“Should Indian brands openly talk about the political and social issues plaguing our country or remain ‘apolitical’?”
In a time where everything we do has political ramifications, the illusion of being ‘apolitical’ is a luxury only the privileged few can afford. Being apolitical does not equal being neutral, but implies endorsement of the prevailing social, economic, and political landscape. The caste system, patriarchy, economic inequalities, and communalism are some of the nuts and bolts in this elaborate machinery.
Keeping this in mind, being ‘apolitical’ itself becomes a political stance that favours the status quo. Let me elucidate this through three examples.
For instance, every time you choose to buy from a brand that donates funds to a specific political party, you are funding that party. You are enabling that political party to further propagate its ideology by handing it a larger microphone.
Shopping from fast-fashion brands that follow unsustainable practices that harm the environment and profit from exploiting cheap labour is also a political act. The ease with which fast-fashion giants can get permits to drain a country or state of its resources indicates the extent to which the government prioritizes big businesses over the welfare of indigenous communities that are directly affected by these environmentally destructive activities.
Every such fast-fashion purchase oils the gears in the machinery of exploitation and environmental degradation. This seeps into the social, economic, and environmental structure that inevitably impacts our lives.
Similarly, buying diamond jewellery is a political act. Governments dictate how conflict-diamonds are imported and distributed in your country. Every time you purchase conflict diamonds, you fund the abuse and exploitation of the individuals that went into crafting these for catering to your display of wealth and social status.
Hence, shopping is political.
When brands publicly take a stand on these issues and make (real) positive changes in their practices, even at the cost of some profit margins, they are taking a stand against economic exploitation. They are taking a stand for the environment and contributing towards making our planet more livable.
You may not be a ‘sexist’, but the fact that a majority of the movies you choose to watch have a lack of indispensable and complex female characters is a political act.
These movies are indicative of the prevailing power structure if you take into account the people in positions of power who write/direct/produce these movies. These films illustrate the impact created by women in your society from the vantage point of these creators.
The same goes for movies with (or without) protagonists of particular skin colour and sexual orientation. Before you know it, your mind has been warped by a fictional realm that is not indicative of the diversity in your real world. The media you choose to consume shapes your perception of the social groups represented to you. It shapes your worldview. Representation in society is political.
Hence, media consumption is political.
Let’s extend this example to ad campaigns from popular brands. When ads choose to show individuals engaging in acts that defy stereotypes, they are questioning and defying the status quo. Remember Titan Raga’s #HerLifeHerChoices advertisement where it celebrated the ‘Woman of Today’? Or Ariel’s #ShareTheLoad advertisement where a man reflects on his role in the household after seeing his daughter juggle work and household chores?
Not only does society reflect the media it is exposed to, but the media also reflects our society.
When ads normalize stereotype-defying actions, they create a perception of the same being a part of a larger reality. This change in perception creates a ripple effect of progressive beliefs, and changing beliefs is a political act.
It is baffling to think that even in 2020, there are people who believe that they are entitled to decide whom other people must love.
If you love someone despite the social, legal or economic discrimination thrown your way, you are engaging in a political act.
Think about every instance where a brand normalizes a couple that doesn’t ascribe to society’s hetero-normative school of thought. Consider Fastrack’s ‘The Closet’, Anouk’s ‘The Visit’, or TOI’s ‘Out & Proud’. When brands stand by their message and hold their ground even at the possibility of receiving hate for representing marginalized communities in mainstream society, they engage in a political act.
Every time a brand takes a stand against an issue, it influences millions of people who will potentially consume its products or services. Conversely, every time a brand backs down in the face of hate or takes back its words and actions to pacify the hate-mongers, it legitimizes this hate.
It emboldens those who spew venom and further marginalizes the already marginalized. It discourages other organizations and individuals from stepping up and doing the right thing. It fosters fear and unquestioning compliance towards those in power. It sets a dangerous trend of turning a blind eye towards wrongdoing. In other words, it further cements the status quo. These actions shape mindsets, which in turn shape our society. And politics is nothing but a reflection of this society.
Ergo, everything brands do has been and always will be political.