Sunday, July 18, 2010

Instant gratification, flamenco and cultural hollowness

Recently I was at the wedding of two friends. The bride was a Spanish woman who comes from a family of flamenco dancers and teachers. Her mother, cousins and aunts are all initiated into the proud tradition of Spanish dance. At the reception we were all treated to a wonderful display of flamenco by the bride and her extended family.

Beyond the entertainment value of the dancing the revelation of this occasion was the respect shown by the younger women to their older relatives on the dance floor. The young dancers were all very talented and capable, but as the elder generation of women came to dance it was clear that there was something in their dancing that it takes a lifetime to learn, something that only people who had experienced some of life could understand and express. It was also something that the younger women clearly respected while knowing that they could only learn to master their danceform through decades of dedication.

But western society has become so dominated by a youth cult that we have lost sight of this extra something on display on this night. Fast, strong, youthful and beautiful bodies are all that count. Experience, patience, long-term dedication and devotion to a lifetime's project are not the kind of attributes that cut much ice today. Instant gratification, short-term thinking and the expectation that people in their early thirties should already have everything sorted have killed off lifetime achievements and left us with the hollowness at the heart of so much of our contemporary culture.

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