Maverick: To Kill a Mocking Herd
By Farzana Versey
Covert column, June 16-30
The phone rang. I was asked for my valued opinion. Even after all these years of flinging views in the wind, I feel obliged. It becomes a quickie quote, a scratch sound on a record. All thoughts of individualism as a metaphysical phenomenon die. I am a mere lubricating agent that keeps the ‘thought industry’ well-oiled.
Should I complain? As a citizen, a consumer and a member of a family, a peer group, a community, I am anyway an institutionalised puppet. It has become even more pronounced ever since something I have lived through stands in bookstores waiting for buyers. “You are now a product,” I am told blandly.
The herd mentality has always been prevalent when an individual chooses to behave in a fashion set by a particular group, but institutionalisation is different. You don’t merely behave like the herd occasionally; you are the herd.
How can you hold up a mirror to society when sponsorship breathes down your neck? We do have a bunch of legitimised rebels who talk about sticking their necks out in literary/artistic salons called nirvana and moksha that have become trademarks themselves.
In the Big Bazaar, under the guise of buyer’s rights, consumerism is being canonised. Food malls sell organic health only because the veggies are polished with spit and wrapped in cellophane and are bone-dry.
A charitable view would be to see this mass production as egalitarianism since everything is of uniform quality. It helps in a situation where travel agencies, for example, hawk what you want. Is that really true? No. They are selling you what they want you to want. You may never dream of a chef cooking home food while you take pictures outside the Eiffel Tower, but they give it to you. They are making individuals into prisoners of familiarity. They do not want you to get out of your comfort zone because then they will have to innovate. If you stop acknowledging them, they’ll get someone else.
Strangely, in a situation that calls for so much interdependence, the individual is sidelined. George Santayana had concluded: “The working of great institutions is mainly the result of a vast mass of routine, petty malice, self interest, callousness and sheer mistake. Only a residual fraction is thought.”
Even such thought as does exist comes from a think-tank and brainstorming sessions. “Is an institution always a man’s shadow shortened in the sun, the lowest common denominator of everybody in it?” asked Randall Jarnell. There is some truth here in cases where a person becomes a public face with whom the organisation is completely identified. The projection may be that of its personality, but the tale it tells is of being part or creator of a group. The individualist becomes the brand.
The same has happened in sports. You have to reveal a bit of underwear or head-band as much as a brilliant shot. No player today, whether in a solo or team game, can afford to be without such support. In cricket negative practices like betting and match-fixing are now organised institutions. Skill is the chattel of commerce.
A similar thing is happening with film stars. From the studio setup days to the star system, it has been irony all the way. While the former was institutionalisation it resulted in some pioneering individual efforts whereas the star system that shows up glowing comets has resulted in mass produced acting and emotions. Even Shahrukh Khan as bumbling ‘unhero’ is a retailing ploy of the difference, his USP being the stutter.
Where is the experimentation? Parallel cinema today produces offbeat films that liberally borrow from Iranian, Korean or Trinidadian cinema rather than Hollywood. This is the sneakiest pulling the wool over our eyes act, marketing middle-class ennui as a ready-to-eat bheja fry.
Those who resist compromise become part of a resistance and counter culture that seeks or is offered its own pedestal. I once got a letter which said, “Why don’t you start an organisation of mavericks?” It was time to get off my high horse and wave at the stands. Now if only I could get myself that feathered derby hat.
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The link to the column is showing up something else therefore have not posted it...will do so once it is rectified.