Altering the tune of globalization
Iran was once held up as a model by modernization theorists. The Shah’s White Revolution promised a cultural counterpart to his economic modernization program. Instead, it brought large-scale urban migration, growing inequality, and a deeper sense of cultural alienation. The upscale northern neighborhoods of Tehran had boutiques selling Pierre Cardin, cinemas that showed Hollywood films, restaurants that served French food, and dance clubs that played Abba, while the southern parts of the city were full of impoverished slums were overcrowded. In 1962, Jalal Al-e Ahmad published his groundbreaking book, Gharbzadegi [Westoxification] denouncing the western cultural mimicry that undermined the Iranians’ own cultural character.
This idea of gharbzadeghi serves as epigraph for Fatima Bhutto’s latest book, New kings of the world. On the first pages, Bhutto describes how he walked through the bazaar in Peshawar along the Afghan-Pakistani border to find the home in which Shahrukh Khans father was born. From these humble origins, the younger Khan is now one of the most famous actors in the world, “one of the icons of a huge cultural movement that emerged from the Global South …[that is] the greatest challenge to America’s soft power monopoly since the end of World War II. “
According to Bhutto, this decline in American soft power coincides with changing patterns of cultural production and consumption that are redefining Western-dominated paradigms of globalization. The cultural currents that Bhutto traces in her book are shaped by local and global historical requirements and react to them. They operate within the matrix of domestic politics, neoliberalism and “communal desires”. The communications revolution brought about by modernity enables a global audience, while its heavy toll – displacement, displacement and dispossession – evokes the very desires that Bollywood, Soap opera, and K-Pop so appealing.
Bhutto points out that demographic change is an important factor in this change in cultural consumption. In 2008, for the first time in history, the majority of the world’s population lived in cities rather than in the countryside. And by 2015 more than a billion people had emigrated from their homeland in search of a better life. Mass migration, hyperconnectivity and global branding have created both the means and the need for a new way of producing culture. The global audience finds Turkish TV series, Bollywood films and K-Pop increasingly relatable, more tailored to their realities of life, their values and aspirations.
Bhutto’s book is part memoir, part ethnography, and part cultural analysis. She recalls watching pirated Hollywood films while growing up in Damascus. But she also describes how she met Syrian refugees living in a camp on the northern border of Lebanon. Bhutto thinks they prefer to spend their evenings watching Soap opera, Turkish series: “They are a reminder of what the refugees were once allowed to experience before fate brought them here, to this converted garbage dump collection center; Family, love, brotherhood and friendship. “
Bhutto watches in Istanbul Soap opera is filmed. Turkey now ranks second after the US in terms of television broadcasting worldwide. Audiences in Russia, China, Korea and Latin America are listening to the dramas. In 2008, the last episode of Noor has been watched by an estimated 85 million people in the Middle East. Interwoven in legends of love and betrayal, there is an attraction between nationalism and religion, between historical tradition and modern consumption. “This country is torn between two pieces of fabric – the flag and the headscarf,” explains writer Eve Temelkuran. Of course, television drama dissemination can be implicated in regional policy. In March 2018, the Saudi cable station took MBC Soap opera from the air. In November 2019, MBC began broadcasting a new series, “Kingdoms of Fire,” which shows a darker perspective on Ottoman history. Historic TV dramas go hand in hand with growing political tensions between Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and the Saudi Crown Prince.
In Dubai, Bhutto meets Shah Rukh Khan for an interview in an opulently furnished hotel suite by Versace. But she also speaks to South Asian workers in the United Arab Emirates, for whom Khan is a symbol of hope, success and pride. “Displaced, evicted, and dispossessed from their homes while struggling invisibly to the outskirts of the city for the preservation of wealth that will never be their own, they will be deprived for the three hours they see khan dancing.” part of their lives and sing, ”she writes.
Bhutto later describes her trips to Lima, which has several Bollywood fan clubs. “All the fans I meet are indigenous Peruvians,” she notes. “Not one person is white. Bollywood in Peru is not an elitist interest. It belongs to the struggling and ambitious people who see their struggles mirrored in the brutal, irreconcilable landscape of classic Indian cinema … “Lately, however, Bollywood has become more noticeable, although this change has not been weakened Hindu cinemasPopularity in Peru. Since the wealthy characters who live in the lap of luxury are brown people, their imaginary success is somehow worth striving for. But Bollywood’s glitter isn’t all about friendly songs and dances. Indian Prime Minister Modi effectively tapped the entertainment industry to expand the reach of his power. “Newer films,” emphasizes Bhutto, “are promoting a silly, cultural nationalism in harmony with the ruling political choir. Nowadays, films increasingly advertise government propaganda. ”
K-Pop, writes Bhutto, “is a perfect storm of colonial history, strongly Americanized culture and neoliberalism”. The music genre has its roots in the history of the American military presence in South Korea. But it was the 1997 Asian financial crisis that fueled the global phenomenon. It became imperative to completely rethink the Korean economy. Pop culture became a solution. Music production didn’t require massive infrastructure, and YouTube helped expand the reach of K-pop across borders. In 2008, Korea was a net exporter of culture. K-Pop is the ultimate product of “glocalization” – Western music repackaged Korean style and exported back to the West. Not American pop songs, shows Bhutto, but K-pop has become the soundtrack of globalization.
New Kings of the World: Dispatches from Hollywood, Dizi, and K-Pop by Fatima Bhutto (2019: Columbia Global Reports) is now available on Amazon and through local indie booksellers.