Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Woodstock Generation

I’m reading a book called No Logo written by Naomi Klein and first published in 2000. It’s been written lucidly, with great clarity and is a seminal work. She has been called “a young funky heiress to (Noam) Chomsky” and this book of hers has been termed “visionary”, “a riveting, conscientious piece of journalism and a strident call to arms”, “a bible for anti-corporate militancy” and “a powerful and passionate book”. Fortunately enough, for once the back-cover blurbs have got it right.

While I will not tell you what the book is all about, the title and those quoted blurbs should give you a fair indication. I recommend you go across to your favourite bookseller and get yourself a copy. You will not regret it even if you consider yourself an extreme corporate guerrilla. What I will do is quote a sentence from the book, one of so many sentences which made a forceful impression on me.

“What struck me most was that the debate revolved entirely around the sanctity of the past, with no recognition of present-tense cultural challenges.” - Naomi Klein’s comment on the controversy surrounding Woodstock ’94, the 25th anniversary festival of the original Woodstock of 1969.

I was 12 years old when Woodstock happened a couple of continents and oceans away from India. I got to see the movie (in a censored version) about five years later. (Today I own a DVD copy of the full version known as “The Director’s Cut”). But I also know that the ‘69 Woodstock affected me quite a bit and influenced subsequent changes in my life. I recognise some of the changes and others of my peer group have their own, making it a sort of ‘psycho-communal’ sharing of a second-hand experience.

India was undergoing changes and adjustments of her own, and being the urban, educated elite that we were because of our advantageous circumstances, we could not not be affected by what was taking place in the USA. For many of us Woodstock made an immediate impact and we alienated ourselves from our own culture. For some, we learned lessons for the future which have proved right and wrong and this may have given us direction. Still others, reacted negatively to it and called it a hippie plot to dominate the world. A contradiction in terms if there ever was one!

Whatever Woodstock may have meant then, it has been for many of us a catalyst in our lives. The hippieness of that Love and Peace thing made me even more conscious and aware of my own country, its myriad peoples and culture, and the fact that the hippies were coming to my country to be enlightened, while I saw mine in their country! My becoming aware of just that one fact has influenced my life to a great extent. It has prompted me to chose my current lifestyle, my political and ideological leanings, and the sort of work that most satisfies me, an antithesis of all that young people are presently being taught at business schools in India.

But we cannot forget those who continue and choose to live in “the sanctity of the past” believing it to be the be-all and end-all of a life worth living. The repetition of history only occurs for such persons who imagine an ideal time that has passed and can never be rediscovered. They remain afraid of the present and the future because of the unknowns that hover in it and do all they can to propagate a way of thought that holds no benefit for future generations. They have not learned from the past. They only want to relive their version of it.

And that probably is also what Naomi Klein is attempting to reflect upon in her book. The branding of our lives and the “logo-isation” of it is what is being questioned. The global village has shrunk to become a single market where the cross-fertilisation of cultures has no place and everything we say, do and think is influenced directly and indirectly by aggressively marketed brands. In so doing the brands have become us and as consumers we no longer influence the brands.

I strongly recommend the following two books as additional reading for an insight into the changes since Woodstock 1969 was a happening that influenced other peoples who have Western culture thrust upon them and absorb it willingly.

§ Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, Noam Chomsky, 1991-2002. First Indian edition from Etch, an imprint of Natraj Publishers, Dehra Dun.
§ Mediated: How the Media Shape Your World, Thomas De Zengotita, 2005. Bloomsbury Publishing, London.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Woodstock was a brand. By the time it happened, American radicalism of anti-Vietnam protests, the civil rights movement, all had run the course. Woodstock, as its organisers have themselves confessed was a marketing coup: a showcasing of sixties America. The seventies was a radical time in Asia. Revolution in Iran, Emergency and Naxalism in India, Mohiner Ghoraguli and Hiran Mitra in Calcutta. These things have shaped me more urgently than Woodstock ever would. That's why I'm not into the sham of contemporary media in India Shining Inc today. That is why I don't think that the anti-reservation protests of middle class students is radical compared to Medha Patkar's NBA.
Regards, Mobius