So the vastly overrated Slumdog Millionaire is flopping inspiring riots following its release in India. I can’t say I’m surprised — the contrived, and entirely predictable, happy ending that enables Westerners’ decadent, guilt-free slum-gazing in the rest of the film does not appear to convince Indian audiences so unconcernedly — but this explanation in Time seems entirely to miss the mark.
“We see all this every day,” says Shikha Goyal, a Mumbai-based PR executive who left halfway through the film. “You can’t live in Mumbai without seeing children begging at traffic lights and passing by slums on your way to work. But I don’t want to be reminded of that on a Saturday evening.”
Slumdog‘s problem is not that it is too real. It is that it presents an entirely sensationalized depiction of these real-life slum scenes, flitting over them with bright shots for just enough time to provoke a reaction, but without any of the attendant thematic concerns. Rather than a presentation of Mumbai’s everyday “real life,” Slumdog gives a caricature. From a very worthy Slate review:
It traffics in some of the oldest stereotypes of the exoticized Other: the streetwise urchin in the teeming Oriental city. (The success of Slumdog has apparently given a boost to the dubious pastime of slum tourism—or “poorism,” as it’s also known.) And not least for American audiences, it offers the age-old fantasy of class and economic mobility, at a safe remove that for now may be the best way to indulge in it.
And to indulge in it through the conceit of a gameshow once-popular in the United States — aww, look at those Indians, now they have their own “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, too, how cute! — is to situate this “slum tourism” within a prism in which Americans can feel comfortable, and even, despite the plot’s painful predictability, experience some sort of dramatic tension. The film, in other words, seems to offer the best of all possible worlds: abhorrent poverty, but a certain redemption; darkness and despair, but bright colors and a fast pace; the ostensible pursuit of love, but the undeniable allure of sex. It is in the gaps between these crude tugs on the viewers’ sensibilities that the movie founders, and where this gaudily assembled pastiche ultimately comes completely undone.
(image from flickr user movies&movies2 under a Creative Commons license)
So what is the fifth choice for 2008? Several readers pointed out that if the terrorist attacks in Mumbai had taken place in London or New York, I would have put them on the list without hesitation. True – and if the attacks had taken place in Mogadishu, I would definitely not have put them on the list. Doubtless, this says something unpleasant about the relative values placed by western journalists on lives around the world. But a more palatable explanation is that a terrorist attack assumes true geopolitical significance if it has global consequences. So if the Mumbai terror attacks provoke a war between India and Pakistan, they will indeed be one of the most significant events of the year. So far, thank goodness, that has not happened.
I buy Rachman’s first instinct much more than his cleaned-up, “more palatable” version. What is the point, I must wonder, of making a predictive list of what the global “we” will remember, looking back on 2008, if you condition it with what may still happen? 9/11 certainly changed the entire world, but it was not yet clear, in October 2008, how it would do so. The shockwaves of Mumbai are as powerful to those in India right now as were those in New York seven years ago, and if Rachman purports to be writing for “lives around the world,” he should consider that the lives of more than a billion people were more affected by what happened in Mumbai than the rise and fall of oil prices for the Western world.
(image of the Taj Mahal from flickr user Honza Soukup under a Creative Commons license)
(cross-posted at On Day One)
Here’s an interesting nuclear nonproliferation idea. Buy out countries’ nukes. Specifically, Pakistan’s, the benefit of which, in the words of a Pakistani nuclear physicist, has been limited to the ability to “destroy India and be destroyed in its response.”
Here’s Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens’ proposal:
This is the deal I have in mind. The government of Pakistan would verifiably eliminate its entire nuclear stockpile and the industrial base that sustains it. In exchange, the U.S. and other Western donors would agree to a $100 billion economic package, administered by an independent authority and disbursed over 10 years, on condition that Pakistan remain a democratic and secular state (no military rulers; no Sharia law). It would supplement that package with military aid similar to what the U.S. provides Israel: F-35 fighters, M-1 tanks, Apache helicopters. The U.S. would also extend its nuclear umbrella to Pakistan, just as Hillary Clinton now proposes to do for Israel.
A pipe dream? Not necessarily. People forget that the world has subtracted more nuclear powers over the past two decades than it has added: Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine and South Africa all voluntarily relinquished their stockpiles in the 1990s. Libya did away with its program in 2003 when Moammar Gadhafi concluded that a bomb would be a net liability, and that he had more to gain by coming to terms with the West.
So in addition to the $700 billion economic stimulus package, taxpayers can embrace a $100 billion nuclear bailout bill? My guess is that this will be a tough sell. Further, Stephens’ imagined impositions sound a bit like aggressive nation-shaping under another name. And the key to the successes that Stephens cites is that they were voluntary abdications of the countries’ nuclear programs, not enticements to gain additional military assistance.
(image from flickr user OpenThreads under a Creative Commons license)
In a WaPo op-ed, Patrick French makes the tired claim that terrorists “they” hate the United States India “us” for our freedoms. And, naturally, anyone who points to any other possible reasons for the terrorist attacks in Mumbai is an apologist, a sympathizer, and/or morally barren.
The terrorists themselves offered little explanation, and made no clear demands. Yet even as the siege continued, commentators were making chilling deductions on their behalf: their actions were because of American foreign policy, or Afghanistan, or the harassment of Indian Muslims. Personal moral responsibility was removed from the players in the atrocity.
I do not have any insight into the Mumbai militants terrorists’ (lest I come under the wrath of right-wing semanticians who contend that anything less than using the t-word is also a moral abdication) motivations; perhaps French is right in dismissing the reasons provided by his unnamed “commentators.” Yet, even if not applicable in this case, the suggestions that French cites are not “chilling deductions,” and it is offensive and irresponsible to impugn this analysis as made “on [terrorists’] behalf.”
That terrorists may be exercised by ramifications of American foreign policy, or the fallout of regional conflicts, are as sensible — and in fact, probably more so — initial hypotheses as the throwaway assumption that the actors in question “hate freedom.” Moreover, the two motivational tacks — the “rational” and the irrational — are not mutually exclusive (a Pakistani terrorist can be angered by India’s Kashmir policy and espouse an intolerant and hateful outlook toward India’s democratic values), and nor does the former type of impetus at all excuse the heinous means by which terrorists opt to lodge their protest (see Bill Ayers, persistently complete lack of understanding thereof).
The title of French’s op-ed, “They Hate Us — and Indian Is Us,” is staggering in the extent that it repeats — and transposes to another continent — the off-the-mark, self-exculpatory, analytically hollow, and utterly unhelpful trope of “freedom-hating.” Similar, too, is the strategy that allows him to brand anyone who ventures a more nuanced explanation as an apologist who essentially is working for terrorists.
Patrick French may insists that “India Is Us,” but, some of “us” — and presumably some of India, as well as some of the other side of this unproductive dichotomy, the otherized “they” — respectfully disagree. But then, that probably just puts “us” right in the pockets of terrorists.
(image from flickr user stuti ~ under a Creative Commons license)
Almost starting a war between two nuclear-armed states that are already in tense relations with one another, that’s what.