“HIGH ON JEANS” AND CHARACTERS OF WEB SERIES
The ever-increasing trend of youth turning Western-minded out of all rationality and practicality, see how much of it is rational, how much has been made rational, and the part of western media in this process.
By Akash Sarkar
10th July, 2023
Image- Created with Bing AI
Nepotism, could presumably, be the first thing to come to the thoughts of people who witnessed Zoya Akhtar’s new Netflix Original film ‘The Archies’. However, with time, Bollywood has taken in nepotism as more of a nature than anything to be criticized for when it comes to the casting of its films, therefore, those who want to avoid herding cats should let the discussion of nepotism in Bollywood give a pass.
Moreover, reactions can be seen on the overall whiteness of the cast which was more cleverly refuted by Zoya’s “this is reverse-racism”, which is worth raising some eyebrows since the whole point of a term like ‘Racism’ is relative to those being left out and rejected based on their social and physical appearances. However, not being either left out or rejected by any means, but criticized for an imbalance of appearances in the casting makes Zoya’s “reverse racism” a great secret only she can elaborate on.
Lastly, for now, and most importantly, the aspect of ‘The Archies’ which struck the most, was these continuous attempts of Western ‘Tech & Media Giants’ to put the nature of Western culture into the minds of the Indian youths. Now there is significance in casting Indian artists for content based on or relative to the West’s cultures, as the eyes of one already-hostile culture will be consuming the arts of one globally dominant culture, where these eyes are attracted partly because these shows are containing some familiar faces. What will the effects be on Indian cultural values then? Not so unpredictable.
But it isn’t just the casting and not just about The Archies, the entire game of West’s domination in the cultural commodity market is more evident through the overall increasing popularity of Western pop culture. Entrepreneur India in an article on Trends Driving the Growth of the Pop Culture Phenomenon in India noted, “Further establishing the growth of the pop culture phenomenon in India are the collectors of pop culture-based merchandise. For them, each purchase represents nostalgia, attention to detail, and closeness with the community. Thanks to online websites and licensed vendors making their way into top pop culture events, a lot of such branded memorabilia is now easily accessible for retail purchases. Little surprise, then, that fans adorn their homes and office desks with display cases, gadget cases, t-shirts, figurines, statues, and other memorabilia from fantasy movies, anime, comics, video games, and other media from across the world.”
Moreover, there has been a rising trend of youngsters getting more and more inclined towards content that highlights Western culture (e.g., Sex Education, Class, Never Have I Ever, Beauty, Money Heist, Elite and it’s just those of Netflix) and then there are other contents that passively promote the west’s style of living, Please Find Attached for example, a mini web series by Dice Media, the life shown in that series is native to people from posh areas of Mumbai, south Delhi, and all the rich areas of tier-1 cities who have some exclusive or easy access and a lot of exposure to western cultural products and high paying jobs; but for most of those who will be watching the series, the people from middle-class family background, with the primary interest to engage in the chemistry of Shaurya and Sanya, two main characters of the series, they will get passively attracted towards the life of live-in relationships, moving out, etc.
And it is a fact that Indian youngsters, for a long time now, have been affirmative towards Western culture, be it Hip-Hop over Kathak, Bharatnatyam, or guitar over Bina, or sitar and even the music and other forms of arts that are native to India and India’s own rich culture and tradition, the neglection is evident from the decreasing interest for these arts over time. They don’t seem to resist or stand by; they actively take joy in living the Western lifestyle.
Indian-American author Mr. Rajiv Malhotra, in his book Being Different- An Indian Challenge To Western Universalism, writes “Many Indians have diluted their distinctiveness in order that westerners may find them less strange, this desire to manifest sameness occurs at levels both deep and superficial – in attempts to eliminate distinctions – of dress, speech, and self-presentation, especially in the business sphere, and in efforts to think, write and speak only in western terms in all kinds of discourse, from political to cultural to academic”.
Part of the reason for such a phenomenon to occur is that there is a growing thought process among the young masses these days, that if they don’t follow the standards set by the globally dominant cultures (mostly, American and European) they will run the risk of being left behind with the backward standards of our (Indian) cultural beliefs. In my opinion, two major factors are in play in shaping such a thought process: the Defined standards of living; and, accepting the backwardness of their culture, where the first is done through different tactics of communication, the latter just comes as a corollary to the first.
With globalization and India’s growing relationship with the West, it has become easier for media firms from outside the nation to penetrate the easy-to-brainwash (politicians do it regularly), highly attractive, overpopulated, filled with an appetite for some-sort-of-an-instrument-of-status market of India. A country like America, in this context, just has to put enough money and sprinkle it with some faith to let the tech firms do the marketing job. Then the youth would watch whatever is on the offer, get influenced by the ‘forced relativism’, and if they like it enough, they will try to replicate it in some way or the other or, as it is most of the time, try to act like their favorite character(s). However, it should be noted that the content by itself doesn’t do anything, the main goal is to create good content and create more of it and distribute as much as possible, so the masses get surrounded by it.
Now, they can’t become Americans or Europeans to properly be their favorite character but nothing can stop them from buying similar clothes (for which H&M, Peter England, Nike, Crocs, Adidas, Puma, Calvin Klein, and many others are always ready, and at their service). While it is logical that dhoti and kurta are not the most suitable attire for surviving the routine that we go through every day, the problem is that we or our youth are not designing the clothes that are in trend, we are simply replicating those who have created it because if we start to do the creative work we will miss out on the market that has already been created and why create a new one if there is a pre-established demand for a pre-designed product, thus pushing back our innovative potentials.
We don’t bother to think about what could be changed, or what could be modified, the Western innovators think about it. See Japanese fashion habits for example, seemingly less influenced by the West, they have walked on a different path from their traditional Kimono for comfort and far enough from Western clothing style, evident from what kind of clothes their native brands like A Bathing Ape, MUJI, Uniquelo offers.
Those familiar with Marlboro’s marketing strategy know, for a fact, what exactly is lifestyle marketing and how it works, a similar thing can be evident in our case where America, whether deliberately or inadvertently, is using a good amount of lifestyle marketing to create acceptance of their products and increase their exports gradually.
Even now when we look at it, while the West is trying to enhance productivity with AI and machine learning, we are trying to generate content with ChatGPT prompts to rank on the Google search engine, create YouTube content, etc., and gradually training their programmes of machine learning, which again provides as a lack of innovative mentality of our youth. Where we see comfort, freedom, and development in West’s creations, we fail to notice how we’re becoming their lab rats.
The West has disseminating power at their fingertips, they have the power to advertise their cultural commodities either directly or by injecting them in our heads indirectly. When they have something new, they create a global standard for it and thus the market is established. While we are still catering to the old ones, we have to abandon them and quickly catch on to the new trends or we will be succumbing to our backwardness.
To speak of the second factor, Acceptance of the backwardness of our culture, if I’ve studied properly and if we only take into account the current globalized world and not the colonial era, the foundation of cultural imperialism is set upon the acceptance by the masses, the backwardness of their cultural values and beliefs.
According to Iris Marion Young, as mentioned in Justice and Politics of Difference (1999), “…the dominant cultural products of the society, that is, those most widely disseminated, express the experience, values, goals, and achievements of the groups. Often without noticing they do so, the dominant groups project their own experience as representative of humanity.” Thus, the prospects of the cultivation theory of communication take place.
One of the most used and prominent reasons for following the Western culture is that ‘they are more developed and advanced so what’s wrong in following them? It would gradually and eventually help us grow developed minds as well.’ I think the excuse they are trying to put here is the Technological Advancements the West has and the superstations of Indian culture. The baseness in that line of argument is in that Science and Technology are culture neutral in the sense that they are based on the laws of physics, they are developed because they studied, while Indian masses of this generation are shown, in the high school genre of web series, where study is the least thing they do. And if I were to reason why we are far behind in that sphere is that one, the colonial period and, two, lack of investment by the government in R&D and education, and corruption in education, so following or not following the Western style of living doesn’t matter as long as technological developments are concerned.
And even by following them how far can one get? They are not sharing the secrets of development or teaching how to beat them in the market they have created. They are only creating new products and with each new one, old ones get invalidated and those being influenced follow them, the loop goes on, so where, when, and how will the youth, by following the Western style of living, ever be developed? Westerners are developed, and we, in this loop, will always be ‘Developing’. The flow of information is in their hands, they control what and to what extent information will be distributed to us.
In his work, Cultural Imperialism and the Global South, Vivek Mohan Dubey notes “There is a growing awareness among the people of Asia, Africa, and Latin America that their cultures are not well equipped to meet to standards of civilization they are drawn in. Therefore, they have to revitalize their cultures in order to survive, excel and flourish in that civilization.” Looking back to Japan, they were not very much exposed to the cultures of the West and still are not, has it meant for them to stay backward? China, another country with closed gates for Western cultural influences, and the country with whom we started our development journey, has it meant for them to stay behind? This line of thinking, this growing awareness is not homegrown, this thought has been cultivated in our minds. Analogically speaking, in the hope of getting advantages in the race of development, we are playing a game against those who created the game and the rules, thinking, this is what everyone is doing and should be doing.
However, the blames for such a phenomenon to occur cannot entirely be put on the shoulders of the West, as consolidated dominance by a few actors (Bollywood mafias), Nepotism, lack of innovative and educative content in the market, lack of new and talented faces in the market led the domestic content industry put the shovel on their own feet as the audiences grew bored and left for more engaging and innovative content. We’ve lost a great deal when it comes to using the mass media tools for cultivating values and national identity and making the market our own for products of our own, so the West took the chance.
Things went more out of hand when the vertical and horizontal integration of the Western tech & media conglomerates started taking a steep upward momentum in the Indian market, and so the table turned, consumers got their taste buds changed in favor of the Western media content and Indian makers were left with no choice but to cater the shifting demands and so the Indian content started to become more irrelative from an Indian cultural point of view (e.g., Class, and The Archies). And now, what happens when you get a bad Biriyani? You crave more for a good Biriyani. So, it doesn’t matter now if Bollywood makes irrelevant, low-quality adaptation of Western culture, put in by force, in Indian content as whether if we make it good, the West gets promoted and if we make it bad people runs for the good stuff (which we lack), thus west gets promoted.
It’s unlikely that the young generation is being drawn into all this by themselves, at their will, without any persuasion, without some external forces hammering on their emotional desires to generate consent, and not because the young masses prefer the lifestyle of the West. The popularity and appreciation received by web series like Kota Factory, Asur, Mirzapur, Patal Lok, Panchayet, The Family Man, Aspirants, and many others stand as proof that youth, at the bottom of their heart, still has the preferred place for Indian cultural artifacts and products, given that they are truly Indian and not of ‘The Arcchies’. But since the growth of content platformization is real and most original content is shifting or being brought in by the big media firms, the likes of Netflix, and Amazon Prime, one must be on their guard when to meet the norms and standards of these platforms, even our original content starts to become more western.
However, the whole point of globalization can be taken as an advantage as a point of reference. The Western culture, too, can be followed, in that we are following it in the right direction, instead of focusing on what they are doing, it is a good idea to focus on how they are doing it.
Satyajit Ray, for example, grew under both Western and Eastern cultural influences, while he didn’t reject the Western influence entirely, he took in the inspirations and learnings from the Western culture, and whatever resulted was appreciated by everyone and is still celebrated.
Going far back in time, Indians have also fought against rituals like Sati and fought over the issues of child marriage, Hindu widow remarriage, fair equality for Dalits, right to education for all regardless of cast/gender/class, all this was possible because of the strong sense of nationalism among those reformers who pioneered the campaigns of these issues. While they realized the backwardness of their culture too, they did not feel the need to shift from it to find development, instead, they saw the need for a change toward social development. The superstitions, the backwardness, the baseness, and the outdatedness of Indian tradition and culture can only be improved by those who live it and not by those who run from it.
It is good to keep in mind that we are only left behind because, even after getting a push from the great social reformers, politicians now only use communication channels for propagating their agendas, our film industry is too busy with their mafia dominance and nepotism, and the youth never thought about bringing changes to our culture, rather changed the culture itself, partly to blame is Western media dominance but mostly it’s not hard to tell who really is at sin. ♣