Monday, May 18, 2009

Born too Late, Into a World that Doesn't Care

Watching “The US v. John Lennon” recently at the film festival, “When the Lights Went Out” organised by the Law and Society Committee of the Law School at Alliance Francais, Bangalore was quite a rewarding experience. The story of the transformation of John Lennon from mere artist to activist and his clash with the Nixon administration was an admirable one and executed with great style and care.

The experience left me reflecting on two things. First is the role of artists in society. Is their role simply one of entertaining the masses? Or is it something more? Artists today either shy away from taking political stands or campaign in the crudest manner possible during elections to secure votes and make money out of it. Few, in fact almost none, dare to take a stand on things in a manner which is actually relevant. One may argue: why single out artists? Why not accountants, lawyers, labourers and others? Well, of course, the obligation of political participation extends to all members of the society. However, what is obvious is that some members are far more capable of influencing others and bringing about real political change. Artists fall within this category more obviously than most other members for the simple fact that in a society like ours, the influence they wield on other members, particularly the youth, is immense. Their ability to contribute to change is for greater than others. In such a case, isn’t it only fair to impose that additional obligation on them to take a political stand on issues? John Lennon took on that obligation only too gladly. Through both, his art and his actions, he took very specific a political stand against war, autocratic government etc. Sure, his actions were often unconventional at best and deranged at worst. However, one cannot discount the cultural and political ramifications of his actions which frightened the most powerful government on the planet. His legacy lives on till today but few even care anymore to follow it. I read somewhere that artists use lies to tell the truth. This is an important perspective on the role of the artist. However, most artists seem to have forgotten that today and that is most disheartening…

The second point on which I pondered for a while subsequently was the political apathy of the youth. While I was watching the movie, I couldn’t help but recall what a dear friend, B had just said a few hours back to bunch of juniors. At 22, while talking about the next 8 years, all that she could think about was her work, making money, settling down etc. While these are all valid concerns, the movie left me thinking what the youth today (including me) have done for society. Forget participating in actual social change, most of us don’t give a damn to even get information about issues let alone take a stand on them. For example, few knew of Dr. Binayak Sen until recently in law school. I would dare to go and say that even now, a very small section of the youth have any idea of who that man is and what he represents. That is the sort of apathy prevailing in the society. The youth no longer care to vote and even if they do, few care to actually exercise the right to franchise meaningfully. What happened to that fervour that was stirred up in the 1960s against the War in Vietnam in America and the poverty in India? Who is to blame for this? Can some part of it be attributed to the failure of prominent personalities including artists, politicians etc? Or can we attribute it to the idea of the pursuit of happiness being reduced to merely economic growth, both at the levels of the individual and the state? I don’t know and hence, I can’t say. But what I do think is that the lives of those who celebrated Utopian ideas of peace at Woodstock and who fought against the Vietnam and all it stood for were a lot more relevant than ours. And looking at the world today, I wonder: were their efforts in vain?

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