Last Friday, I witnessed a confirmation of what I have always thought was a generation of young Nagas whose worldview is as unsettling as it is heartening.
Avengers: Infinity War released last week the world over—yes my reference points are that low brow and ‘un-academic’ (but hey they work for me). Nagaland State has only two theatres, and both of them in Dimapur witnessed scenes never seen before.
On Friday morning, hours before the movie premiered in the country, both these venues were thronged by a huge crowd of mostly young people, on their quest to be the first ones to land themselves the movie tickets. Commuters looked on as they passed by this large group of youngsters whose enthusiasm for a Hollywood comic book based superhero movie about uniquely American worldviews, must have seemed peculiar and perhaps even upsetting.
But that is just the surface. The arguments on unhealthy acculturation practiced among young Nagas, particularly when those arguments are based on popular culture and media influences, remain superficial and parochial.
The scenes witnessed outside Dimapur’s theatres before the movie premiered has to do with one factor in this discussion—the penetration of the internet. The marketing campaign by Disney and Marvel and the buzz it created was a PR masterpiece. Whether the movie was a satisfactory pay off is debatable, but the fact remains that even here in remote and constantly patronized Nagaland, the hype was real.
The other is referenced in the aftermath of the movie, both in animated discussions among young people I overheard outside the theatres, and on social media. Along with the epic battles and general clichéd ‘geekery’ over comic books, there were surprisingly enlightening arguments over Thanos’s motivations, the validity of his point of view, and herculean philosophical questions such as the point of existence itself. Thanos by the way is that big purple guy with the shiny gauntlet and the weird jaw you see in the posters.
Yes, perhaps a chunk of this cultural phenomenon among young Nagas is shallow and a result of a modern existence surrounded by flashy media manipulations—a corruption of our unique identity by outside influences is it?
However, if we go past that surface, there appear a large number of young people whose identities have been for better or worse shaped by a much wider world view. It is an identity that has been sandwiched between two clamoring sides.
On one side of this battle for the young Naga psyche is the gaudy but attractive (and sometimes intelligent) portrayals of experiences from the ‘outside.’ And on the other side are the sometimes intelligent but largely lackluster, high brow and pretentious representations of our own culture by our own institutions and ‘intellectuals.’
This has resulted in a generation of young Nagas that have veered to the more approachable front gates of other cultures. And upon crossing that inviting threshold, they do not mind diving head on to untangle the complications that exist in every culture.
Consequent to this is swathes of young people who troll, make memes, slander, bully, and prize the virtual more than the real. But they also learn, dream, open up and welcome the other.
All this, while the gates to our own ‘culture’ remain archaic, distant and aloof.
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