The cultural developments of the coming year will be totally overburdened by the proceedings of the previous year. It will be like clearing the mortuary of the dead of 2020. For the previous year has been like no other and the world is still reeling from the impact of the unprecedented happenings and casualties.
It will be the prayer of most that the ominous pall that hangs over us is lifted for the world to again breathe in the familiar way.
During 2020, it was like again being reduced to the basics as the world lost confidence in its forward march and relapsed into something that was seen to be the past in our march of evolution. In the absence of a ready recourse, everyone is trying to seek some remedy or solace in mythology or apocalyptical ritual. It seemed that the deliverance had to come from sources unseen, and beyond the realm of the known.
The total switchover to the digital world was mainly due to the urgency that forced humans to keep social distance and deliberate avoidance of physical contact. It was a relief that some means of contact and communication were available. In their absence, the blackout would have been total with humans severed from humans and living in the hell of self-isolation.
In 2021, the biggest challenge will be to come out of this situation that has been forced upon us. The output is now being judged from the point of view of the minimum level to be achieved, rather than the optimal. ‘Ghanimat’ is the mantra; at least this much is available, this should be sufficient for the present.
But as the days roll by greater demands will be made on the means available. The product on the digital medium will eventually be judged on its own merit rather than with a caveat.
That theatre, film and television can be judged by the same criteria is a fallacy. This is also true of literature that provides the plot, the character and the situation, irrespective of the shadow that the medium casts. In judging performing arts one is often oblivious of the devious ways that the medium casts its decisive influence. The medium is actually the message, a fallback to a slogan that became clearer as the new technologies started to spread their wings on the horizon of human expression about three or four decades ago.
The criteria for several mediums straddling the same form, let us say drama, have to be different because we experience the product differently. It may appear to be the same on the surface but is not so, and the great deception is to be avoided. This is going to be the greatest challenge of the year for the things to be produced on the digital medium, either purely digitally or the digital medium just being the means of accessing the audience. Either way it will be of great human and intellectual significance.
But do we have the criteria to judge what is being presented on the digital medium? The bait to fall for easily is that the medium does not make a significant impact. Can we say that confidently as we look at the refocusing and redirecting of the human consciousness or its rearrangement or its coming to a point on a totally different slate? As the surface on which the portrayal appears is different, the result too will appear to be different.
Obviously, we do not have any definitive canon to judge artistically or critically the production on the digital medium. It may be that other mediums, like the films and television, only seek an outlet through the digital medium. But once the content is cut and chiseled to the requirements of the digital medium, the medium will start having an impact on the content. The first step is that of adjustment or adaptation and the second recognising the limitations of the medium and its peculiarities.
While this is being done, the rules will become sharper, more definite and clearer for in the process the potential of the medium will be explored and tested. And newer ways of harnessing and marshalling the content will be discovered or creatively explored. To consider it as a process and a way of discovery, the intended results may be totally unintended in the end. This way it will be exciting and lead to the tapping into the undiscovered, hence offering itself to ever newer means of human expression.
The year to come will be exciting in the sense that it will be venturing forth into a territory unknown and will determine the worth of the effort. It will be discarding and marching on to new frontiers, the past canon will only serve as the starting point as its religious application will be constricting to the effort of the new or the unchartered.
Many new terms and phrases are being thrown up and discovered and most are related to the new ways and manner in which the human experience is being calibrated.
Human behaviour will also undergo change, if it has not done so already and the tentativeness and the apprehension at ready human contact will determine the nature of human relationship. Tracking the next frontier will be the goal as the ones also tracked have found to be lacking in meeting with the challenges of human endeavour. All this seems to be very exciting though burdened with the feeling of dread and anxiety. The match between angst and boredom, between curiosity and resignation will again play itself out.
The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore