Friday, February 23, 2007

Culture connection

Tyler Cowen of Marginal revolution, writes in the NYT on Culture. The column at the end makes a point, which is the perfect point when it comes to culture.

Culture is not a zero-sum game, so the greater reach of one culture does not necessarily mean diminished stature for others. In the broad sweep of history, many different traditions have grown together and flourished.

For someone in urban India exposed and buffeted by multiple cultures, this statement is obvious on the street.

And perhaps Mumbai is a living example of a cultural melting pot. Where else will you find Maharashtrians humming Tamil songs (ARR fans) or find anybody dancing to Gujju beats (Navratri) and people of all hues making a beeline towards the new Bhelpuri stall. Music and language in Mumbai is a learning of culture itself. The language spoken on the streets is an eclectic mix of Hindi, English, Marathi, Gujarati and then some.

But the author makes couple of nice observations, The Indian music market is 96 percent domestic in origin, in part because India is such a large and multifaceted society and Loyalties to cultural goods and services — be it heavy metal music or the opera — are about social networking and choosing an identity and an aspiration which are true and then goes onto make a point:

Local culture commands loyalty when people are involved in networks of status and caste, and they pursue religious and communal markers of identity. Those individuals use local cultural products to signal their place in hierarchies.

In a village not connected to anybody or a isolationist community perhaps yes, but at a generic level no. I think that the biggest influence of culture are peers, their aspiration and their identity- which may not necessarily translate into a network of caste or status. Which is why in pockets of Mumbai (and Kerala), it will be rare for you to hear a Bollywood tune because in these circles, it used to be infra dig to listen to Hindi (or Malayalam) music - these are not status or caste networks as they are about identity. Bollywood music has made a comeback and how and it is not because of a network of status or caste - but more on the strength of its identification with us (We are like this only!). Classic case, MTV believing in this came in as a phoren brand and it is now a happy Indian brand - as are all radio channels.

At the other end of spectrum is Carnatic music, which also, survives in pockets - steadily reducing in its traditional form. Carnatic music used to be big among certain communities, but now it is no longer so. In the earlier generation, peer influence (as well as status and caste hierarchies) weighed towards towards Carnatic music, but the next generation was more influenced by film music, so there is no resurgence of classical music in Mumbai - definitely not beyond first generation South Indian migrants to Mumbai.

Again, I am stepping into an area that I am not greatly familiar with and draw upon what I have seen and observed, so do correct me if I got this wrong.

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