Popular Culture: Challenging our Tradition? – Tatongkala Pongen, Asst. Professor, Dept. of History

We live in a society of many rules, prohibition and banning of all kinds of things like ghutka, alchohol, taxation and prostitution. Invariably, more laws ultimately mean more lawbreakers. Interestingly, the bans and laws seem to have little effect in actual implementation and impact in real life scenarios. The reason is probably culture and habit. Our Naga people adapt quickly and the way we work, the way we dress is changing drastically. Our identity as a people is changing and it is having a cascading effect in the way we do a lot of things and even seems to be changing things politically in some respects. Sadly, this change can destroy traditional culture without many of us even realising it

Popular Culture: Challenging our Tradition?

Culture is about the ordinary things of life. No other culture is greater or higher than any other culture. Popular culture, as we know it, is the culture of the masses. It is a mass culture like theatre, music, fashion, food, and so on where there is a popular participation of people. Popular culture was created to entertain the masses while the elite ruled. The idea of a mass culture is evident from the 1920s and 1930s onwards. Popular culture means seeing things from the point of view of the people rather than from those who have power over them. Popular forms of entertainment always existed which is very popular with the common folk.

The consumption of popular culture is going around us every day. In our Naga society, popular form of culture is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it seems to be playing an important role in creating an identity of the people.  So, why is popular culture so popular? And what happened to the so called ‘high culture’? It is so popular because it connects the people under one platform. It gives a sense of belonging to the common folks. When popular culture began to spread and grow, those people who were the torchbearers of the high culture started to follow and participate in the so called ‘popular culture’. Along with the canonical text they began to read comics, novels etc. From listening to the classical music they shifted their taste to rock and roll, rap music and so on. According to Alan Bloom, a patron in the field of popular culture studies, this change from a liberal-arts tradition of Culture to the adoption of popular culture marked the end of Western dominance in the world.  

Although, in the case of the Nagas, it is the western influence that marked the beginning of popular culture. Today, social media and advertisements have both redefined the way we connect and reshape our identity. Almost everything in this century that people come to know is through some form of mediation. Television, internet and other modern technologies offered a new public domain that could reconnect people to some form of culture. Celebration of high culture (traditions) is not at odds with the culture of the people and that could go hand in hand with youth culture of its time. Style choices can be looked upon as a message about ourselves that we send to others and to ourselves to help establish an identity. In our Naga society, looking at the present scenario, the Korean as well as the Japanese wave have become an influential element of our identity. Korean popular culture has taken such a hold in our society that young people throughout the region started sporting Korean hairstyles, makeup, and fashion. In a land of rich folk songs and music, rock music is gaining more popularity and the people, especially the younger generations seem to enjoy it more than the traditional songs and music. Contemporary festivals such as Hornbill festival is bounded by the processes, patterns and actions of social change. Contemporary cultural diversity like non-indigenous cultures of Nagaland such as rock contest, selling of foreign goods, fashion night, beauty contest, etc. as displayed in Hornbill festival are gaining more popularity and they represent an important image and appear to contribute to a sense of Naga identity. Today, with all the major forms of mass communication; entertainment, leisure activity and hobby have become a part of our culture. This dominant culture is now the popular culture which is also called the ‘youth culture’, as this culture is well- liked, especially among the younger generations. With the transformations and rise of popular culture in our Naga society, the younger generation seem to first take in the change and  only then  go back to their roots. The contemporary Naga society today presents a highly westernised culture in appearance, and at this pace it would be more difficult for the future generations to remember their past cultural traditions. 

Society is a process rather than an abstract system. And with the rise in popular culture, it is a challenge for our culture and tradition. At the same time, traditional cultures are not wholly dismissed or ignored by the Nagas. There is a mixture of tradition with the notion of popular cultural forms. Looking at the present scenario where the globalizing factors have great impact on any society, the Nagas are not lacking behind. In all aspects, the Nagas are going through the historical phase of change where the old is being replaced by the new. No matter how the change may occur, every society will remain under the realm of its cultural ethos. Change is inevitable to the way of life but do not let this change uproot our identity completely. Instead, let us find ways to create awareness among the people to preserve and restore our cultural aspects and to employ those values and elements for the enrichment of our current and future generations. Revisit our roots and try to preserve the least of what is left because the moment we shy away from our roots, we lose our identity.

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