Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The End of Beauty


The year when beauty ended. The year that robbed us of David Bowie. And Prince. And S.H. Raza. And Mahashweta Devi.  From the very first day of the year, the stars aligned against music and words and colours. Against creation and art. 

Steadily, inexorably, a dull, grey storm cloud rose until it engulfed the planet.

The storm had been germinating for a long while. Or do I mean a cyclone? Shall I call it a hurricane? Over the horizon. And yet all around us, in maelstrom of horror, it built and gathered fury. In soft nostalgia peddled by hipster cafes and fashionable boutiques. With reclaimed - upcycled - kitsch that nodded to a past that had never existed but could be sanitised and sold for ludicrous sums. It gathered strength in the swamping of literature that provokes complex thought with simplistic cliches that were lauded for their great value. And it grew monstrous in brush strokes that produced nothing of value beyond meaningless critique and auctions that were only notable for the vast sums of money invoked by newspapers. In music that nodded to our childhoods but did little to guide us into our precarious old age. 

And most of all in our obsession with digital fever dreams of what we named Reality TV - a lurid, sordid screenscape that blocked out all that we could have lived in reality itself. 

So naturally the growing storm found its core in a man who is a star of this elaborate artifice. A man who confidently proclaims that he knows words; that he has 'the best words.' A man who lumbers about an awkward lubber of a body of a colour never found in nature. A man who took that lack of meaning that we had dulled ourselves with and piped them directly into our television screens, and speakers, and twitter feeds. A man who didn't need to tell the truth because we had grown to accept and expect artifice, falsehood and meaninglessness. 

And yet we stayed transfixed by the horrorscape on our screens, incapable of action even when Reality TV bled into reality. Many never noticed that the 'best words,' the false words, the knowing words, transformed themselves into echoes that grew louder with each passing moment. And those who noticed, remained powerless as the voices of inanity, of ignorance, of brute stupidity grew into a tall cyclone. Or even the tallest cyclone, the Orange Man would say.

Those of us who love beauty could not escape the horrorscape even when those echoes became a cacophony of atavistics howls of a mob driven mad by illusions of grievance. By delusions of oppression. By false memories of greatness. 

Until one morning when that storm, that hurricane, that cyclone of meaningless words, of sloppy brushstrokes, jangling notes, of comprehensive moral vacuum swamped us. Mute, paralysed, we watched even as it grew ever nearer. Some of us shrieked, shouted, raged, warned but our voices were lost in the dissonant racket. And the monstrous storm raged and screamed and howled nothing. Until it engulfed us all into nothing. And then whirled on to become Nothing. 

1985. The year my family moved to New York City. Ronald Reagan was President. Cold War was at its height. And aptly for an international, politicised, informed family, what my siblings and I - ranging in age from six to sixteen - feared most was Mutually Assured Destruction. We knew far better than most adults - thanks to my father's job - the complex processes, the nuclear protocols, the range and time till an ICBM launched from across would be counted as First Strike. 

While the adults worried and tried to change reality, we - as kids - tried to find comfort. We wanted a plan of action. Any plan. Any action. We thought of escape. Of grab bags with passports and money. Of cars and boats. And skills required to survive the nuclear winter we were afraid would happen on any day. 

Then we realised that if a strike were launched, we lived within a mile of the epicentre. So instead we decided - as children, albeit very well informed ones - that we would walk down to the UN Plaza. We knew we could get there before that first atomic orange flash. 

There, if we were lucky, we would have time to arrange ourselves. To make shadows. To make the best shadows. The most beautiful shadows. Nuclear Shadows that would remain behind for the survivors of our world. Or aliens who stumbled upon our destroyed planet. 

Powerless yet informed, we wished to leave behind something beautiful. Something that would let the future know that there were some of who were informed. And thoughtful. And creative. And fundamentally moral. 

To leave a trace that somehow, somewhere, despite complete annihilation, ours had been a world of beauty. With beauty. It was Beauty. 

And in that beauty, we found hope. 

I no longer know if those who are children today - on this day - have any hope or ability to reach or create beauty.

UPDATE: I would like to change the end of the piece with a quote from The Buddha Smiled who tweeted:

"Yesterday my heart was breaking. Today, I ponder how to cast a shadow that will be long and enduring."

And in that shadow, there is still hope. There will always be hope.