These commercialised times.. sigh
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Kalpana Sharma writes in the Hindu's leader page article:
.. even as the Sena and the NCP speak of morality and the corrupting influences of Valentine's Day or dance bars, they seem to have no problem with the real corruption of consumerism that has gone out of all control. If proof were needed, one only had to read the newspapers on the day after Republic Day. There were reports of a mini-riot in one part of the city. This was not between Hindus and Muslims, or between Shiv Sainiks and others, or between Dalits and the police. The scuffles were between security guards and thousands of people trying to force their way into a shopping mall that had announced huge discounts to celebrate Republic Day. Who would have imagined that 56 years after becoming a republic, the day would be reduced to a maha-sale.
The other aspect that stares you in the face is the ostensible desire of all these political groups to protect "Indian culture." Each party seems to want to outdo itself to protect some imagined "real" Indian culture when all around us we are being reduced to a culture of uniformity and sameness — a culture of malls, fast food and mass entertainment. Ironically, none of these parties opposes a pattern of modernisation that actively eliminates all other "cultures" that have survived and that differentiate one city from another and within cities, one locality from another.
It is amazing how Kalpana Sharma, while pillorying the Shiv Sena for their moral policing, in the same breath indulges in moralising about how the times are all commercialised. Nothing demonstrates better than this how the Left and the Right, for all their antagonism, share the same pessimism about the world, and for entirely bogus reasons. It is unclear exactly what is wrong with having a maha-sale on the occasion of Republic Day. It is unclear how exactly we are being forced into this culture of "malls, fast food and mass entertainment". When she talks about cultural destruction (which is a true enough phenomenon*), she completely neglects the far bigger raise in cultural production that is occuring with greater globalisation. As people get richer, they can afford to spend more time producing and consuming culture. The rise of the Internet and computer penetration (meagre as it may be) has lead to many more different cultures being born, and many more cultural artifacts (such as blogs, articles, podcasts, movies etc) being produced and consumed. I have a great choice and diversity among TV channels to watch, it is easier than ever for me to find the books I want, there are more avenues for me to know more about Telugu literature, there are quality outlets for listening to classical Indian music all the time, there are more kinds of clothes to wear, greater variety of foods to eat etc etc. And yet, none of this is visible to Kalpana Sharma. All she sees in this is a "uniform culture". What she really sees is a super-culture - ever-hungry to spread whereever it can, fueled by freer markets - that gives people greater choice than ever before as to how they want to lead their lives (that is, assuming the Shiv Sena thugs and the Kalpana Sharmas of the world let them to).
Update: How could I forget to mention The Long Tail, which documents the expanding niche markets in various areas, facilitated by technology and the Internet, the foremost drivers of globalisation? (Also take a look at the Wikipedia article on the long tail)
*Let me quote Tyler Cowen yet again:
As the world becomes more integrated, we lose a lot of dysentery and diarrhea and malaria and women dying in childbirth who don’t have to. There’s a whole list of benefits that we’re all familiar with, and those to me are most important. But in terms of culture, there is a loss. For instance, it’s absolutely true that a lot of languages are dying. There’s a gain because you bring people into a broader language network where they can write for others and they can read things by others. I don’t have a problem with that trade-off, but I don’t want to deny that something is lost. These vanishing languages are rich, and they’re interesting. There’s a net gain, but you can’t just paint a picture of an advance along all fronts. It’s not the reality.(link)