Cricketer Rubel Hossain’s performance at the World Cup has become a talking point in recent times. Especially, his bowling out of an English batsman has been celebrated by many. After the World Cup, there has been a lot of media attention around this young cricketer. However, immediately before the tournament he was facing a rape charge in a law suit filed against him by a film actress named Naznin Akter Happy. Just before the tour he was taken on remand by a Dhaka court in relation to this law suit. At the last minute however (according to some sources due to “national interest”) he was granted bail and he was eventually able to catch the flight to Australia.
After the World Cup tournament, and his good performance there, Rubel has featured in a TV advertisement. The ad happens to be for a mobile phone package deal provided by Robi. In this ad, Rubel is seen as someone who is out to take revenge. He is shown to be very angry and determined. From the voice-over the audience is reminded that he has received lots of accolades in recent times; the audience is reminded that he has been praised by all in the social media (i.e. Facebook). Out of a dark background, he comes out wearing a white sleeveless T-shirt and bowls several times on an unguarded wicket. In the final sequence his own voice pops up. In a somewhat colloquial language he says “Next time no one can save, I will break it directly [Erpor r keu bachaite parbe na, direct bhainge dimu]. A broken wicket with its pointed edge is shown at this point.
Against whom does cricketer Rubel vow to take revenge? A conventional sign and meaning correlation would suggest that perhaps Rubel is referring to the World Cup tournament here. One may think of the disappointment the cricketers faced at a later stage of the tournament when they lost to India, albeit amidst some umpiring controversy. But after watching this ad several times, I also think that there is more meaning to this. One may not deny that at a subliminal level, the pointed wicket seems to resemble a slang particularly used by men in societies where patriarchy prevails. The visual of the pointed edge of the wicket here acts as a signifier. Thus, one is horrified to note tropes of phallocentrism in the ad and very explicitly so. For those who know Barthes know well that he was interested in the profusion of meaning. In other words as a scholar interested in semiotics, he was generally interested in extending the reach of the meaning.
I’ve been trying to think through Barthes’ analysis to comprehend the meaning of the Rubel ad for a while. What is the significance of the pointed edge of the wicket? Why does it seem that Rubel is not only talking back to the cricketers in this ad? The breaking of the wicket, the pointed edge, and his promise for revenge next time? What do all of these signs stand for? Why have metaphors of revenge become important for the ad makers? It’s true that a couple of cricket series were in the pipeline when this ad was aired and that included India, the team with which Bangladesh’s hopes ended disappointingly at the World Cup. Nevertheless, why does it seem that Rubel is talking back to someone else?
If we look back at the events immediately before the World Cup tournament, we may recall (and hence see other relations of meaning) that there was a lot of hype in relation to the scandalous rape case we are talking about. After some very dramatic events, however, the case was dropped. There were many other events which followed. One cannot deny that in most of these events a lot of social media bashing took place against the woman who filed the case. It was a talking point in town. People were busy discussing who was at fault here. There was a misogynist vibe in the social media.
As far as Rubel is concerned, these immediate past events were a reference point all the way. Every time Rubel played well people referred back to Happy, the actress who filed the case against him. Lest someone missed it, after a World Cup match the cricket team captain who is always represented in the media for his patriotic presence, when asked to comment on Rubel’s performance says that he now thinks that “Rubel is [H]appy” which brought a visible uproar from the crowd, thus confirming the misogyny in the crowd [even a reporter of Ekattur TV didn’t hesitate to take part in this misogynist trope when reporting on Rubel and his new ad see link below]. It is perhaps not a coincidence that all of these people who use this trope are men (i.e. Mashrafee and the TV journalist and also the ad maker (who think that Rubel may have some grudge! Of course I don’t mean to say that this is only used by men. I also saw women who took part in this misogynist scheme)]. The phone company in question is just riding on this misogyny. It is through this trope of misogyny they sell their product. And here the super ego is Rubel whom everyone (the spectators/ consumer of the ad) follows.
I condemn the making of this ad and the phallocentrism and misogyny it espouses. For a society free of sexual violence, we need to first believe that another world is possible and work at the level of language and representation. And of course a lot of work is needed from many other quarters of the society (I mean if society exists at all; with the nature of the existing politics where the alliance only seems to serve various corporate interests, it is becoming increasingly difficult to think so). For the moment though I think of the media’s role. But what’s the point? The media and culture industry is part of this corporatization.
Mahmudul Sumon teaches anthropology at JU and blogs at thotkata.net