Sunday, December 12, 2010

Back to the Sixties?

It was interesting to watch London in a foreign news channel last week: The student protests got more footage than anything else.

The Police Officers are already warning that we are entering into a new age of public protests. All over the Europe, this is evident. Strikes are back: Anger is back. We are no longer confined to our Post-modern cocoon of differences, but suddenly linked up in a grand narrative being played out on the streets.

Back to the sixties, shall I say, and expect a re-emergence of Hippies, spiritualism, LSD, and all that? It seems somewhat similar, as conformity gagged creativity in our age, reality TV dominated the public imagination and an unpopular war is raging on for far too long. But, sixties were about the demise of grand narratives, not emergence. Sixties is when we lost the hope for humanity, and started discovering our selfish selves above everything. Sixties is, in a way, the high noon of Industrial Man, and the birth decade of post-modernism. We are indeed at a different age right now.

One thing Post-Modern thinking has certainly done to public discourse is to inject this idea of 'difference' in everything. Everyone claims everything is different. Change - corporate and political leaders claim - must happen. Even Conservative David Cameron talks about change. Barack Obama got to power riding on 'Change You Can Believe In'. This sudden popularity of Change is due to an universal acceptance that you don't have to explain the nature of change: It should be self-evident.

More, one should not even attempt to define how we would be 'different' after the 'change'. These are supposed to be self-evident events, but part of no grand narrative. The 'difference' we talk about is not about transforming the civilization from one stage to another, as Marx or any other preacher of change would have dared to imagine, but rather the trivial middle class difference of sorts, fragmentation of details, our daily lives running through an academic hourglass. So, the fact that I wear Green and Martha wears Red will make us inhabitant of two different planets, living in different realities which in turn will be fragmented every moment. There ought to be no common cause to make us die for it; there will just be reality TV.

Reality TV, which I brought up, is about celebrating the trivial. One may justifiably claim that Print Media were platforms where Grand Narratives were played out. There was something unchangeable about it. Newspapers made this into public domain: Cheap, current, available, they strung together diverse groups in a common national imagination with a great efficiency. TV, I shall argue, was getting the way of newspapers - it was only more real and more current - till the Reality TV arrived.

I have no problems with The Big Brother, just that this is an unreal magnification of the frailties and trivialities of the middle class life. In Post-modernist eye, the breaking down of the celluloid persona is indeed a heroic achievement, and the breaking down of any stereotype may go with it. But, wishing for revolutionary fervor is usually replaced by wishing for silicone breasts, and the grand narrative remains - only in a less grand form.

This breakdown, I shall claim, has its roots in the sixties. The breaking of Beatles, where personalities overtook what used to be the finest act of artistic co-creation, only to be reunited in a 'brand' form after its irreversible demise, is in a way what I am talking about. But such experiences are universal: Ideas for a better world lost in the LSD maze, the revolution in the bedroom, admittedly no less important, overwhelming the urge to rebel on the street.

So, in a way, we lost it in the sixties.

I shall claim that we are in a different age now. This is an age, again, of common cause. The Grand Narrative was never absent, just the hegemony of economics pushed out all others out of view and hence became self-evident. But there are cracks around the edges now, fault lines shall we say. We have suddenly hit a wall in our very own Truman Show and this is making us think. The unreality of real life is hitting home and comfortable 'do not embarrass' consensus is fast fading. Indeed, William and Kate will need to marry next year to offer an alternate unifying narrative, the fairytale sort we have come to love, but would our sleep last till then and beyond?

If anything this Great Recession has done, that would be completing the hegemony of money. The whole illusion of honest work has finally been shelved, and money for banks have taken precedence, with loud justification in the Press Inc., over care for the elderly and the teaching for the students. The mask of Welfare State is finally off; the persona of Warfare State, as expected, has finally emerged.

Despite our aversion of universal truth, there are some things that ring a bell. Like this one: You can fool all people some of the time, and some people all the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time. We have reached this final stage - with post-modernist blindness, but surety befitting a Greek tragedy.

Let the final act now begin.

2 comments:

kochuthresiamma p .j said...

the grand narrative, like you said continues. it never ceased to exist. it contunes in a changed form by cleverly incorporating difference - the middle class differences as you so contemptuously put it.
why this contempt for middle class? it has always been the sustaining element of capitalism which has achieved its peak today.ironic, isn't it? the discursive contempt for the very foundation on which rests capitalism.
forgive me for saying this, you still seem to be in the grip of cannonicity. what if we live in the postmodern age?!

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

The point about middle class is that it may have lost its progressive nature for the sake of cheap mortgages and 'American (or British) Dream'. Incorporating the middle classes, in lieu of some handouts, in a convenient social arrangement was the story of our age. And, see, I lapse into grand narratives again.

You are right: I am still a prisoner of the promises of freedom and progress, of the old humanistic sort. I have not given in to rationality, or for that matter, to any blind worshipping of science. I feel no shame for my childhood in Calcutta, under the shadows of Tagore, and of my college days, spent under the romantic spells of Marxism.

You did spot a contradiction in my re-affirmation of middle class values and then the contempt: I am all too agitated about the 'sell out'. This may be the difference that we are after in the first place. I remain an optimist though: I am yet to give in to the fact that the civilization's ultimate aim is to turn us into animals with some mathematical sense. I shall give away my heritage I am so proud of, and rather keep my 'blind' faith in the ability of human beings to rise above themselves.

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