Kill your darlings no. 9 – more cuts and buts…

[ninth in a series of scrapbook overflow/rejects]

Yet ‘Epistemological performance is how you construct yourself and the world as an object of knowing’ says Spivak at the University of Kwazulu-Natal 8th Annual Teaching and Learning on Higher Education Conference. This was a workshop on her book An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization, (Spivak 2012). The effort of trying to train oneself towards openness to how others perform, and making this a part of a way of reading that also would resist inevitable exoticism and complicity, perhaps requires a more nuanced dialectic to which many are often not adequately sensitive. Admirable that this constructs the world, life, knowledge as equitable domain of differences, or at least the chance to imagine such differences.

 

Paraphrasing: the construction of knowledge as a knowledge industry is a cul-de-sac of meaningless vocationalism, repetition skills and information processing, not wisdom or learning what can be learned…

[and I really regret losing this, but its for another book, with updates after reading a lot of fafffffffffffs]: No less a ‘firing squad’ than the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry soft peddled the war crimes and encouragements to reaction given by bleeding heart prime ministers of dubious reputation. Blair’s questioning by Chilcot was more a pre-election stump speech than investigation or war crimes tribunal – documentation here: http: //www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/ (accessed March 10 2010). With Chilcot not planning to deliver the final report until after the 2015 election, as of June 2015, still no sign of the report, and Blair had been appointed to yet another new post (‘Palestinians baffled by decision to appoint Tony Blair to chair European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation’ Telegraph June 13 2015). Still no sign of the report, mid 2015, but petitions to have Blair up in front of the War Crimes Tribunal widely supported, giving some cheer. When it finally came on 6 July, 2016 – a day before the ten year anniversary of the 7/7 London bombing – the report was buried in an avalanche of volumes, too expensive for popular reading, too thick for journalists to summarise, uninspiring for public commentary, and so buried in plain sight without any action on the calls to charge Blair.

 

[and these movie recommendations:]

This is true if the images are big political movement material, from Maoists fighting the Kuomintang depicted as a fanatic horde in the Barbara Stanwyck vehicle, The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933 dir. Capra) – an impressive film nevertheless for its early interracial romance – through to the ways violent political encounters in Vietnam were framed as humour, with the soldiers singing the Mickey Mouse Club theme song: ‘M.I.C.K.E.Y’ as a dirge in Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987 dir. Kubrick). That same year Robin Williams was making a joke of the ‘Police Action’ in Good Morning Vietnam (1987 dir. Levinson), reprising the compromises of journalism already shown with Mel Gibson dining out in The Year of Living Dangerously (1982 dir. Weir) or of medics portraying the earlier war in Korea as contemporary allegory in M*A*S*H (1970 dir. Altman). There are many examples. If the footage is too real or too harsh, it is relegated, even when screened. Controversy surrounded the allegorical execution of a boy in MIA’s Romain Gavras song video Born Free (2010), but the 2009 atrocity video of Tamils executed by the Sri Lankan military in a UN ‘refugee camp’ was ignored. Despite video ‘evidence’ entered into a public ‘news’ system that is not designed to offer due process under law, the Rodney King video was dissected and anatomised by lawyers to normalise and exonerate the violence of that arrest while Tonight Show TV hosts did jokes. Only where globally connected communities fight for justice denied is there any degree of return.

What has all this to do with the topic? Can’t we just have more about Bollywood and music video, an upbeat tempo, several layers of colour and a massive popular following? Why fill up this book with lamentations about violence and appreciations of the films of Mrinal Sen and Anand Patwardhan? Who are ‘you’ to enter this domain? Let the experts then talk of film and you talk of ‘police actions’ as war someplace else.

I watch the films so that you will too.

 

That this big tent includes some wide stripes, but despite criticisms of the cash-in and anti-Muslim bias, Chadha making Bride and Prejudice and Viceroy’s House is still among those examples that work against the trend Mann identifies of films without serious treatment of issues. Alongside, of course, if not as lucrative, the Kureishi films, and examples like Wild West (1992), East is East (1999) and several others. It is not impossible to agree that, except perhaps in a few rare films, it is difficult to find films that offer ‘serious treatment of diaspora lives or any real engagement with their foreign homelands’ (Mann 2014: 499).

Is it possible to suggest there is more to be done here even if it is hard to disagree with the assessment that ‘NRI films, with their overwhelmingly reductive, stereotypical approach to the West, contribute to Bollywood’s churning out of preppy, feel-good romances, with song and-dance sequences punctuated by little narrative, and filmmakers reduced to entertainers solely’ (Mann 20145: 499). If structure, reverse stereotype, liminal phase and open interpretive quest are considered it becomes clear that many other factors are in the mix. No easy classification should control the interpretive frame, even if there may be co-ordinates mapped, probes and provocations sent out, cartographers and depth psychology, conversationalists and even ethnographers deployed.

 

South Asian film and television studies here then operate a range of perspectives and themes that could, for the purposes of experiment, be placed within the allegorical orbit of multiplicity and at least mark out a relation to a slightly more complicated tracking of historical developments. Without getting into the rights and wrongs of this move, reassessment of themes allows a summary. This would necessarily include the allegorical, as discussed, but perhaps just as powerful is the shift from ‘high nationalism’ to decolonising psychological with studies like those of Nandy (1998: 18). In the return and realisation, if not culmination, of ideology critique enabled by work of Madhava Prasad and those he released, or unleashed, openings like the Journal of the Moving Image at Jadavpur and the consolidation of cultural studies at Bangalore show what has begun. Work in the UK on diasporic film (see Kaur and Sinha 2005, bibliography in Dudrah 2012) also includes new ethnographic studies on venues, distribution, the extension of culture through family, financially driven migration and multiplying technological formats,[1] but thus far this work still awaits any significant institutional commitment and funds.

[1] The early study of cassette culture by Peter Manuel in 1993 should not be forgotten. A trajectory then extending through the arrival of VCR and cassette tapes to the corner cable stall, the rewiring of neighbourhood connectivity and the explosion of satellites and portable screens, the purchase of technology is and its ‘alternate picture of globalisation’ in the pirate economy (Vasudevan 2013: 212, Sundaram 2009) now ends with the Internet bringing both global unity and ‘venomous diatribes’ on YouTube (Manuel 2013: 379).

 

The dynamic of political allegory requires a suture between specificity and the global, and film in diasporic and commercial circulation can provide that. The point is variously expressed.

 

In a different way, but with a parallel structuring, Moinak Biswas suggests that ‘the “person” becomes the last source of morality and ethics in the melodramatic world’. Black and white here infuses ‘ordinary human actions with larger significances’ (Biswas 2000: 128). The conjugal scene in private and intimate lives always also looks forward to the future, and so the family values variety of moral order claims general importance. The other political, outward facing, social critique, of class, of colonialism, oppression and war looks to the market sphere. It is for this reason that film can stitch between the family drama and the terror attack that makes cinema seem real even when not. The specificity of film and its interpolation of viewers has a global commercial imperative that was scaled up from the start: ‘The film industry in India from its very inception was intimately implicated in the nationalist project’ (Gopal and Moorti 2008: 10). Songs and scenes of melodrama convey and construct a sense of anxiety for the spectator-citizen even while delivering emotive pleasures and immersion, or through immersion ‘intimately implicated’ and the circulation of this intimacy ‘was decidedly internationalist in its mode of production and distribution’ (Gopal and Moortu 2008: 11). The mesh between a hybrid cultural ‘masala’ and the increasing imbrication with global commercial flows is the suture that must be reworked, sublated, detourned if Global South Asia would not merely sell conviviality to the world, in spite of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rogue! (2001).

There are by definition no agreed, fixed or stable global co-ordinates that can simply be plotted, mapped and drawn up on a vernacular grid ready for battle. It seems just as valid to be sceptical about concepts and political prescriptions as it is to give opinions on the world historical significance of artworks or films. Is this to elevate a few texts and ignore others because my reading and research list is faulty? I cannot watch every film, though childcare and YouTube facilitate extended viewing. [remember, I am cutting these sentences from the book because I think its rubbish. note to self, do not be tempted to put this back] Ostentatious excitation of the bibliography/filmography notwithstanding, would such a completion guarantee the power of the analysis?

 

‘Little attempt is made to unpick the problematic manner in which diaspora itself is often deliberately constructed as more open to the potentials of “performative” identity and hybridity than anywhere “back home”‘ (Banaji 2006: 31).

 

Ana Mendes takes up the Merchant Ivory films in a discussion of Rushdie and the film Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001 dir. Gowariker) to discuss the visual and exoticist nostalgia trope in films about the Raj, still potently representative of ideological positionings even when recognised as myth, reworked and reimagined for a diverse audience and yet still effectively romantic, hierarchical, and largely blind to economic injustice both during the Raj era and today. ‘Visual splendour’ in Merchant Ivory or in Lagaan evokes that fantasy Raj even in its ostensible critique, and Mendes contrasts the exoticism or self-exoticism of such films to the rejection of Raj revivalism that in part motivated My Beautiful Laundrette (Mendes 2007: 72).

 

The convergence of capital’s industrial production in cinema and new media and the docile bodies that consume and comment in the walled chat-rooms while cultural studies overestimates the resistive potential of media use and the susceptibility of the market to the enclosure of administration will perhaps not be undone. Festivals are a favourite of government officials wanting to provide economical panacea for the masses without risk of mobilisations less readily corralled – the festival as a fortress, and as commercial boosterism. The officially sponsored festival of the Global South as the last desperate attempt to distract from an empty administration of capital by hypocrites with weapons contracts. But since no amount of staged frivolity by nominated but beleaguered ‘community leaders’ can disguise from the community the violence inflicted upon that community, the life-support mechanism of civic bureaucracy flounders when people get together to talk about something other than sport. The alternative mobilisation rips these documents of barbaric proportion to shreds and scatters the enemies of the people to the four corners of the planetary Global South, zindabad!

 

Insisting on the more open connectivities can still, maybe, potentially, offer more than complicity with the market.

Advertisements