Taming the Basilisk

November 22, 2011
Imagine you are a cobra—powerful and elegant—yet you are coiled in a dark bowl-like gourd, trapped and unable to see; you sleep dreaming of a world unknown. Through a chink, light pierces the lonely gourd. You feel the vibrations of something, sound; is it a song? The top of the gourd is pulled away. The warm outside air greets your face, as you flick your tongue to “taste” the air; it tastes dusty. Awakened from your slumber, you emerge to see an instrument playing a calming serenade. You are compelled to sway back and forth in front of it.

Enveloped by arid heat waves visible to the eye, a single man sits cross-legged in the dirt road. The voice of an instrument frolics in the open sky, the notes melodically dancing on the dust-laden road and squat buildings. The fluid serenade of the wooden flute fills the air; dry sand, blistering heat—the music travels through the desert like a haboob, engulfing everything nearby. A cobra with venomous fangs and extended hood rises from a bowl transfixed on the instrument. It matches the pace of the swaying, “entranced” by the music. Nearby children are also entranced.

A snake charmer lives his life playing music for the snake, entertaining it; almost as if casting a spell, he takes control of the snake. The charmer dictates the very movements of the snake; like the snake charmer’s flute, Advertisements hypnotize us. On the internet, in the newspaper, on TV, in magazines, in books, on billboards, on the radio, ads surround us; television ads mesmerize with flashing lights and bright colors. The catchy slogans and flashy logos hijack people’s minds, driving people to buy, consume and buy more. Ads, like the snake charmer attracting little children, catch the attention of lay-persons worldwide.

I myself have had negative experience with ads when I was charmed like the cobra by the product. As a little kid I loved playing with Legos; building and creating made my life complete. I would read magazines specifically about Legos. One issue I read had an ad for a Star Wars Star Destroyer four feet long. I was mesmerized like the snake transfixed on the instrument of the charmer. The pictures of the new Lego set caused my 8-year-old self to go gooey on the inside, craving to build the larger-than-me Lego set. For the next few months, I nagged everyone who might be able to get me the set: my parents, aunts, uncles, sister, cousins and even friends. My myopic view let me fixate upon only one thing, the Legos—I was the snake riveted on the charmer’s instrument.

I was enamored with the giant Lego set, the largest one at the time. I wanted to have it so I could brag to my friends and show off to everyone that I could build the largest Lego set in the world. It was not that I actually wanted the Legos, but that I wanted the status of having that particular Lego. I craved to have a big name Lego, just like older people with their big name cars, like a Lamborghini Murcielago, Enzo Ferrari, or Maserati Gran Turismo. It was a sign of status (on a childish scale), for which I yearned. It wasn’t just a fault of my childish self, wishing for a symbol of status; adults acted like this all the time.

Over the summer I traveled to Europe with some 30 classmates. One classmate, while in Switzerland, decided to buy a 600 euro Swatch just because it had the “Swatch” brand on it. This happens all the time with normal people as they view celebrities wearing designer clothes. A company creates an ad for the clothes line that charms people into buying $300 shorts or $5000 shoes. Gucci, Prada, Lacoste, Burberry, Armani, Rolex—these names dazzle the consumer. Brands are ingrained into our culture, making us crave what we do not have.

Likewise the snake is not actually hearing the notes of the song—the product, but feeling the vibrations of the warm air on its skin—the brand. The snake does not have outer ears like humans, but rather an inner ear that is connected to the rest of its body to help “hear” or feel the sound. Therefore, the actual notes the charmer plays are less important than the heat resonating from the end of the instrument. The snake is like a human who is looking, not at the actual product (the notes) but trying to find the status symbol behind it. Instead of the actual product being noticed the snake transfixes on the motion of the charmer’s instrument which is parallel to the status of the brand rather than the item being bought.

Once caught in the spell, the snake can no longer break free. Likewise once the media enslaves us with ads and ties us to a brand, it is hard to escape. People stick with a certain brand just because that is what they are used to; we humans generally do not like change, and prefer to stick with what we know rather than go out into unknown territory. The snake also is stuck with one charmer, unable to escape till death. The snake is trained by the charmer to stay obedient to the charmer’s wishes just as humans are also conditioned to stay with a certain brand.

Companies’ ads are dangerous; they capture us, enslave us, and then release us once they have our money. When we no longer provide, the companies toss the first customers aside for fresh snakes to charm. Parallel to the companies, snake charmers do the same; they capture wild snakes, new blood, to add to their collection. Next the charmer trains the snakes to submit, only to release the snakes into the wild after a few weeks to let them die. Just as the company cares not for us, but the profit that can be gained by charming us, the snake charmer does the same with the captured snakes.

We—humanity—are all ensnared in gourds charmed by the big corporation’s logos and the status associated with that brand. Unknowingly fettered, we go on with life fixated on the material products, and how the product makes us look to other people. Humans are just like the snakes, destined to be charmed till death, continuing to buy expensive designer goods rather than focusing on necessities. Now aware of the charmer casting a spell on us, we can change—break the spell.

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