Thursday, 22 December 2011

Ethnic Diversity on Australian Television

When I wrote my piece on memory, migration and MasterChef for Issue Seven of Kill Your Darlings, I mentioned that Poh Ling-Yeow (Adelaide-based visual artist and cook of Malaysian-Chinese origin) had become a role model of sorts. Not only was she the runners-up in the first series of Channel Ten’s MasterChef, but subsequent series have continue to feature “ethnic” contestants. Still, I feel none of the later participants complicated the non-White representation discourse on mainstream, commercial television in the same giggling yet dead-serious manner as Poh.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Off the Beaten Track

It recently dawned on me that my living room bookshelf houses nearly everything ever written by Salman Rushdie, Alain de Botton, bell hooks and Gail Jones. What an assorted collection of nationalities (British-Indian/Pakistani, Swiss, African-American, and Australian, respectively), genres (magic realism, new-age philosophy, cultural theory, and poetic fiction), and personalities (I won't try and pin that down). Does this say anything about me? Other than I like reading postcolonial fiction, feminist tomes, philosophical essays and lyrical prose? Perhaps it is also a marker of the different stages of growth I have been through in the last decade or so. The story it is telling is one that I have written and imbibed, but one that is also accessible to those who visit my place. It is likely that each one of these visitors picks up a different version of the bookshelf story, yet it is a rare insight into my inner world for someone new in my life. For that reason alone, I am loathe to remove or add a volume for the sake of conjuring up a certain impression.

What does your bookshelf say about you?

Mine, along with my eclectic collection of necklaces (yes, jewellery on a "serious" blog) from around the world is likely to be a legacy for my kids in case I happen to have them or adopt them. That is one hell of an inheritance off the beaten track. 

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

India - assertively and repressively itself

I've just come back from an attempted visit to my sister's college in Bangalore which I shall not name here. Despite being fully clothed, I was stopped by the guard because of my three-quarter pants (the girls have to wear full-length bottoms with a long shirt, and the boys professional attire as part of the institutional dress code). As I disappointedly turned away, I marvelled at the young ones' displays of confident sensuality, even sexuality in their ostensibly conservative clothes.

This seems to parallel India's unique strain of traditional modernity that I am seeing unfold on my current trip more than ever before. The medium I have chosen to investigate this phenomenon, namely, television, is both reflective of, and an aggressive participant in the building of an urban middle class that simultaneously worships at the altars of consumerist aspiration and primordial identification. Needless to say, Anna Hazare's much-publicised anti-corruption campaign has captured this class precisely because it appeals to both of the above sentiments. Even though the news networks suggest this is a homogeneous group of people, confessional yet strangely puritanical about the systemic corruption in their lives, a closer look at the streets, malls and airports tells a more nuanced story. Yes, I think there is more agency behind that struggling facade than we are willing to admit. 

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Twice the Burden (of Representation)

I am trying to make scholarly sense of the coverage of the Indian student attacks (and the "hysterical" reaction to the same in the Indian media) in Australia's Fairfax publications. As I write, the "riots" unfolding in several cities in the UK are increasingly being touted as symptomatic of deep class and racial divides. While playing a blame-game is simplistic in both cases, there appears to be little doubt that ethnic minorities in the west, especially those without access to higher education and leafy suburbs, are also deprived of realistic media representations.

Kobena Mercer has written extensively on the "burden of representation", especially in relation to Black art. Can any individual creative practitioner or media worker do justice to this obligation to represent his/her ethnic community in a credible light? More importantly, should this burden be imposed in the first place?

Simon Cottle refers to Mercer's work in his analysis of British television, and takes it a step further by suggesting that there might be double the burden of representation for producers from ethnic minorities. Not only is there an implicit pressure from their own community to render it in a positive light, but also great resistance from white commissioning editors if they wish to create a text without a single Black character.

In my own writing, I find myself criticising the sense of alarm created by the Indian media even as I attribute its "sensational" reporting to the logic of a competitive media market and a resurgent urban middle class. At the same time, I can't help but detect orientalist undertones in some editorials and opinion pieces in the Australian media even as I put it down to a lack of cultural astuteness rather than outright racism. Perhaps this double-sided burden of representation, however loaded it may feel in the present, is the beginning of a paradigm for cross-cultural communication in a world with multiple centres and peripheries. 

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Wearing Ethnicity, Performing Gender

One of my favourite feminist design blogs is shutting shop. Not only will I miss their sartorial inspiration, but also their very useful attempts to theorise fashion and identity performance for women (and men) who are academically inclined and also between worlds. Here's one of my favourite posts, which I shall certainly keep in mind for my upcoming work/family trip to India:
Academichic: Insider/Outsider

Friday, 17 June 2011

Deepa Mehta and Salman Rushdie

Just posting this YouTube video of Deepa Mehta's lecture at Emory University on her upcoming film adaptation of Salman Rushdie's Midnight Children. This apparently took place only a month after I submitted my doctoral thesis on Mehta's "elements" trilogy. I was pretty certain I didn't want to write another word on the matter, but this talk makes me want to write DM's biography!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Female Reporters, Hollywood and Bollywood Style

Last weekend, by sheer chance, I ended up hiring Roger Michell's latest romantic comedy, Morning Glory, which turned out be based on morning television in the USA. With a stellar cast including Rachel McAdams, Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford, the film doesn't do anything entirely surprising within the rom-com genre, but I was interested to note that at least some of its sub-texts engaged with wider social issues. These include the news versus infotainment debate, the female anchor and producer championing the cause of soft news, and the old-guard male journalist who only believes in serious stories. This is not unlike the increasing tabloidisation of television in contemporary India, even though there is a plethora of women in the Indian print and electronic media doing the hard news rounds. Yet the problem seems to be that when represented in films such as Page 3, the female reporter is not merely feminised, but also infantilised.

Academics like Brian McNair and Matthew Ehrlich have written extensively on the how Hollywood renders journalist and the profession of journalism on film. In terms of female reporters in the west, there has been a shift from the "sob sister" of yesteryears to the modern supergirl journalist who struts her stuff on the most difficult of beats (although these stories are more likely to be maternal or fashion-centred than those assigned to their male counterparts). There is yet to be an extensive study on whether there has been a corresponding trend in Bollywood. If my anecdotal knowledge of the industry is anything to go by, recent films such as Peepli Live and No One Killed Jessica show us more empowered versions of the Indian female journalist. Their journalistic practices may not be perfectly ethical, and they may still be puppets of an increasingly corporate media ecology, but they are neither submissive nor chaste. Is the particular genre of Bollywood that is generating such filmic renditions of career women possibly ahead of Hollywood in some respects?

Monday, 11 April 2011

Citizen's Movements or Social Networking Hype?

It is with a mixture of buoyancy and trepidation that I read the news and opinion pieces about the Anna Hazare-led "citizen's movement" in the Indian online press. I should add here that being in the diaspora and without the constant humming of the 24/7 Indian news channels, it was my friends' Facebook and Twitter updates that first broke the news to me. And it seemed that a whole swathe of previously politically apathetic citizens, possibly feeling symbolically uplifted in the wake of India's Cricket World Cup win, were taking to the movement in full gusto. I am not trying to question what might be perfectly legitimate intentions here, but wondering if it was merely a case of a social networking viral cause that would be un-cool to stay out of?

The fast unto death has been called off, and Hazare duly thanked both the media and the nation's youth for their unprecedented and valiant support. The government's decision to undertake the demanded changes to the Jan Lokpal Bill undoubtedly bodes well for the cause of fighting corruption, yet this fight, unlike a cricket match, does not have a neat beginning, middle and end. Moreover, we can never be sure that the media will not move on to a better story, with more graphic images and more potential for revenue-generating SMSs once the centre of this storm has passed. The urban youth of India may still be rallying, in true Rang De Basanti fashion, but I wonder if their rural counterparts can relate or empathise. Let's hope citizen's movements are both long-lived and more inclusive.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Televisual Memories

I am starting to think about my postdoctoral project, part of an international study of post-broadcast television. My end looks at the development of broadcast, and then satellite TV in India. This is undoubtedly a huge field (especially given the sheer number of channels hovering over South Asian skies), hence I will most likely focus on three news and current affairs channels in English. I may branch out to the Hindu networks depending on the scope and outcomes of the project.

Reading the introduction to Shanti Kumar and Lisa Park's edited collection titled 'Planet TV', I began to wonder about my own televisual memories and journeys. I distinctly recall watching my first Bollywood film in a proper cinema hall at the age of seven, but my memory is far more ambivalent when it comes to television in my early years. There were the videotapes of Mogli in 'Jungle Book' that marked after-school afternoons, the vaguely opulent costumes of the Hindu epics on Sunday mornings, the 'Chitrahaar' that the domestic help regularly watched on Wednesday evenings, and also a lot of black-and-white visuals of everything from foreign film exports to beauty contests late into the night.

My televisual memories become more vivid in the post-1992 era when the satellite dish on our rooftop stood for a marked shift in terms of technology, content and the overall social fabric. There were game shows like 'Snakes and Ladders' as well as soap operas with independent female characters on ZEE TV; a slew of  American shows such as 'I Dream of Jeannie', 'Bewitched' and 'Different Strokes' on Sony Entertainment Television; and sitcoms like 'Friends' whose popularity was emblematic of an Indian urban youth culture that increasingly embraced western modernity. As for the news and current affairs media, this too emerged from the shadows on state-controlled Doordarshan to welcome greater degrees of independence and commercialisation at the same time. I am interested in seeing how this juggling act of global and local, indie and commercial is currently playing out in the news-focussed televisual mediasphere. 

Saturday, 15 January 2011

cfp for 'Crossover Cinema' Anthology

Crossover Cinema Anthology
Publisher: In preparation for Palgrave (‘Global Cinema’ series)
Provisional Title: ‘Crossover Cinema: Resetting the Film Frame/work’
Editor: Sukhmani Khorana (PhD Adelaide)
This volume of related essays is based on the notion that cinematic products (especially in the twenty-first century) emerge from, engage with, and are consumed in cross-cultural settings. These films exhibit genre hybridity, and also problematise the ideological tendencies of national(ist) cinemas. They are often conceived and produced by creative individuals/groups on the margins of society, such as diasporic citizens. Their multiple influences are manifested in the content and form of the films themselves. In terms of distribution channels and marketing discourses, these in turn cross (and work across) varying platforms and commercial/arthouse distinctions. The crossover is eventually epitomised in the watching of these films by a wide range of audience groups, thereby disturbing ethno-cultural and generic marketing categories.
Proposals (200 to 300 words) are sought for full papers (5,000 to 8,000 words) that could take the form of a) textual analysis of relevant films; b) interviews with crossover filmmakers; c) reflective essays by film scholars/practitioners; d) analysis of publicity material such as film posters; d) audience demographic studies; or e) contextualised film reviews. These could fit one of the following themes/questions, but are not limited to:
  1. The re-conceptualisation of nation-based cinema (as an industry) in the wake of both unprecedented global migration, and the growing economic and cultural capital accrued to the non-west.
  2. The impact of cross-cultural productions (involving collaboration of finances and/or talent) on the content of the films being produced. What does this mean for the discipline of film studies and for text-based film scholarship?
  3. Crossover films often have successful runs in arthouse cinemas and on film festival circuits, but this rarely translates to box office numbers or wider audience appeal. What is the role of film marketing and publicity where successful audience crossovers have occurred?
  4. Not only are digital technologies being used for producing and marketing cutting-edge crossover films in all genres, but the online world is also a haven for film reviews. Can this enable a transcultural approach to film reviewing?
Please email proposals and a short bio (in a single word document).
Deadline: 14th March 2011

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Blog Revival

Well, not just a revival, but a rejuvenation of sorts. A new name, a more vibrant design, and research-oriented content.

Why did I decide to revive/rejuvenate it? A couple of compelling reasons come to mind - a) I was surprised when a colleague mentioned to me last year, soon after the 'Moving On' post, that she missed reading my blog; and b) With my post-PhD job hunt out of the way, and my new position at the University of Queensland about to commence, I feel research thoughts creeping back into my head.

So here it is, like the sizzling brownie with ice cream and chocolate sauce that I shared with my family this new year's eve. It was full of textural and temperature contradictions, but yummy as sin. Hence I hope this blog traverses its way through seemingly unfathomable questions and amalgamates the personal and the political for some time to come.