Monday, August 15, 2011
The Last Shangri-La
Rather ironically, I thought, for a documentary airing on American TV, the first issue discussed was the introduction of television which everyone interviewed said was a very bad thing. Some, of course, highlighted the positive aspects but still were of the opinion that the negatives outweighed the positives. A great many of the new evils that have cropped up in Bhutan to spoil their isolated paradise were traced back to the all-powerful idiot box and the hypnotic effect it had on children especially. Work production has suffered because, in the middle of the day, people leave the fields to rush home and watch their favorite soap operas from India. Children in school began getting into fights mimicking the theatrical attacks of American WWF “wrestlers”. Suddenly, the Bhutanese began to know about high-tech toys, fashion trends, violent rap music and so on. Prior to modernization, as one Bhutanese youth said in the film, Bhutan was a poor country with rich people; “rich” because they were happy. However, television and the subsequent foreign products, clothes and devices have given them things to envy and spread dissension.
Then, of course, there is democracy. The Bhutanese who spoke on camera, almost unanimously, seemed to wrinkle up their noses when they said the word. Nor was skepticism about democracy confined to the older people who had spent their entire lives under the old, absolute monarchy, but young people as well. Everyone expressed great love and admiration for the King, that was one constant that was comforting. They may disagree on democracy, westernization, this, that or the other thing, but the King remains sacrosanct. However, his decision to hand power over to the people, even by the time this documentary was done, left most utterly bewildered. They could not imagine why he would do such a thing. As one young woman said, she knew that in other places people cheered when democracy was introduced and were overjoyed, but in Bhutan the people reacted with tears and tears of utter sadness rather than joy. It is also not, as some would claim, that Bhutan was unfamiliar with democracy or simply indifferent to it. They were repelled by the very idea of it.