Marx in Algiers again

Of haircuts and Rhino coats…

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This is the worked up text of a talk I gave in Chandernagore in February 2016. The photo is one I’ve failed to trace from the dates and evidence in the letters (see below) of the visit to the barber – if anyone is good at that sort of tracking, please let me know, the photographer of the first one is E. Dutertre, and the second, if authentic, probably the same.

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Click here to read the draft chapter

 

 

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Orientalism for kids – again

Orientalism for kids – again

Am gearing up for another round of kiddy tv and hoping there are new programmes since the mind worms of Iggle Piggle and Peppa Pig did their damage. This time Theodor and I are reviewing the options for Annabel’s rapidly arriving toddler indoctrination sessions. First exhibit on review is Nicklodious’s ‘Shimmer and Shine’.

Flying carpets, shalwar kameez, wayang kulit shadow puppets, princesses and dragons (with bad breath). The two genies have 3 wishes an episode to bestow, of course wishes go astray, are wasted frivolously, but a lesson is learned. Nothing new then, and some pretty standard 1001 nights fare, along with a geography-hopping sampling of almost any magical tradition anywhere. Ok, not so worried about that, but there is a dad who eats popcorn – very suspicious. He may work in films. Big eyed anime influence, suburban values and cinema in-jokes. Does the obvious fun they had making this mean the stereotypes are somehow undone? Nope, but a popcorn munching genie is better than that 60s comedy dream of Barbara Eden.

Oh damn, there’s a prince in it, daft boy in specs – and now sitar fusion cartoon songs. I preferred the Beatles cartoon trip to India bit posted on my film course blog.
This is what we do on Sunday mornings…

Karen Tam’s Curio Shop

here is a manifestation of Trinketization and exoticism, herewith endorsed – go visit!

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Terra dos Chinês Curio Shop

by Karen Tam (click on image for Facebook link)

 

July 9-August 22, 2015
Artspace (Peterborough, ON)
For my exhibition at Artspace, I am producing a large-scale installation entitled Terra dos Chinês Curio Shop to see how these objects may relate to contemporary everyday life and the politics involved with their display. Viewers enter a space that appears to be real but is a façade of “DIY chinoiserie,” styled after Chinatown curio shops circa 1930s. This hopefully will highlight the encounters that occur between specific locales and East Asian-influenced material culture and refer not only to mass production of pirated consumer goods in China but also to the questions that are always present where artistic production is concerned. The Chinatown curio shop as well as other similar sites function as both self-representational through the use of material culture to display and play off expectations of ‘tourists’ and visitors to a place of ‘exoticness’ and ‘foreigness’ that has been domesticated by the shop-owners, and the exploitation and commercialization of such display and curiosity. The objects within such spaces form a sort of collection and archive, and act as traces of a timeline of changing attitudes. While considered as everyday items for the Chinese family who would have run the curio shop, they would have been seen as novelties by ‘tourists’. This project also reflects and comments on the historical trade routes between China (the ‘Far East’) and Europe and North America (the ‘West’), chinoiserie and the production of objects for the Western taste and market, and the current shanzhai or copycat culture in China, the world’s manufacturer and is itself the largest consumer and producer of fakes.

Big Fight, punchy new book to come… #India #Media #Film #SouthAsia (if I can get the final edits done this weekend).


Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 22.47.58“TV is now increasingly entertainment. News is entertainment. You have to create some element of entertainment … people shouting at each other … or some kind of conflict. It is not always about information. I am not saying in the Big Fight you don’t try to inform but if the entertainment element was not there the programme would probably not have survived. You have to package it … First Punch, Second Punch … Otherwise who will see? There has to be some heat” (Sardesai interviewed in Mehta 2008:255)

(these pictures are not directly linked to the quote, which is about NDTV 24X7 news coverage as part of the new book < but there is indeed discussion of the film also>)

<Mary Kom was the winner of the 2008 World Boxing Championship>

Notes to self – South Asian film and TV from here, where, now.

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 13.25.49Writing far from the UK, thinking about South Asian film and diaspora from another corner of Asia, and given trends and movements, the angular influences of culture are thrown into sharp relief. How we figure patters of production and consumption of popular culture is never simple. Even influences are not readily tracked when they are apparent: the old reception models, and the dissemination models that proffered a uni-directional distributive formula from an advanced centre, are faulty. The ‘americanization of popular culture in Asia’, as critiqued by Allen Chun when he stresses the importance of how we ‘perceive the concatenated entity called pop music culture in a local context’ (Chun 2012:503), should remind us that received models are hardly adequate for mapping patterns of practice and use. Hollywood does not shape Bollywood, and French New Wave did not shape Bengali new wave – Mrinal Sen et al – despite it being the case that the connectivity here is obvious to media historians, if not always to all viewers. What does it matter if so-called scholarship makes connections that publics – there are always more than one – might not? We are in a plural universe and there are plural Asias, travelling in several directions at once. At least.

For example, cosmopolitan and transnationalising nomad that I am (ahem, I wish) I am at present absent-mindedly watching what I assume to be the show ‘Japan Idol’ on an overhead TV in a Korean bbq joint. I may be wrong, I am in Japan, but given the restaurant, this could also be ‘Korean Idol’; how to tell without tuning in more carefully? I dismiss the effort, and let this just be, this time, background, even though the sound is awful, cranked out through not very state of the art loudspeakers, although it is not overbearing. I am simultaneously concerned with my meal, typing up notes from reading, and avoiding looking at Facebook. What concerns me most is the preparation I should really be doing, but I am also only attending to it with part of my admittedly lazy brain. I’ve a language lesson and should be better prepared for a test coming up in an hour. Japan/Korean Idol as revision session perhaps? It might be ‘Supergirl’, from China (see Jian and Liu 2009), so I already know that is not really going to help, even though I seem to be able to process popular culture and its moves more than I can the declensions of nouns or the – nightmare – pictographs of Kanji.

My students walk into class with iPhone buds in their ears. They also listen to ‘Japan Idol’, and more or less tolerate my insistence on subjecting them to music from old Indian cinema, or diasporic British South Asian sounds, and commentaries. The point of reference at first, to get them interested, was The Beatles, but they also show me the influence of other traditions and ideas that lead them to an interest in India and this course, and I realise that the direction and question of influence is never straightforward. Despite being able to point to ‘the discursive construction of an “East Asian Popular Culture” as an object of analysis (Chua 2006:200) the criss-crossing of national borders extends and extends. Of course this is true for film, music, television drama, comic books, magazines, websites and fashion magazines. In Japan the visibility of Bollywood, and more, of Bengali Art film, is less than some, but this term rather more than nothing. What they will make of it as they collect points and units for their degree awards is really not clear – the hope that the famous obsessive fandom of Japanese youth can be accessed to promote learning is of course not far away. I have something of that tendency for sure.

Also for the films of Ichikawa Kon, even though my students expected me only to know Kurusawa and maybe Ozu. I am able to introduce them to a great – lost? – figure from their own film culture. But it is Akira Kurusawa who was the better known in Bengal, and who is famously paired with Satyajit Ray as the twin stars of World Cinema from tis part of the world. Ichikawa Kon and Mrinal Sen are perhaps the two antithetical alternatives to that mainstream crown. Kon’s films are sometimes profound, sometimes comic, sometimes political, and while I will not belabour this analogy, and the depth of attachment of the Bengali public to Sen is possibly greater than the Japanese appreciation of their own Kon, I certainly class them together. That other book awaits another time however, even as I note also the potential to write such a comparison through the crucial importance of their wives as partner-actresses and muse-like support. No, that book must wait, my language class first. And in Bengal, Mrinal Sen himself is hopefully still to make another film, even though he is pushing towards his mid-90s as I write.

A consideration of unpublished – no, even unwritten – comparative tracts within Asia must immediately take into account the framing that such conversations might have in the wake of the emergence of two new economic ‘superpowers’ in the twenty-first century, China and India – which would have perhaps more significance in terms of encounter than that between east an west (Chakraborty 2012:138). I realise the word encounter has a particular history in at least one context here, but I don’t doubt the possibility of separating the brutality of one kind of encounter, with the police, and that more cosmopolitan and engagingly transnational encounter that might add to our cultural repertoire and sensitivities in the coming era. Here the importance of popular culture forms to adopt and borrow a myriad of styles – and even to ‘tame the exotic’ (Monty 2010:123) – offers 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. Remembering the argument made with Virinder Kalra that the visibility of cultural borrowing is just a first step of recognition, and that it matters what happens next (Kalra and Huntyk 2002), the simplistic celebration of hybridity as political vocation is also to be used with caution (see Kalra, Kaur and Hutnyk 2006).

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 Shahrukh 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.

[The picture is a still from Mela (1948) starring Dilip Kumar and Nargis, with music by Naushaud – and yes, I am aware its not diasporic film, but, its a pretty good film, with great songs, and I am writing about this also, for real]