Wednesday, May 5, 2010

East Vs. West: the Slumdog World View

East Vs. West: the Slumdog World View

Considering the masses of information which are available to us today, it’s almost shocking how little we truly know about the world around us. For our society, travel is relatively easy and information is always accessible. Yet we frequently view other cultures through an extremely distorted view. The film Slumdog Millionaire takes on a Western view of the Orient is its presentation of “the East” as a negative force, with the salvation of the characters only ever coming from “the West” in the form of America.

“Corporate discourses of globalization” like to fantasize that we are at an “advent of a new epoch free from the limitations of the past” and that “offers the promise of a unified humanity no longer divided by East and West, North and South, Europe and its Others, the rich and the poor” (Coronil 351). As this film clearly show, however, humanity is still divided. Sharp differences are seen between the East and the West as presented in Slumdog Millionaire. Coronil supports the idea that this is what is bound to occur with the intermingling of cultures, noting that “critics offer not the comforting image of a global village, but rather the disturbing view of a fractured world sharply divided by reconfigured relations of domination” (Coronil 352). It quickly becomes apparent that Slumdog Millionaire is a fractured world, with the dominant West coming out as the positive force and the East presented in an overwhelmingly negative light.

The East in this particular film is India, and the view presented in overwhelmingly negative. The first scene depicted is an Indian police officer brutalizing the protagonist, Jamal Malik, who we quickly realize is an innocent man. Even the more reasonable police office who arrives after the brunt of Jamal’s torture is still abusive, as it is he who instructs the other officer that Jamal be electrocuted and later threatens him with more of the same torture if he does not tell the truth. We only see two views of India – the dirty slums and the rich manors of the crime lords. India is presented as backwards, poor, and filthy.

We should also examine how the film views the differing ways which the East and the West treat children. The view presented in the film is overwhelmingly negative for the East. Jamal and his brother Salim are physically hit when they fail to pay attention to the school teacher in the only scene where they are shown receiving a formal education. An Indian man, Maman, at first seems like a positive force in his benevolent caretaking of the slum children, but it quickly becomes obvious that this kind-hearted image is a mere fa├žade. In actuality, he uses the children to beg on the streets in order to get the money for himself, and he even goes so far as to blind children in order to get more sympathy money. In contrast, the Americans whom Jamal and Salim encounter are actually kind. While they are presented as somewhat gullible, they are still generous. After one family’s cab driver begins to abuse Jamal (blaming him for the stripping of his vehicle), the American tourists quickly stop him and then give Jamal money to make up for his treatment, saying “we’ll show you the real America”. Although they might not realize they were getting hustled, the fact still stands that Indians are presented as being abusive and willing to take advantage of children, while Americans were presented as kind and generous to children.

An interesting point to examine is also the clothes worn by the female main character, Latika. A subtle message regarding the East and the West can be found in the manner in which she dresses. The first time that Latika attempts to meet Jamal at the train station, her clothing is more Indian-inspired than Western. This time, the two lovers fail to be reunited and instead she is taken back to the abusive crime lord and punishing by having her cheek cut. The second time that the two characters meet at the train station, Latika is dressed in typical Western garb, a tank top and blue jeans. The only reference to her Indian heritage is a yellow scarf. This time, Jamal and Laitka are reunited and finally kiss. It is only once she has become “Westernized” that she is able to succeed.

The biggest salvation presented to the character is not given to them through India, but through the West. First, it is Jamal’s employment at a cell phone company that enables him to locate Latika after years of separation. Secondly, it is through the American game show Who Wants to be Millionaire that Latika is able to find Jamal, and gives them the money to start a new life together. The Indian influence on the show is the host, Prem Kumar, who is an active opposing force. He attempts to trick Jamal by supplying him with an answer which is incorrect, and he sics the police on Jamal in the hopes they will discover he has been cheating. He does not do any of this out of genuine desire to maintain the integrity of his show, but rather because he is petty and cannot bear the thought of Jamal overshadowing him on “his” show. The East is once again presented as a selfish and malevolent force, although it turns out to not be powerful enough to defeat the saving power the West.

So, why should such views worry us? What does it matter how a movie portrays India, isn’t is just entertainment and nothing more? Well, not really. It has been recognized for awhile that many scholars believe “the real signs of how globalization was being lived, experienced, and interpreted were to be found primarily in the literary and cultural field” (Gikandi 633). A film from within the “cultural field”, then, can be taken as a sign of the effects of globalization the increasingly slanted view which many Americans hold about other cultures, most especially Oriental cultures. It can also be an insidious message to both the West and the East, as both will have easy access to the film and will accept this distorted worldview as the truth.

Works Cited

Coronil, Fernando. "Towards a Critique of Globalcentrism: Speculations on Capitalism's Nature". Public Culture - Volume 12, Number 2, Spring 2000, pp. 351-374. Project Muse. Web. 4 May 2010.

Gikandi, Simon. "Globalization and the Claims of Postcoloniality". The South Atlantic Quarterly - Volume 100, Number 3, Summer 2001, pp. 627-658. Project Muse. Web. 4 May 2010.

Slumdog Millionaire. Dir. Danny Boyle. Perf. Devl Patel, Friedo Pinto. Twentieth Century Fox, 2009. DVD.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Collaborative Media Literacy Presentation

For my group's project, we came up with a lesson plan in order to teach high school level students about media literacy. We designed the lesson plan to focus on internet video (specifically YouTube, due to it's popularity and ease of use). We came up with the plan together and then divided it into sections in order to prepare and present.

My role was perhaps the most flexible of the group, as I was responsible for introducing our lesson and explaining the rationale (including the manner in which we based our lessons upon the Buckingham and Gee texts), came up with examples of youtube use in the real world as a way of explaining/teaching students the actual hands-on uses for what they learned, and wrapped up the presentation.

The real-life examples I presented:

Mary Cummins of Animal Advocates:

Police using youtube to help catch a killer:

The specific quotes which I drew upon as part of my discussion:

Buckingham, page 81
the advantage of simulations is that they can help students get a hands-on experience, as teaching media production often relies on heavily on information and students can become bogged down by the sheer amount of information and facts. It can also provide a concrete way of approaching media, which can sometimes appear very “abstract”.

Buckingham, pg 81:
“students are given a series of still images and invited to select and sequence them to form a storyboard for a moving image sequence”

Buckingham, pg 81:
“such activities can be used to explore how editing is employed to construct mood and atmosphere; or to construct different types of narrative from the material”

Gee, pg 41
“Learning about and coming to appreciate design and design principles is core to the learning experience.”

Gee, pg 41
“Learning about and coming to appreciate interrelations within and across multiple sign systems (images, words, actions, symbols, artifacts, etc) as a complex system is core to the learning experience.”

Buckingham, Pg 129:
“media educators have often sought to use production – particularly in the form of photography – as a means of exploring how the ‘self’ is constructed and represented”

Buckingham, pg 81:
“The personal immediacy of a simulation can make it hard for students to distance themselves from what is happening, and to reflect upon the consequences of the choices they have made. Debriefing is particularly important in this respect: students need to be encouraged to evaluate their own and each other’s work.”

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Myth Presentation Project

For this project, our group worked together to come up with the concept and to design the framework of all of the section. My specific role within the group was to cover applications of the Trickster figure within modern media. I came up with a total of five examples, complete with questions designed to prompt class discussion. Due to time limitations I was only able to present two of these examples in class (the Dogma and A Dog's Breakfast examples), but I will list all five here so as to adequately show the preparation that went into the project.

title of the section: "Tricksters in Modern Media"

Slide 1, example 1 intro text:
Two fallen angels, Bartleby and Loki, stop by at a corporate board meeting. They expose the terrible secrets which all of the board members save one possess and then go on to teach them a "lesson" in a brutal and yet somehow still humorous way.

(I could not find a shorter version and it's far too long, so whoever is playing them will just need to start the clip at 4:50).

Slide 2, example 1 summary text
In this scene, Loki embodies the dark and sinister side of the Trickster. He is still humorous and playful even in his rampage ("Gum?"), and his purpose is to teach a lesson on the basis of humanity. However, most tricksters from mythology are not as dark as Loki is here. Why do you think that is?

Slide 3, example 2 intro text:
How I Met Your Mother, "The Bracket"
In this episode, Barney finds that he is being sabotaged by a woman whom he had wronged in the past. He gets his friends to help him figure out who she is.


Slide 4, example 2 summary text
How I Met Your Mother, "The Bracket"
Later in the episode, we find that Barney's exploints include taking a girl camping only to leave her in the woods (by stealing her own truck), has some story about a "fake baby", and once faked an evil twin (and slept with the girl as both Barney and Larney).
What aspects of the Trickster does Barney embody?

Slide 5, example 3 intro text:
Supernatural, "Mystery Spot"
In this episode of the scifi/horror series, the Trickster attempts to break Sam and Dean out of the cycle of sacrificing themselves for each other by forcing Sam to live the same Tuesday over and over. Only Sam remembers every Tuesday, but the same thing happens every day in different ways.


Slide 6, example 3 summary text
Supernatural, "Mystery Spot"
In the rest of the episode, the Trickster lets Sam and Dean continue to Wednesday... but has Dean get shot in a common mugging. Sam then lives for the next six months with Dean dead, until he finally tracks down the Trickster and begs him to undo Dean's death. The Trickster takes pity and relents. He puts them back to that first Wednesday, and this time lets Dean live.
In what ways is the Trickster from Supernatural typical or atypical from the mythological version?

Slide 7, example 4 intro text
In this TV series, Shawn Spencer owns a detective agency along with his friend Gus. He solves his crimes by faking the possession of psychic powers (when he's actually just hyper-observant and quick-witted).

clip: (Just play until 1:34)

Slide 8, example 4 summary text
Shawn embodies many of the lighter aspects of the trickster. Among the ten fundamental aspects, he is clearly an opportunist, a mischief-maker, an amorous adventurer, a lazy work avoider, and a clown of the body. He never seems to embody the darker side of the Trickster, however. What was some reasons for that?

Slide 9, example 5 intro text
A Dog's Breakfast
In this movie, Patrick is a very weird man who misunderstands a phone conversation and thinks his sister's fiance (whom he hates) is going to kill her... so Patrick plots to kill him first.


Slide 10, example 5 summary text:
in the movie, his sister and fiance know that Patrick hates him, and trick him into believing that he has successfully murdered the fiance. Needless to say, hilarity ensues.
In what ways does Patrick embody multiple aspects (light and dark) of the Trickster?
What do you feel is most appropriate to our society's version of Tricksters: mischevious but good, malicious, or a mix of the two? Why?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"To the Poets of Old" (Poem #2)

"To the Poets of Old"

I sit and read of poets of 300 years past,
and I can't help but rule that they need to get laid.
Why else would they Write poems of loving hard and fast
to convince their mistresses that such love be repaid.

It's not even that their words themselves seem false,
or their love untrue, or their poetry not avante garde,
But still I think their efforts need be repulsed,
because even back then, one could try too hard.

Carey, Donne, Marvell, your ladies all balked,
but while with poems your pretties you wooed,
I'd bet twenty bucks that while you talk-talked
she was getting it on with some other dude.

"Same Old Story" (Poem #1)

"Same Old Story"

Wagging tails and floppy tongues,
barking from the depths of lungs.
They're overjoyed to see you home,
they miss you when outside you roam.

Too much energy, they jump and whine.
Always with noses in your behind.
Their barking drives you up the wall.
Decide you don't want dogs at all.

Call the rescue, act like it's their fault
they can't take dogs you kick to the asphalt.
They tell you how to find a new loving family,
but the level of work and you don't agree.

Ditch your furry loving friends at the pound.
You say you're certain that they are bound
to found a home real quick, they're so good.
You never call to see if they would.

One find a home quick, it's pretty great.
They love him, train him, it's first rate.
The second waits and waits, alone and scared,
gets so frightened that his teeth are bared.

The shelter workers try and try,
they network, love, and finally cry
the day his time must run out.
"It's not fair", they weep and shout.

But now there's nothing to be done.
He won't see another rising sun.
You'll never know, though, about his fate.
The tragic death of a crimeless inmate.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Flying Japan" (In Class Poem)

"Flying Japan"

Flying high in the air,
the home soil is no good,
your feet can't bear to stand
on its chaparral covered ground.

Flying high in the air,
rolling your eyes
when my tongue can't find its way
around your new Japanese name.

Flying high in the air,
you think you'd never crash
the sky has only cumulonimbus clouds
which you fly through without a care.

Flying high in the air,
you pretend and play dress up
to show off your pretty new tattoo,
a symbol whose meaning I can't reach.

Flying high in the air,
eventually the slender delicate path
will be struck, and fall with a clap.
And you'll fall on the chaparral ground.

Sex and Christianity: Together at Last

God hates sex. At least, that is what most people take Christian teachings to mean. Keep your legs crossed until your finger is safely bound by a wedding ring. Don't commit adultery, that's on the top ten lists of things NOT to do. Yet should we really be keeping the two things apart? In his poem, "To His Coy Mistress", Andrew Marvell tries to coax sex out of his lady love by using religion, proving that perhaps the sex and Christianity shouldn't be kept at arm's length.

At the beginning of the poem, the narrator quickly attacks the idea that sex is a sin, albeit indirectly. Rather then challenge his mistress's idea that sex is something she should avoid on religious grounds, he instead makes a statement against her chastity. "Had we but world enough, and time, / This coyness, Lady, were no crime", he tells her. He draws a line between right and wronbg, and puts her "coyness", or her reluctance to have sex and her desire to be virtuous, on the same side of that line as breaking the law. He then moves quickly to the religious references with his talk of the rubies found along the Ganges. He identifies his mistress with that location and then speaks of finding rubies there. There is an implication that the mistress herself is the ruby, the precious jewel, which can be found by the river, which bears a special significance. According to Henry A. Christian, at that time period rubies were believes to keep away evil and "even signifies Christ and paradise" (33). By identifying his lady with the ruby, his desire to possess her moves beyond the mere physical desire for her body. By being with her, he will find paradise, heaven.

Also significant are his references to the end of time. The narrator says that, if they had endless time, then his mistress could feel free to "refuse / Til the conversion of the Jews". The conversion of the Jews was something which would not anticipated to happen for a very long time - it will occur just being the Apocalypse. When emphasizing the fact that they will in fact not live forever and thus be able to wait until the Jews convert, the narrator again brings to the forefront the idea of the end of time. He that "yonder all before us lie / deserts of vast eternity". This reference to the afterlife is meant to emphasize the fact that they are alive NOW and must take advantage of it. John J. Carroll expands upon this idea, stating the the deserts are meant to "lie beyond time" and that "as the threat of eternity, the annihilation of time, increases desire for her beauty, so the danger presents urgently and immediately an argument for the granting of her riches". The narrator is using the Christian mythology regarding the end of the world and the fact that eventually, we all die and are brought into the "deserts of vast eternity" (in other words, the afterlife". He uses this Christian dogma in order to reinforce the idea that the "coy mistress" needs to stop being coy and get down to business with him.

A small reference is found near the end of the poem. The narrator says that he and the mistress should be joined as one in their lovemaking in order to "tear our pleasures with rough strife / through the iron gates of life". Considering the fact that he has been speaking of death and eternity and the afterlife throughout the poem, calling to mind "iron gates" brings to mind the gates of heaven. The narrator intends to crash through those gates into heaven and eternal life by joining together with his mistress. Rather than their sexual actions causing them to be damned to hell, they will instead find access to heaven by joining "all our strength and all / our sweetness up into one ball".

The last two lines of the poem are yet again a Christian reference, this time directly Biblical. According to the Bible, God made the sun stand still in the sky in order to enable Joshua to defeat his enemies. The narrator says that although they are not as powerful as God and "cannot make our sun / stand still", he implies that they do have some sort of spiritual or otherworldly power as they will have an effect on the sun and time: "we will make him run". Although he does not go so far as to imply they are on the same level as God, he elevates the power that they can possess if they join together sexually onto a divine level. God changes the sun, so shall they. He created Heaven, and they will crash through the gate and gain access.

Although Marvell is frequently circumspect in his references, the Christian overtones of this poem are difficult to ignore. Completely impossible to ignore is the fact that he is trying to convince his mistress to have sex with him. By using these Christian references, Marvell puts the narrators desire for sex on a higher platform. Rather then something to damn a person, it is something to empower them to find Christ, Heaven, and divinity. Maybe sex and Christianity shouldn't be so estranged, we wonder. Besides, if God really hated sex, then why did he make it necessary to keep his children around generation after generation?

Works Cited

Carroll, John J. "The Sun and the Lovers in 'To His Coy Mistress'". Modern Language Studies, Vol. 74, No. 1, pp. 4-7. JSTOR. Web. 10 February 2010.

Christian, Henry A. "Marvell's Mistress' Rubies". Modern Language Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 33-37. JSTOR. Web. 10 February 2010.

Smith, Phillip. "To His Coy Mistress". 100 Best-Loved Poems. Dover Publications: New York. 1995. Print.