Month: April 2015

It’s all about the money, But

[Image source: http://www.tv.com/news/breaking-bad-how-much-cash-was-in-that-storage-unit-29497/]

A lack of money is often seen to be compensated by possession of spiritual wealth- they don’t have a lot of money, but they are good people, which is what matters. Often, it is implied that limited monetary resources help inculcate good value and morality systems in people. Then the converse must also be true- an overhaul of wealth would signify a debauchery of the mind. In the same way, the city and the village binary is also used- people in villages may not have as many facilities as city life provides, but atleast they have peace of mind.

Power corrupts, and in most parts of the world, money is power. But then we can ask- is this discourse appropriated only to comfort ourselves in our shortage of money? When we maintain that we do not have money, we also maintain that we have something that money can’t buy- spiritual contentment, tranquillity, a clear conscience, honor, dignity, and blamelessness. We validate our ways of living, and put ourselves on a higher pedestal- so what if we don’t have money, we have some things that money can’t buy.

MasterCard banged all the right doors when it said, “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.” Money might not be able to buy abstractions, but it sure can buy everything tangible, which makes you think, who said there isn’t happiness in money? In a consumerist world, it can buy you the best of apparel, and the best of household possessions- thereby, it can buy you admiration, praise, style, and envy. Money can buy you travel, and by implication, it can buy you not just good times, but also practical experience. Money can buy you the best of medical services, and the most prestigious of education systems. It can buy you nutritious food and personal safety. More often than not, it can buy you time.

And yet I would assert, after everything seen and done, money is not the answer, and it is never the answer. Money, when you look back and realize, whether now or at the end of life, is the least enjoyable thing.

A scene in Breaking Bad intrigued me. Walter White, a man dying from cancer afraid of leaving his family penniless and debt-ridden after his death, turns to making methamphetamine, and quickly makes unthinkable amounts of money. But the drug business was never so clean and simple. In the process, he is forced to commit several crimes, not the worst of which was murder, and turns into a hardened criminal, breaking bad, losing the trust, love and respect of his family, and especially his wife, Skyler.

“Take a drive with me”, Skyler asks of Walt and leads him to the compound where they have been storing their money. They enter a room full of money, so much money that even ten generations of their family could not exhaust it, living in luxury. There was so much money that it was impossible to count it anymore- “How much is this?” Walt asks her, to which she says she has no earthly idea.

As they stand in front of a future full of luxury cars and yachts, condos and summer houses, glitzy parties and unshakable glam, their whole lives stretched out in front of them where they wouldn’t have to work a day in their life and yet live like royalty, Skyler looks at the pile once again and says to him, “I just stack it up, keep it dry and spray it for silverfish.” Millions and millions of dollars, a dry stack free of silverfish.

“Walt,” she tells him, “I want my kids back. I want my life back. Please tell me- how much is enough. How big does this pile have to be?” as they both stare at that meaningless pile, bereft, empty, speechless.

In another scene, Jesse Pinkman, Walt’s partner in meth-making, got his cut of the deal in the business, but having a more troubling conscience than Walt, he is unable to spend that blood money. In a deranged state in the middle of the night, Jesse drives across the town, throwing stacks of dollars, in front of every home, finally collapsing at a deserted park.

It may be all about money- life may be all about money. Money for treatment and money for college, money for survival and money for luxuries, money to win and money to lose. Money to get you out of jail and money to protect you from bad neighbourhoods, and yet

Money is the least enjoyable thing. Possessions are useless unless they can be shared with someone, and travel, dry, unless the stories can’t be laughed over dinner, unless souvenirs can’t be brought back, unless it can, again, the experience can be shared with someone. Money can’t buy you the practical experience that travel brings along with itself without immanent curiosity, without an eagerness to explore. What fun is excellent food if had alone, or worse, with sycophants and sullen faces? What good is time, if there is nobody to return to? Money can buy you a living, it cannot buy you a life- it is always that something other which comes along with the money that makes life meaningful.

Aesthetic Appeal of the Times

A few years ago, one harmless, idle morning, my friend came to school wearing a pair of what appeared-hideous-at-that-moment spectacle frames. “What is THAT?” I remember asking her pointedly, while she tried to convince me that they were very, very in. And funnily enough, she was right- in one mad moment of civilization, wayfarers became the rage, the strange symbol of (I can’t believe I have to say this) ultimate coolness. At a time when being bespectacled in school was a social stigma and sobriety in glass frames was universally accepted, wayfarers came in and flashed in your face like God-knows-what, projecting rectangles around your eyes as somehow desirable.

But slowly, something strange started to happen- every bespectacled person I knew started investing in a pair of fat, ugly, black wayfarers -if they weren’t visually challenged, they’d get zero power frames. Wayfarers had to be there. However, as days passed with people flaunting around the latest pair of this alien trend, whether bought from Ray-ban or from the side at Connaught Place bargained for eighty rupees, they didn’t seem that ugly anymore. When a star I hated sported those, my disdain towards them was reinforced. But when somebody whose taste I related with was seen with one on, my confidence shook; I suddenly doubted my own judgment. The eyes that gagged at the sight of such atrocities started accepting and even admiring them.

And the same thing happened with a bunch of other stuff. Peplum- what were those weird extensions jutting out, which looked so sexy after a few months. What was that strange combination of orange and pink, which at first irritated my eyes, but later seemed to merge perfectly well. What were those funny, ill-fitting palazzos that would never be given the time of my day, but was now held in privilege. There was something to be said about fashion; does it simply grow on you, or is there a larger politics at work?

Everybody’s seen those pictures and videos about the changing beauty ideals and standards for women across time and space. Full hips, flat stomach, small breasts, big breasts, rounded body, zero sizes, curvy figures, all came and went in vogue from time to time, and will come and go again. Even at one particular instance in time, standards of beauty vary across the geographical space despite pervasive media and globalisation. The Golden Mean, however, seems to suggest otherwise- it suggests that anything which prescribes to the Golden Ratio, any creation of nature, a human face, a natural being, would automatically look more symmetrical and hence appear more beautiful. It suggests that beauty is an inherent quality, something beyond human control, something present in the essence of that thing. And isn’t that how we look at it?

Socially, some people are undisputedly considered good looking, while some things are just ‘good taste’. Being beautiful is something that you are just born with- make up can only do so much. Whereas on the other hand, having ‘good taste’ is something that is considered culturally cultivated, so that the place one was born and the education he receives (or doesn’t receive) are the primary factors in its formation. However, what is believed to be ‘good taste’ is also created by the society, or more specifically, those who are in power in the society. This comes from the French sociologist Pierre Bordieu, who states that the legitimate taste in any society is the taste of the ruling class. That completely debunks the notion of anything being inherently beautiful, or even inherently anything.

No music is ‘good’ music- any music deemed good pertains to the ruling aesthetic of the time. Good cinema in the academic and scholarly domain is mostly dissimilar to cinema which appeals to a mass base.

All our ideas of something turning out good or bad is in sync with the aesthetic appeal of our times, and that aesthetic appeal is shaped by old sources of power, the ones believed to hold cultural capital. What you like and subsequently your opinion about it is also shaped by the aesthetic appeal of the times- if certain certain times project bearded men sexy, you’re mostly likely to find them sexy at that time, as opposed to them looking the exact same way just two years back, when the aesthetic appeal of the times are different. Douglas Adams, author of the famous The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is known to claim that if his book came out even a few years before or after the time that it actually did, it would never have been able to attain the kind of success that it went on to do. The right things come together to make the timing right for you.