The Faithful Hound

Friday, October 13, 2006

Here we are now, entertain us

It would not be an original observation on my part to note the extent to which entertainment moulds us. We are what we watch, read and listen to. But what I will point out is that the rapidly changing nature of entertainment in India is producing rapidly changing generations of young Indians who can barely relate to the bunch that walked the streets a few years before them.
The US has seen changes in its movies, music, literature and popular culture in general over the decades, but the changes have been gradual and have allowed the generations to be well spaced and nicely transitioned. The "greatest generation" of the forties and fifties, the flower children of the sixties and seventies and the gen-xers of the 80's and 90's were far enough apart in age to justify a generational shift. In India, on the other hand, we have people around 30 who can barely keep up with the folks around 25 who, in turn, raise their eyebrows at the 20 year old crowd.
It's not surprising I suppose. People my age, the first bracket (I freely admit), grew up back in semi-socialist India. Our limited exposure to Western television comprised of Star Trek on Sunday mornings, the annual Grammy awards, some outdated BBC crap and scratchy pirated videotapes from the library (do they still exist?) down the street. Our regional television comprised of Buniyaad, Chitrahaar and Krishi Darshan. Children's books were not really much of an option, considering that most were 1940's style adventure stories that we could not relate to beyond a point (Forget all the ginger ale and scones for tea, the smugglers I knew sold nice cheap watches and were not the sort to be thwarted by four children and a dog). As for music, sure we all had re-re-recorded audio tapes in shoe boxes under our beds, but the music was just a background for our regular lives. We never cared who the singer was dating or what he was wearing. Given all that, organized entertainment was never a substitute for real life. It was simply a brief diversion before we went back to the business of throwing golf balls at lizards and playing tennis-ball-cricket in the garage.
Now move along five years or so and everything changed. Cable TV came in and shifted a number of dynamics. Girls sat at home in the evenings to watch The Bold and the Beautiful and Santa Barbara with their mothers, while the boys couldn't stop talking about Baywatch. The whole perception of sexuality was turned on its head. MTV created legions of black T-shirted, ripped jeaned college boys who headbanged in synch to Metallica and Judas Priest. The channel's VJs quickly became cultural icons, replacing our staid old mustachioed Bollywood stars. Everyone wanted to dress like Danny McGill and Sophia.
You know how they say that we all play certain roles in life. We find characteristics in other people that we like and then do our best to absorb them into our own personalities. Cable television gave us access to characters that we had never experienced before. Kids who used to try to behave like their older cousins now patterned their lives on American soap stars. I'm not claiming that my generation was not affected by Western media. I admit watching 'The Gunfighter' some 50 times when I was 12 and crying each time Jimmy Ringo got shot by that filthy punk. I dressed up like a cowboy for a year or so after that. But, even in my infantile head, I drew the line between entertainment and real life. I did not legitimately expect to ever actually become a cowboy, or Spiderman or Johnny Sokko (of Giant Robot fame).
Another five years went by and the information revolution pretty much exploded over our heads. If cable TV gave Indian society a glimpse through a window, the Internet threw us headfirst out of it and into the great big world outside. Pretty soon there was no difference between the scale or scope of social interaction available to a 15 year old in Paris, Chennai, Dhaka or Omaha. They were all spouting the same cliched expressions of the day, speaking the same IM-based language and dressing in the same celebrity-inspired clothing.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to sound like my grandfather here. I love the concept of a global culture and do not think much of people who cling to the past. My only concern is with the speed at which things are changing in a country that is unused to rapid change. The difference between those with access to information and those without has never been more acute. If I can barely keep up with my 20 year old cousins, I wonder what a rickshaw driver would think of them.
The West, and the US more so than others, is moving towards a social dynamic where everything revolves around entertainment. You expect to be constantly entertained by your politicians, your news anchors, your friends and your coworkers and they expect the same from you. Rational discussion, personal introspection and unbiased information are being replaced by meaningless catchphrases, blind consumerism and blatant spin. It would be a shame if a whole generation of young Indians went the same way.

...and speaking of Star Trek (and to prove I'm still with it), you HAVE to watch this. Turn the volume on.

..and finally this tag from Szerelem.
The ten most played songs on my iPod (..and not the ten songs I wish were most played on my iPod) are:
1) 18 and Life - Skid Row
2) Wings of the Storm - White Snake
3) Trust - Megadeth
4) Poison - Alice Cooper
5) Bad Apples - Guns 'n Roses
6) Love Hurts - Nazareth
7) Wherever I May Roam - Metallica
8) Paranoid - Black Sabbath
9) Out in the Cold - Judas Priest
10)Mama I'm Coming Home - Ozzy Osbourne

In my defense, they're all on my running playlist.
If you've read this far, then you're tagged.