Monday, March 10, 2008


All about Power – Patriarchal light, Female Darkness?

A series of 'public interest' advertisement spots on television released recently by the Kerala State Electricity Board warns the public not to waste electricity. Film stars like Suresh Gopi and Dilip pontificates and urges us on the need to take actions to curb wastage of electricity at home in order to avoid imposition of power cut. The ads not only shifts the onus of saving power on to the customer (read women), but also puts the blame squarely on the domestic consumer for wasting power and causing power cuts. As everyone knows and umpteen number of committees have pointed out ad nauseum one of the most obnoxious 'source' of power loss in the state is in the area of Transmission and Distribution, an area solely under the control of the Board, and which the Board has systematically chosen to ignore. It has instead vehemently argued for more hydel projects, like the one it has proposed and pushing for in Athirapilly now, despite the vehement protests and pleas of environmentalists and civil society activists. So the target of the ads is 'naturally' the general public, who are obviously being warned of the darkness ahead if they don't cut down consumption. Obviously it is not just about consumption and saving. This sudden revelation and concern about power shortage and saving look ominous especially in the context of the Board's fatal obsession with hydel projects. There is no doubt that the domestic consumer needs to be extremely careful and diligent about the use and abuse of power. What are made 'secondary' in the process, are the more crucial and wasteful instances of the electric abandon manifested at our religious and other festivities, the all-too bright and conspicuous waste by and in commercial complexes, and by the transmission and distribution machinery and mechanisms of the Board themselves. And, what are the priorities the ads thrust before us, and more importantly, why do they target women as 'the' irresponsible squanderers at home?

Look at the representation of women in these 'public interest' advertisements. It seems the film stars have brought the primitive gender blindness of Malayalam cinema with them into the ad space. In cinema, women are always pets or preys, decorative objects or scopophilic consumables, and all the decisions are and have to be made by men while women admire, obey and follow. The ads follow the same logic, forcing even the critics to follow the same-old tired arguments in critiquing such obsolete stereotypes.

In the KSEB ads, the women are the ones who waste - they are either wasting their time (over 'idle' chat over phone) or energy (by using it at 'peak' hours). In contrast, men carefully take efforts to curb waste and save energy. So, while the 'stars' bring in light, women are harbingers of darkness (and the sole potential cause for power cut)! In one spot, we find a 'housewife' ironing clothes at dusk, with all the lights on (subtextually it seems to be asking, why the hell does she need such brightness?). Dilip enters the scene, switches off all the unnecessary lights, and tweaking her ear chides her not to use such devices during peak hours (whose peak hour?!). Here is a 'responsible' husband warning an irresponsible wife (who is at work, by the way) for wasting valuable energy. Leave alone the fact she is seen working at 'peak hours', she is also made responsible for and guilty of energy waste!

In another ad, we see a lady picking up a phone for a chat when the power goes off sinking the room in darkness. A match stick is lighted and we find Suresh Gopi bringing light not only into the room but also in the form of an advice to the woman about saving power so as to avoid power cuts. In the third ad, we have Suresh Gopi again, who is apparently a conscientious officer working late in his office; he diligently switches off his PC and comes out of his cabin to find all the lights in his deserted office turned on. He meticulously switches them off one by one, setting a male superior example for the society to follow.

So, in all the ads, the positive and proactive examples happen to be men, while frivolous women waste power and squander them thoughtlessly.

Obviously, it is all about power.

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