Friday, July 31, 2015

Reading ABCD 2 or why India will always remain an underdog.

ABCD 2 is dance movie with mediocre dance. And that tells you a lot about the film makers and what they think of their audience.
Made by celebrated choreographers with cult following, it is really disheartening to see them do a half-ass job at what they preach.The dances are not path-breaking or  original or even evocative. Most of the dancers do not give their 100% to the performance. You can see the lack of practice and energy in dances. The editor and cameraman do as much, if not more, movements as the dancers. Many Indian dance shows have better choreographed dances than this movie has. This is interesting because, the makers of this film are judges in at-least a few of those shows.
Why suck?

"Because everybody deserves a second chance." ad infinitum..  But this is the second movie in the franchisee. One expects that they would learn story telling by now at least? or does 100cr business is a reason enough for bad film making and lazy dance choreography? (for a movie that talks about dance as worship.) (The 100cr is guaranteed due to sharp rise of stock of dance in the cultural stock exchange of frenzies. Dance shows, like landslides, are crashing down on Indian television viewer's conscience with brutal regularity and occasional brilliance sprinkled over a bulk of drama that is extracted from the middle class's unresolvable angsts.)

Mediocrity as virtue
The film is a template story for such movies with added regressive elements that are characteristics of a typical prabhu deva film (patriarchy, undue patriotism, questionable moral resolutions).
Its an underdog story about a bunch of dancers from humble background reaching the finals of an international dance competition.
Indian stories for the last 60 years have been about successes 'in-spite of...'. We keep on eulogizing people who eschew strategy in favor of mindless subservience to a person. In this movie, it was a drunkard dancer, who for no good reason becomes the savior for dancers in questions. He steals from them, throws tantrums and is generally useless.. and yet they revere him. Apparently, that is somehow a good quality - to never question an authority figure and to play by his whims.

This shit is problematic because I have seen young talented people who waste their energies in singing praises for their 'idols' instead of strategically improving their performance. Big Dance Centre is one such place in Delhi. It is a terribly managed dance institute with teachers who have a fair bit of helium in their heads. I know of young people who have come from far off towns with great personal and material costs to learn dancing here. And in turn all they get is discouraging, discourteous behavior and middling quality of dance positioned as supreme art. This teaching is dangerous because it confuses, dispirits and weakens young individuals.

It is a cultural problem. Teacher of arts in India have mistaken idea about pedagogy. They think that their purpose is to browbeat a person into a certain other kind of person. That through brute 'discipline', 'deviant' students can be turned into pliant performers. Often these teachers are immature idiots who are high on the power they enjoy over younger individuals who come to them from a vulnerable place of trust and dream.
They get these ideas from movies like ABCD. In movies, students are always agency less empty shells. They are reacting machines whose instincts are dull. In movies, the guru shuts down the reactions and instincts altogether. He instead turns them into effective meme replicants.

Ideally, a teacher should enable agency for students - the ability to create, to decide, to see oneself more clearly. That means a teacher should be patient, she should be able to comprehend her student's energies and motives, she should be able to give useful feedback, she should be able to see possibilities for her student that the student can't see.
Instead in India we see glorification of 'guru' as a replicant manufacturer - a foreman who creates efficient cogs in the wheel. This strategy might be efficient for the purpose of making drones to be fed to the system - academia, military and such institutions. But certainly not for learning arts!

Bollywood has been needlessly glorifying the 'tradition of gurukul'. It is a shit tradition. It cloaks insecurities of incompetent 'gurus' under the garb of traditional 'respect'.

And this culture is at the root of Indians under-performing in almost all aspects of competitive performances - sports, arts, sciences... without a culture of equality, one cannot grow. Indian culture creates tiers out of thin air. It creates psychological barriers - about 'our place in the scheme of things'.
Without a culture of equal respect and open dialogue, there is no space for feedback and no visibility of possibilities.

All that this culture enables is a never ending supply of underdog stories.. of successes 'in spite of'.

Maypole, 1949

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Who does the system reward?

I feel that the system is rewarding me well with my career.  Primarily because my career is in advertising industry and as it turn out, advertising is one of the most important soldiers in service of globalisation. So, while seemingly inconsequential, my role is an integral (though small) cog among the many million small cogs that keep this system running. The system needs people who are capable of doing what is required of them. And I am capable enough.
Enough - The system only requires a very narrow skill set of mine. That is a small part of the arsenal of skill sets that a typical human requires to progress and thrive in life. I suck at breathing for example. I have terrible hand-eye co-ordination. I have hundred other deficiencies that I would much rather not share with my possible future employer.
It astounds me that for all my short comings and a few strengths, I earn way too much in comparison to people who are better humans that me.
I am lucky to have just the right narrow skill set that the system requires. It is a lottery of sorts, isn't it? The current system simply doesn't need farmers that badly, for example. (what with the future being that of machines any ways. the system won't need humans in a little while. so who cares for food security.)
However, here lies the trap. As people (like me) who are urban, educated and working in service of the global system prosper, we begin to think that the reward is in proportion to our intrinsic 'worth'. "I deserve this." 
 It is in our interest to believe so. This way we remain tied to the system and we are happy for it. It gives us our worth in liquid wealth and fast lifestyle.
This however translates in reality in opposition. So I earn so much and I am worth it, what about the poor who don't earn as much? maybe they are not worth it?
Consumerism unmoors us from reality and relations. This distance helps us normalise injustices and accept the system as ours. Identities fused, we are now soldier in service of the system.

System has succeeded in making us fight for higher and higher worth in liquid wealth. However, the same system doesn't part with the capital - the ownership of the means of earning - so easily. As a matter of fact, it will gladly pay out ridiculous sums of monies to buy out business - however good or bad they may be. (all .com acquisitions so far). The game is about long term control.

So for those who want to prosper, here's a question they should try to answer. Which ideas will the system reward?

1. Anything that aids consolidation of control over resources and people (social networks, physical infrastructures, media, *POs (KPOs, BPOs, bank back offices) and so on.)

2. Anything that transmits power and enables control (banks, private or public military and police, UN bodies, IMF and so on)

3. Opiums (Media Content, actual drugs, service industry) to make people and ideas more manageable.

The current system's goal is consolidation of control over resources and people. Here's a springboard for future gazing - for what purpose? or more accurately, what ideas will flow naturally from this control? What is bound to happen? 

Friday, July 24, 2015

"Tonight, Turn your weapons to Snow 1, then to snow 2, then to snow 3... fuck it."

 Today morning, I got a message from Citibank that a charge of Rs. 1400 was being made to my credit card. The funny thing is, I didn't authorise this. The funnier thing is, my account has been closed since at least half a year. So is the credit card separate from my account? If I don't have an account, how do I access customer service?
 In the past, i had willingly let go of around 3000 rs to avoid hassle of having to interact with the robots who sit between me and humans in customer service department of that company. After a few days of frustration, I closed the account and let go of the money in the account. 'Fuck it' is what i said. I guess I will have to say it again.
(the luxury of being able to say 'fuck it' is obviously bought by the system as well for me. I am very much a subject of the 'Capitol', not the districts.)

This is how the 'system' operates. It's power is not in centralised and accessible individuals. It is in the mesh of small (and big) inconveniences that it constructs. It's weapon is the viscous bureaucracy - the mass made of men and machines. It separates the beneficiary (the owners of the business) and the victim. And this viscous mass made of egos and internecine interests, doesn't let the the victims get to the beneficiaries of the system.

And that is the problem with the hunger games and most Hollywood problem.
It paints system simplistically. The villain is a person, the hero is a person. The levers and triggers of actions are singular. There is a clear right and a distinct wrong. The narrative is from a singular perspective. The villain is fairly accessible. And the promise is of change after removal of an individual. Movies with sequels shouldn't go from one conquest to another. The sequel ideally should answer consequences.

So if Mr. Snow dies, will the capitol come down with him? Will the entrenched interests conjure a Snow-2? From one oppressor to next, what will change? In what ways the world will be different and in what ways will it be the same? 

Everyone concerned has a stake in the system in one way or another. To revolt against the system is to let go of that interest. To take a hit in service of common good. In hunger games world, will all 12 districts unite just with a brand of Mockingjay? No conflict of interests at all?
The movie should portray reactions of not just the rebels but also the middle class of districts and upper class from Capitol. They are the buffer between the downtrodden and powerful.
Look at how middle class and upper classes in Mumbai and Delhi react to protests of farmers in capital. They complain of traffic jams. The human suffering is blind to them. The tribal protests in Chhattisgarh are a law and order problem to them - not a social, economical problem.
 Movies are part of the system too. The movies are utopias to escape to. These utopias absorb the energy that otherwise would have gone into spontaneous combustions and disobedience. The lone wolf identity of heroes and their singular acts is a strategy to enfeeble the masses. People start believing in the philosophy of power of one. (as against power of collective) That a single individual can make a difference. However, their subconscious knows better and pulls them away from recklessly endangering their own lives with actually following through on anti-establishment ideas. Rendering people impotent. 
Hollywood movies are designed to prevent people from organising. And that is the intended effect. Without organising, people can achieve little. 

Thursday, July 09, 2015

The system

When people are talking about 'the system', what are they exactly talking about? When you fight against the system, who do you exactly fight against?
Why are some people successful without much effort, while some languish? Who does the system reward, whom does it punish?
Why do people kill each other? What causes people to think that a change is important? and what makes some ideas of changes possible, while some others simply die?

When we talk about 'the system' what we really mean to say is - 'power structure'. We are curious about the flow of power. (From where to where? who/ what is the source? how to get some? what makes it flow?)

If we believe Hollywood, the System is bunch of powerful humans who conspire in evil goals. (world domination, extreme wealth and so on.)

But that can't be true. Humans want to believe that they are bigger than they are. That they have power and control over things that they don't. That they can comprehend the world.
But humans can't.
(Hollywood sells dreams - ideas that we 'want' to believe, not the ideas that reflect reality. And as we become more obsessed with imagery, we live in the 'want' rather than reality. and hence advertising. and hence my paycheque.)

We are quite insignificant a species in the bigger scheme of things. But we have been incredibly lucky so far. But that doesn't mean that the power structure needs to be of an extra-terrestrial make. Just as the flow of wind doesn't require a sentient effort, so too, the flow of power doesn't require a sentient effort.
For wind, the key operating variables are pressure, volume and temperature. (essentially differences in energy.)
Similarly, power in human society has a key operating variable that dictates the flow and application. The key operating variable in this case however is very interesting. It is 'an idea.' a meme. 
The idea that a man who lives above clouds has answer to all our ills...
The idea that reciting mumbo-jumbo will bring good fortune..
 The idea that some people are lesser humans than some other people...
The idea that men are supposed to be macho... and a million such ideas.
all these are ideas that have affected humanity profoundly.
A meme tries to get copied into as many brains as is possible. That is its nature. and this nature defines the 'system'. The 'system' is the complex of ideas fighting for its fuel .. our selves.

A person 'charged' with high voltage idea, will try to spread the idea to as many people around him as possible. not dissimilar to the way electricity works. He won't stop unless people around him believe what he believes. We are forever marching in service of our utopias (meme of imagined ideal world.)

A person is driven to do things with memes. He accepts some ideas as defining feature of his self. and spends the rest of his life protecting that 'self'.
A person is driven to do things with memes. He benefits from a certain idea. He runs with these ideas - propagating them, modifying them. (like idea of a supreme god.) After all, we don't have a natural gene to help us separate causation from correlation. In which case, a lot of harmful memes wouldn't have spread and taken hold.
As such we exist to either propagate memes or to protect them. We are mere vehicles for memes to act out in the world. 

Real power is in creating and controlling these memes. People who manage to get themselves in critical nodes in the flow of ideas, prosper. Naturally, People resist moving out of advantageous positions in the flow of power. Hence nepotism and all sort of -isms.

Resources are real and finite. and hence scarcity is real. hence idea of survival is real. The idea of survival, when taken to its logical conclusion leads to ideas of ownership, control, exclusion and eventually to violence (and potential of violence). and hence power. and hence entrenchment of power.

Since only a limited number of people can really access resources for constructing their utopias, the  masses must be subverted, misguided or eliminated. Hence the proliferation of false wants, misguided framing of problems and solutions. Smoke and mirrors.
and hence power of ideas. first to clear false memes. then for self-interest.

Identify the system, before trying to game it/ subvert it/ prosper from it/ service it. It is not a person or a people. It is the ideas complex. Which idea would you rather let occupy you?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sallu bhai: The archetype

Salman Khan is not merely a criminal, a terrible actor or one of the most influential and loved people in India. He is a new archetype for the 21st century India.
He is an archetype that answers a quintessential Indian yearning.
Unfortunately the yearning reflects how pathetic and infantile humanity can be.
When infants, we believe that we are at the absolute center of the universe, where all our acts deserve recognition and appreciation. To grow up is to grow out of this belief.
The 'Salman Khan as an archetype' answers the yearning to be forever an infant. To forever enjoy consequence-less freedom.

People refuse to see the bad in him. The 'true fans' of this horrible person get readily offended and aggressive when someone speaks ill of their 'bhai'. When someone points out facts of his monstrosity - killing homeless people, making his driver a scapegoat (what a 'hero'!), killing a harmless animal, domestic abuse, intimidation.... - the fans shut their ear holes and eye holes. They rage with blindfolds on.

Heroes, CC 3.0
They see him getting away with homicide and general assholery. and they rejoice in him getting away with it. They idolise his nonchalance. They refuse to see the injustice of it all. They badly want to believe in him. His PR stunts with 'Being Human' are enough for a lot of people to rationalise his criminality. They say that he is 'dil se accha' (with good heart) as if they have spent years living with the man to know him inside out.

Why should they get so protective about a person, who already has all the protection he needs? They are not related to him nor will they benefit from him in the real world. They are more likely to die under his drunken driving next than to have a drink with him.

They want to believe that they too can get away with their infantile adventures. They want to believe that they too can be successful and fabulously rich without trying, without merit. Salman, for them, is the beacon of hope for someday achieving consequence-less power, for being the ultimate marzi ka raja (king of his will) 
This explains his appeal but not the love he enjoys.  The source of love for him is in our shitty culture. He is the anti dote to forces of modernity and liberal progress. He is the patriarchal √úbermensch. What's more, he makes patriarchy cool. He treats women like shit in real life and everyone for that matter in his films. See how he looks at (or more likely, doesn't) other characters in his films. His gaze is vacant or at best disinterested. Some say it is bad acting, I say it is his personality. People don't love bad acting. People love his personality. It is cool to not give a shit about anyone else.

 In his films, women are mere pretty props. I guess, he can't appreciate the reality of relationship and hence can't succeed in any. The time he had to deal with a real relationship, he ended up physically and mentally abusing Aishwarya.
This is something that the millions of young men identify with. People have grown up in a culture where men do not talk to women. Women forever remain alien to men. Men forever try to 'control' the women. And as women become more and more powerful in relationships, men are increasingly confused and angry. The patriarchy identifies with Salman's confusions and acts of terrorism. They see him as the unfortunate one, the one who is innocently charged of abuse, where it is a man's right to be abusive. They want to believe that patriarchy will prevail.

Hir films are patriarchal utopias; damsel in distress, macho heros. He takes off his shirt to cover bodies of objects called women. To deal with the problem of modern feminism, his characters are the wronged 'tere naam's.
Of course he is suffering. The poor misogynist.