Sunday, December 12, 2010

Final Essay

Rachel Noel
English 495ESM
Professor Wexler
December 10, 2010

Globalization in Slumdog Millionaire
The disparity between social classes exists everywhere, but with an estimated population of 1.2 billion, India is the second most populous country in the world, and it is therefore subject to some remarkable disparities between the rich and the poor. Along with these discrepancies in the social class comes the idea of globalization, the process by which society and its components are integrated through a global network, driven by a combination of economic, technological, sociocultural, and political factors. The people of Mumbai live in extreme conditions one way or the other it would seem, but both facets of the social hierarchy are affected by globalization; that is to say, the American culture is prevalent in the movie Slumdog Millionaire, exposing the acculturation of the Indian people to American culture via American products.
Evident from the beginning of the movie is the disparity between social classes in India, where the rich benefit from American-made products while the poor suffer in inhumane conditions. Jamal and Salim live in a high-population ghetto, or slum, as is implied by the sheer number of people in the streets and further evidenced when they escape terrorists at the beginning of the film, flitting through back alleys and escaping into a milling cluster of people on the other side. This instance goes to show just how many people in Mumbai there are, and how many of them are suffering from poverty, forced to live in a ghetto with poor sanitation and overcrowding. However, not all people in the country live in such conditions; the audience sees examples of those more fortunate in passing, high contrasts to the life Jamal lives. For example, Jamal and his brother steal from a rich family, so evidenced by the food they eat and the son in the family’s hefty weight, on a train by sneaking in through their window to steal food. Other wealthy individuals dress the part, sometimes in what look to be Armani suits, and ride in American-made cars. Bearing that in mind, and speaking to the idea of globalization in Mumbai, many of the individuals in the film who are wealthy display their affluence via American products.
Americanized wealth in the film takes on many forms. Amitabh Bachchan, a well-known actor from Mumbai, is shown in a series of short clips to be an Americanized movie star, complete with American cop clothing and aviator sunglasses. Javed the crime lord first appears in the back of a Ford car driving through the square of Jamal’s home. Maman, the man who raises orphans to beg and steal, first appears to Jamal and Salim with brandless bottles of soda, the unmistakable shape of which distinguishes them as Coca-Cola bottles. Prem, host of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” dresses in similar clothing to his American counterpart, Regis Philbin. As a teenager, Salim owns a Colt, a gun produced by a United States manufacturer. When Latika lives with Javed, a plethora of items in their home are entirely westernized, complete with GE stainless steel refrigerator and stove, as well as a wide-screen TV. These examples of how people live richly in the country speaks to the effects of globalization: what would their lives be like without American products?
Ash Amin, in his article titled “Regulating Economic Globalization” explains opinions of globalization being divided along distinctive ideological and interpretive lines. For the one group, those of Neo-liberal opinion, “negative outcomes are the product of insufficient market freedom, that is, incomplete market-driven globalization”, which calls for “the total freedom of factor markets, free trade and market extensions” and so on (218). The other group, he contends, blames “neo-liberal policies or unbridled global capitalism for the increase in inequality and vulnerability” (218). The first group focuses on adjustment policies on governments has enforced unemployment, investment blight, poverty, and indebtedness, while the other sees the problem stemming from rising inequality, the exploitive practices of transnational organizations, the bias of the free market towards the most powerful organizations, et al (218). Though it is difficult to say what precisely has caused the socioeconomic problems in Mumbai as displayed in the movie, it can only be presumed that both factors have had a hand in it. For example, the audience comes to see the involvement of the police as a bad thing. Despite the fact that they are a governmental agency, the police are corrupt, irreverent, lazy, and mean; as the only real representation of the government presented in the movie, the audience is left to question what impression this sort of group leaves on the social class. This draws upon the ideals of the first group, who argues that the government has the most significant influence on poverty, unemployment, and other factors that influence the social classes. The second group has a valid argument too, for many transnational organizations such as Coca-Cola and Ford are present in Mumbai, both of which are hugely powerful organizations in America and can only be more powerful in Mumbai due to the disparate economy.
So there are obvious implications behind the power of the media in globalization, and all products in the film must have some kind of sway over the culture in this fashion. This is obvious in the movie in a multitude of ways, not the least of which being the country’s fascination with “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” The show is American in origin, and practically duplicated for Indian television, but the people of Mumbai are eager to snap up the “exotic”: in other words, American-made things. Though Amin’s article is only a single observation on the reasons behind globalization, Thom Hartmann, in his article “Globalization is Killing the Globe: Return to Local Economies”, speculates about transnational organizations in much the same way. He says, “The transnational corporations benefiting from globalization are also, in most cases, the transnational corporations that own our media”, once again enforcing the idea that transnational corporations not only benefit from globalization, but goes on to say that those organizations own the media. This could contribute to the fact that American-made products have the sway they do in the culture; those powerful organizations help to assimilate the Indian culture into the American culture, benefiting from the merge because of how those corporations sell their products. Hartmann even goes so far as to say that “globalization is the villain here, and one that needs to be taken in hand and brought under control quickly if we don't want to see virtually the nations of the world end up subservient to corporate control”. This is definitely true in the case of the individuals in the movie, for it is shown that even the almighty American dollar in and of itself has a firm grasp on the economy of Mumbai, as is evidenced by the scene in which Jamal recalls giving a 100 dollar bill to a blind childhood friend.
A depressing note about Slumdog Millionaire is it seems that, whether or not the people of Mumbai are rich or poor, and whether or not they themselves own American-made products, they are subject to the acculturation of their own culture into an American one. These people watch “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”, they drive American-made cars, and they even drink soda from an American manufacturer. Unwittingly, these people are subjugated to the pressure of globalization, assimilated bit-by-bit into a world that increasingly resembles their own.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

You May Say I'm a Dreamer...

Through our discussion of the role media plays in the classroom last week, I was somewhat appalled to hear that someone thinks that there is "no John Lennon of our generation". This is a very bold statement to make, in my mind. In a very literal sense, there is, of course, no John Lennon because no one individual can precisely replicate another. It is true that few singer-songwriters have had as profound an influence on our generation as Lennon did on his, but to expect that there will be an individual that represents the same sort of sentiments for our generation is inconceivable. This is a different time, and with the advancement of our culture has come a tremendous number of changes regarding our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. John Lennon would not be the same if he had been a part of our generation rather than his own, as he would speak to different facets of our communities and lives.

If what was meant by this statement was that there is no inspirational figurehead of our generation, then I beg to differ. This contention was brought up seemingly as a part of a larger argument that there is no one out there to challenge the conventions of our society, which makes me raise my hackles even more; how profound must an individual's ideas be to be considered a "John Lennon"? To what end must they unite and inspire a nation? Consider individuals such as Ursula Le Guin, a woman who considers herself an anthropologist... of societies that have never existed. Similarly, consider her book The Left Hand of Darkness, in which there is a species that changes gender and places no emphasis on conventions of one's sex. Is this not good enough? Does it not challenge society enough? Is its statement not bold, or its message meaningless?

I also have considered what it means to be a "John Lennon", and have found myself consistently stumped. I can't put a single, solid definition to what it means, so does that mean that it is an undefinable thing to be him, or is it simply that we can never hope to achieve the same amount of success through an individual's actions? Regardless, I believe that the claim is untrue. There are a plethora of individuals who contribute to society in unique ways and have broken conventions of society enough times to be considered as much an inspiration as he.

(This isn't to say I don't love John Lennon, the Beatles, and everything he and they have accomplished, but someone's got to play the Devil's advocate.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Myth & Media

After watching the mythology presentations in our class, I have done a lot of thinking about the concepts presented in mythos and their relation to the modern day. What I have concluded is that many of the themes discussed in class are present in various facets of the media. For example, the trickster figure is a common trope in comics, movies, and even televised series. Stories make use of the trickster figure at various points, often for comedic purposes.

The female divine, too, can be seen in many aspects of the media, but is more specific to celebrities who bill themselves with a particular theme in mind. The male divine, though not quite of such epic and religious proportion as depicted in myth, is nevertheless present in modern media. Even sacred places have their, well... place. Those that might contest the relevance of myth in present day have only to look to the media to see examples of classic mythical figures.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Myth & Culture

For as long as I can remember, I have read. Books, magazines, brochures, comics -- so long as there is text, I am content to read it. I have gladly read and re-read stories over the years, sometimes starting a book again just after I've read it for the first time, certain I may have missed something. But of all those many tomes and texts, my very favorite type of literature is fantasy and myth. Something has always appealed to me about creation myths in specific, though I couldn't say just what it is about them I so enjoy. I like learning about myths from different cultures, too, as so many different cultures embrace unique and fascinating variants on the origin of man, how the sun came to sit in the sky, and so on. It makes me wonder about how those different myths come to define specific aspects of the culture and how they may have affected modern day societies.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Myth-ink Link

Many people regard myths as a thing of the past -- stories that are in relative conjunction with other legends and stock fantasy. However, myths are relevant to the modern day. For example, many people see graveyards as bad places to be, and perhaps even go so far as to associate them with bad luck, though there is only superstition to dictate such a feeling. As a culture, we associate graveyards with the dead (and rightly so), yet many old traditions from multiple different cultures suggest that the spirits of the dead are present in such a place, and that may be the reason why we, a culture otherwise ostensibly devoid of mythos, believe that graveyards are inherently bad places to be.

Superstition plays an unquestionable role in all of this, as well. If we did not believe that negative things would come as a result of our not observing a certain tradition or unspoken rule, we would most likely let a superstition, or myth, fade into obscurity.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bad Poetry

As an individual who occasionally gives in to some mysterious whim and writes some potentially poor or pretentious poetry, I feel a little presumptuous speculating about what makes bad poetry so unbearably… bad. The World English Dictionary’s definition of poetry is “literature in metrical form; verse”, which gives us plenty of insight as to what poetry is, literally (no pun intended), but does not give us any idea of what constitutes good poetry, or what we should look for to determine poetry’s worth.

I surmise, then, that bad poetry lacks originality. It does not inspire the reader to imagine any circumstance that they have not already considered, nor do they envision a setting they have not already encountered. Bad poetry is matter-of-fact and practical. It reuses age-old phrases and images that not only fail to stimulate the reader, but also cause them to think the piece trite. Above all else, bad poetry has no imagination.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Heart's Desire

O, fickle heart, it has e'er been thou
That has led me astray, and so sweetly
Cajoled, lured me to this state wherein
I have lost all my control, completely.
Lost my logical sense of right and wrong
And lost all of my control completely.
How do I rebel against thee? Thou'rt
Not of a substance which I can defend
Against, nor art thou conscious choice; naught can
Come of it but unfortuitous end.
No simple thing to resist, yet I must,
Or I shall face unfortuitous end.
So ensorcelled by your lies have I been,
And in so, tempted to do wayward sin.