Cultural copy-cats or Utopian hybridity?

I am a member of Generation Y.

As an opinionated, liberated Australian female living in the twenty-first century, I am a person who advocates gender equality, anti-racial discrimination and acceptance. I live in a multicultural era upon a globalised globe.

Being the person that I am in the time that it is, I’m rather accustomed to interacting with people and practices from a wide range of cultures. Just the other day I made my very first batch of too-dry dumplings and then proceeded  to stare in mock horror at my friend’s new tattoo of a rather proud stag. I asked him all the usual mundane questions – pain, cost, time and then finally, what does it mean? He answered, “It’s just a deer”.

If you can’t see what I’m getting at, I’ll give you a hint; it starts with “co” and ends with “optation”. Or, depending on your background/mood/political persuasion, you could call it “hybritity”. The former definition refers to my poor re-creation of a delicious Asian meal and my friends essentially meaningless tattoo (originally derived from a rich, varied history) being ‘borrowed’ from cultures other than our own (Schaefer & Karan, 2014, p. 312). In this instance, my friend and I have taken elements of cultures out of context and produced copies which lack the historical and cultural relevance that gave them substance. If we look at it as hybridisation of those elements, then we’ve incorporated them successfully into our own culture, giving them additional meaning, while maintaining that of their origins.

Personally, I fear that in this instance, my friend and I are both participating in a negative form of co-optation. But I’m a media student and shouldn’t be filling my head with dumpling tattoos.

And so I give you, the co-optation/Bollywoodization discourse surrounding Slumdog Millionaire.

slumdogmillionaire2Image Source

It is generally accepted that this film is not technically “Bollywood” (Cox & Proffitt, 2014, p. 45). While Slumdog Millionaire conforms to many conventions of  Bollywood productions, which are characterised by Hindi and Indian culture, some aspects divert from these, and actively contradict them with Western values such as modernity and capitalism (Cox & Proffit, 2014, p. 51). Most significantly, it is not an Indian-owned production.

The commercial success of Bollywood throughout the West has promoted the creation of films such as this. Take a popular commodity and customise it to suit your audience to attain maximum profit. So, aspects of Hindi and Indian culture were co-opted by the West to serve Slumdog Millionaire up to an audience who has little understanding about the prevalent meaning and history behind the Bollywood productions which the film mimics (Cox & Proffitt, 2014, p. 52). It must be noted, however, that Bollywood itself has and continues to ‘borrow’ many Western film conventions (Cox & Proffit, 2014, p. 48).

The question is; is this as evil as it sounds? Can we condemn a for-profit industry using the widespread popularity of a representation of a culture for financial gain? Maybe, in a situation such as Slumdog Millionaire, where the success of an industry originating in India is mimicked while any substantial profits are reaped by those in the West (Schaefer & Karan, 2010, p. 314).

Perhaps the issue of co-optation here is not about losing cultural integrity while adding no value, as it was with my friend’s tattoo and the dumplings, but is more focused on who ‘owns’ a culture, and who has the right to earn a profit from it.

Despite living in a supposed multicultural era, the more the world’s cultures blend, the more our need (or desire) to claim ownership of them increases.

Refer to the References.

Cox, N.B. & Proffitt, J.M 2014, ‘Mimicking Bollywood in Slumdog Millionaire: Global Hollywood’s Newest Co-Optation of Culture’, Journal of Communication Inquiry, vol. 38, pp. 44-56.

Schaefer, D.J & Karan, K  2010, ‘Problematizing Chindia: Hybridity and Bollywoodization of Popular Indian Cinema in Global Film Flows’, Global Media and Communications, vol. 6 no. 3 309-316, pp. 309-314.


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