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The Commercialisation Of Nationalism

Peddling “patriotism”.

10/04/2017 9:16 PM IST | Updated 12/04/2017 2:03 PM IST
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As the credits rolled on the screen, and I began making my way out of the theatre, I felt a pang of annoyance at the portrayal of nationalism in the film The Ghazi Attack, directed by Sankalp Reddy. Although the film was well written in parts, it relied on clichés about patriotism during critical scenes. It also played the national anthem twice during the film. The anthem did nothing to advance the story, but only served as a means to capitalise on the nationalist sentiments running high in the country. This is neither new, nor exclusive to India. Following the surgical strikes against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, a number of companies such as Bajaj and Pepperfry sought to celebrate Indian "victory"' by portraying the armed forces in their advertisements. Far from actually supporting the armed forces, these campaigns seek to integrate a diverse population under a singular identity for the purpose of making their products relatable to everyone. However, with the world order becoming more isolationist, it is essential to examine this phenomenon.

With the commercialisation of nationalism, states and oligarchs use print, social media and cinema as means to integrate their target populations and further [their] hypernationalist agenda.

Advertising sells lifestyles, and creates an aspirational class that believes in buying products to adopt a certain lifestyle. The State or influential oligarchs have sought to push the message of "Nation First" onto the population from time to time. In the 1930s, Shanghai's image (much like its image today) was that of a large cosmopolitan city, advertising products from around the world. This was soon countered by campaigns to promote the consumption of Chinese-manufactured goods. In particular, patriotic Chinese were asked not to buy products from Japan, a country with which China has strained relations due to the Japanese war of aggression (1937-45). Not only did it encourage Chinese nationalism, but it also went a long way in promoting China as a modern nation that did not have to rely on foreign products.

In other instances, firms seek to exploit contemporary or historic political situations for commercial gain. For instance as "Trumpian" nationalism was surging in the United States before the presidential election in 2016, the beer brand Budweiser decided to rebrand itself as "America", in the months leading up to the election. While this has certainly not been the first time it has done so, the reliance on patriotism was a marketing strategy to use the tense political climate to boost sales. The irony of the situation was a Belgian beer, now a part of a multi-national corporation, Anheuser-Busch InBev, rebranding itself as "America". While the campaign was largely unsuccessful commercially, it certainly highlights the emotions advertising taps into, and the impact it seeks to have.

Similarly, on 23 March, Baba Ramdev's Patanjali released an advertisement appropriating the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh to sell its products. It invoked the economic deprivation of colonial India by the British, something that ended 70 years ago, to push its brand with the idea "Buy Indian, buy Patanjali". Like China in the 1930s, this campaign seeks to invoke the idea of an economically strong and self-sufficient India, one that would manifest upon the purchase of Patanjali products.

While individual instances of commercialisation of nationalism may seem harmless, in the long run, the trend may have serious implications on the States' foreign policies...

What does this mean for international relations? The world order is moving towards increasing isolationism, despite globalisation having connected nation-states and their populations in irreversible ways. Protecting economic and political interests for all states, regardless of what populist rhetoric may loudly proclaim, requires consistent engagement with the rest of the world. Steve Hadley, the former National Security Adviser to George W. Bush goes so far as to claim that isolationism was a contributing factor to World War II, and also resulted in the Great Depression in the United States from 1929-1941. As the world faces ever-evolving challenges from traditional security threats such as terrorism, and non-traditional security threats like climate change, it has become imperative for nations to come together to ensure global peace and stability. And hence, it is important to challenge the growing trend of hypernationalism.

Hypernationalism essentially undermines the importance of a globalised, collaborative world order. Political leaders fuel this emotion by blaming the social problems such as unemployment, terrorism, and fast-changing social demographics on an increasingly interconnected world. We see rhetoric to that effect making the rounds around the world. Marine Le Pen of France, Greet Wilders of the Netherlands, Donald Trump of the United States and even Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have appealed to their citizens' sense of patriotism to undermine regional and global engagement. With the commercialisation of nationalism, states and oligarchs use print, social media and cinema as means to integrate their target populations and further this hypernationalist agenda. And therefore, while individual instances of commercialisation of nationalism may seem harmless, in the long run, the trend may have serious implications on the States' foreign policies, and ultimately, the liberal world order.

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