Monday, February 15, 2010

Soft power is actually quite hard

With My Name is Khan, Slumdog Millionaire, Three Idiots as well as the upcoming Kites, India seems to have done what China struggles with immensely. India has recently laid the seeds for becoming a cultural power in the way of the United States. China, though far more developed than India, with a per capita income of $6,000 that is double India, and more powerful politically and militarily, has comparatively few cultural exports.

While so many of the world's manufactured goods are made in China and, as a result, I type on a Chinese-made computer while keeping an eye on my Chinese-made cell phone and TV, China hasn't taken over my life in quite the way that America's cultural exports have. India has the chance to do this through its entertainment industry, which

While Indian culture has long reigned supreme in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, China actually receives cultural influence from Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as Japan and Korea. The gap is not simply one of poverty, one where a poor area receives culture from wealthier neighbours, but one of openness. China's authoritarian system is fantastic for guaranteeing a fantastic place to do business, but doesn't allow for much creative expression.

India, on the other hand, is a cacophonous democracy. China presents a sanitized view of a rapidly ascendant country, but India's self-image juxtaposes highrises with slums, even if it omits the rural outposts that are untouched by recent development.

Because it offers up highly distorted defenses of official stances on the three T's of Tibet, Taiwan and Tiananmen, China is unlikely to counter the West with significant cultural products any time soon. Chinese food and martial arts are popular, but this is more the result of Hong Kong's openness over the years, considering that China's ascendancy over the last ten years has done little to change anything in this area.

No one is going to believe what China says, so it looks as though India alone can contribute a non-Western perspective in a future world where the powers are not just America and Europe, but also China, India, Brazil and (gulp) Russia. If nothing else, the world will now have a second exporter of maudlin cinema with the likely result that, in time, we will come to see either Independence Day or its Indian version as a fine work of art.

1 comment:

John said...

That may be, but India's world outlook (it is a united country, and speaks English, BECAUSE of the West, not in spite of it) and has many traditions inherited by long domination by Western Powers mean that while it is definitely different from the West, its outlook is distinctly more Anglo-Saxon than say - Korea, Japan, or China.

While I don't debate that India will become more culturally significant I'd posit that Japan will continue to grow culturally in the United States. Go to a major bookstore next time you're in the States. What used to be SF and Fantasy is now half anime - patrolled by children dressed as Japanese fictional characters. I see Japan as the major cultural exporter, whose exports are growing at an exponential pace. For the time being most indigenous Indian art and culture is see as comical and bizarre by most Americans - being consistently mocked. That's not to say that serious films aren't made in India, however, the movies that do spread to America are most often not Indian, but American/British interpretations of Indian life.

Just my two cents - you're not wrong, but don't deny Korea's MHN (most hated nation)