Thursday, July 17, 2008

Culture in Anarchy

Modern popular (and academic) criticism has this habit of bracketing everything with broad labels. We went to see a movie the other day and I was telling my friend that certain parts of it were rather loud. [I did leave the cinema hall with a splitting headache, unfortunately this is the condition of mono-screen old fashioned cinema houses!] This friend is a lot younger than me; as a matter of fact once upon a time he was a student of mine. I am very fortunate that over the years many of my students have graduated into my friends. He pointed out politely that there is nothing wrong with ‘loud’ – we may prefer subtle, we may pretend sophistication, but if someone likes the raucous and flashy then where is the harm? The terms ‘loud’ or ‘melodramatic’ have been branded bad by people who have decided the good – such constructions are rather unfair. Turning the popular into the other has been a tendency of academia for ever. The fact that something is a ‘hit’ is a surefire sign that it is not intellectual! I don’t know about the rest of the world but here in India we certainly have all this nonsense about mainstream and parallel. People who cannot achieve a decent execution always want to justify themselves at the cost of the other type. Alright, not all can become Shakespeares or Rabindranaths or Bernard Shaws, but that does not mean that offence-defence ideal should rule. No type should be good or bad. They should exist and be respected.

The same thing applies to urban and folk-cultures. Nowadays folk has become a fad, but at one time it was almost as bad as the other four-letter word starting with ‘f’ and ending with ‘k’ (not really, I am exaggerating folks, couldn’t really resist the temptation. Anyway what the other letter means is not bad at all is it? Problems arise only when you turn it into an expletive). We now have folk-fusions, in the hand of tune/word stealers, it becomes con-fusions. Of course, the philosophy now is there is no need of any philosophy, anything that sells is good, anything that sells to the greater number of people is for the greater good of a small number of sellers. But the point of fact remains how is folk to be defined? Everything coming from a rural sector? Everything that seems ever so slightly rustic?

One critic had written that Superman is the ultimate US folk-hero. The Beatles are supposed to be folksy. And then there is this term urban-folk. Again the country and the city divide which Mr Raymond Williams had so aptly pointed out years ago. You know, I myself am confused. I believe in classification. But when did taxonomy become a comparative scale to be used by a bunch of non-creative scholars who think the world of themselves. Such condescending attitudes, such patronizing always makes me mad. Folk is popular by definition, that is why it is less respectable – have you ever heard anything so ridiculous.

This whole thing requires a lot of thought. Popular should not be non-intellectual. But intellectual should not be non-popular. There is a lot of pseudo-intellectual stuff which takes itself very seriously. Nobody else does. It is time that is understood, and understood mostly by the so called culture-vultures.

1 comment:

Sucharita Sarkar said...

I really liked the play on Matthew Arnold in your title, esp. since he was one of the snobs who differentiated between 'popular' and 'culture'. BTW, I always root for popular! Vox populi, vox dei!

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