Blog Monday, June 29, 2015 - 05:30

 

Over the weekend, as the US Supreme Court delivered a landmark verdict validating same-sex marriages stating that they do not violate the US Constitution, our Facebook feeds turned even more colourful with display pictures overlaid with a translucent layer of rainbow colours signifying gay-pride. Facebook had created an easy two-click process to celebrate this momentous occasion in the battle for LGBT rights, all you had to do was go the link “facebook.com/celebratepride” and then click on the tab “Use as display picture” - your DP would have a rainbow-layer thereby announcing your support for marriage-equality.

It takes in all about 5 seconds, and I remember thinking, “Yeah why not? I support same-sex marriage, doesn’t matter where it is being legalized, it is a good thing to happen.” But before I knew, there was a deluge of rainbow-coloured DPs on my feed and I was a part of a global Facebook-fad celebrating the US verdict.

Writing for the DailyO, blogger and journalist Shivam Vij created a mini-storm in the Twitter-cup by calling it ‘bizarre’ and asking why are we celebrating America. The ‘DP-silliness’, he says, might end up creating awareness for LGBT rights in India, but wonders what can come out of gestures of people who only ‘want to be cool and don’t really care’. He questions our inherent hypocrisy and proclivity to be ‘cool’ online.

Of course, there were those who did not take too kindly to Vij’s rant. Lawyer Apar Gupta says that Shivam’s argument, contrarian for the heck of it, questions the very idea of online activism.

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Personally though, I am fence-sitter. I am not really sure what all the multi-coloured DPs add up to, but it isn’t anything to be cynical about. For me, it was a split-second decision born out of my fundamental support for sexual minorities – nothing more, nothing less. Dissecting this, beyond a point, is a pointless exercise.

Vij points out in his rant that the USA is not the first country in the world to legalize gay-marriage either. There have been others. What is also true, though, is that Indians weren’t the only one celebrating the verdict. Citizens across the world used the Facebook filters to paint their DPs in vibrant colours. The London gay-pride march held the day after verdict celebrated the historic judgement too. Elsewhere, in Australia and New Zealand, there were celebrations over the historic verdict and calls for the same to happen in their own countries.

Beyond the impulsive commentary psychoanalyzing Facebook updates, what is interesting to me here is that American pop-culture and everyday-events have a global reach often creating a ripple effect. American content, be it news, movies, TV shows or technology (including social networks like Facebook), disseminates faster across the world than the ones from any other country, and evokes instant reaction, be it appreciation or derision. American content, products and events are so powerful, and so awesome, that we, the English-educated urban elite, love being part of it. We want to be part of American culture not just because we admire America (or not), but because it is fantastic. They are designed to be such. In this very instance for example, all it took a user to be a part of the global Facebook-driven celebration of gay-pride was two clicks in about 5 seconds.

Some have called it cultural imperialism, others the Americanization of everything. Whatever it is, it truly is attractive. If the Indian Supreme Court were to deliver such a verdict, I think we would have had section 144 imposed in ‘sensitive areas’ and nauseating debates on TV channels. That the US chose to celebrate it by lighting up their monuments in multiple-colours would make any LGBT-rights supporter want to be a part of it, however superficial the support may be. Why we automatically jumped in on the celebrations was that for those of us who support marriage-equality, it was a natural reaction, and the allure of US pop-culture only makes it easier.

In her paper titled ‘Popular culture as a means of soft power’, author Hui Yu Chan talks about the soft power of ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ across the globe in presenting a particular image of America, and even giving way to regional spin-offs.  The paper also quotes an American poet comparing Hollywood to Harvard University, stating that the former is perhaps more important as it had farther reach.  “Our projection of America is not an end in itself. It is a means of making other people favorably disposed towards us, of diffusing among them an atmosphere of liking and respect for us which aid in the implementation of our national policies," says David Wilson, an Office of War Information staffer quoted as in the paper. But the reason American culture and current-events have such impact globally is not just because their thirst for power, but also because their content is innovative and superior.

American content is being devoured in India. According to reports, the illegal downloads of Game of Thrones has jumped by a whopping 155% in the past one year. And that is because, as the author states here, it is often in the United States that new forms of communication have either been invented or perfected, and the style and quality of content is impeccable. It appeals to the emotions of a global audience. Their story lines might be set in modern America, or even in the 50s or 60s, but their appeal is universal. The selfishness in House MD, the brutality of Game of Thrones, the cut-throat politics of House of Cards, the intrigue in Homeland and the family-bonding in Modern Family may have nothing to do with our lives, but are immensely engaging. The same way, the simple watermark created by Facebook, an American product, has little to do with how my gay friends are treated here in India, but allure us to be a part of their amazing story.

 

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Image source: sino-us.com

As The Guardian’s Nick Fraser states in his critique of Peter Conrad’s How the World Has Won: The Americanization of Everywhere, the Americanization is “more life altering in the transformative freedom it offers.” It has its counter-culture heroes and villains, and that narrative fits neatly into how all of us want to view the world.

It is clear now, that along with strong emotive content, social networks are the new battlegrounds for the soft-power-struggles of the American establishment. And however agenda-prone it may be, till the their culture and content remain as awesome and liberating as they are now, and unless we come up with something better than rants to counter them, my vote is to paint that DP in multiple colours and enjoy its vibrancy.  It is however not wrong to ask for more meaningful action as follow up to our enthusiasm. 

 

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