Wednesday, May 29, 2013

On the Curse of Public Taste


One century ago Vladimir Mayakovsky had written ‘A Slap in the Face of Public Taste’ when he was fourteen, and like all fourteen year olds, he was spot on. For me, the biggest menace haunting the world since civilization began is public taste which is often called hegemony by intellectuals and pseudollectuals alike.

Things worsened since the French Revolution. First came democracy which was all about people and then came the mass-market which was all about consumers and their choices. “Individualism”, a catchy term, was coined. Catchy terms get coined when there is a need to put something in a box. So they put the individual in a box and fastened the lids so tight that the individual was doomed forever, or  at least till sometime in the future so distant and hazy that no great prophesy has yet reached there. Prophesies which aimed at looking so far in the future,  their own fallacies, such as the one Mayakovsky had chosen to adhere to, got trapped in their own fallacies – arising out of the frailties of human logic and rationale,  determined by the needs of civilization.

The scheme did not just stop there. They built other boxes, such as ‘lunacy’ and ‘spectacle’ and placed them in such a way that if an individual gets out of the former box, s/he will inevitably end up in one or many of the other ones.

A lot of things were done to appease the gods who drag the cart of public taste. It was even acknowledged that public tastes change with time. Thus came the idea of fashion and the need to adhere to the ongoing tastes of fashion, backed by the threat of being shunned or ignored or derided if someone chooses not to.

Again, there was a rule that one must not hurt another one. Public taste chiseled this rule into its latest avatar – one must not hurt another even if the other is, metaphorically, like that princess from a Bengali fairy tale whose skin got burned in moonlight. This new rule was first named ‘politeness’ and then, ‘political correctness’. Thus, everyone lost the right to offend anyone irrespective of how overtly sensitive or delicate the other one is. This rule made expressions delicate because anyone expressing would be weary of the other.

Now, if everyone is scared of the other, there would be no unity and without unity there would be no public taste. Public taste is needed because consensus is needed to rule the society. To ensure unity, they targeted learning. We had to learn that united, we stand. We also had to learn that being happy is essential to live and hence we should make ourselves and others happy. Then we were taught of the things we need to do to ensure this happiness. All these teaching and learning were governed by public taste which runs our schools and fuels our cars.

Again, stuffs that determine public taste were determined. Definitions were put forth, mostly by the rule of majority.  A system of reward and punishment was developed – one was to be rewarded by certain signifiers of power if one worships public taste and adheres to the norms for long enough, and there were prisons, madhouses, flophouses and other asylums for those who went against public taste. But the worst treatment, in the form of absolute silence and non-acknowledgement of existence, was reserved for those who did not care either about conforming or about not-confirming.

People who unconsciously use their superconscious – poets and artists, philosophers, prophets and fools – are the worst affected. There are lots of norms to adhere to, the worst one being that they have to please everyone, or at least almost everyone, and cannot offend anyone. (Of course, there are some boxes which have been labeled as ‘bad’ by the majority and the ones which have been labeled thus can be kicked and punched, but that is another story of power and history).

Certain strong watchdogs have been put in place to make the scheme foolproof. Two such watchdogs, which are very prominent and verily there today are state and the media. Their blessing has become essential and they bestow their blessings to those who adhere to public taste. Their curse is reserved for those who don’t, be it because of not wanting or because of not caring.    

The third watchdog has two faces – one face is called money and the other on is called utility. It’s pretty cool to Karl Marx for being too impractical and everyone does it because it’s pretty cool, but the fact remains that he was spot on when he said that money is the root of everything. Well, he didn’t exactly say that but whatever he said was somewhat similar. Without money, we can’t do many things we need to do to live. And money is directly linked to utility – a tangible quality. If you can’t produce anything having tangible impact, you don’t get money. Marxists refer to this thing as the production process.

Introduce public taste in this scheme and the diabolicity becomes daylight. Those yielders of the superconscious, the poets and the philosophers, hardly produce anything of tangible impact. Ergo, unless they sign a deal with other watchdogs such as the state and the media, they won’t get blessings from this third one. Ergo, without signing such self-depreciating deals, they don’t get to live (leaving aside those who get lucky in other ways, such as winning a lottery or inheriting a fortune). Of course, in certain political situations they can escape these watchdogs, only to be hounded by the others. For example, in countries struggling for self-determination, they have to bow either to the forces of nationalism or to those of imperialism and produce materials which would beat least of some use to either of the two or more sides in the stake.

Public taste does not acknowledge the existence of things which are of no or very little use to a large section of the public. And everyone, countries and big corporations included, have no option but to bow to the public – the voters and the consumers. Type the word “superconscious” in a MS Word Document and the red line that appears below it will make Microsoft Corporation’s submission to it pretty much clear.

If we get to know that an individual who is deaf and dumb and blind and has no hands and feet is ordered to climb Mount Everest and is denied the choice of refusal to abide by the order, we will surely get shocked. However, when we find poets and prophets and artists either starving to death or being compelled to be bound to eternal servitude to the watchdogs of public taste, we don’t get that shocked. This is because we have been taught to be selective in our shock-reception, and this teaching has also been a part of the whole big scheme that is determined by public taste.   


Now this can go on and on but it’s cloudy outside. Public taste taught me to draw conclusions so I will now draw conclusion. Here we go:

Public Taste demands more than a damn. It demands everything.  It is merciless towards those who ignore or insult it. It has been the biggest tyrant ever. And any way of getting rid of it has not yet been envisaged.            



Prashanth Ashok said...

You do realize that you've literally slapped every theory that has sustained humanity, right? Why do you do such things?

Loved your "narration"

Anonymous said...

Rationalize ..... !!

There ain't any artists, they are all entertainers. No one makes a movie so that he watches it alone, no one writes a book so that he reads it alone. An entertainer thus will do what the to-be-entertained wants him to do so that he can be entertained or rather complain. (maybe that's what you wrote too !!)
And this is how I live !! (going by your analogy i ain't feeding my dreams to those watchdogs so i eat 'em up myself .... or sort of )

Soumya Mukherjee said...

Wow!If there could be any better exploration of the human psyche than what you did here...