When culture is an import - Farooq Sulehria - Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The way our cultural mujahideen grilled Veena Malik a few weeks ago, one could not help but recall Maupassant’s most famous short story “Boule de Suif.” Set in the period of the Franco-Prussian War. A group of wealthy residents of the French town of Rouen, which has recently been occupied by the Prussians, decide to flee. Joining them was Boule de Suif, the woman whom the self-righteous disdainfully regarded as a prostitute.

Those travelling with her in the carriage initially distance themselves from the woman. But she is carrying a basket full of good food, and large-hearted as she is, Boule de Suif offers to share the food with the hungry travellers. The carriage blunders into territory occupied by the Prussians and a Prussian officer detains the travellers at an inn, without offering any explanation for the detention.

The travellers are extremely indignant when Boule de Suif tells them the Prussian officer is going to detain them until she agrees to sleep with him. She is repeatedly called before the officer, and returns extremely agitated after refusing his demand. Initially, the travellers support her modesty and condemn the lecherous officer’s behaviour. However, their indignation begins to evaporate, to the point where the hostages grow angry with Boule de Suif, for her refusal to sleep with the officer. Over the next two days, the travellers invoke both logic and morality to persuade Boule de Suif that sleeping with the officer would be the most appropriate thing to do. So she gives in and spends the night with the officer, who allows the hostages to leave the following morning.

Our Syed Noors have no problem when in Lollywood productions girls pose in the most vulgar fashion, or even undress. The cultural jihadis do not find anything objectionable in “Al Rais” (The Boss) the Arabic version of “Big Brother.” “Al Rais” was broadcast in the Middle East by a channel owned by a Saudi prince. Ironically, the countrymen of this prince have been funding the Taliban. , In turn, these brutal, self-appointed custodians of Islam not only stage public hangings and beheadings but also make bonfires of television sets from Kabul to Swat, because in their opinion television was a vehicle for the popularisation of vulgarity and obscenity.

It is strange that the cultural Taliban in Pakistan, who are so annoyed by Veena Malik, have no problem with reality television itself, or with game shows and talent-hunt serials, which all originate from the “vulgar” West.

At the same time, they do not object to the increasing commercialisation of the media, or the Western-dominated global political economy driving the electronic media. In 2008-09, of the top ten advertisers on privately-owned TV channels, nine were trans-national corporations.

In the good old days, before members of an Islamic outfit began to plant bombs in theatres, audiences would flock to cinema houses for Hollywood productions. Even our anti-vulgarity crusader Gen Ziaul Haq, who in his crusade virtually destroyed cinema in Pakistan, did not ban Hollywood films, because they were American.

However, Indian films, although they follow Hollywood trends, remained under a ban. As did films from many other parts of the world, but in particular from the Soviet bloc. In the case of Hollywood films the Censor Board did apply the scissors here and there, to cut out kisses, hugs and alcohol, but the films were allowed to be released.

We witness the same kind of hypocrisy on the mini-screen today. Cultural imports from the West are merely dressed up in a local setup, and all is well as far as the cultural mujahideen are concerned. No one seems to care if Western content with an “Islamic” touch still brings Western values home, values which are hardly “Islamic.”

Chile’s Marxist media scholar Armand Mattelart declared in 1970: “It goes without saying that it is not simply by suppressing all programmes manufactured abroad – especially from North America – that the degree of cultural dependency will be reduced. A ‘Chileanised’ programme can produce exactly the same ideology and therefore be guilty of the same vices as foreign material, the only difference being that these vices may be less explicit.”

And what are these values? Trying to summarise the set of dominant values in the production of Westernised mass culture in Latin America, researchers Luis Ramiro Beltran and Elisabeth Fox drew up the following list: individualism, elitism, racism (to which one could add ethnocentrism), adventurism, conservatism, conformism, the feeling of inferiority, and aggressiveness.

According to them, individualism is “the belief that the needs and aspirations of the individual predominate over those of the community to which he or she belongs.” Conservatism is defined as “the belief that the socio-economic structures characteristic of capitalism constitute the only desirable and natural social order and that, as such, they must be indefinitely maintained for the good of all.”

According to Mattelart, all these values are satellites of a central planet: integration into the world of consumption. Thus, culture has become “the vulgarised superstructure of the capitalist mode of production. Above all, this culture represents a lifestyle, forming a unique and coherent totality which creates daily standards that contribute to supporting the dynamics of consumption and production.”

Hence, the problem with the culture industry is not only the imported genre and format but values attributed to celebrity, trivia, and self-aggrandisement. The road to stardom is through cutthroat competition. Happiness is impossible, but pleasure (entertainment) is within reach.

The writer is a freelance contributor.

Email: mfsulehria@hotmail.com

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=39980&Cat=9

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