By Rukhsana Jabeen
When, lo! as they reached the mountain-side,
A wondrous portal opened wide,
As if a cavern was suddenly hollowed;
And the Piper advanced and the children followed,
And when all were in to the very last,
The door in the mountain-side shut fast.
Robert Browning, The Pied Piper of Hamelin: A Child’s Story
Most of us are familiar with the story of the Pied-piper of Hamelin, who was hired by the people to rid the town of the ever-increasing mice with his magic pipe. Later on, when the people refused to pay him for his services, he lured away their children by using his musical instrument to an unknown destination never to be seen again.
Well, his story was set somewhere in 1284 AD. Now fast forward to the 21st century. Times have changed. Situation is different. Ways of life are also not the same. The Pied- piper, however, is still there; albeit in a different or subtler form, alluring us with the magical music. We are flowing with this music towards some unknown destination quite unaware.
Allow me to say that the Pied-piper in our case is the modern culture dominated by the West, which has got its own music in the form of mass and social media, and we are like the mice unknowingly following the music under the influence of some spell. Our culture is being dominated slowly and gradually in an unnoticeable manner.
This is a sort of “media imperialism” (which has a deep tendency to result in “cultural imperialism” at later stages), where we have just a one- way traffic. Things move only in one direction obliterating everything that comes in the way. There we have a dominant culture with many resources to present itself in all brilliance. Coming in its way are the ‘lesser’ ones unable to provide a resistance in terms of the pomp and show. The ultimate result is: the lesser cultures lose parts of their identity and their sense of pride in the process.
On the positive side, this phenomenon presents various opportunities. We come across different cultural trends and values which broaden our mental horizons and give us a better understanding of the world; yet it can have serious consequences if we are not vigilant enough. Cultural imperialism occurs due to the belief in the inferiority of one culture regarding its own customs, philosophies and ways of life which makes it adopt the dominant traits of the foreign cultures. The incoming cultural values slowly permeate into the collective psyche of the recipient people, washing away the remnants of their earlier beliefs about life as well as their ways of living it.
First it develops the phenomenon of Digital Divide- one group has access to everything that the media offers, while others are far away in terms of catching up with the modern world. Then it creates a sort of psychological divide among the richer and poorer segments of society. Those who can afford the modern luxuries in the form of various brands and mass- produced food items consider themselves superior to those who have no access to such things. The less fortunate ones then start imitating the ‘advanced’ segment of society by whatever limited resources they have. In their failure to catch up with the former, they develop feelings of frustration and thus develop imbalanced personalities. As a result we come across a divided and unhealthy society where there is no harmony among the people. Healthy growth of individuals (in terms of social, cultural and emotional aspects) is not possible in such a society. Regarding the Digital Divide, a famous columnist called David Kline says:
“The future may become a wonderland of opportunity only for the minority among us who are affluent, mobile, and highly educated. And it may at the same time, become a digital dark age for the majority of citizens- the poor, the non-college educated and the so called unnecessary.”
Suppose we continue this pursuit of the Western culture. What will be the possible outcome? Wouldn’t it be a monotonous world devoid of variety and diversity in terms of culture and ways of life? Wouldn’t we be trapped in a sort of never- ending useless pursuit leading us nowhere? Wouldn’t we lose our emotional and psychological health in this vicious circle?
Before it’s too late, let’s remind ourselves of the Pied- piper of Hamelin and stop blindly following the fascinating music around us, so that our identity is not lost in the process, and we are not doomed like the children of that era, never to be found again.