Comments and Critiques: Google India's "Reunion"

2:05 PM

The Google India ad "Google Search: Reunion"
has recieved a good deal of attention around the world, with the youtube video already garnering almost 8 million views since November 13, 2013.  Because "Reunion" raises so many issues that intersect with the work of our students and faculty, I asked them to prepare a brief statement on the ad and how we should understand it.  This page will be updated as the responses come in.

Google India describes the ad in this way:
"Partitions divide countries, friendships find a way
(Use captions to translate the film in 9 languages including French, Malayalam and Urdu)
The India-Pakistan partition in 1947 separated many friends and families overnight. A granddaughter in India decides to surprise her grandfather on his birthday by reuniting him with his childhood friend (who is now in Pakistan) after over 6 decades of separation, with a little help from Google Search."

Kumru Toktamis, Associate Professor (CCE) of Social Science & Cultural Studies.
"It is a tearjerker all right. All the techniques of visuals have been used to achieve a heightened level of sentimentality. It may be a topic so far away, yet the sentiments are so close to home for everyone: who does not miss a childhood friend; or how sweet it is for a young person who helps his/her ailing grandparent using technological skills he does not have. The political and economic world maybe full of tensions, past injustices, contemporary obstacles, conflicts but thanks to Google which is above and beyond all, we can and we are able to overcome them all!

In pre-google world we were not in control, but now we are!

Are we?

Google is already a household name as essential as the refrigerator. But no other product, (save the Bible maybe) has been upgraded to such a position of superiority, untainted by economic and political conflicts and in fact has the empowering role to resolve them all. This false sense of empowerment (of two fragile old man, two impressionable young persons, all innocent, all victims of larger structures) is of course a good, no, excellent way of selling a product, "naturalizing" it as one of us; the one that gives us all agency when we have lost it.

Google is just an instrument, a tool, a technology, not a divine solution."

Francis Bradley, Associate Professor, Department of Social Science & Cultural Studies.
"The Google advertisement exploits our desire for things new and modern, for connections between peoples otherwise divided, and for instant social gratification. On the surface, Google addresses the issue of the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 and the social and cultural divide that emerged in its wake. On the one hand, we might see this as a critique of political modernity and all the promise that consecutive generations placed in the nation state to fulfill the hopes and dreams of peoples worldwide. For the generation of 1947, partition was often seen as a necessary separation to allow for the flowering of both political entities, their peoples, and the myriad cultures that inhabited the descendant states.

But the Google advertisement has turned to the intimate loss felt by many in the wake of partition through the lens of social cleavages. The mass migrations that ensued and the severing of familial links still felt more than 65 years later. Yet, the advertisement comments on another human anxiety that accompanied modernity and post-modernity, that is, the social isolation felt by many who are now too busy to spend time with family, who have moved to pursue more profitable employment, or who have downsized their own family units. These human-to-human connections, we are led to believe, can be reconstituted via contemporary technology that bridges previously insurmountable obstacles. The question remains, however, the extent to which this is fulfilling? Can chatting or texting replace our desire to hear human voices? Can a phone call, even with visual effects, take the place of the human touch? "

Senior Grace Myers writes in her blog Heartashion of the ad as a "Bromance Made Possible By Google"

"It is no secret that Google is taking over the world. Recently, an ad for Google India was released world-wide only a few days ago and has received over 5 million views. Though the story is fictional it brings to light the devastation  still remaining in the hearts of Indians and Pakistanis alike. In 1947 just before Britain left the subcontinent they divided it in two forming India and Pakistan. The reason for this was the growing religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims. Family, friends, and neighbors were separated overnight migrating across borders. Extreme violence ensued. In 2004 discussions of peace started but the countries remain in conflict. Though I can never truly know the tragedy that was witnessed by the people in India and Pakistan, I am extremely touched by this video. This story may be fictional but its a story that unfortunately has happened many times over, and Google is illustrating that technological advances can make reunions possible."

Reunion is accompnied by several follow-up ads, including ad "Google Search: Anarkali" of the Grandfathers playing chess:
"Shopping for an Anarkali suit is just a move away
The reunited grandfathers decide to play match-maker with their grandkids by sending them shopping, but the grand-daughter checkmates them with a little help from Google."

As well as: "Google Search: Cricket"
"Settle scores, instantly. The India-Pakistan cricket rivalry reaches its peak during a power-cut and the grandfathers settle scores with a little help from the granddaughter and Google."

"Google Search: Fennel"
"Food always finds its way across languages The reunited grandfathers want to make biryani and reach a hurdle when they don't know what an ingredient's local name is, but with a little help from Google Search, they manage." 

"Google Search: Sugar-free"
"When fondness grows with age. A grandfather trying to sneak some sweets is caught red handed but is rewarded with some more; the same evening with a little help from Google."


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