and anthropology, this book takes you through a seesaw transition from pre-liberalized information and unprocessed data to post-liberalized visual imagery. For a marketing and branding practitioner familiar with visual imagery, brand positioning, ambitious identities, the book offers a refreshing insight into the textual, visual, spatial, linguistic and sound semiotics of the categories of consumption which he calls brands. And, of course, for the researcher, this constitutes a lucid argument for “freeing Indian sociology from rural house arrest”.

(Shalini Rawla is founder and CEO of The Key, a consumer behavioral intelligence company)

Consumerist dating – Flirting with things and images

Sreedep Bhattacharya

OUP India

Rs 1,495 (hardcover), 292 pages

Check out the book on Amazon here

Published on

August 24, 2022

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