Advertising National Pride: The Unifying Power of Cricket Fever, Kashmir, and Politics
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Advertising National Pride
The Unifying Power of Cricket Fever, Kashmir, and Politics
Abstract

This article is a critical analysis of three public events in India in 1999, each of which played a distinctive role in making consumerism central to the definition of Indian national identity. I argue that this definition resulted from the production of social energy in a public cultural zone, which was initially constituted by advertising for the 1999 World Cup Cricket Tournament, but was then extended into other social fields as well. My exploration of this topic extends beyond the advertisements that were produced for the World Cup Cricket Tournament and focuses attention on the production of the urban social phenomenon, “cricket fever” (as it is called). The dynamic social energy produced through this phenomenon during the World Cup spilled over into other public cultural spaces and continued to reinforce the connection between Indian national identity and patriotism1 through the market. Throughout my discussion, I attend to how advertising and marketing technologies and messages are a crucial mode of producing and expressing social energy and its meaning.

Introduction

In 1999, three events occurred that help illustrate the way definitions of Indian national identity were changed. These were the World Cup Cricket Tournament, the Kashmir border conflict in Kargil, and the national elections. The material presented follows the chronology of these events. First, I carefully examine the dynamics of the World Cup cricket phenomenon. Second, I illustrate how this dynamic and tone of public energy was replicated in the attention given to the Kargil conflict. And third, as a contrasting example, I discuss how attempts to arouse nationalist sentiment around the national elections and associated principles of electoral democracy ultimately failed to appeal to the Indian public. In the end, I argue that that the representations and imagery used to evoke Indian national identity in the World Cup and Kargil conflict changed the form and content of national identity in India to the point where consumption became the preferred mode of expressing national pride and patriotic duty, and corporate advertising became the preferred medium.

The chronology of these three events is crucial because the first (the World Cup) was the most obviously and acceptably commercialized, thus allowing for the association between consumption and national identity to be naturalized and carried over into the other two arenas that were less (but still slightly) commercial. In this process, not only is national identity produced in relation to consumerism, but additionally, Indians who would be otherwise excluded from advertising messages are brought into the realm of consumption. They are being prepared for the day when they can express their patriotism through purchase. The powerful convergence of cricket, advertising, marketing, nationalism, consumerism, and generalized imagery2 works together to produce social energy that spreads consumerism and its associated aspirations of global modernity to the masses. The events from May to October, 1999, provided advertising with the opportunity to produce highly localized versions of global India3 through messages of unity and national pride.

Cricket: From Imperial Tool to National Unifier

In Bombay during the summer of 1999, the World Cup Cricket Tournament was inescapable. Every television channel, newspaper, magazine, restaurant, bar, club, and street corner flashed a reminder of the great expectations the nation had for the Indian team. Every corporation seemed to be sponsoring, endorsing, or associating in some way with the tournament and wishing the team “all the best” (as one commercial jingle refrain put it). Though they beat Pakistan in an early match, the Indian team performed poorly and was eliminated from the tournament before the finals. In the final match between Australia and Pakistan, Indians showed their patriotism by supporting Australia and hailing their ultimate victory over India’s enemy neighbor. Still, despite the team’s performance, the degree to which this sporting event had pervaded the lives of Indians of all classes and locales was evident. As a common denominator of Indians, cricket seemed to offer an ideal platform from which advertisers could address a wide range of the Indian public.

Before discussing the details of how advertisers exploited this event, it is crucial to understand the importance of cricket in India...