The enlightened call a person wise when all his undertakings are free from anxiety about results.

— Krishna in The Gita

The mind is everything. What you think you become.
— Buddha

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The great dumbing down

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?


  1. ok, pass on the book after u finish.hehe.joking ya..wellmeaning post..esp the last para says it all:)

  2. Ballet considered modern? That kid has wiring problem in her head. Get her checked

  3. I am dealing with this 'not modern enough' problem daily, be it books, music, dance or any other art form. Although they do not say so in so many words, I beleive even the food that I serve them, the regular dal-roti-sabzi fare perhaps is not modern enough and they would rather eat pizza and burger.
    I found in Europe, people are very possessive about their heritage. Mozart, Brahms and Beethoven are treated like gods. It is perhaps only in America and those countries blindly aping it, are gearing towards this 'modernism' phase.

  4. Is it dumbing down? This can also be because of wider options available. Any form of art is good. It will be difficult to say which is superior as you learn the nuances! :)

  5. Hi Neena:)


    You are absolutely right regarding modern day children. My children hate Bharathnatiyam, Kuchipudi,Mohiniattam and so on. On the other hand they sit for hours and watch Michael Jackson dancing. They hate Carnatic music and they love Shakira and the like.

    The modern children are growing up in a different world than our own.You see even the Bollywood music. It has changed over a period of time just to attract the present day young generation.

    In a way it is good because our children should get along with the times and peers and change with the changing times. Otherwise they will be like a fish out of water and completely left out. We cannot expect the youngsters of today to like the same old things which we liked and enjoyed.

    Youngsters are the future rulers of this earth and I suppose they know what they are doing. In my own case I found I am wrong in most of the cases when it came to children and many things which they did were correct. Whatever I learned all these years is outdated and obsolete and I have to relearn many things to survive.Well, don't think I am against Bharathanatyam because when there is a show in my town I make the time to go and watch it.But these are some thoughts that came to my mind.

    I enjoyed reading your very interesting post.

    Best wishes:)

  6. This book is excellent. A classic King horror short story book.

    Kids nowadays are not like they were in the 70s. With internet and television, the world has become one small village. Parents should steer them in the right direction but not impose their desire on them. I know a nationally ranked tennis player. He did not win any major tournament. He once told me he never wanted to play tennis and his father forced him into it.

  7. What is dished out by the TV channels influencing our youngsters a lot.Values are also learnt from the same medium. Feel sorry at the way he society is heading.Or is it the generation gap?

  8. Kids go by what they find to be popular and hip...our cultural performing arts form a basis for any kind of dance that a kid might want to pursur later..but the foundation should be built first...hope they understnd and abide by it.
    Its a changed age, thought I too am in my twenties but some how I feel the new teens are not what we used to be ..guess generation gap appears within same generations aswell:)
    Lovely post , thanks for sharing Neena !

  9. Kids have very little physical activity these days - it's either the TV or the Computer Games or the Internet. Or like you said chasing the "popular" form of dance, music & arts. Wonder what the world is coming to! (Wonder too, if our parents thought the same of us!!)

  10. good thought !today popularity is given more importance than talent.

  11. Also called peer pressure...
    I just remembered what one of our professors said about being modern...she said, 'Dressing itsy-bitsy like the early man and they call themselves modern. One night stands, casual relationships and they call themselves modern. Are we really modern??'

  12. time changes, so are we!!
    just stopped by... you got a nice blog here and liked your way of writing...

  13. for some reason i have never beena fan of stephen king... but maybe will give it a try

    but hey changiing times i think tis good kids are changing with the time .. cause if we try to put them back they will neither be there nor in the modern time ..

    dont you think

    but there are a lot of bad points too about being modern .. i guess its how we bring up our kids that makes the difference ... what we teach them.

    A thought provoking article makes me fear now for the kids to come :)

  14. Life is tough these days, with not many choices left to choose from. I think we should change our attitude towards life and let things unfold for themselves, especially where our children are concerned. Forcing them or arguing, or trying to convince them to think in our way is not good at all. For they are leading very stressful life, compared to ours, and we can support them by understanding their point of view.

  15. Dear Neena madam, a contemporary topic to discuss. My 4 year old son will complaint about malayalam melody songs and he wants to hear 'Wakka wakka'. Sometimes like all mothers these behaviors worry us. All the best to you