Thursday, 13 December 2012

the loss of an artist

sad news that ravi shankar has passed away.  not that i have ever actually listened to his music, but even so, i'm able to recognise his incredible talent.  i have been to a few live sitar performances, and it's a pretty amazing instrument to listen to when it's played well.

but one thing that has been annoying me about the coverage of his death in western media are the western markers.  he brought indian music to the attention of the beatles, and therefore to the attention of the west.  that is the first thing that is said about him in almost all the news reports i've seen - as if a western audience couldn't appreciate his greatness without reference to a well-known western band or what he means to the west.

i can think of many ways to start a report on his death and the importance of his achievements.  you could centre it on the country of his birth, then focus on his mastery of the craft of playing an incredibly difficult instrument.  you could then talk about the impact he had around the world, and if you really needed to put in a passing reference to the beatles, you might put something at the end.

the man passing isn't worth noting because he influenced the west.  it's worth noting because of what he produced in terms of his own music and because he influenced people all around the world.  the fact that he was revered in his own country and continent is surely as important as the fact that he was known in the west?

the coverage just reeks of the notion that the death of a brown person who was important to brown people and achieved in a country of brown people - that just isn't important enough to cover.  we aren't supposed to identify with such a person until they have direct relevance to us, and hence the markers that identify his impact on the west before they even consider talking about his impact on the east (if they even talk about the latter at all).

it's an insidious form of racism because it ties into the greater narrative that people in the east and their concerns aren't as important.  we've seen it most recently with the level of coverage over the effects of hurricane sandy in new york as opposed to the level of coverage over the effects of typhoon bopha in the philippines.

one can argue that it's much easier to have media access to new york than it is to get that same level of coverage in the philippines, but i think that's an excuse.  there were plenty of asian media outlets that were covering the stories, which could have been played here (the coverage of hurricane sandy was bought from american media outlets after all). but now, with social media & youtube, the material to build stories is at the fingertips of media outlets here had they chosen to cover it.

and thus we are socialised into thinking that some are more important than others, some matter less because they aren't like us, and that we can only begin to care for them when there is some kind of markers that are defined on our terms.

so here is a short clip of mr shankar, which really doesn't do his music or the sitar the justice it deserves (it's the kind of instrument you need to listen to for at least half an hour to get any kind of real appreciation).

rest in peace.