Trinket Exit Strategy of our Press

Something from the newspaper yesterday which confirms all I was saying about Nepal – on the very day the Maoists declared a three month cease fire, all The Guardian saw fit to publish was just half the face of this Sadhu. Exotica unabashed.

This is an old complaint about media representation however – of course they go for the easy option – colour, anonymity, alluring otherness.

Another version of the debate – this time releveant to writing about hip hop, might be found in the new collection “The Vinyl Ain’t Final” – edited by Dipa Basu and Sid Lamelle, out with Pluto/UniMinnesota here (and chapter about Fun*da*mental therin as well, heh heh).


Perverted By Language

Piper got the blog back and the Brighton girl from Arkansas has her own now. Still mesmerised, as am I, by the lesser films of Bill Murray:

Perverted By Language: “Ghostbusters 2 is chock full of the past itself coming back to haunt the present. A train that crashed around the turn of the last century comes hurtling through a forgotten underground track. The Titanic finally docks at a city port, allowing its long-dead passengers to file into the city (and as Jeffery Sconce reminds us, the Titanic disaster occurred around the same time as supernatural-seeming devices like radios and telegraphs, were coming to the fore, and inspired a spate of tales of dead victims communicating from the dead through these ‘new media’). The Statue of Liberty comes to life and walks from Ellis Island across the water to the promised land of Manhattan. ”

The double visage.

notes towards the end of the Nepal text for Canada….

My beef with the travel story version of Nepal is that here South Asia appears on the world screen most often as a ‘realist’, but usually tragic, news item. Images of villages awaiting rescue from cyclone, flood, earthquakes, riot, famine. Images of high mountain military stand off or besieged temples, mosques, cave complex and Al Qaeda training camps: tourism and television are particularly well suited to containing tragedy within a box. On the small screen it is images and stereotypes or clichés that move. ‘Things happen to images, not people’ as the French theorist Gilles Deleuze once said (and I quote this like a souvenir, which equally contains). But representation of Asia indicates a corresponding nether side to the tragic image – there is also a simultaneous positive gloss that is equally ideological – the fascination with tradition. Sound bite emotional containment fuels the global rumour of a mythical third world Asia that is both traditional in dress and architecture (the Taj Mahal, camels, rustic musicians) and is a modern mess born of a debased modernity, that perhaps (the argument implies) only the restitution of colonialism could redeem, (in the mindset of the imperialist power).

The double visage of South Asia abroad is fantasy and sensation. On the one hand, the Hindi film glitz or traditional exotica of temples, rich fabrics, and pantomime handlebar moustaches. On the other, disaster, war, cotton-clad politicians discussing nuclear weaponry, Maoists, and pantomime handlebar moustaches. This doubled representation follows an ideological investment that eases and erases imperial guilt. From abroad, it is clear (the wish is) that the vibrancy (temples, fabric) of South Asia has not been destroyed despite the (rarely or reluctantly acknowledged) impact of 300 plus years of colonialism and more recent structural adjustment programmes visited on the place. Reassured by tourist brochures that most of the temples and holy sites remain, the disasters are attributed to contemporary dysfunctions: poverty, corruption, mismanagement and revolutionaries. Such reasoning, sometimes explicit, affirms that South Asia’s problems are South Asian, and that the departure of paternal colonial rule was perhaps premature. A self-serving ideological psychic defence, to be resolved by more ‘development’ aid…

The sheer diversity of a continent of images is thereby channelled into a narrow ideological repertoire.
(and I am really having trouble finishing this piece because its another one of those I would normally have sent to Imogen to read, and I just cannot understand why she is gone. Its terrible and cruel. Drek drek drek. All thoughts to her family.)

Revolutionary tourism

Revolutionary tourism (notes for article for a Canadian magazine).

I am watching television and Nepal is on screen. It is unusual to see anything other than documentary curios from the land locked Himalayan kingdom, but this week the place is news. Strikes, curfews, shoot to kill, the King forced to promise elections, a new interim government and an ongoing series of protests and demonstrations by the people in the streets. Each night for two weeks another glimpse of Nepal on the evening news. Globalising Asia right here in my living room. I want more.

I have long been a revolutionary tourist. Years spent in Kolkata where the Communist Party of India Marxist (CPI-M) has been the ruling – democratically elected – party for over twenty years. There even the opposition parties are mostly communists too, though sometimes this has lead to fratricidal conflicts as comrade kills comrade, I was out on the streets souveniring red flags and photographing political wall slogans, demonstrations and million person rallies. The wall slogans have been banned in West Bengal’s present election – a blow to political expression most agree, but Kolkata is still the city of politics, I visit every twelve months. Its an easy place to travel, despite the reputation it has abroad, as a site of Mother Theresa-enhanced, reputation distorting, photogenic poverty. I have written on this imaginary urban pathology elsewhere, especially in The Rumour of Calcutta (Zed books 1996). But despite what everyone usually hears of Kolkata in global media, when it appears as news it is either as curio or as another kind of politics, as sight of impoverishment or as ‘the longest freely elected communist democracy’, none of the representations seem to measure up to the reality.

I cannot help but think the same of Nepal. Today the revolution was called people power on the BBC. Pictures of a rally dominated by the red flag, I swoon before the telly with anticipation, but its merely a fragment. There are no interviews with revolutionary leaders – Prachanda, or even the more moderate UML spokesperson Madhav-Nepal. Instead, the camera turns to a sadhu (a Shiva devotee) looking on bemusedly as youths smash the windows of a Royal hostel in Kathmandu. This is not to say one cannot find interviews with the leadership, even on the BBC – at least on the web version of the BBC – a full transcript of an interview with Prachanda in February 2006 includes some judicious assertions, for example on the future of Nepal: ‘With the unity that has developed between the seven political parties, us and the civic society, and the way that the autocratic monarchy and the royal army have been cornered, with this very shortly Nepal will become a republic.’ And on the future of the King: ‘The king I think will either be executed by the people’s court or he might be exiled. For the king, today’s Nepal has no future. We don’t see a future for him and the Nepali people don’t either’ (

So should the King flee now? Seems not a safe place for him, but the scene seems more coherent and determined than might be suggested by comments such as the BBC default presentation of ‘riots in shangri-la’ and the Guardian’s characterisation of Nepal as ‘a country gone awry’ (Guardian April 22, 2006). What chance for a less hypertronic discussion? Instead, stereotypes and routine – concern about safety, about the economy and geo-political worries – ‘terrorism’ a word that crops up over and over. There are a few western tourists in Nepal just now, but they are mentioned as having avoided the firings, that have killed 14 in two weeks as I write, though the Police held back somewhat today. Phew! Why this angle and spin if not just for the reassurance of viewers, and capital, at home. The caption to a photo showing a westerner at Kathmandu airport reads: ‘Tourists hoping to visit a mountain Shangri-La have been surprised’ (BBC Paul Reynolds, April 22, 2006 More substantial news is harder to come by.

Was it always like this – that the view from afar was like a postcard from Everest – recognisable but somehow mute? Its there, and can be visited, but most will never go so far and get so close. Those that do, are they/we condemned to rehearse perspectives and conventions that we/they carried with us in our heads like the packs they carried on their backs (the Sherpas carry the packs, the backpackers carry the traps)? Visions of Nepal have long been a matter of contest.

I turn to other versions of Nepal I have seen on screen recently, and I want to concentrate on, in particular, the six part special Himalaya presented on British television last year by Michael Palin, the former Monty Python comic and now respected travel compare (can such a category be deployed?)….. [There follows an extended trashing of Palin’s show Himalaya…. well, an easy target… but its also a chance to further discuss the revolution in Nepal, wonder aloud at just what the Moaists are up to in the hills, and why it still seems strange to see them on my telly…]
(pic by Sarah Kate Watson – the repainting of the Modern Lodge, Kolkata)

I will shop till you drop

Its grey and drizzling in Nagoya but there is no way that the Sakura is going to disappoint. Where is the umeshu? The best thing – many agree, I would guess, after my first visit here in April three years ago – is to drink umeshu while admiring the blossoms, but I prefer Sapporo beer, onegaishimasu.

Anyway, I am giving a talk on monday in Tokyo, and its to be streamed live on the net (no, I do not yet know the url, and anyway it will still be trinketised waffle in Japanese translation).

Before that, a few hours in the trinket paradise of Osu – the covered markets south of Sakai – where the bargain buys are wonderously mad nick nacks and monster Manekinekkos (is that how you pluralise the waving cat?) . Souvenirs, the stock in trade of tourism, the detritus of the world, made ironically relevant by referencing in films (Chris Marker) and exotica bookshops in galleries that, well, ought to know better. Maybe there should be a global repatriation of trinkets? All those cobwebbed attics full of kitsch ought to be seen, or better yet, returned to point of sale so the poor bastards that had to make the junk in some sweatshop someplace could resell the things all over. The craze for the obsolete and the curio is never going to achieve a cash-in that would redistribute the wealth of those that tour to those that are toured, but maybe there is good reason to make it compulsory for folks to angst just a little about who had to make all that shit. When all is said and done, my purchase of a few bits of cloth and the occasional dippy ornament is not as compromised, for mine, as the organised christmas catalogues of gifts paraded by charity outfits like Oxfam and the like.

I guess its easter (which passes unmentioned here thank Elmo), so is today an ok time to trash the dubious moralism that makes it seem legitimate to salve your conscience by buying official oxfam merchandise? I mean, why is it ok to ‘give’ gifts from charity outfits – just because some alt-bureaucrat type somewhere funds a social programme with a tiny portion of the organisation’s operating costs, and we overlook the mass production of the very goods in the catalogues that keep alibi’d consciences in clover (has anyone seen the accounts on this?) . Charity is not a fight for a substantial kind of change now is it? In the absence of a redistribution programme that can win, there seems no reason to prefer charity products over other mass produced gunk – the sort of stuff we amass on that other god-bothering festival day they have in December (to teach kids to love capitalism)? I know, I know, its sweet to give things, but a sweatshop job is still a boring sweatshop no matter how much the god-bothering rebranding turns commercialism into ethical trading. I guess that should be ethNical trading, eh?

Therefore, hypocrital as ever, I am off to the shops (actually, to buy a cowboy belt in one of those great Tex-Mex-Nippon stores, then for Korean b-b-q cos believe it or not I’m fed up with sashimi).

(pic by Miya – great navigator of Edo ‘posts’)

The Pirate Party

Check this out :

The Pirate Party “Because kidnapping and killing people on the high seas is exactly the same as sharing music with your friends!”

Music video contest!

For the Pirate Party, we want to show pirate-themed music videos while we dance. Thus, we are also holding a Pirate Video Remix Contest! The top three video remixes will each receive a snazzy t-shirt–a fine vestment for any pirate.


The remixes/mash-ups should feature at least 10 seconds of recognizeable pirates (the traditional ARRR MATEY sea-going pirates). The entire video doesn’t have to be pirates, but there should be a few clips to remind people that this is in fact a pirate party.
The music needs a beat that people can groove to. Extra points if the music is plunderphonics or otherwise exercises your fair use rights, but the primary requirement is that the music be danceable.
The music video should be placed somewhere online where we can download it, in a format that VLC can play. MP4 or MOV will work fine. is an excellent place to host your video.
The deadline is April 21st, because the party itself is April 22nd and we need time to download the videos.

ta, bri

Everyday Life of Revolutionary Movements

Alpa writes:
Dear All,
If anyone is interested being involved in a panel on ‘The Everyday Life of Revolutionary Movements’ at the forthcoming September meeting of theEuropean Association of Social Anthropologists, please see further details at:

The idea is to explore the contradictions between ideology and livedexperience of revolutionary movements in different parts of the world.Abstracts should be submitted through the above web-site and the deadlineis 1 May.Please don’t hesitate to get in touch for further information.And do pass on to anyone else who you think might be interested.

Best, Alpa
–Dr Alpa Shah,
Department of Anthropology,
Goldsmiths College, University of London
London, SE14 6NW