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What's common to an Indian School, #SanskariCensor, Valentine's Day, & Consumer Behavior?


Three separate incidents with tragic outcomes and one common thread that binds them together. First, the three incidents. At a Bangalore school, ‘errant’ nursery kids are punished through use of sexual shaming. The alleged shaming acts if true are shocking. On Valentine’s Day in Kerala, a young couple is at the receiving end of a moral brigade that harasses them and records the act, which soon goes viral on social media. Within days, the boy who was victimized commits suicide. A film titled ‘Lipstick under my Burkha’ is denied certification by the Indian Censor Board. Why? ‘Here’s what the Censor Board had to say about the movie (quote from the letter), “the story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contanious sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society, hence film refused under guidelines."

Think about it.

Why does a teacher prompt the use of the words ‘shame, shame, puppy shame’? Why does the moral brigade have a problem with couples on Valentine’s Day? Why do members of the Censor Board find sexual content in movies not worthy of public consumption? My bet is, if these people switched roles among themselves, they would do exactly what the others did in their particular circumstances. That is, if the teacher was part of the moral brigade or the Censor Board, he/she would have shamed the couple, and refused to certify the film. Ditto for other role switches.

Again, ask why?

To decipher behavior exhibited in these three cases, you have to understand where the influences that prompt such behavior come from. Dig deep and you’ll find the primary source of such behavior to be common. Though behavior is conditioned in social circumstances, the wellsprings that fashion such circumstances are embedded deep in culture. In other words, the primary source of individual behavior is culture. Culture influences communities. Communities influence families. Families influence individual behavior. If people in a society keep issues of sexuality under wraps, invoking them as sources of shame and harassment, that’s cos the invisible hand of culture brands it to be taboo. Conversely, cultures that are open and tolerant of sexual choices and expressions will be those where kids in school won’t be shamed with exhortations of ‘shame, shame, puppy shame’. Such cultures won’t have the moral brigades on the loose, and censor boards that ban.  

What about consumer behavior?

In the arena of consumption too, culture plays a critical role. Much of consumer behavior will fall in line with what is culture-dictated. This will of course happen out of choice and not compulsion. That is, consumption decision making will be driven by individual psyches that will draw influences from culture. The smart marketer will align value propositions in the marketplace to appeal to consumer psyches. Success to such marketers will come only if they get their reading of culture and its influences right.

So here’s the deal for the moment. Kids will be shamed, Valentine couples will be harassed, and films will be banned.

Wanna change that? Work on changing culture. 

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