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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Why are we hailing mediocrity?

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It is surely a sign of the intellectual depravity of our times, that we let a bunch of influencers tell us what to read, and where to eat

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We live in an age of superficiality, where we don’t want to bring any depth, knowledge or humility to what we do, and worse, accept the mediocrity all around us. We are not only casual about how we approach work, but do not feel morally responsible for putting out shoddy work. I see this especially among a breed called “influencers” on social media who feel they are the Socrates of our times and expose their half-baked knowledge on everything from fashion to food to literature!
Just yesterday, I was listening to a young “influencer” do an Instagram ‘live’ on an alternate healing method of which she clearly didn’t have enough information, but was asked to do it because of her large number of followers. Not having a clue what the healing modalities were, she spoke about random health issues instead of focusing on an upcoming session of healing that was
specific to the practitioner. I agree, we as journalists too do not know everything on every subject, but at least those of my generation did extensive research before daring to write or speak to one.
These days however, serious journalists who come with some knowledge of music, art or food are sidelined to make way for influencers. And these influencers are a much sought after breed, not for any in-depth knowledge of fashion or food, but because of their popularity with so-called followers. The concept itself is dubious; these followers are mostly jobless youth sitting in Jhumri Talaia who are paid for their services for likes and reposts. Added to that are the bots doing their mischief.
Decrying the role of influencers on the overall business of cafés and restaurants, there was an opinion piece in a recent issue of New York Times, of how these influencers were the bane of smaller outlets, (just recovering after the pandemic) because if they didn’t pay and invite the influencer, they found a nearby restaurant trending for either its cool interiors or even cooler cocktails. And if they paid and invited the food writers, they had to suffer their arrogance and slew of demands, and still not see a post of their food on social
media. (I believe with wisdom and humility comes a sense of ethics.) In Hyderabad too, I’ve been told of food writers who never pay for their meals or even mithais, and when our reviewer wanted to mention their Sitaphal Rabdi, the owner was surprised he actually didn’t have to pay to be mentioned in our magazine.
If food influencers are one breed who give their followers a feeling that they are not hip, because they didn’t go to the latest pub or restaurant that they are posting about, there are others who are called fitness and health influencers. None of these come with any certifications or credibility regarding fitness or nutrition, and they are happy peddling products like protein shakes and weight
loss pills because they are paid for it. Why no one asks them for their qualifications, and instead, presses the shop button to order a weight loss pill, shows how little we question the world around us these days. In fact, we should report and block any influencer who speaks of dark skin, weight loss, or six-pack abs. Or quick fix powders to lose weight or look fair. If influencers are the epitome of frivolity of our times, the celebrity culture where, just because someone is a fashion icon or a movie star, can comment on anything, not realizing the power they have over people’s minds, is another platform of superficiality. Worse, these celebs are coming out with books, that are painful to read. Many of us buy books of actresses whose work we may have admired, only to find the book a nightmarish read not only because the book ambles, but along with it, their good sense, and language. Besides, how do they dash off a book so easily, when we writers struggle to write even a short story tearing up drafts and rewriting it several times before we present it to the world, and the best of us don’t even publish it. (These days of course, even if we write two lines we feel the compelling need to post to show how clever we are.)
Thinking. Now that’s one thing we have given a short shrift off in our lives. There was a time in France when there was intellectual ferment, where writers like Sartre, Simon De Beauvoir, and Camus, gathered in cafés to discuss politics, literature and philosophy. It is surely a sign of the intellectual depravity of our decade, that we let a bunch of influencers tell us what to read, drink and eat. And yes, and what to wear, by the so-called fashion influencers who just throw an assortment of clothes and jewelry and tell the rest of the
world how to look. 
Can we pause, ruminate, even try to read? And preferably not post every opinion we have on social media? I assure you no one is going to miss your photos of a Bali holiday or wisdom garnered from another site. 

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