A Suitable Boy, “Decent” People, and Names that Pass (The King is Out: Part IV)

by Huma Dar

[read Part I Part II Part III]

Ripping Apart the King, Separating Him from Kajol

In the second half of the film, My Name is Khan (2010), Karan Johar shows that Rizwan Khan’s wife, Mandira (played by Kajol) is on a personal journey to obtain justice for her son and accountability from the perpetrators of a hate crime.  It is thus ironic that Mandira’s own negligence towards Rizwan Khan (played by SRK) and the lack of accountability for making him set off on an ostensibly unfeasible mission, albeit in a fit of grief and anger, is not problematized at all in the film.  A mission that might very well have remained unfulfilled but for Rizwan Khan’s Herculean efforts, his unusual talents and disabilities, and a string of exceptional circumstances.  Rizwan Khan, given his Asperger’s syndrome, “fear of new places,” and his Muslimness (actively practiced), would have been equally, if not more, susceptible to the kind of hate crime that victimized Mandira’s son.  After the initial outburst at the place of death, Mandira had had enough time to re-think  the consequences of her angry directive to Khan, yet she never apologizes to Khan.  Here too, the immediate context of Bollywood, the multiple Hindu-Muslim marriages amongst the stars of Bombay, and the general lack of acceptance of such marriages in mainstream India are crucial to keep in mind.

Continue reading “A Suitable Boy, “Decent” People, and Names that Pass (The King is Out: Part IV)”


sits on the smaller square gravestone
throwing tiny pebbles of fine firestone
at me as she recites Quranic quatrains
after a pause that follows each throw.

looks at the azure horizon in the West
whispering of the agony in her hearts
one under her breast another in womb
after my plea for a midnight flight fails.

draws mud circles on the graveyard soil
calling each by a hundred names of God
each an invocation for my safe passage
after night falls and death comes for us.

leaves me standing on the grave of hope
moving towards a distant cliff in the dark
to end the two lives and a love despised
after she opts for shame rather than him.

JKS Makokha is a Kenyan writer living in Berlin, Germany. He is the author of Reading M.G. Vassanji: A Contextual Approach to Asian African Fiction (2009).  His poetry has been published in the Atonal Poetry Review, African Writing, The Journal of New Poetry and the Postcolonial Text and Stylus Poetry Journal.

The Conquest of Cool I

When is dissent hip? This is the subject of the following discussion hosted by the excellent Your Call Radio. Participants include Douglas Haddow of Adbusters, whose article, ‘Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization‘, generated one of the longest running debates in the magazines history (the article presently records more than four thousand responses on the Adbusters website). Also participating are  Dan Sinker of Punk Planet, and journalist and hip-hop historian Davey D. They discuss: What is the relationship today between pop-culture, counterculture and dissent? What is the counterculture that sells media now? And can activists reclaim the counterculture that now permeates the mainstream?

The discussion is also joined later by Ishmael Reed and Thomas Frank, author of the splendid work The Conquest of Cool. In the book Frank (who also authored the classic What’s the Matter with Kansas? and edits The Baffler) shows that the advertising industry did not just co-opt the ’60s counterculture movement, in many respects it anticipated, indeed created, it. The instant-gratification individualism and the perpetual pursuit of uniqueness were the perfect compliments to capitalism’s manufacturing of needs to fuel the consumption on which it thrives. If capitalism had built planned obsolescence into its products,  the counterculture’s very idea of rebellion was premised on  ‘standing apart’. As soon as a new product was in the hands of more than one, it had lost its uniqueness, pushing the rebel to search for a new ticket to cool. Rebellion which seeks expression in merchandise manufactures its own needs, and the engines of capital obligingly hum along. Franks gives the example of the Volkswagen Beetle ads, which were all designed as a critique of mass culture. To own a Beetle, then, was to stand apart.  And the process continues as I’ll show in this series of three posts.

An Interview with Joe Sacco

From the excellent Ctrl.Alt.Shift Unmasks Corruption. An interview with Joe Sacco the acclaimed author, illustrator, journalist and historian. Sacco is the author of several award-winning works of graphic journalism, including Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde, War Junkie, and The Fixer.

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Utopia as Alibi: Said, Barenboim and the Divan Orchestra

by Raymond Deane

As a classical musician involved in pro-Palestinian activism, I frequently encounter the assumption that I am an unconditional admirer of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO). My reservations on this score tend to produce shocked disapproval: How could I not enthuse about such an idealistic project, particularly since it was co-founded by the late Edward Said, a figure for whom I have frequently expressed respect and admiration?

In truth, I have always been a little wary of Said’s veneration for the eighteenth/nineteenth century canon of European classical music. I look in vain in his writings on the subject[1] for a historical and political contextualisation of music comparable of that to which he so perceptively subjected literature in his indispensable Culture and Imperialism.[2]

In his 2002 speech accepting the Principe de Asturias Prize, Said claimed that he and his friend the Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim founded the WEDO “for humanistic rather than political reasons”. This surprising dualism implies that music belongs to a utopian sphere somehow removed from the dialectical hurly-burly of hegemony and resistance.

The paradoxes of Said’s position have been ably dissected by the British musicologist Rachel Beckles Willson.[3] She quotes her colleague Ben Etherington’s critique of Said’s tendency “to assert the intrinsic value of Western elite music without really exploring how that tradition escapes mediation.” Paraphrasing Said’s critique of literary scholars in his Humanism and Democratic Criticism[4] she convincingly claims that he “omitted to make ‘a radical examination of the ideology of the [musical performance] field itself.’” (Willson’s chain brackets).

Continue reading “Utopia as Alibi: Said, Barenboim and the Divan Orchestra”

Glorifying Terror?

afghan twoafghan oneA British artist made these impressive propaganda posters during the Afghan war against the Soviet occupation. They were also printed as postcards. The picture to the right was sent out as a christmas card by Agency Afghan Press in the UK, prompting London’s Evening Standard to wonder, jokingly, if the three figures represented Joseph, Mary and Jesus. The picture to the left was made for Gulbedeen Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami, which then had a London office. The pictures raised no horrified eyebrows in the UK – of course not: the Afghan people and the Thatcher and Reagan administrations were all on the same side, for freedom, against godless Soviet communism interfering with a traditional culture. Today, however, Hekmatyar is fighting the NATO occupation of his country, and were a British artist to dare paint an Afghan mujahid, with Qur’an in one hand and kalashnikov in the other, standing on an American flag, underneath a calligraphed ‘Allahu Akbar’, he would quite probably be charged under anti-terror legislation.

Resistance is fertile

John Berger’s experience at the National Gallery highlights the zeitgeist of the age of GWOT.

The novelist and art critic recalls an Easter visit to the National Gallery and a strange and violent encounter with an attendant

I was in London on Good Friday, 2008. And I decided, early in the morning, to go to the National Gallery and look at the Crucifixion by Antonello da Messina. It’s the most solitary painting of the scene that I know. The least allegorical.

In Antonello’s work – and there are fewer than 40 paintings which are indisputably his – there’s a special Sicilian sense of thereness which is without measure, which refuses moderation or self-protection. You can hear the same thing in these words spoken by a fisherman from the coast near Palermo, and recorded by Danilo Dolci a few decades ago in Sicilian Lives (1981):

“There’s times I see the stars at night, especially when we’re out for eels, and I get thinking in my brain. ‘The world is it really real?’ Me, I can’t believe that. If I get calm, I can believe in Jesus. Badmouth Jesus Christ and I’ll kill you. But there’s times I won’t believe, not even in God. ‘If God really exists, why doesn’t He give me a break and a job?’”

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When Utopia Crumbles

Kim Nicolini on why Revolutionary Road was shut out at the Oscars.

It’s no wonder Revolutionary Road was shut out of the Oscars. As stated in this article from the New York Times, this year the Academy is looking to stories of the “indomitability of human will” to grace with its little gold statues. All of the nominees for best picture are “films built on individual successes” that provide “a nice, big chunk of uplift.” From Slumdog Millionaire to Milk to Frost/Nixon, these are stories where the little guy can beat the big powers that try to keep him down and where human will has the ability to allow us to conquer all, rise up, forge change, and take control of our own lives and destiny. Given that that many of the films deal with battling political and/or economic systems (presidential abuse of power, the Catholic church, economic class stratification), these films are classic Depression era narratives.

In fact, when writing about Slumdog Millionaire, I described it as Frank Capra goes to Mumbai in the 21st Century. Indeed, there is no hiding the fact that we are in a Depression. As the economy sinks lower and lower, people lose their homes and their jobs, and businesses collapse, there is no denying that the Depression is now. So maybe uplift and triumph is what people need. Apparently the Academy thinks they don’t need a movie like Revolutionary Road which provides a relentlessly brutal critique of the shallow illusion of the American Dream and the inherent fallacy of the institution of marriage. Revolutionary Road basically says that everything America pretends to be through its policies of blind acquisition, status through material gain, and a self-deluded vision of Norman Rockwellesque family life is a toxic lie. Well, isn’t it? Of course it is, but now that most Americans have had to look the lie in the face as the veneer of their American Utopia has crumbled under their feet, I guess they don’t want to see it in the movies too.

Continue reading “When Utopia Crumbles”

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