The uroboros is perhaps the oldest (if not one of the oldest) allegorical alchemical symbols that represents the endless cycle of eternity and return. This is depicted as a giant snake (sometimes dragon) eating its own tail, epitomising the beginning and the end. The eternal loop that humanity is subject to.
While uroboros is Greek for “tail-devourer”, its origins can be traced to ancient Egypt. The oldest visual representation found in a golden shrine of Tutankhamen, in 13th-Century BC Egypt. Here it stood for the mystery of cyclical time, which flowed back into itself.
Renewal, repetition, regeneration
Much to contrary notion, us Lankans espouse our island mentality with such zeal, it’s to a fault. We love our little bubble, don’t we? It’s a convenient excuse when things go sideways and a mutually exclusive safety net when we need to justify our ignorance, petty-mindedness, and regressive ideologies.
Yes. For all intents and purposes we love to employ braggadocio to shout out from rooftops, as it were, that we are wisely independent, irrefutably progressive, and incomparably contemporary – when in truth, we cling onto our archaic traditions and customs, and bask in nostalgia, whilst fervently taking two steps forward and vehemently taking 10 steps back.
The great regression
Look at what plagues the corporate sector and industries here, save for a precious few. Look at the local advertising industry. Once a glorified industry, now a quagmire of repetition, re-hashed ideas, internal organisational competitiveness, and a cash-cow necropolis pivoted on a fulcrum of fractured organisational frameworks and “systems” that have tumbled during the global pandemic.
Plenty will complain that clients no longer spend money on above-the-line advertising (TV, radio, print, outdoor, etc.) when in actuality, the world has not so much as tilted but leaned heavily towards digital media. And the global pandemic may have exacerbated it, only, truth be told, this was a trend now for sometime. It’s just that over here in Sri Lanka, many refused to see the signs and forecast adaptive strategies to evolve as a result of being “stuck in their old ways”. Add also that as a lavish backwater paradise, we tend to lag behind the rest of the world at a snail’s pace, denigrating cultural appropriation, languishing all the while by idolising the developed world, so very complacent and content in our little comfort zone pond.
One-trick ponies and dead horses
What stunts the growth and propensity for longevity? We see brands and services being safe, predictable, one-trick ponies, milking their clientele for all it’s worth with the same tenebrous onus, outdated methodologies, the same old clichés, and languid objectives used to exploit customers, clients, and consumers. Brands that with no shame will spend incomprehensible sums of money endorsing the same overexposed faces and so-called celebrity influencers as brand ambassadors, when they really have no statistics to justify the reach and frequency and ROI (return on investment) on plastering the same mugs across the gamut.
The means are justified by the ends, with overexposed and hacked household names brandished for their commercial appeal, while not offering any exclusivity to the brands. Sometimes these ambassadors simultaneously endorse multiple brands within the same industry. This is often because certain decision-makers prefer to flog the same dead horse, aspiring to achieve the same outcome, without tilting the ship and disrupting even the most embittered process.
It’s been a hard day’s night and I am working like a dog
Take the entertainment industry at large. Like dogs for a bone, many talented artists and musicos spend a lifetime often fighting for the same scraps tossed at them by pubs, clubs, and the industry. One entity trying to outdo the other with simulated repertoires, a paint-by-the-numbers sound, no image, and no real personality or individuality, let alone passion for the craft.
But the necessity to earn consistent revenue having long outweighed the merits of chiselling out a creative path for themselves with their own canon and legacy of work is extraordinary. Let’s be very clear – there is nothing wrong in having to make a living. But it does become an issue of proliferating a state of mundane complacency. A sort of perpetual grind, like the monotonous routine experienced by textile workers. A prognosis of habit. An endeavour of need.
After Covid-19 disrupted and dismantled the entertainment business globally, though all musicians and creative types have been affected, is it not true that those who have worked strenuously towards originality have found it easier to adapt, adjust, and evolve to flourish in this brave new world? Besides, the entire model of the entertainment industry has long since evolved, and if one seeks to sustain oneself, you need to constantly innovate and integrate new mechanics of revenue streams into your work ethic (merchandise, SEO [search engine optimisation] and social media marketing, brand endorsements, collaborations, entrepreneurship avenues, etc). The age of just churning out quality music with a marketing plan and letting someone else produce, promulgate, and disseminate your music while you just focus on your artistry is a mindset of a bygone era.
The organ-grinding monkeys
The thing is this: Customs and traditions are not negative things. They are in fact the cornerstones that keep us grounded when the machinations of convention capitulate us. Subjugate us. Bastardise us. Yet there are many caveats concerning the benefits of succumbing to traditions and customs for the mere sake of doing so.
Where do we draw the line exactly where we can with an instilled sense of virtue or principle and move forwards without becoming that famous organ-grinding monkey? You know, the unbelievably talented creature who is the star attraction, show-stopper, and money-maker – but holds no real power over him/herself, only performing at the behest of someone with more power. To be someone else’s tool of exploitation.
Take “ragging culture” as an example. An occurrence in universities and schools islandwide where as an initiation ritual it is deeply ingrained into every senior batch to abuse, humiliate, and harass junior and new students. And while in some cases it is a harmless custom, a sort of welcoming and solidifying of one’s place as part of a new sub-cultural phenomena or social body, it has evolved into a violent, sadistic, hedonistic, and abusive avenue of power and seniority.
It is not expunged on account of it transpiring clandestinely under the radar, unbeknownst to custodians and administrative bodies in campuses and colleges. It is evidently a criminal act, associated with a broad spectrum of physical, cerebral and emotional harm with psychological roots in social ignorance and power play. It happens simply on account of the baton having been passed and the rationalisation that “it was done to us, therefore it should be passed on”.
And this primary justification seems to be the divine quotient rule that lies at the crux of most things in our ineffable bubble of convenience. We just follow blindly, adhere obediently, and condone customs, habits, and cultural practices as a cause and effect perpetuation.
The old “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” shtick. Except back here it’s like “even if it is broke, why fix it aney? Rain rain go away, come again another day”.
With reference to uroboros. I am not sure the repetitive cycle of the above-mentioned is necessarily healthy, productive, or useful to us as a nation. Not if we so choose to not eternally remain in the same rut, stuck in this same devil-damned loop. Uroboros is also a symbol of life, death, and rebirth. So what say we do away with the old and usher in the new, and transmigrate and metamorphose into reshaping our destiny and changing our course of infinity? Yet somebody needs to toss a wrench into the grinding wheel of convention and be prepared to disrupt the system. Just seize and make the most of every moment. That’s a start.
“Eternity is hidden in every moment. And eternity consists of the moments that create it.”
– Andrzej Sapkowski, The Lady of the Lake
Suresh de Silva is the frontman and lyricist of Stigmata, a creative consultant and brand strategist by profession, a self-published author and poet, thespian, animal rescuer, podcaster, and fitness enthusiast.