Final Thoughts on the Class

This class has really opened my eyes on a lot of things, but I think my biggest take away is the idea that we have so much in common with cultures that before seemed so different to me. This sounds like some sort of obvious, cliché, all humans are the same type of idea, but I definitely have gained a new appreciation for just how universal so many ideas are. I think the thing that makes this stand out the most to me is the problems we’ve discussed in class. So many of the issues that we discussed in terms of India could also be applied to the United States. Whether it had to do with education or class inequality, all of the problems that India has/had are also issues here. They might not always be completely the same. Different problems might be better or worse in different places, but for the most part people want pretty similar things.

 
Class inequality was one area that stood out to me in particular. There seems to be this idea that India is so unfair to the lower class. All people think about is the caste system and the lack of economic mobility. This may be true, but it’s not like we aren’t being faced with the same sort of problem here. The wealth inequality in the United States is astounding and it’s only growing. We always like to think that problems like this are just things people in other countries have to deal with, but really we’re not so different. So many perceived differences are just imaginary divides. For the most part people all want the same things.

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Colonialism and District 9

A great example of using cinema as a medium for political messages is the film District 9. For those of you who haven’t watched it, the plot is about a group of aliens who get stranded in South Africa. The South African government is then forced to support the aliens and they do this putting them in a sort of heavily patrolled ghetto. The film is mockumentary style and follows a government employee who through some unfortunate circumstances is changing into an alien. It also shows clips of interviews with citizens of South Africa expressing their disdain for the aliens.

 
While at face value District 9 could be viewed as just an entertaining science fiction movie, there is a lot more to it than that. The setting is a big part of its message on colonialism. As a country with a terrible, colonialist history, the interviews of both white and black citizens saying the aliens shouldn’t be there are just dripping with irony. Some of the aliens are portrayed as violent and unruly, but for the most part, they are shown as being decent. A big part of the movie is that the government of South Africa is about to move all of the aliens to what is basically a concentration camp. This could definitely be an allusion to the way that the native people of South Africa were grouped up and forced to live separate from the British colonists. Although the use of literal aliens isn’t always a perfect metaphor, the movie does a great job at delivering its message on immigration and colonialism. It also doesn’t hurt that the movie is really entertaining and well done. If you haven’t seen it yet I would definitely recommend watching it.

Transnationalism and Relationships

The most interesting part of The Namesake, to me, was the way that they showed relationships, and the way that transnationalism affected the relationships in the film. It was very refreshing how balanced of a perspective the film offered on the topic. I would have expected a film like this to really push a specific belief on this idea, but I think it did a great job of presenting the issue from all angles.
The first relationship that this is a factor in is with Gogol and Maxine. This relationship is portrayed as very positive at first. There are some problems like backwards comments from guests at her parent’s party and some disapproval from Gogol’s parents, but at least for Max and Gogol, the relationship seems great. The cultural differences aren’t shown as a huge problem and her parents seem to like Gogol. This all changes with the death of Gogol’s father. This traumatic event is shown as a wakeup call for him. He shaves his head and starts prioritizing family a lot higher. This creates a lot of friction for him and Max. It wasn’t necessarily saying that Max was a bad person or selfish, but she really wasn’t being very understanding when his father passed. At this point in the film, it seemed like they were saying that the different backgrounds were actually too big of an obstacle.
If the film had ended here it would have had a lot less balanced of a message on the topic, but the relationship between Gogol and Moushumi added some perspective. They were both Benghali, so if the message had been less balanced everything should have worked out perfect for them. Instead this just provided a different sort of hardship to their relationship. Moushumi felt too much pressure to be “a good Benghali housewife.” Despite the two having similar cultural backgrounds, the relationship didn’t work. The relationship between Gogol’s sister and her non-Indian fiancée was also a bonus at the end. They were shown as being good together, and even the mother approved.

Low Class

In Gangs of Wasseypur, one of the most telling scenes, as far as it relates to class, was the opening scene from episode 3. This was the scene where the kids trick the ice cream man and steal the ice cream. Basically the whole series pushed the idea that in order to get ahead you have to steal and win by any means necessary. It seemed like they were saying that you either take what you want or be exploited. This theme reminded me a lot of Slumdog Millionare. While Gangs of Wasseypur may have shown a little bit more of what could be considered middle class, neutral characters, it still had about the same outlook on class as a whole. With both films there seemed to be the idea that the only way to get ahead in India is through nefarious means. I honestly have next to no knowledge on India, so maybe these works show real problems, but I think that they both strongly reinforce a lot of Western stereotypes about India. The one positive about Gangs of Wasseypur is that the characters were a lot more complex than in Slumdog Millionare. This really made the whole outlook on class a lot more forgivable.

The Missing Middle

Well I guess I should start out by saying that I really enjoyed Slumdog Millionare. I think it had a great plot and Jamal was an amazing character. That being said, one thing that stood out that was kind of interesting was the lack of any middle ground characters. Economically and morally there were very few characters that stood in the middle. As far as “good” characters it was basically just Jamal and his friends. You could maybe make an argument for Salim representing the moral middle, but other than that there were just a lot of awful characters. Economically it was even more cut and dry. Basically the only two groups of people that it showed were people who were starving or living on the streets or morally bankrupt, wealthier people who exploited other people for their money. I understand that it’s just a movie and it’s not always convenient for the plot to show a diverse group of people, but I think that in cases such as this it should be made more of a priority. This kind of just played into the stereotypes about India and with the lack of mainstream films centered on India, this can actually do a lot to reinforce these stereotypical beliefs. Coming from a British director I think this is slightly inappropriate. I still enjoyed the film and would probably watch it again, but this did do a bit to tarnish it for me.

So Close but No Cigar

Mirch Masala contained the perfect example of a person who genuinely meant well but just really missed the mark. The time where this stood out the most was when the townspeople were having the meeting to decide how to handle the situation with the woman, and the man who was in favor of standing up for her called the other men women for not being braver. This scene seemed very ironic, and I couldn’t really tell if it was meant to be taken that way or not. I think this sort of scenario is extremely common in the real world. Whether it’s the person saying that they “don’t see color” or a man who supports gender equality but rips on “those crazy feminists.” A lot of times statements that are seen by the person saying them to be fairly innocuous can actually be pretty bigoted.
The way people handle situations like this is, to me, is just as frustrating as the situations themselves. I think too many times people jump on other people for saying things like these without taking into account the person’s intent. I’m not saying phrases like this should be ignored, but there’s certainly a better way to correct someone than talking down to them or scolding them like a child. When people treat someone disrespectfully for making a statement they view as ignorant, they are just stooping to that person’s level. Yelling at someone for something they said will just make them defensive. If people are approached in a respectful manner, they might actually see why the thing they said is misguided and change their way of thinking.

Nationalism

When watching Lagaan, it is very evident that there are two distinct types of nationalism. The first type of nationalism that appears in the film comes from the British. They believe that they are superior to the Indians and clearly view the Indians as lesser. I think that this sort of nationalism comes from a lack of understanding on their part. They see the different ways that the people in India live and instead of viewing it as just interesting cultural differences, they look down on it. They think that their culture and their ways of doing things are the best and want to use their imagined superiority to exploit the Indians who they view as inferior.
The other type of nationalism that we see in Lagaan comes from the Indians. Their sense of nationalism in the film is a product of the nationalism of the British. The poor treatment and exploitation at the hands of the British causes them to draw together as fellow Indians to fight the oppression they are facing. When people from all over came to watch the Cricket match, the individual villages and people were united for a common cause.
These differing types of nationalism reminded me of the discussion we had in class about the difference between a man and a woman wearing a shirt saying something about their gender. Most of us would probably be more uncomfortable with the man wearing a shirt like that. I think this is because a woman wearing a shirt like that is a product of the misogyny, where the man wearing it is enforcing established negative ideas. This is very similar to the nationalism displayed by both groups in the film. While there are plenty of good arguments against nationalism of any kind. It’s pretty clear which one is more problematic.