Listen, My Children...

Every Little Helps

Monday, May 19, 2003

Desis on TV?

A member of the South Asian Association just complained about this show, about the life of first- and second-generation South Asians in New York City. Apparently, it's exotification. My response? DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT!!!

Nobody, as far as I know, has problems with the basic idea of travel shows on TV (yes, I know, this isn't a travel show, but I'm getting there). I have, however, heard complaints about travel shows that go anywhere but Europe and Australia. If you show just the buildings and scenery, you're "whitewashing" out the people. But if you put the people in, it's "exotification." Then again, not having the shows at all implies that only white locations are worth visiting. But if you put in non-white locations, it's emphasizing that they're foreign and non-white and therefore inferior. (Apparently, to emphasize something is different is to emphasize it's inferior, as there's no such thing as different but equal.)

The same thing happens with immigrant communities in America. Tons of the people my age, second-generation people, who I talked to during my thesis and who are otherwise my friends (Bob's included) don't like shows about immigrant communities because they don't like the existence of such communities. They are opposed to racial separatism and ghettoization -- which is not much different if people are choosing to live in a ghetto or if they're put into it. They think that shows pointing out "look! separate racial group that keeps their special culture -- cool!" help to perpetuate that segregation. Then again, people like that aren't made very welcome in race-based associations, for obvious reasons.

A lot of other people, like Bob's parents, love and want to keep their racial separatism (they interact as little as possible with people of different races); they will want to watch this show, and they will be thrilled to have it on network TV (if they actually turn off Zee TV and B4U from cable and watch an American network channel once, which is pretty rare!), but they won't want people who aren't members of their racial group to watch it. This view is quite popular, even if it's not initially voiced and has to be brought out over a long conversation. It's the only way to reconcile the conflicting ideas of, "wow, cool, a TV show about us!" and, "but that's giving us too much attention, and we don't want to get caught up in race problems." Or to reconcile the ideas of, "finally, the oppressive white-black dominated media is acknowledging our existence," and, "any white or black person who would watch this has to have an Asian fetish and they're exoticizing us."

Then again, if discussions I've heard of (from the children of the parents involved) over what to serve at a "South Asian" dinner are to be believed, every one who watches the show will be frustrated that their own specific group wasn't given a central enough position. Bengalis mad that the Gujaratis dominate the menu; Tamilians mad that there are dishes for many northern states, labelled by state, but just one dish labelled "south Indian" (just like the national anthem, listing all these northern places by name and then "Dravida"); Malayalees fed up that the "south Indian" dish is Tamil; Nepalis frustrated that they're not even given a place, because nobody eats Nepali food. (It's good, really -- it just gets a bad rap, even in Nepal, where everyone kept telling me to go to the Indian restaurants.) It goes on and on.

So, anybody see this show and feel satisfied at the end? Anyone take issue with that person's viewing and satisfaction? Why? WHAT WILL MAKE YOU HAPPY???


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