u Notes from the Underground: These commercialised times.. sigh

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)

9 Comments:

At 12:35 PM, February 19, 2006, Blogger kuffir said...

an idea struck me while reading your post - if you had sent this to the hindu, it wouldn't have probably made it past some harried, lost-in-mail sub-editor..he'd probably have not spent more than a nano-second trying to get the whole point..
actually, i didn't get the idea very suddenly, it had been building in my mind for some time now and your post helped crystallize it.. newspapers represent the all-corrupting uniform-culture that until now dictated what's right ...and now feels increasingly threatened by folks who'd rather find their own culture and.. worse, publish it.
definitely a better post than many others i'd read in the blogworld and the uniformed media in the past one week.

 
At 9:42 PM, February 19, 2006, Anonymous Venu said...

Thanks a lot, Kuffir. Well, I dont know if newspapers actually feel threatened by more (diverse) ways of expression (such as blogs); my specific gruose is against the Hindu, which, despite its liberal pretensions, is conservative in its own way in disliking change that actually gives out greater power and choice to the consumer.

Thanks again. I wondered if anybody had taken the trouble to read the post fully.

 
At 3:40 PM, March 14, 2006, Blogger Himanshu said...

my specific gruose is against the Hindu, which, despite its liberal pretensions, is conservative in its own way in disliking change that actually gives out greater power and choice to the consumer.

I endorse this point. I take the liberty of shifting focus from the liberal pretentiousness of Hindu to a deeper point that she makes.I think what she intended to condemn were the banes of excessive consumerism. Certainly the atmosphere at these malls at times of mega sales is anything but cheerful (If you may allow me to make this comment based on my experience)

You see dissatisfied and tense consumers running around trying to win a caucus race. It is the irrationality in consumers which the "Malls" incite which I am extremely wary off.However, the consumer is to take the entire blame here and the "Malls".

Nonetheless political parties,government or the economists have no buisness trying to regulate the way bourgeois class wants to live. It is better they concentrate on building infrastructure, roads etc.

Regardless I am impressed by your retrospective on the liberal pretentiousness of Hindu.

 
At 6:23 PM, March 14, 2006, Anonymous Venu said...

It is the irrationality in consumers which the "Malls" incite which I am extremely wary off.However, the consumer is to take the entire blame here and the "Malls".
This is exactly the kind of condescension that I am wary of.

Nonetheless political parties,government or the economists have no buisness trying to regulate the way bourgeois class wants to live.

Thats a rather quaint expression. Not quite sure what you are getting at here. I believe that nobody's lives ought to be regulated, and I dont see why only the "bourgeois class" should be exempt.

 
At 4:22 PM, March 17, 2006, Blogger Himanshu said...

Don't quite get what you intend in the first comment.Can you please elaborate.

It is not that socities or people choose to be regulated or not, It is the anarchy that ensues in lack of regulation that forces them to impose self regulation in form of a government.The justification for this is the very existence of govenrment.So now we(atleast I) agree regulation is present whether you choose to ignore it,condemn it or embrace it.

My idea here is just to establish that economic choices like what brand of shoes should the bourgeois purchase or where should they purchase from are best served by the free market in absence of monopolies .

Further I refrain from making any overwhelming statements about the entire world bein a better place in free markets. Thats about it

 
At 5:16 PM, March 17, 2006, Anonymous Venu said...

Himanshu,

You:It is the irrationality in consumers which the "Malls" incite which I am extremely wary off.However, the consumer is to take the entire blame here and the "Malls".
Me:This is exactly the kind of condescension that I am wary of.
What I meant was that you should not presume that the consumer is irrational. He is making a choice that makes perfect sense to him.

Regarding the rest of your comment, I will just say:
1) the issue of free markets is somewhat orthogonal to my original post
2) Nowhere did I say that the entire world would be a better place with free markets.
3) I could justify my general stand vis-a-vis free markets, but this is hardly the place to do it.
4)Yes, the kind of anarchy you have in mind is unstable and people will very soon form governments. What is of interest is what are the real duties of a government to which it ought to pay attention, and which it better leave alone. Again, I cant explain this point further here.
5)Monopolies are difficult to sustain long in a free market. Monopolies sustain best when they have direct/indirect govt support.

 
At 7:49 PM, March 17, 2006, Blogger Himanshu said...

As far as the consumers being rational is concerned I do not quite agree with your judgement.

Is minimizing the amount you spend to buy a commodity the only metric of rationality? Does the degree of self-satisfaction, awareness of the happiness you derive from the commodity (depending on the price at which procure it) lie beyond the ambit of rationality? If that awareness was present,certainly,a physical clash could have been warded off.

If awareness of self-satisfaction is not a metric for rationality then I certainly accept I was condescent.

I accept on the second point I took the discussion to an orthogonal direction. However, that was not totally uncalled for. Ms Sharma is all along trying to incite political parties to oppose this newly emergent culture of consumerism and uniformism. My argument was just that the government should not inerfere here and it certainly has better things to do.

In essence what I wanted to say was that the issue being raised is important but the solution may not be the best one.

 
At 8:45 PM, March 17, 2006, Anonymous Venu said...

[Damn, I just wrote a comment and it got gobbled up.]

w.r.t customer rationality, I think you are setting the bar too high. If you think people are being too materialistic/short-sighted/whatever, then you could write a book directing people towards "higher" goals (something the Robin Sharmas of the world have cleverly done). What does your argument lead you to conclude anyway? What do you want?

My argument was just that the government should not inerfere here and it certainly has better things to do.
If this is/was your argument, then we both are in solid agreement. The govt has far better things to do than decide whether we should drink Coca-Cola, or whether we should watch F-TV or whether we should buy Pepe Jeans.

In essence what I wanted to say was that the issue being raised is important but the solution may not be the best one.
Lost you again. What issue raised by whom? Whose solution?

 
At 3:36 PM, March 18, 2006, Blogger Himanshu said...


"higher" goals (something the Robin Sharmas of the world have cleverly done). What does your argument lead you to conclude anyway? What do you want?


I knew this was coming. I just wanted to say that people in exercising choices forget the utility of those choices. In that sense the religious fanatics or rowdy shiv sainiks can all be clubbed together with this mob of agressive customers.

Neverthless,its not a directive from my side and my being "wary" or concerned does not influence their choice.


If this is/was your argument, then we both are in solid agreement. The govt has far better things to do than decide whether we should drink Coca-Cola, or whether we should watch F-TV or whether we should buy Pepe Jeans

Yes we are in agreement here.

Lost you again. What issue raised by whom? Whose solution?
Issue of excessive consumerism
raised by Kalpana and her solution the interference of government.

 

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