An approach that experiments with a frame shift towards a political and allegorical register cannot keep up with that level of work, even as it relies wholly upon so much of it and tries to offer a related but limited meditation on a contingent perspective.
The slogan that sits behind both the success of diaspora and Bollywood film and the rise of Hindutva is a more radical political position – we are here because you were there – is not unrelated to the counter-reaction. The terror war that would be exoticism in one format – lyrical tunes, the films of Satyajit Ray – is in another time and place terror.
In his appreciation of the work of Stuart Hall, Madhava Prasad makes a powerful critical observation of ‘the indigenous dominant subject who wants to suppress the voices of the marginalised in order to maintain a semblance of unity and hold on to their own leadership position in the eyes of the world’ (Madhava Prasad 2014c: 193). Following Hall, Madhava Prasad agrees subjective working out or one’s position, and its contradictions, need not imply a resistance to theory, to not succumb only to autobiographic confessional seems a highly apposite critique given the traps that lie in wait for the postcolonial academic slowly detached from political movement of what is Left of the Nation. It is the residue of the theoretical in the residue of the struggle that can still be discerned in media studies, perhaps, and perhaps only there – the nation and the left having self-imploded beyond even confessional. The optimism of Madhava Prasad’s closing words can be reread as programmatic: ‘For the process of emergence to be successful, it must be simultaneously a transformation of the world into which we emerge’ (Madhava Prasad 2014c: 193).
This version of media theory emerged surrounded by, sometimes in contest with, historical, political science, sociology and anthropological scholarship offering sophisticated critical versions of the old semi-feudal, semi-colonial language of struggle. Indeed, SARAI grew into the space vacated by the activist neo-Gandhian wing of political science represented by Kothari, Nandy and Visvanathan. These latter thinkers were already deeply invested in South–South work, and Nandy had served on election commissions in neighbouring states, a not so secret politics. Can the suggestion of a model of global media studies that transcends the divisions and demarcations of regionalism and niche market sectarianism still account for diversity without normativity or the reduction of unity to mere comparativism?
The demonisation of Islam is also at base another example of a long term effort of capital to discipline any form of organised labour (see Du Bois 1998: 186). Capital in its crisis mode seeks scapegoats and by extension disciplines all those who would be potential scapegoats. Replace the word migrant with people and recognise that the discussion here can be talking about you, me, them, and all of us that move against fear – to see this migration is to see the demographic that induces fear – if all those who were on the move also formed a movement, something would be happening that would make the American Civil War and the French Revolution look like prayer meetings.
Empire did not fold, it morphed into arms sales and chaos diplomacy under cover of Merchant Irony nostalgia films.
If the desire to provide answers and a tool box or useful kit of what to do next is set aside for a minute as a dubious self-aggrandising cul de sac, might it be plausible to look back and try to make sense of why betrayal, loss and repetition seems to follow in repeat cycle. Might it be possible then to look at interventions made now, in alienated, individual, however distorted form, as the squeezed remnants of a sentiment that has been washed through global media, prejudicial representational profiling, demonisation, ideology and propaganda, etc., but still ask where and into what that immense energy dissipates? For sure, much energy is lost in the brutal squander of labour migration, with reserves of futility and despair no doubt, and moments of resistance and refusal of the State’s effort to channel that migration into appropriate reserves, but some of it also gets tracked in strange versions of media theory, pirate modernities, wanna-be alternatives, albeit atomised, and isolated – and institutionally co-opted, formations of radical thought not quite able to rethink the global in terms adequate to the modes of subsumption/restructuring that they necessarily tail. Murdoch Star, Soros Open Society, Google Don’t Be Evil, are out and out the neoliberal versions, but what then of people like Madhava Prasad and his subsumption theory of Bollywood, Ashish Rajadhyaksha and the extension of Bollywoodisation to the labours and commodities surrounding film marketing globally, Ravi Sundaram and others on pirate networks delivering cut-rate DIY cable connections etc… Potential here may be nothing, but it does seem plausible to at least try to see how these sorts of things can be said only because there was a Global South politics – tricontinental, non-aligned, pan-African, Comintern – once upon a time, which is now still operative but too often shorn both of its politics and its collective character.
Yet it might be the case that we need to adapt Ravi Vasudevan’s astute question about the ‘too rapid re-anchoring of the new technical fluidity of the cinema signifier in the politics and sociology of contemporary India’ (Vasudevan 2000: 22). If this same socio-reading were merely scaled up to the fragmented global that is diaspora, and its appearance in negative form in geo-political exoticist-terror full ideological spectrum, might this also be too fast a solution? Should every geo-political conflict be coded tradition versus modernity, or the star persona everyman (Bachchan) versus the villainous thug/naxalite insurgent?
This work in its progressive avatar might update the third cinema, transcend world cinema and extend the global Internet with tricontinental connectivities beyond imagination.
It could be that Global South Asian film and television is read as a lament for what might have been if the ‘third cinema’ had been more generalised. Not even a regional cinema, but a multifaceted and informed ecology of media critiques. Perhaps such a formation still exists despite the manifest surface occupation of the spaces of cinema by corporate and financial concerns. Dominated by a star system, entertainment press and multiplex/satellite distributor interests, there is nevertheless the requirement to speak to audiences not yet wholly lost.
If ‘third cinema’ theory arose ‘in response to world-wide liberation struggles and decolonization movements’ (Guneratne 2003: 3) then what is the shape of cinema’s response to ‘reconstruction, in Du Bois’ sense, or as a globalisation-driven assault upon the cultures of anti-colonialism? If the ‘tricontinental call to arms against social injustice and post-imperial exploitation’ (Guneratne 2003: 4) was distilled through the inspiration of reading Ho Chi Minh, Franz Fanon, Che Guevara and Amilcar Cabral, then also the films of Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen and even Satyajit Ray lent materiality of the image to sentiment.
The media work that inspired reconfigurations of the objects of media studies in the recent period, its overflow into the political, did not grow organically out of media studies so much as the politics of earlier mobilisations imported, albeit in disguised ways, while the process of digitalisation and indeed atomisation was already underway. I want to ague that the energies of an older collective politics was hard-wired into those who then developed the new media studies, even when they most disavowed the collective project, even as that collective project was actively undermined by digitalisation. Perhaps even when that project was being dismantled by those who inherited the places it had carved, there was still the inverted potential of a revival always already there, operating as a target and a distraction, a self-delusion and justification, deceptive and promising all the same.
South Asian film theorists are doing work in continuity with, but in atomised form, the older Bandung, non-aligned, Comintern moments. This atomisation of struggles matches the ways trendy theory has mutated into celebrity, in say Hardt and Negri or media activists on Facebook etc., where the politics is direct address to power, not organising alongside and in solidarity. In Hardt and Negri recuperation by capital via the publishing industry is too easy, but the new South Asian media theory does not necessarily get picked up so much, so I want to both critique how it plays into demonisation and celebrate its last gasp residues of a greater potential. This potential is the importance of popular culture forms adopting and borrowing a myriad of styles – and able even to ‘tame the exotic’ (Monty 2010: 123). Offering a powerful allegory for cosmopolitanism even as it must always be remembered that borrowing and exchange has its hierarchies and power brokers all the way down.
Sometimes cultural representation goes off on its own and makes more mileage and covers more territory through technology than the efforts of contestation for space could ever achieve. Zee TV for example caters across Europe for South Asian diasporic expressive culture in ways that could not find, or have not yet found, mainstream visibility (Dudrah 2010: 164). Perhaps the visibility is achieved through exactly the horizontal broadcast that Zee provides, unable to compete for space with national broadcasters forces a transnational and becoming dominant pan-European Asian television. China TV and NHK are somewhat far behind in this respect, and NDTV and web-based services do not yet viably compete. How would we start to valuate the implications of Zee-sharing on a greater South Asia, or, very plausible if we consider the reach of K-pop into Japan and other places, the softening of particular cultural traits for a kind of regional or trans-continental palatability. Contrast Amitabh Bachchan or Nargis with Shah Rukh Khan or Ashwariya Rai, and you can begin to see how maybe some of the desi dust as been airbrushed away with today’s global stars.
None of this can presume to save the world as it is, though just to learn how to notice what is going on and what is good and bad about it would be a step forward. Simply put, see that demonisation of Muslims is not good, demonisation of migrants is not good, realising that migrant settlers are welcome and a boon, while nationalist xenophobia cannot reproduce a living caring world, is step one.
Is it any surprise that this would seem threatening to the hierarchical and static home nations and the elites who prefer no change, or at best incremental reform? Demonisation of migration and migrant community care – ‘they are living 15 to a room and sending money home/bringing their families’ – is the all too easy stagnant ideological nationalism that leaves us all the worse off. Breaking with xenophobia and adopting the migrant settler community model of social reproduction for all may be worth reconsidering. How would it look to support this? Would an influx of a certain film and television tradition be a battleground for such a contest? Not just Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge…
Was it movement that kick starts social transformation, and if so, what are the movements today, good and bad, public and covert, difficult or popular, and how does this change over time and focus in regions and globe? If it were possible to freely paraphrase a distilled version of Spivak’s language and keep it beside us as a toolbox for unpacking any media course or any political group, there might be a chance. A chance to ask the question that opens up eyes to what goes on with these screens. To ask: what if South Asia not Western Europe had done so well with the tools of trade and knowledge? Well, the weapons too, but the possibility of being the ones who ask for interpolation of others – who come by ship and demand, whether trader, anthropologist or film distributor: ‘hey you’ – need not be fixed forever more in a one-way model. Diaspora and post-national regionalism becoming a plurality of globalisms with a drive towards a multiply inclusive diversity and concern to not leave any member behind, leaving no-one to flounder in a new space, to settle everywhere as a community, this migration is can will be a transformation of the world.