Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Cultural Awards? It's All a Cultural Thing, Isn't It?

Cultural awards? makes me think. A post I had made on a literary network made me gloat a bit. What isn't cultural these days. We are swamped by cultural shows, dance shows, award shows, all these have the same set of beautiful culture-vulture people smiling for the crowds, that's us, the receipients of culture.

A newspapers (I think the Guardian) called the Booker Award as a cultural award. If a certain author wins the award several times over the years, it mean the award is cultural. It's so natural. When the judges sit to confer an award, they say, "Oh, so and so is excellent in this novel. The also rans lack the touch of this genius, besides it is safe and politically correct." The publishing industry minders, the leeches who live sucking blood from the system are also happy as it helps with sales. The many deserving writers, who should have won an award, or been given a break in writing, don't get a foot in the door. The ones who are queueing after them, well, forget them.

Likewise if an actor, say Shahrukh Khan win the Filmfare Best Actor award five times, then it is more a cultural award. It shows the "industry" is in awe of him, his dimples, his acting prowess, his promotional skills. Those four awards out of five could have gone to more deserving debutants. But, no, it's a cultural thing, isn't it? We have a lot of talented actors who aren't recognized. Arjun Ramphal for one. I have admired his skills for long, and he manages to hold on, but never wins an, erm, cultural award. Is it that he is a bit reluctant to cultivate the culture vultures?

This fame business, methinks, works like a conveyor belt. If the top ones don't fall from the belt the smaller ones do. If the top ones don't gracefull exit the small ones don't make an entry. So the ones on the top make every effort to stay on top, or, sort of jam the movement of the belt, and that's a cultural thing. Merit gets side tracked for popularity and visibility.

The same thing happens I guess in matters literary. Poor writers (such as the humble me) have been trying in vain to get established writers to recommend their (our) work. This is established practice. Where would RK Narayan be without Graham Greene? Where would Arundhati Roy be without Pankaj Mishra? But, no, how could they? What would people think? How can they recommend a writer who may be a dud or a future competitor when they themselves are so desperately sucking up to the system? Make it a leeetle difficult for them, or, better ignore them, they would naturally fall off the conveyor belt soon.

Ranjit Bolt, a translator of classical European theatre who lives in the UK gives another jolt to the Booker as culture discussion by the statement that being brown helps to win the Booker. More the reason to believe that the Booker is indeed a culture award. Political correctness would have it that the awards go to the previously oppressed classes, incarcerated in their color, wanting desperately to come out. But Bolt forgets that one must be brown and female to win culture awards. Aw, look at Arundhati, Jhumpa and, now, Kiran. What flawless skin, what smiles, what teeth. But that is the cribbing of an unpublished, grumpy author.

If culture is what awards are all about society is also not far behind. Kalimpong has raised the flag of revolt claiming that it has been wrongly represented by Kiran, and likewise Brick Lane. Who says novels are for woolly headed nerds? Shows that people do take novels seriously. But the culture-vultures of the genteel literary world meet in discreet eating houses in New York and New Delhi and exchange notes on who is "cool" and who is not. What styles could likely win culture awards and what styles are most likely not.

These self-appointed guardians of culture can be seen everywhere. At award shows, art shows, movie shows baring their fangs (sorry, teeth). Visibility is what they are after. And the media, ever in awe of the Page 3 culture is only too willing to oblige. Culture rules, long live culture!

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