Economic Orientalism: The ‘other’ dog

10 Mar


Slumdog Millionaire scooped eight Oscars in Hollywood just over a fornight ago including Best Picture and Best Director.

But journalist Anuja Prashar, recently described in The Indian Star that the  film’s success was an indication of the “asymmetry, ambivalence and atavism” of the globalisation process.

The ‘Other’

She has gone further in proposing that the film’s success may be premised on the development of ‘Economic Orientalism’, based on Professor Edward Said’s theory of Orientalism and the Other, which explains “Western style for dominating, restructuring and having authority over the Orient” and the positioning of ‘them’ and ‘us’.

It suggests that Western nations, particularly Britain and the U.S., in times of unemployment and recession are glancing at growing economic powers such as India with a colonial undertone.

Prashar says:

The compounded result of creating the exotic ‘poor’ in Slumdog Millionaire and western leadership rhetoric, is the emergence of an ‘Economic Orientalism’, that defines western economic status as relative to that of the emerging or developing economic status. The positioning of the two, ‘them’ and ‘us’ allows for power and influence to remain centred within a national frame of reference, at the individual level and the national level.

For example, Gordon Brown asserting Britain’s suitability for global leadership of global financial regulation. This discursive approach supports a continuation of the ‘them’ and ‘us’ stance, reminiscent of western ancestral periods of history, with re-imagined notions of a national global leadership.

Global power

With an increase in media stories about real slumlife being born from the fictional Slumdog’s success, is the underbelly portrayal of the Global South damaging the chances of a country on the brink of becoming a superpower? Does it merely echo imperialist propaganda?

Phantom India Louise MalleI can say the latter definitely doesn’t apply to Boyle. Despite some criticisms and protests, the Indian government seemed more welcoming to Slumdog than four decades ago when it had imposed severe restrictions on foreign media after the BBC  broadcast Louis Malle’s documentary, Phantom India.

This time round, the effects of globalisation are more apparent and India is far more confident.

But the question, which Prashar also poses, is should the media be steering away from just painting the negative under developed picture that we have grown so accustomed to? Self censorship in order to aid nation-building – or simply ignoring what is the reality?


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