Despite the geopolitical machinations of superpowers and regional interests, there has been through the crises of imperialism, WW2 and the independence period, a parallel progressive leftist culture reproduced through creative labour. Why would the current period be any different? Of course the corresponding possibility of solidarity coming from the West is beleaguered because already from the 1920s that solidarity was not from the West but in reaction to, and sustained by, anti-colonial struggles elsewhere – Russia, India, China, Vietnam, Angola etc. The crisis-ridden left movements of the North cannot take up solidarity in a directing role, nor even participate progressively in any way until the old mole is woken up, austerity is refused and the abundant institutions full of still not wholly privatised universities for critical thinking are given root and branch self-criticism.
Consider how the 1960s counter-culture was annexed and separated into units that could be variously controlled and managed is the story of our era, already long ago anticipated by Adorno. Many recent examples can be invoked, but if we began in the 1960s, we can look at how Black Power morphed into disco and global hip-hop under the scourge of CIA-led inner urban drug swamping and CONTELPRO political assassination. The flower-power hippies became computer geeks and SDS and the YIPPIES such as Abbie Hoffman and Gerry Rubin were left without any mass base – Hoffman drifted into covert flight, Rubin to the stock market. Feminism became identitarian careerism and international solidarity became exoticist revolutionary tourism. Queer militancy became pink pound shopping and Mardi Gras, if not primarily invested more in royal patronage and marriage equality than political mobilisation. Anti-racist multiculturalism more quickly than most other mobilisations was turned from economic redress after systematic bias into targeted small grants for ethnic arts festivals and annual religious or national dress commemorations. Most important, each of the counter-movements were separated and any alliance among them – Black Power + Hippies + Feminists + Queer + anti-racism, anti-imperialism – was too easily broken by money drugs and cultural identity.
Terms like Bollywood or Postcolonial may not be better or worse than others, however ‘pragmatic’ (Sundaram 2013: 137), with no intrinsic coherence except they insofar as they are useful markers along the way. If definition means replicating another of the paradoxes of the scholarly penchant for classification
The moral-legal framework of the nation and its orders, connections to tradition, patriarchy, transnational diplomacy, and conflict, becomes the object of analysis with film and television the never transparent but nonetheless unavoidable forum for its working out. Policy and corruption, statesmanship, scandal and progress are each thoroughly newsworthy as mediatised. In the end, everything is contained or coded through the screen, but in an inexorable variety that exceeds even population numbers – as many interpretations as critics, as many critics as viewers.
That these groupings used involvement in cinema as a vehicle for interventions into the public sphere is possibly true of all contexts for film. And so, an academic industry of course follows in the wake of screen media, like some sort of camp hanger-on modelled by Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage who sells her children into prostitution and slavery, running after the marching army of the 30 Years War (Brecht 1939/1980). All academic studies are in danger of becoming a similar sort of campaign support and the logistical supply troop for a comprehensive cultural takeover in the interest of some social groupings over others – media courses, conferences and journals with critique, scholarship even, when this suits the operatives of commercial advance and technological aggression. No longer a diminutive fuzzy furniture item in the corner of the room – if it ever was, always trying to take over like it did, with aspirations to be the centre of attention – television is now ubiquitous, as a mobile in your pocket, an iPad platform, an airplane seat, taxi cab, station concourse, large public screen, festival feature, cricket stadium scoreboard, plasma proliferation (McQuire 2008). Reassessment of the volatile political place of screens means that the referent of television, and the complicity of television studies as market support, is always overdue. The whole world is flicker and pixels, coming to get you, already invaded intimately (Nandy 1983) and won.
(Brecht, Bertolt 1939/1980 Mother Courage and her Children, London: Methuen.)
The illusion that the political somehow escapes television was always merely televised, and the economy seems now to perform for multiple media platforms, while socio-cultural change runs interference for a technological escalation that only sells us more [forms of] television. It does not matter that we are all always on screen and under scrutiny check in the garrison society. Or rather, it matters only insofar as the global economy is performed as TV, designed, like war, with all of us as screens. A co-constitution of camera and capital, such that the fiction of a single point of view – the camera, or the screen you are looking at now, even when it cuts from angle to angle – is the portal of a total commodification, which – with malevolent triangulation – condenses the multiple social input of a vast productive geo-political apparatus into the disguised and singular presenter speaking directly to you, telling you your news, encouraging you to laugh or cry and living your life right there, before your eyes, everywhere.
Sure, the uptake of cinema programming in healthy cross-fertilisation was one of the provocative bonuses for diasporic film – though this can never be endorsed without question as formulaic Bride and Prejudicial high finance dominate the scene. Now we see the ambiguity of so-called hybrid forms in disjunctive mode not only in the curiosities of Zee and NDTV pan-commercialism, but also the idiosyncrasies of flip channel goddery and the ready access of a global identification, for example of Shilpa Shetty and Jade Goody as superstars, or of Osama bin Laden and Barack Hussein Obama. Note already the couplet TV news stars are geo-political, and the alienation effect that such staged pairings should have still does not mean we understand that things are merely theatrical: this is not a Brechtian entfremdungseffekt.
The nationalist televisual project become global also fosters an orientalist TV which prevails in an Asia beyond Asia, where Global South Asia itself is vicariously and phantasmagorically screened – Michael Palin on tour in chapter two of this book. Indeed, it is the haphazard synchronisation of national and geopolitical that has most quickly expanded with the proliferation of screen culture large and small – culture televised, and no longer under pundit control.
If the cinema was festive, the news was stark, but both are dream media in a politics of interpretation: too often taken as media without mediation or meditation. Wanting to be Global but not universal, comprehensive without having to chase down every regional detail, inclusive but not exclusive – the political in the cultural is theoretical and conceptual when specificity is less urgent.
It is a cliché that there are two sides to every story, and yet. The other side of this story is that unpacking prejudice and exoticism makes possible an analysis that includes us all. To think of one place as uninfluenced by, and not influential upon certain other places just does not fit the facts. The politics of heritage and identity, diaspora and origins, of specificity and similarity, and conjuncture and formula means this book explores and evaluates a variegated and contingent political terminology for framing reconfigurations of power, and these reconfigurations are …
The analyses of just a few years back seemed to signal changes that are now even more epochal. Rajagopal had set this out clearly in 2009:
‘the media re-shape the context in which politics is conceived, enacted, and understood. Hindu nationalism represented an attempt to fashion a Hindu public within the nexus of market reforms and the expansion of communications, rather than religious reaction as such. Focusing on the moment of its emergence clarifies the historical conditions for the transition to a new visual regime, as it were, and at the same time shows the extent to which this emergence cannot be explained with reference to purely material circumstances’ (Rajagopal 2009:1).
This analysis has been not so much superseded as established, confirmed and extended by the narrowing of the global and the ubiquity of media technological fashioning. The gap between the screen and the remote contracts.
Reporting to that academy is not what this book is about. New methods surpass the old disciplinary rigidities to now take on an interdisciplinarity that is never just a please-everyone generalism and brand celebrity star-vehicle, even where regional genre and area studies have cini-star systems, grant approvals, book deals and a prestige prize.
Misrepresentations are not just that – the concepts of reification and recuperation can help us here. Against the national, diaspora or even South Asia, Global South is not a place or a constituency, but a perspective on the whole that has affinities with counter-culture solidarities, Black Power, international Marxist feminism, and internationalist anti-imperialism. The interests of the globe are at stake and the lessons to learn today are in a South Asian idiom. Even so, identity and regionalism in South Asia has too often been diminutive. Tamils, Bengalis, both transnational but neither, in political terms, bigger than the formal nation states to which they belong. Another possible regional perspective exists historically, a ‘subcontinental’ perspective that reaches beyond merely Himalayas to Lanka.
Whatever is said about media representation seems caught up in media representation, is it even possible to describe in absentia the prospect of learning something new, of developing further an allegiance to those parts of the planet, the majority, in which the protocols of Hollywood and Networks do not prevail? Is it still a quixotic gesture to insist upon another way of telling?
The challenge to found another third cinema movement on a grander cross-platform scale is not as great as sustaining the work that ventures towards such initiative. Other than media studies, the work ventured here is important for social theory, politics, geography, cultural studies, interdisciplinarity, but most importantly, the possibility of not succumbing to the one-flat-globe dominance of a mainstream.