Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Selling A Status Symbol

(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, 11th April 2009)

First it happened in the movies. And then we all drew inspiration from it. I think ‘Size does Matter’ can be blamed for the phenomenon that hit the Indian movie industry in the nineties:

Only God can Judge Him

The Ultimate Weapon

Man of Action

Come, fall in love…

A Love...that broke all relationships

A Thief…who Stole my Heart

He is not a Man

But while the horrendous taglines of the nineties-and-their-spillover-into-the-millennium could be attributed, like all the other ills of Indian society, to Westernisation, one wonders to what one can attribute the inundation of status messages that carry bulletins on the uninteresting lives of all one’s acquaintances. Thanks to social networking sites and email chat, an idiosyncrasy seems to be turning into an epidemic. From film reviews to synecdoche to self-certified aphorisms, the taglines have festered across genres.

My dislike for status messages, however, has ebbed now that the slowdown has hit. Used in shameless excess, this medium of communication can be a low-cost marketing tool, as well as an incredible money-saver. This perception can be attributed to two brands of acquaintances of mine, who perhaps not coincidentally, fall into the categories that do need to pull their purse-strings particularly tight.

The first to make use of these were The Performing Artistes – musicians, theatre personalities and dancers. Instead of printing out cards and pamphlets, they’ve made the events they’re starring in, their status messages.

“Museum Theatre. 6:30 p.m. 17th February. Be there for the performance of Yadda-Yadda-Yadda, only one day.”

“YMCA Grounds. Our last performance, guys. See you Saturday.”

“Ten D…Party Time. 7:30 p.m.”

“Vani Mahal. First floor. Performing with my guru. Thursday, 4:30 p.m.”

One of them, whose friends and acquaintances know there’s only one forum that will humour him, has taken to just putting down the time of his performances these days.

The other cash-strapped category using this are Corny Couples, who’ve decided to cut their phone bills. So you log in, and find people with random lines like “Really pissed off with you!”, while the other half of the couple writes “Sowwwy” or something equally maudlin. Then the first half’s status message changes to something like “Not listening!”

Now, the question that’s been plaguing me for a while is why people feel the compulsion to use status messages rather than simply chat and spare everyone else the public display of altercation. Especially when someone’s got a status message along the lines of “I hate you!” which makes one politely enquire whether the message refers to the word ‘you’, the misspelt name of someone of Oriental origin, or the world at large, only to be told it is part of a private conversation. You could probably blame it on reality television, some of whose stars have been contemplating the legality of having their deaths filmed. Or you could wax poetic about the tabloid culture, and how the paparazzi drive has inspired couples to start emailing links to their private honeymoon pictures, to everyone unfortunate enough to be on their list of contacts.

Having given up on the cause, I’m now hoping the domino effect will one day seep into Annoying Telemarketers, who seem to have a cosmic connection with one’s sleep pattern. It’s incredible how you’ve just settled into a dream where you’ve got superpowers to be woken up by a bright voice selling you insurance, DVD rentals or credit cards. I long for the day when these people will tack themselves on to your contacts and live happily ever after with status messages reading, “I’m statusing from Galaxy Life Insurance. Would you like to purchase a policy?” or “Good morning, ma’am! How’re you today? I guess you like to watch movies and all? I’m calling from…”

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