Motorcycles in Nepal are no longer limited to scooters that look like armadillos on wheels. With the entrance of cheap Chinese motorbikes, there is much variety to choose from. In the face of competition, advertisements for motorbikes are hard to miss. And increasingly harder to ignore has been the gendered form that these ads have taken in Kathmandu.
Lifan has an ad for its equivalent to the Honda Street Smart, a smaller bike, with 100cc power. While all Lifan ads carry the strapline "Difference ho, Power Engine ko", this ad is framed in pink with the words "Romancing with Power". Lest you miss the intended audience, a young woman in jeans and t-shirt with a handbag is posted on the right side glancing at the reader. The message: this bike is meant for girls.
Luckily, the market for manly bikes is, if one goes by ads, chock full of choice. We have the Suzuki ad that is fit for any mechanics' workshop: two non-Nepali women in tight, golden dresses with plunging cleavages, posing around and leaning on the bikes. Yamaha shows its bike with a view on the side of two pairs of legs-one in a short skirt with boots (where are the fashion police?) and the other in jeans and cowboy boots. You really sort of want both pairs of legs to belong to gay men, which would make the ads so much cooler, but alas the Yamaha ad that used to run in Jai Nepal with a luscious girl in flowing hair clasping the manly man in front says it all.
Nepali contextualising would of course require woman in back to have hair firmly covered with helmet and the man in chappals, but that would take away the origina, intendedl effect.
The most mesmerising ad is the one for Pulsar: next to the logo written in a jagged font are the words DEFINITELY MALE in all caps. In various places, "solid muscles" and "looks like the male of the species has finally arrived" can also be found. Indeed, the bike does look muscular and it comes in 150cc and 180cc. Up until about mid-September 2002 ads ran the slogans with the bike picture underneath in magazines. After this date, until about January 2003, underneath the main slogan a new subtitle "Born in a Gym" was added and in the background of the bike, a photo of the back of a very muscular man tying a string around his head was added.
The fact that this is Hollywood's Rambo makes him all the more interesting. The fact that this form of masculinity is now passe in Hollywood (we now have the sensitive virile types, who while certainly trim and muscled, are also caring, thinking and articulate like Tom Cruise in various roles) raises some questions.
To begin with, it really is not clear whether the manufacturers thought Nepali men to be dumber and in need of additional pictures to underscore the "maleness" of the bike. Secondly, how exactly have they imagined "Nepali masculinity" that they thought Rambo would help sell bikes? This question becomes all the more pertinent when perusing through the ads for Pulsar in India during the same time period in India Today. One sees that it is the gas mileage benefits that is highlighted with only the "definitely male" slogan.
Wait, are our men so Neanderthal that they can relate only to images of virility and not economic benefit? And are our men not masculine enough that they need to acquire it through material purchases? The recent shift in Pulsar ads in Nepali media to the emphasis on "horsepower" with accompanying action photo of horse racing, while better, still hints at an underlying message that our men need pictures of muscle before they will get the message. Dumb but vigorously masculine Nepali men should buy these machines?
(Seira Tamang is a social science researcher in Kathmandu.)