My ebook: Journeys with the caterpillar

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Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores
and Sumba, Indonesia
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Sunday, May 25, 2008

New frontiers of commodity fetishism

At Hampshire, Britain, a hotel cum resort called The Bartie Bristle Hotel and Spa has been opened for teddy bears. Offerings for the teddies include scented steam baths, trips to village pond, donkey ride, and bear-tox treatments to help these bears relax and recover from cuddling stress, all for a price of 80 pounds per stay. This may sounds faintly as a sign of conspicuous consumerism or commodity fetishism for the remaining dozen or so Marxists in the world, but is only a logical next step in the constant search for new services and products to ensure economic growth.

Last year the media in India eulogized La Perla’s launch of its lingerie in India with bras costing $100 (Rs 4000). With bras like these, the feminist movement is sure to see the final nail in its coffin in India. After all, which woman will do that oh so symbolic “bra-burning” with these Rs 4000 masterpieces? As such, the middle class has rather defined feminism as being able to boss over female maids at homes.

Indeed, the middle class in India has left behind the days of stitching up the hole in their shirt and of washing and drying their clothes by themselves. They have replaced their dependence on street food by discussions on their love for street food. Now they consume so much mineral water that India’s drains are probably cleaner than the rivers. Valentines Day has become the most important harvest festival as millions of roses are sold to oversized couples during that day. Naturally, visit to shopping malls have become the most important pilgrimage as concentration of Hindu idols in these malls (a Ganesha or Lakshmi in every shop) far exceeds that in even the loudest temple. One shouldn’t be surprised if environmental activists such as Maneka Gandhi start campaigning for shopping malls to be declared as nature reserve for mannequins.

Every country goes through such phases. Fetish for dishwashers and washing machines defined middle class life in Europe and America after the Second World War. But in some cases, the fetish has been interrupted by movements from over-exposed segments. The worldwide protests of 1968 were also linked to disaffection with consumerist culture. In places like Germany, the alienated youth formed groups like the Baader-Meinhoff gang took extreme measures like bombing supermarkets. In India, preparations have already been made to avoid such incidents. Most shopping malls have metal detectors at their gates and are manned by an army of security guards. But then of course, their key purpose is to keep away poor looking people from entering these malls.

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