Bollywood, Rick Astley, and the Israeli Arms Industry

Amid growing international concern over the India-Israel arms trade, the Israeli firm Rafael unveiled the below marketing video — described by Stephen Trimble of The Dew Line as a “catastrophic collision of Bollywood and the arms industry” – at the Aero India 2009 defense convention in Bangalore. In the months since its posting, the video has become the errantposter-child — even earning a reprimand from The Jerusalem Post — for the new age of covert international arms trading.

Noah Shachtmann of Wired‘s DangerRoom has deemed it “the most atrocious defense video of all time, just days into the Iron Eagles — our celebration of the awesomely bad videos of the military-industrial complex”.

Every element of the promotional film is just plain wrong. The sari-clad, “Indian” dancers look all too ashkenaz and zaftig. The unshaven, hawk-nosed, leather-clad leading man appears to be a refugee fromYou Don’t Mess With the Zohan. Then of course, there’s the implication that the Indian military is somehow like a helpless woman who “need(s) to feel safe and sheltered.”

But for my rupees, the worst thing about the video is the damn theme song they’ve concocted for the thing. To pimp its weapons, Rafael produced a sitar-heavy twist on Rick Astley’s love letter to Satan, “Together Forever,” complete with a new chorus: “Dinga dinga, dinga dinga, dinga dinga, dinga dinga dee.” The rest of us now have to suffer for that bad, bad choice.

The video may be as offensive to our tastes as to our morals, but it’s also, perhaps, a sign of things to come. As a kind of post-modern pastiche of traditions and fads, light-hearted pop songs and mechanistic war, the video seems to embody perfectly the brazen disregard — where anything goes, and nothing is sacred — that we would expect from an arms dealer. Even more remarkable is the fact that these videos are themselves the product of a formula of sorts, where diverse archetypical cultural affects are combined, to easy effect. Saurabh Joshi of StratPost, the South Asian Defense news site, inquired further into Rafael’s marketing practices:

StratPost spoke to Assy Josephy the Director of Exhibitions for Rafael about how this video came about. “In Israel we have Jewish people from India, so we know about Bollywood and the song and dance numbers. Israelis are generally aware of Indian culture. This video is to help build familiarity between India and Israel and Rafael,” he says.

But this is not the first time Rafael has exhibited something of the sort. Josephy says Rafael has displayed such videos in many countries with various themes customized to the culture of the locations. “In Brazil we did a video of football. Football is very big there. In Paris the video had a theme that included Napoleon and the Renaissance. In Poland our video had themes of Chopin and Copernicus. In England it was about Shakespeare,” says Josephy.

Though we can only hope to one day get our hands on the Shakespeare defense video — an odd phrase to be sure — the greater point to be taken here is that even arms dealing can be “Epcotized”. The Rafael video is, no doubt, a classic case of a capital enterprise creating an image of cultural understanding that disguises its opposite, a generic, reproducible schema that can be ‘customized’ to capture any given culture. Only in this case, the product is a missile, not international cuisine, and the means for marketing — “culture” in quotes — is also the target.

Leave a Reply