I did a “news” article this morning for the music section of blogcritics.org. and I’ve been thinking about it for most of the day. It’s not that it was just a rehashing of a press release(hence the quotes around news)that bothered me, rather the underlying reality about what was being reported on started to give me a problem.
I still couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I dropped in on the epicIndia.com group run for readers of Ashok Banker’s work. A thread had been started about a project Ashok is working on concerning the history of India. It’s not so much an individual work, but that each series, The Ramayana for example, takes place in a particular time period in Indian history. Through them he is attempting to re tell the complete history of India via the eyes Indians.
There’s a novel idea. Someone from a culture writing a history of it, or at least recounting it’s history through the stories that tell it. How many books have been written about the Indian uprisings of the 1800s by British authors as compared to Indian? How many African’s have made movies about the incident depicted in the British movieZulu. Precious few I’d wager.
Down through the ages history has been told by the winners. In his book Homage to Catalonia George Orwell said that he had heard rumours spread by the fascists of Russian tanks fighting on the side of the republicans, even though there were actually no Russians what so ever in Spain. But, he continued, he wouldn’t be at all surprised that when the histories were written that and the republicans lost that those tanks would feature prominently.
How many years was the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek referred to as a heroic battle before the truth came out? In Canada we always read about the brave missionaries and the challenges they faced trying to convert the heathen savages, but we never read about blankets infected with small pox or the residential school system.
Today we don’t even have to wait for history books to be published for the history to be re written. It is being created before our eyes at press conferences, on talk shows, and in the releases handed out by spin doctors. Faithfully inscribed by the press these facts are carved in stone with barely a word spoken in dispute. They are what will become the accepted point of view on the events of the day to be put into the text books of future generations.
Such is the way of the world, everybody wants to read things that reaffirm their glory. It’s so much more comfortable that way. You never have to deal with uncomfortable facts or worry about your conscience.
Everything justifies the means. Our way is the right way spills from the mouths of leaders in every spot on the globe. Our suicide bombers are martyrs, theirs are terrorists. But if they win, yours will have turned out to be the terrorists, while theirs had been freedom fighters.
It may seem that I have digressed away from where this all started but there is a connection. The classification of certain types of performers in a “World Music” category is an extension of this attitude. To an Indian Ravi Shankar is simply a musician. Maybe he would be classified as a player of ragas, or a sitar player like we would designate someone a guitar player or a jazz musician.
Would we dream of calling Bruce Springsteen anything but a pop musician? Not bloody likely. But to someone in Nigeria what does his music have to do with what King Sunny Ade does? In their eyes Bruce is in the World Music category while King Sunny would be a pop music star.
Amazon.com plunks people like Edith Piaf down into the world section to rub shoulders with Ravi Shankar, The Gypsy Kings, and others who have nothing in common with each other except their not from either Britain or North America. What’s even funnier is seeing Native American’s lumped into this group when they live on the same continent as us. What world are they from?
It only serves to add insult to injury when we package them as an experience. It feels like a Disney ride or a National Geographic special. Look at all the neat native people in their natural surroundings, aren’t they fascinating. I’ve tried to imagine a package like that featuring European/North American style pop music: do they really represent everything about us and our culture?
It is so condescending on our part to think we can reduce civilizations that have existed for, in some cases, millennia longer then ours into commercial product. I’m beginning to believe that our arrogance knows no bounds. Do the people who produce these items even stop to think how a person in India or Nigeria might feel to know that someone’s impression of their country has been formulated by these sorts of things.
Isn’t it about time we start letting people write their own history, and present it how they would like it seen to the rest of the world. What does it matter if it doesn’t fit into our conception of how the world should be. We are not the be all and end all, and the sooner we can figure that out the happier a lot of people will be.