Society and Identity
Clifford Geertz suggested in Negara: the Theatre State in Nineteenth Century Bali that Bali’s elaborate ritual celebrations were a means with which “to make hierarchy enchant.” The classical arts in lowland Burma, central Java, as well as Bali, all originating in royal courts, reflect those origins by demonstrating that how people move, speak, and interact with the world follows from their place in hierarchical arrangements. Often attaining stunning aesthetic elaboration, such genres as dance and puppetry came to enjoy widespread popularity, beyond as well as inside courts. Yet they are now in varying states of decline, losing both sponsors and audiences. I suggest that shifting aesthetic preferences—away from classical genres, toward mass-mediated ones—reflect the loss of hierarchy’s ideological persuasiveness. But that loss has not ushered in any concomitant spread of egalitarian ideas. Mass-mediated genres (melodrama, sports, religious performances) simply disguise or distract from the hierarchical understandings that continue to inform social and political relations.