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Monday, August 31, 2009

Sabeen Mahmud's "Reality Bites"

[Sabeen's own excellent, but rather infrequently updated, blog - Meanderings - is, sadly, down again thanks to the shittiest hosting service I know of … so she posted this well-written piece, following the SaadKhan-Unilever-Mindshare accident, on Facebook where a lively discussion has ensued. However, I think people not on FB ought to be able to read it, too … so, here it is!]

Reality Bites

Dr. Adil Najam's post What Happened to Saad Khan, coherently summarizes the tragedy of a young man's death during the filming of a reality tv show for a Unilever product. Farrukh Ahmed's post raises a number of critical questions and has focused on demanding a response, from the multinational giants, Unilever and Mindshare.

I did a lot of multimedia and technology work for Unilever between 2000-2005 and my colleagues and I spent many nights there to get projects completed on time. There was a lot of camaraderie and we got the opportunity to observe almost all the departments in action, practically as insiders. Some of the key people who worked there during that time were fantastic and those were heady days. But I do remember commenting one day, rather wryly, that if someone were to drop dead in the next cubicle, it would probably take a week for anyone to notice.

"The Corporation" is a soulless machine, dedicated to the pursuit of profit. Vision statements, ethical guidelines, and corporate social responsibility programs are merely legal requirements that have no practical bearing on how companies do business. I'll never forget the "wise" words of an intern who flippantly said one day that business and personal life have nothing to do with each other. This is what the kids are taught at business school and this is the dream that plays out in the corporate world.

Some blog commenters have questioned Saad's sense of (ir)responsibility for participating in a potentially dangerous reality show. Others have spun conspiracy theories around the fact that Unilever's Corporate Affairs Manager is married to the head of Geo, and hence the media silence. Facebook groups are springing up each day demanding explanations. A magazine editor has urged people to stop jumping to conclusions and has dissed online crusaders. A satirical comic strip has emerged. Twitter is abuzz with the #SaadKhan hashtag. Irrespective of points of view, people are speaking up and most of them are enraged.

While Big Media is relatively quiet, possibly in connivance with the country's largest advertiser and media agency, the online airwaves are on fire. Hopefully, Unilever will soon have a PR crisis on its hands, because "the people" are only just getting started.

I have a single demand. Multiple third-party vendors were involved in the Clear Shampoo reality tv show. However, the project was commissioned by Unilever, and therefore, they owe the public an explanation, supported by documentary evidence. Once they do that, next steps can be determined. Right now, the facts have to be brought out into the open. The public has a "right to know" and has a responsibility to demand accountability.

It takes a tragedy that affects people personally for a shift in perception to occur and I hope that after this, people will start thinking, even just a little bit, about the "military-industrial complex" and questioning the super-power status of corporations in our lives.

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Anonymous Samina Z said...

Lovely and to the point. Thanks for retweeting it here. Started reading your blog this year after a classmate mentioned it. Did not know about your poetry side. I have requested my bro to get me The Mist of Youth because I don't have a credit card :(

31 August, 2009 07:17

Blogger Zakintosh said...

@ samina z

-err - TMOY isn't exactly brotherly material. But I guess you did read the subtitle.

31 August, 2009 08:40

Anonymous Sabeen Mahmud said...

Thanks for posting this on your blog Zak. I hope I can get the shittiest hosting company in the world to fix the problem today.

31 August, 2009 10:28

Blogger Zakintosh said...

Now that it's up at ATP, the big discussions will take place there or on FB :)

01 September, 2009 08:29

Blogger Tehseen Baweja said...

I am deeply saddened about Saad Khan and may he RIP, but pardon me for starying from this topic for a second and jump to a different one.

I have always appreciated your perspective on things and I would love to hear what you think about the recent political developments, namely:

- Leasing of 0.7 Million acres of agricultural land to Saudia.
- US buying 18 acres of prime diplomatic land in Islamabad.
- US buying/renting 5000 residences in Islamabad.
- Unconfirmed news of US building a marine base in Gharo.

What do you make out of it? Where are we going?

03 September, 2009 00:55


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