Vantage point

Friday, October 05, 2007

A Rebuttal to Madhu Menon

Last year Madhu Menon wrote a post reporting about a new outsourcing opportunity for India. He said that Western countries should outsource protests and offence-taking to India, much like a lot of IT and support services. Madhu wrote -

First of all, Indians have been offended at pretty much everything over the years. If you've written a book that's even slightly controversial, there are sections that want it banned. If you make a movie that tackles bold themes, you can expect howls of protest about how it's corrupting impressionable young minds. If you wear a female tennis outfit just like everyone else in the tennis world, somebody will be quick to point out how you are no longer a good member of your community. So let me assure you, no matter what the subject of the protest is, we Indians are capable of delivering a strong protest. Our service standards are world-class and globally competitive. When it comes to protesting, we are the epitome of "unity in diversity"! With our wide range of religions, beliefs, and castes, we are champions at being offended and having our sentiments hurt.

This is just plain wrong wrong wrong wrong. Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against Madhu Menon. Some of my best friends are Madhu Menon. But as I look back at this post, I can not but shake my head at how ill-informed Madhu Menon is. In fact Madhu Menon reminds me of those Indians who say "Bollywood is receiving global attention", "Indian cricket/hockey/kabaddi team is the best in the world", "Indian techies dominate the world scene" and "India is a real threat to Chinese domination".

We Indians tend to overestimate ourselves and Madhu Menon has committed the same flaw. So here are some inconvenient truths - No one seriously gives a damn about Bollywood, Indian tech companies are still small players, China is still miles ahead of us, and no Madhu Menon, we are nowhere close to being competitive in taking offence and registering protests as compared to the United States.

Offence Taking and Protests (OTP) is a thriving cottage industry in India, but it is a high margin, high returns, multi-billion dollar industry in the United States. Indians specialize in finding things to take offence at, and Madhu Menon is right in point out that our diversity is our competitive advantage. We can get offended about Ravi Shastri eating beef as well as about Dan Brown giving Christ a wife. And of course, our sizeable Muslim population also covers a lot of bases, offence-wise.

But while the Indians have diversified horizontally, the Americans have specialized vertically. They have used their relative lack of diversity to reach a higher level of evolution in terms of offence taking. And they are also able to generate their offence-taking materials in-house. Their insourcing is so much more productive and efficient. They don't need to go to Scandinavian countries, remote MP villages, esoteric film festivals or Gujarati universities to find sources of offensive materials.

Why, just in the past few weeks, the US Senate has wasted its time on offence taking on two separate occasions. The Senate first introduced a censure motion against, a far left entity for insulting the troops. And then they tried to censure Rush Limbaugh, a far right entity for insulting the troops. News channels over the last few months have spent hours and hours discussing how Bill O'Reilly offended blacks, Don Imus insulted black women, Barack Obama insulted Indians (Yay, Chidanand!! India is receiving attention inside the beltway!!), CNN insulted Michael Moore or Michael Moore insulted CNN, Ann Coulter insulted John "who?" Edwards, Bill Maher insulted Dick Cheney, Al Sharpton insulted mormons, Rosie Odonell insulted everyone else,........ and all this is just in the last few months. I haven't even talked about Mel Gibson, Michael Richards etc.

You get the point, Madhu Menon? The sources of all these offensive utterances have been people who are in the media all the time. It is really quite a brilliant business model. One of them says something. The others spend hours and hours discussing what was said, all the discussions interspersed, of course, with lucrative advertisements. The following week, it is someone else's turn to say something which can be construed as being offensive to blacks, troops, jews, or some such group.

If I come across as someone who thinks that all the US media does is play a game of "you offend my back, i offend your's", perish the thought. They are not that insular. They also devote attention to important matters such as Brittany Spears' custody battles, Anna Nicole Smith's baby, Paris Hilton's driving record, Lindsay Lohan's driving record, Michael Vicks' crimes against dogkind and whatever OJ is up to.

So in closing, Madhu Menon, I hope you realize that as scrappy and tenacious as our OTP industry is, the outsourcing proposal stands no chance against the Americans' insourcing.