My Media Diet
People ask me all the time: What was so terrible about New York that I chose to leave it? Was it the parks and the libraries? No, of course not. It wasn’t the rental market, not half as overheated as ours, either. And certainly not the gender balance, which remains ludicrously favourable to gentlemen.
It was this: a gnawing suspicion that everything we thought was important was, in fact, garbage.
Among the markers of Brooklyn status anxiety: Not to have read the new New Yorker. Still to be listening to last week’s Arcade Fire album when everybody else is listening to this week’s Doves album. I can practically hear, taking place this very minute in Fort Greene, the tense deliberations over whether it’s acceptable to like Jay-Z after he released his book of self-hermeneutic exercises. (When everybody knows he’s smart, it’s not smart to think he’s smart.) The effort of self-deception required was monumental.
As the cultural continuum rumbled past like a caravan of 16-wheelers, it conjured a temporal dimension to complement the fat and wide dimensions that more familiarly characterise American excess (the very trough at which I was feeding these past three weeks). Even as I sat in the comfort of home, the noise level could be deafening—to the point that I couldn’t think comfortably without it. This was not a warm bath; it was a drowning pool. As I felt my head gradually filling with ephemera, my eyes darted to the exits.
Mumbai’s cultural noise level barely shows up on the equaliser. If New York’s cultural scene is an all-embracing matrix, Mumbai’s is a fledgling nest. The few sites like this one that work hard to s(t)imulate local culture have precious few worms to regurgitate into our mouths. I like indie music. I love golden-era studios being bombarded with wax blobs (see image). That’s plenty, thanks. Meanwhile, I have no trouble tuning out the ambient monoculture—Bollywood—because, as a paragon of Indian thrift, it’s constantly recycling itself.
Plugging back in, even briefly, has been a funny experience: seeing a year in a few grains of hourglass sand. What is wrong with me, I wonder, that I had to find out about Free Darko and Das Racist from The New York Times? This stuff is so over! I’m so two to three months ago.
I’ve been watching The Daily Show every night. It really helps me figure out which opinions I’m supposed to have. I watched Jonathan Franzen on Oprah (taped in Chicago) call himself “a Midwestern egalitarian” (as opposed to “a snob”) and go on to praise A Tale of Two Cities as “a total page-turner”. (On that same show: a family once secretly befriended by Michael Jackson.) This is the stuff I might have built a life on?
Now that I’m back in my office in Khar, I’ll manage to participate for a few weeks by downloading NPR podcasts. After a while I’ll unplug my headphones and prefer what I hear: the announcement for a slow local; an early-morning bhajan; a film soundtrack dumped into the atmosphere by a tinny mobile speaker. Then I’ll tune those out, too. Sometimes it gets so quiet in here that I can hear the rumbling in the distance.Tags: Matt Daniels, New York, Special Top Story, The Holdout