I’m reading Nightmares and Dreamscapes by Stephen King. I had tried to read Bag of Bones, but don’t even remember at what stage I had left it unfinished. This one is better though, quite absorbing, but not something you can call “literature”. I can well understand the uproar that was created when King was picked out for the annual American National Book Foundation's award for "distinguished contribution".
Critics had reacted in sheer horror: how can you put King in the same league as Edgar Allan Poe, Saul Bellow and Arthur Miller, the earlier recipients of the award? If popularity is the yardstick of literary achievement, why not give the Nobel Prize to JK Rowling, they suggested tongue-in-cheek.
In that context, haven’t the reference points in culture shifted globally in favour of the more popular as against what’s complex and original?
Sometime back I had an interesting conversation with Nisha Sudhir, a Bharatnatyam dancer living in Dubai. She said that her 12-year-old daughter Ruchi had been learning classical dance and was quite a fine dancer. Suddenly she lost interest. One day she told her mother in a fit of rage that it was “a waste of time"; that she’d rather learn something more "modern" like ballet.
"I was aghast," Nisha said. "I had never thought that my daughter would dismiss Bharatnatyam for not being modern.
"When I was growing up in Bombay in the 70s, almost everyone in my group was learning something or the other, be it dance, music or painting. But none of my daughter's friends is into anything serious. All they do in their spare time is to listen to pop music or do Facebook."
Nisha put her foot down. "If she had told me that she prefers ballet to Bharatanatyam, I’d have considered. But not ‘modern enough’?” And from where did she pick up this love for ballet? She might have seen a couple of programmes on TV, that’s all.”
Nisha’s experience isn’t isolated, I bet. Our children are beginning to look and sound more and more similar, and have (similar) aspirations shaped and moulded by the entertainment industry and the tabloid ethos. Can’t blame them really. They are growing up in an era when oversimplification of culture has resulted in the disappearance of the sophisticated and refined. Once there was a fine line between the arts and entertainment, between culture and carousal. Today the appeal of mass culture is so strong that the distinctive flavour of regional and national cultures are becoming marketable exotica.
Britneys and Beyoncés have their places in society, but haven’t they all but elbowed out Brahms, Bach and Beethoven?