L I F ELife Experiences

Growing Out of Popular-Culture Afflictions

Not having to worry about what happens in fictional worlds is liberating and satisfying

The Football World Cup starts today. Yes, the FIFA World Cup, Russia 2018 kicks off in a few hours! I always considered the World Cups as among the most important events in my life and can vividly remember when and where I watched them ever since USA 1994. I always prepared for them, brushed up on my football and was besides me with excitement by the time the ball started to roll. However, this time it is different. I don’t feel anything. Forget excitement, there isn’t even the mildest interest in the game or the teams or anything. I have no idea which teams are playing and who their players are or even what the fixtures are. I don’t even have taken a cable connection. Well, the disappointing absence of The Netherlands from this edition might be a reason for this disinterest, but that is only a part of it, which is not limited to just football.

A month ago, the world around me erupted with the hype on Avengers: Infinity Wars. And I had no clue what it was, and I didn’t care. No, I wasn’t aware it was even a movie! Later, I found had no idea who the Avengers were, either. The last Superhero movie I watched in a theater was The Amazing Spiderman, way back in 2012. It actually was a kind of enlightenment. I suddenly realised I had no idea what was going around in the world of popular culture anymore. I don’t know what the latest movies are, what the “hot” TV shows are and what is all going on in there, which the “hip” places are to go to, and who among the happening people are doing what and so on. I then also realised this applied to even to those I was dedicatedly hooked on to only a couple of years ago. For instance, after all the tearjerking over Brian’s departure from the Fast and Furious franchise, I didn’t even care when F8 was released, and was the first in the franchise I didn’t watch in a theatre, I caught up with it only a year after its release! In many ways, the death of Paul Walker was a turning point when the line between fact and fiction blurred way too much. I haven’t watched Game of Thrones or The Big Bang Theory or Dexter or anything. The last full-length TV show I watched was Neon Genesis Evangelion a couple of years ago, 26 episodes of which took me close to six months to finish. And no, it isn’t limited to movies and TV shows only as well. I didn’t even know Anthony Bourdain existed until he committed suicide.

I don’t really know when I stopped keeping track of popular visual entertainment. I think it is a mid-life thing. It seemed odd at first but I then realised that not having to worry about things totally irrelevant and insignificant to your life is so totally liberating and satisfying. It simplifies your life and prevents unwanted “temp files” and overheads from cluttering up your mind. I should know, since I anymore don’t or can’t give a damn about a lot of things was a die-hard fan once, like the aforementioned Fast and Furious franchise. Except Tintin, maybe. I believe most people eventually grow out of their pop-culture afflictions, like movies and TV shows around the time they go through mid-life, when they become aware that what they thought to play an important part of their lives actually do not matter at all. It is the (maybe subconscious) realisation that spending your absolutely limited time, (money) and energy keeping up on events in fictional worlds do not make even the slightest difference in your life. Pop culture afflictions will wane when you realise that there are much more important things you need to focus your energies upon, like people you love and their well-being. Pop-culture is an essential and necessary Dopamine supplier to our young bodies and minds, but so much as we grow older. However, most people still hang on, and not because they are passionate about it.

“How do you people get so much time to watch these English serials?” I ask people. I really cannot fathom how after work, (a couple of) kids, parents, friends, assorted chores to be done around the house, people still can find time to take an hour or so (on an average) everyday to watch TV? They should be so blessed. I haven’t had a cable subscription for the past 4 years, there is simply no time to watch programmed cable TV. Well, nor do other people. The difference is that they put in a lot of effort to catch up on their “entertainment backlogs”. If you don’t know, “entertainment backlog” is the name for the number of shows and movies you have pending to watch. “Oh, I ‘Uber’ to office two or three of times a week just to catch up on my shows. With my two-hour daily commute I can finish one season in a week.” said a friend once. Her commute costs 600 bucks. I think paying Uber 2000 rupees to binge through a season of whatever you are watching is a bit too much. “I stay up late to ‘Netflix’ my way through the shows“, says another. Apparently it is not just Xerox, all company names are verbs these days. I guess I can say I KSRTC’d my way to a client place today, or that I Maruti’d my kids to school? No? OK, then.

Anyway, When you put in such effort burning cash and time and energy to finish watching your pending TV shows, it ceases being leisure and entertainment and becomes a tiring chore instead, like doing laundry or driving. When it gets to this, it becomes pointless and senseless and the best course of action would be to press “delete” on your entertainment backlog. Nothing will happen to your life, you will actually become lighter and less troubled. Unfortunately, a lot of people can’t do this, no matter how hard they try. However, being able to take part in the “Hey, did you catch the S06E12 of the Absolutely Pointless series? Man, it was stunning! Who would’ve thought Hail Stone would die!” conversation is extremely vital for most people to stay relevant in their social circles. Else with no talking or engagement points they will end up shunned as people not in touch with the latest. Being plugged into popular culture is a necessary element for survival in hep urban life just like spending 2 lakhs for Kindergarten is. Of course, one still follows their passions and hobbies, but making them a means to an end makes no sense.

If you want to check the privilege of people, check the number of shows they watch a week. Unlike music which can be consumed passively, movies and shows need rapt and full attention of the viewer, during which no other activity can take place. That time can be better spent in other ways, like with your family, for instance. Yes, you are privileged if you can afford that spare time to watch shows and movies, the privilege of not having to work all hours to just make a living, the privilege of not having to provide for others, the privilege of being able to outsource your chores, or just the privilege of living in a city with excellent public transit or in a country where you can pursue your hobbies without impacting your survival, the privilege of being able to spend time in fictional worlds while not having to worry about your real one. Even being able to spend 2000 bucks a week (on Uber) to finish a season of your favourite TV show is also privilege. I was privileged to be able to afford spare time to watch TV and write a lot of blogs once upon a time, but times change. Anyway, I think I should try to get some interest back into football, just for old times’ sake. It is sad that I am getting old and past mid-life and its crisis, but that is how life is, isn’t it.

However, I am really sorry I missed even the existence of Anthony Bourdain, though. He looks like the swellest guy ever. He travelled the world to eat food while looking abundantly cool and unbelievably down-to-earth while doing it. He lived the life that almost all of us dream about all the time. Still he was depressed enough to commit suicide! What a world we live in.

P.S.: FRIENDS was probably the first major western TV show to air in India. It introduced the first “internet generation” (mine) to the season format and also to the intricacies of western culture. The show was all the rage when I was in college, and was the “cool” and “in” thing to watch and talk about. I found it boring and impractical nonsense (how could these people sit around in coffee shops all day doing nothing? Who paid for all those coffees and shopping?), but thought something was wrong with me since everyone else seemed to be enjoying the show. So I joined my engrossed roommates in watching the show and pretended to enjoy it, laughing along with the laughter track, though I couldn’t make out what they were saying and was thoroughly bored.It was ridiculous. I agree when it is said that the FRIENDS sitcom triggered the downfall of western civilisation.

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