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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Idiots All Over

Though everyone is supposed to rush to compete wildly in the bid to gain power and wealth, the reality differs. Nor the genocides of past may remain beyond awareness for long. Two brilliant movies aim at the status quo differently but…

The euphoria of the ever-lasting prosperity (to be) brought by the miracles of market economy was dampened considerably by the turbulence brought about by the financial and eventual economic mishap beginning late 2008. The major patron as well as the beneficiary of the economic-financial tunnel vision focused at amassing the wealth, the media and entertainment industry has been impeccably following the lead of the market on feeding the people with the type of news/views or the recreational items that act only to extend the already omnipotent markets further. Even though the world of the written literature was able to maintain the diversity of the ideas with many of the books with the rebellious ideas having been published and become popular among the readers; it was not as easy, however, with the fields like the movie-industry, which required incomparably more investment.

In this background, this was a pleasant surprise to watch a blockbuster movie featuring a famous Bollywood star and mocking the alacrity of the dehumanized race to supremacy that has been the passion as well as the compulsion of the new generation that became aware of the world when the USSR was no more and the sole model of life that remained to be followed was 'compete or die'. The novel 'Five Points Someone' by Chetan Bhagat on which the movie '3 Idiots' is based was as vivid as the movie itself, and was highly popular among the youngsters of the subcontinent. It was a strange coincidence that the release of this brilliant movie almost coincided with that of the other blockbuster flaying the brutality and savagery of the imperial adventures of the present-day leaders of the world, 'Avatar'.

The character 'Virus', the dictator of the elite engineering college matches quite well the attitude of the 'Winners' of this world who have got only one dimension in their lives: Compete, win, rejoice; prompt, persuade, coerce or force those you can to follow the same path; and build a hermitage of the 'brilliant guys' who will then make this world a better place by their sheer capability and brilliance. Moreover, sacrifice whatever is needed on the way to excellence, even the human lives; do not consider or even acknowledge the presence of the alternative ideas or the attitudes that are possibly compatible with the prospect of making this world a better place.

A great struggle ensues when the world of the 'brilliance-seeking' professor and the brilliant students like Chatur is challenged by an eccentric, callous and thus 'idiot' Rancho and two of his friends who find his company a meaningful one. This struggle resembles pretty much with the ongoing struggle between the 'conventional' and the alternative worldviews. The conventional camp includes those who emerged winning the cold war with a strategy that was to devastate the erstwhile stable Muslim world with the Afghan epicenter of chaos and misery. The two decades that have followed have posed no major threat to the system from outside and the euphoria kept only perpetuating itself as the 'miraculous' economic growth in the formerly secluded economies like China and India continued. The jargons like the 'End of History' became quite popular and all who dissented were deliberately sidelined by a media industry owned by the corporate bigwigs. With massive transfer of wealth upwards along the hierarchy in developed and 'fast-developing' countries, and emergence of an ultra-strong elite owning the corporations and the media houses, this conventional camp has been extremely discreet, cohesive and resilient.

The alternative camp is, however, far less cohesive with a loose or non-existent association among the intellectuals and activists advocating for divergent issues like democracy, civil liberties, human rights, rights of oppressed gender, castes, races and regions, and environmental protection. Almost all of these have tried to resist the totalitarian urge of the current system to create and concentrate wealth at any cost to the poor, the indigenous, the fragile biodiversity, the delicate ecosystems and most importantly, and most importantly to whoever happen to be born in a region rich of natural resources; especially the energy resources. The coordination among the groups seems non-existent when compared with the well-connected network of the corporatocrats. That is why the influence of these neo-rebel groups is feeble in the areas like policy making of the states and devising the curricula for the schools and universities. Their impression among the new generation is thus remarkably weak, prompting the majority of the students of the world to take the things, the ideas and the trends around them as granted and little deserving and capable of any change that threatens the status quo.

It is in this background that I have alluded the role of the media and advertisement industries. The role of the mainstream media owned by the wealthy and super-wealthy in presenting the skewed and deceptive view of the world in favor of the status quo is, by now, well-recognized and heavily criticized from many quarters and the impact of the alternative media outlets is increasing. Once again it is not the same with the entertainment industry, however. The Hollywood movies depicting the bravity and expertise of the invaders in one of the most ruthless and unjustified wars like the Vietnam War have been criticized widely. But the other movies that prompt people to conform to the prevailing standards of competition and consumption in subtler ways easily escape the scrutiny of the ordinary viewers. With the advent of the Cable-Televisions and the DVD players, the movies are now easily brought to the rooms of people where they can enjoy them without the cost and effort to go to a hall. This is why the new generation is even more likely to be impacted by the motion pictures in contrast to the books that formed the mainstay of entertainment of the earlier generation. With the mesmerizing technology that the scientists are inventing and the corporations marketing, the things once unimaginable can be easily shown vividly in the screen leaving the people to gasp with awe and pleasure. This has made this particular method of recreation more dynamic and effective as the time passes.

The convergence of the attempts of the different components of the media and entertainment industry to trim the new generation as dictated by the market economy and so called 'democratic ideals' has resulted into a prominent effort aimed at indoctrinating the young minds, subtly, invisibly but firmly. The movies, the views, and the news that point against the prevalent ideals or beliefs are ignored or sidelined as much as possible. If that defense is useless, as often it is, then the rebel items and the rebel person is attacked viciously using the space or the broadcast time that is already available through huge investment in the first place.

Sometimes, the exceptions arise so strongly that they force us to doubt the validity of the prevalent beliefs. The praises gained by the movies like 'Avatar' and '3 Idiots' with strong and definite anti-establishment themes among the masses have precisely this significance: there is no longer a consensus, as was once deceptively made to be believed, on the socio-politico-economic model that demands only the competition and consumption. A prominent analyst George Monbiot1* was prompt to draw parallels between the real extermination of the natives in the American continent in order to establish the US and the imagined attempt in the James Cameron blockbuster 'Avatar' to eradicate the beings in the Pandora. He alludes this shocking fact from the 1992 book American Holocaust by David E Stannard:

The butchery began with Columbus. He slaughtered the native people of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) by unimaginably brutal means. His soldiers tore babies from their mothers and dashed their heads against rocks. They fed their dogs on living children. On one occasion they hung 13 Indians in honour of Christ and the 12 disciples, on a gibbet just low enough for their toes to touch the ground, then disembowelled them and burnt them alive. Columbus ordered all the native people to deliver a certain amount of gold every three months; anyone who failed had his hands cut off. By 1535 the native population of Hispaniola had fallen from 8m to zero: partly as a result of disease, partly as a result of murder, overwork and starvation. 

Compared to this little-known horror, thanks to the consent 'manufactured' by the mass media in Chomsky's terms, the one depicted in Avatar is far modest, not the extreme depiction as alleged by the rightwing analysts. Coming to '3 Idiots' once again, the disgust of the ordinary sensible human being towards the inhuman competition is easily understandable. The importance and the need to balance the dimensions of productive life other than gaining and amassing wealth is shown brilliantly in the movie. The role played by a reputed and respected institution in producing the robot-type professionals profiting the corporations overseas despite the need of their innovation and expertise at home is the other equally significant aspect of the movie. The institution is truly depicted to serve the drainage of the human resources from the darker parts of the world to the brighter ones that are already full of the brilliant minds.

And finally, one more resemblance between the two meaningful movies: the happy end with the triumph of the 'good' alternative against the 'bad' conventional one. It is particularly striking when the representative of excellence with usual standards, the rote-learner Chatur discovers what his supposedly primary school teacher friend had accomplished: he had become a scientist not by racing by tricking the others, but by pursuing his interest with genuine passion. He had no multi-million dollar job but was silently serving his country and the people giving them simple 'machines' that alleviated the suffering of his fellow peasants and workers. Indeed, each of the three 'idiots' had fared well in his own field of interest not by running after the manufactured brilliance, but by aiming excellence in their own field of interest. That is one of the best lessons that the new generation needs the most.

1*Avatar and the Genocides We Will Not See by George Monbiot, The Guardian/UK January 12, 2010 republished by www.commondreams.org on 13 january

(This was my first ever full article to be published outside my blogs. It was carried by Asia Times Online at Speaking Freely some time in early 2010. I could not, however, retrieve the link because one needs a subscription to read the full article.)

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