Sunday August 26, 2012
Look to the future
CULTURE CUL DE SAC
By JACQUELINE PEREIRA
To engage the young, we need to reach out with things that are relevant to them and pertinent to their time.
LAST Sunday the newspapers were filled with Hari Raya advertisements, prettily and pleasantly evoking a sense of nostalgia for a time that many of us, especially urban dwellers, still look back on fondly. The road trips back to our hometowns, joyful days with our families, friends and neighbours and the rampant over-indulgence of festive treats and special meals. Most of all, there was a feeling of communal conviviality – now acutely missed.
Festivals as we knew them, despite the many religious obligations, were not necessarily about finding the true meaning of these celebrations. Probably because it was not lost then, we were just living in the moment. The numerous open houses we tripped in and out of were just places to stop by, wish the best to family members and friends, and share meals and lots of laughter.
Then, old-fashioned values such as sincerity, trust and belief seemed straightforward and undemanding, as were most people’s aspirations. Traditions were passed on from one generation to another, one culture to another, without hype or harassment. Similarly, celebrations were uncomplicated, without a tinge of politics, race or religion, if truth be told.
Browsing through the advertisements, I could not help but stop. Each page was illustrated in the shades of Raya, the colours, clothes and contours that distinguish this festival from others that we celebrate as a nation.
But I had to ask: How long have we been depicting these same scenarios? Clichéd as they are, for the last 20 to 30 years, every major festive or Merdeka message has been largely an exercise in reminiscing. We harp on the same old values and decry their loss, in the hope of regaining the sense of belonging that we used to share.
I may be making a gross generalisation here, but other than my generation or those older than us, how many of us really care or remember?
Today’s young have so many modern implements to entertain and inform them. If they haven’t experienced it themselves, can we blame them for not bothering to care or find out? Isn’t it time to move on, to some new theme?
On another level, take the recent announcement of the closure of The Dandy, Britain’s longest-running comic. It is set to shut down its print version in December with an edition that commemorates its 75th anniversary.
Desperate Dan, The Dandy’s best known character, and his motley pals, who have entertained generations of children and young adults worldwide, have to bow to a new kind of comic hero, following a marked drop in circulation.
But Dandy publisher DC Thomson promises that its content will go online after the print closure. Also, there are exciting plans to take the much-loved comic strip in a different direction, in a different mode.
Similarly, in last week’s FT Weekend, columnist Tyler Brule spoke out about recent US reports on the sad state of its media. Focusing on magazines, Brule attributes their decline in readership to their homogeneity. From cover stars who look alike to the quality of the paper, he reckons the fault lies in the sameness, that lack of distinction. With no point of differentiation and in failing to innovate, Brule says, it’s not just the media industry that is suffering. Other industries are, too. What customers are looking for, and would pay for, he concludes, is a strong point of view, a solid product, good customer service and great branding.
What he finds even more surprising is that, instead of coming up with new and inventive ideas, the new generation of bright young people are caught up in doing more of the same.
But that point is arguable.
The young people today, I keep hearing from employers, are not motivated by the same things that we were. Most are still dependent on their parents, preferring to live at home and seeing no point in spilling their guts for the sake of a fast-track career.
Working hard and long just to get ahead is not in their make-up. Most already have cars at their disposal, an income supplemented by parents and a comfortable home. Their basic needs are covered, so money is not the goal. What they are searching for is something more meaningful. Something that’s relevant to them in the times that we live in.
In the same weekend pullout, model and actress Isabella Rossellini calls this new direction that young people are moving towards an “ideological decision”. Rossellini, who has embarked on a study of animal life, wants to grow vegetables and rear chickens on her small farm in Long Island, New York.
What surprised her most about this new endeavour was that she was contacted by very educated young people who wanted to work on her farm.
As opposed to her own time, she states, when the brightest sparks fled villages and small towns to work in the big cities. She finds that this generation of young people are very interested in the environment and food, and think nothing of choosing to adopt the life of a farmer.
Similarly, when we want to unite a country and bring her people together – living harmoniously, celebrating festivals or marking momentous occasions – perhaps we should stop reminiscing about the good old past.
What we would want, whether young or old, is something with new meaning.
So, with National Day just days away, I hope for a celebration that unifies, captures our collective imagination and, most importantly, turns our thoughts to the future – with fondness.
Delighting in dead ends, Jacqueline Pereira seeks unexpected encounters to counter the outmoded. Find her on Facebook at Jacqueline-Pereira-Writing-on.