Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pop Culture, We *heart* Badass.

Watching and observing all the pop culture around me, I found myself being pulled from different sides by one common thread running through all the entertainment thrown my way. I have always believed that the movies, music, books, ads- any kind of literature as such- pertinent to an era, reflect the society and how it is evolving. So if you want to understand the times your parents or grandparents grew up in, all you have to do is watch some epic movies, read some books, the songs (the lyrics!) of that time.

Recently, an American colleague visited India and I was showing her around. Sitting in a café, we got talking about the music; I translated the Hindi lyrics into English for her to understand. It was a theme café, and they were playing really old numbers. One (hindi) song that caught her attention was- as I translated it for her- O my beloved, please come now. Come satiate my heart which is burning like fire balls. Embrace me such that the volcano erupting inside my body cools down. Well that’s how the first few lines went, I didn’t go on to translate the rest of it. I had never realized what that song really meant, until I translated it for her. It is from early 1970’s. I was not born then, and never quite paid so much attention to the lyrics when I grew up. But it is a really popular number; one of my favourites. My American colleague got really curious and checked up the song online, and was appalled by the sexual innuendos. And she said, “So you mean kissing and making out on screen was forbidden, but you could sing and dance like that? She literally took off all her clothes during the song.”

I youtubed it myself and was amused. The dancer in all her moves was almost convulsing, aching for her lover, waiting for him (heavy breathing being the theme and beat of the song). And when the lover does come, we see her shedding all her clothes bit by bit while he stands in a cage gawking at her. The song ends with the two of them inside the cage and the lights going dim.

But, the important point here is that the protagonist, the heroine of the movie, is not the dancer. The heroine carries the very traditional, docile, naïve, innocent imagery that people are comfortable with. So that woman who was doing pelvic thrusts, well that’s the kind of woman you are NOT supposed to be. But ofcourse, as audience when you get cheap thrills out of watching her moves…all that is fine. *rolls eyes* *feminist alert*
It is all in the semiotics, the metaphors that make everything surrounding us- revealing what we think and how we behave.

And then I looked around, observing what I am growing up with. With globalisation and all that, a lot of content is international, but that is what the urban, educated youth today is watching, and enjoying. Some TV shows that come to my mind are Dexter, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, White Collar, Game of Thrones. . .what do all these popular shows have in common? Apart from being super successful and running for umpteen seasons, all these shows have dark characters. There is no black and white anymore; the characters, the protagonists are various shades of grey (which reminds me of another figment of pop culture, Mr. Christian Grey from Fifty Shades of Grey).

At a deep subconscious level, watching these gives us a strange, vicarious, sometimes sadistic pleasure which we cannot experience in our daily lives. You cannot be a serial killer and go about killing people who are not innocent, in the name of saving the world from dreadful crimes. We root for the middle aged chemistry teacher, a loser in all sense, to become the gangster in the business of drugs. We identify ourselves with his boring, underpaid teaching job, and feel excited when it takes a turn into something big and exciting. . .helping us transition into that state momentarily. Who doesn’t want to be (or have?) the creative, eccentric, powerful man, drinking, smoking, fucking whoever he wants, girls swooning for his attention?

That is the delusional, vicarious life that people like to live today, wanting to feel desirable, successful and powerful. And the protagonists here are not saints. They are not the ideal husband, the obedient son, the loving father (actually now that I notice, they all are shown as good fathers…tv shows don’t want to cross that line yet). All of them are good, intrinsically, but have streaks of badass spilled all over them. It is these imperfections that make them attractive, humanly so. Joker of The Dark Knight is another anti-hero that comes to my mind. Who makes villains so charming? So now we are not attracted to the caring, loving, understanding hero. We love the badass who gets what he wants and knows how to get it. He, the smart, witty, reckless hero, will not always win. He would lose, and perhaps fall flat, eventually. But by then he would have lived. And that is what all of us want to see and experience; us the lesser mortals… who are trying to survive in the daily drill of life, looking up at the stars.

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