Utterly butterly reprehensible: When violence is as normal as butter

Media images may not have a direct effect upon our actions, but they could help to make certain ways of thinking acceptable.

How is violence normalised and how does it become an everyday part of our lives, as pleasurable as, say, spreading butter on toast? A recent Amul advertisement is an excellent example. Amul butter advertisements are famous for clever commentary on current events, feeding a public demand for adolescent wordplay that has its origins in university debating societies and quiz sessions.

The Amul advertisement in the wake of the Indian surgical incursion into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is remarkable for the manner in which it presents the smashing of bodies and spilling of blood as just everyday playful events in the lives of butter-consuming people. As we delicately lift the butter-smeared toast to our mouths, let us have a little chuckle about congealed blood and split skulls.

Of course, the problem is that this is exactly what we do. As the German cultural critic Theodor Adorno pointed out, the flip side of civilisation is a great deal of violence. In a remarkable Hindi poem, the poet Agyeya expressed surprise at the nature of a snake: You never learnt to be civilised, he asks the reptile, so how did you gather so much poison?

Poison becomes butter by placing it alongside, and within, acts of normal human activity. There is a long history of violence in the subcontinent that has become overlaid with spurious ideas about our essentially peaceful nature. The Amul advertisement – there may be many others like it, but none as prominent given Amul’s outreach – is a fine example of how we are constantly encouraged to think of violence as a completely normal activity.

We might dismiss the advertisement as just a bit of fun, if not Indian cleverness. But our thought processes are much more likely to be engaged by suggestions in popular culture rather than a Gandhian treatise on non-violence and Ambedkarite exhortations to question power. Popular culture is the most significant classroom of ideas. The ocean of milk churned by Amul produces everyday poison, disguised as a fun food, which we swallow without questioning.

Normalising violence

The Amulisation of society – presenting complex and troubling events as just so many amusing re-interpretations in the cause of selling – has, of course, a wider spread.

The Aamir Khan film 3 Idiots told us that it was okay to make a joke out of rape (because, after all, these were made by ordinary boys-next-door), an on-going scooter advertisement has ordinary people from different walks of life saluting defence personnel, another advertisement for a flask shows how a wife expresses conjugal love by sending a comforting beverage to her soldier-husband posted at (one assumes) the battlefront, and our television channels are awash with former Army generals doling out commonsensical wisdom on war strategy.

Media images and programmes may not have a direct effect upon our actions, however, they can help to routinise, and make acceptable, certain ways of thinking. If the background is ordinary life – eating, travelling, talking, socialising, expressing love – their potency is even higher.

Violence in different forms has become the new social grounds on which our ideas of a national community are being formed. Killing and loving are now deeply intertwined in our psyche as complementary activities. Ordinary people, to borrow from the title of a book on the Holocaust, have become willing executioners, joyously taking part in a festival of death-derived warmth. It is, of course, the same across the border in Pakistan, for melt-in-your-mouth jingoism is hardly the preserve of any one nation.

Insidious intent?

But, if you think about the media war of selling through death and talking through war, who dies and who lives? Those who die in wars are not those who eat Amul butter, aspire to study engineering and medicine, ride around in cars saluting soldiers, are able to purchase expensive flasks and are interviewed on news channels. They are, mostly, the children of dire circumstances, driven to a career that could lead to death because there may be few other employment opportunities with secure pay while living. The privileged normalise violence but make sure that someone else dies. We salute the dead, converting the hapless into martyrs. They die for us – not much butter and toast in the middle of split skulls and torn limbs, but the advertising folks might yet work on this – and we live on in the warmth of national feeling. We live on.

Explicit bellicosity is easy to spot and condemn. It is when our everydayness – acts of love, friendship, leisure, concern and care – is silently colonised by sentiments of violence and hate that we lose the capacity for reflection.

The insidious nature of the Amul advertisement, and others like it, lies in its attempt to instil a life of carnage as the normal state of being and, much worse, to make the innocence of childhood the grounds for the grotesque fantasies of adult violence. The Amul advertisements pretend an innocence where butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. But our throats are turning blue.

Sanjay Srivastava is a sociologist.

Support our journalism by paying for Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Bringing the glamour back to flying while keeping it affordable

The pleasure of air travel is back, courtesy of an airline in India.

Before dinner, fashionable women would retire to the powder room and suited-up men would indulge in hors d’oeuvres, surrounded by plush upholstery. A gourmet meal would soon follow, served in fine tableware. Flying, back in the day, was like an upscale party 35,000 feet up in the air.

The glamour of flying has been chronicled in Keith Lovegrove’s book titled ‘Airline: Style at 30,000 feet’. In his book, Lovegrove talks about how the mid-50s and 60s were a “fabulously glamorous time to fly in commercial airlines”. Back then, flying was reserved for the privileged and the luxuries played an important role in making travelling by air an exclusive experience.

Fast forward to the present day, where flying has become just another mode of transportation. In Mumbai, every 65 seconds an aircraft lands or takes off at the airport. The condition of today’s air travel is a cumulative result of the growth in the volume of fliers, the accessibility of buying an air ticket and the number of airlines in the industry/market.

Having relegated the romance of flying to the past, air travel today is close to hectic and borderline chaotic thanks to busy airports, packed flights with no leg room and unsatisfactory meals. With the skies dominated by frequent fliers and the experience having turned merely transactional and mundane, is it time to bid goodbye to whatever’s enjoyable in air travel?

With increased resources and better technology, one airline is proving that flying in today’s scenario can be a refreshing, enjoyable and affordable experience at the same time. Vistara offers India’s first and only experience of a three-cabin configuration. At a nominal premium, Vistara’s Premium Economy is also redefining the experience of flying with a host of features such as an exclusive cabin, 20% extra legroom, 4.5-inch recline, dedicated check-in counter and baggage delivery on priority. The best in class inflight dining offers a range of regional dishes, while also incorporating global culinary trends. Other industry-first features include Starbucks coffee on board and special assistance to solo women travellers, including preferred seating.

Vistara’s attempts to reduce the gap between affordability and luxury can also be experienced in the economy class with an above average seat pitch, complimentary selection of food and beverages and a choice of leading newspapers and publications along with an inflight magazine. Hospitality aboard Vistara is, moreover, reminiscent of Singapore Airlines’ famed service with a seal of Tata’s trust, thanks to its cabin crew trained to similarly high standards.

The era of style aboard a ‘flying boat’ seems long gone. However, airlines like Vistara are bringing back the allure of air travel. Continuing their campaign with Deepika Padukone as brand ambassador, the new video delivers a bolder and a more confident version of the same message - making flying feel new again. Watch the new Vistara video below. For your next trip, rekindle the joy of flying and book your tickets here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Vistara and not by the Scroll editorial team.