Rant ahead

May. 11th, 2017 04:53 pm
questioncurl: (feminism)
So, I came across this article the other day, titled 'Capturing the Colorful Style of Punjab, India'. I was intrigued. Punjabis are stereotypically flamboyant, and often have a distinct panache. These days, there's a lot of interesting fusion with hiphop and street style in Punjabi music and fashion, as well a longstanding tradition of protest and dissent that comes out in surprising ways. So I was expecting the article to talk about something like what these guys are selling or what this group is doing in London.

Instead, it's just lazy. First, there are the photos themselves. If someone made a list of how to depict 'exotic India', every photo here would fit on it, no questions asked. 
  • The majority of them feature turbans or saris. I also wear saris fairly regularly; I also have friends who wear turbans. But that doesn't mean that that's what most people wear. Not even in temples. Not even in Amritsar. 
  • Women in the photos generally have covered heads—which makes sense because they are taken in and around a gurdwara, where everyone is supposed to cover their head. But this isn't mentioned anywhere. And where are photos of sheepish-looking unturbaned men using their handkerchiefs to cover their heads? Oh right. every man wears a turban in this version of Punjab.
  • What transport do these demure women and valiantly mustachioed and turbaned men use? Rickshaws. Two-wheelers. Trains. This for a state that's mocked mercilessly in the rest of India for its fascination with cars, the bigger and showier the better. Chandigarh (the capital) has the most number of cars per head in India. 
Then there are the clueless stereotypes. And not even clueless stereotypes about Punjab, which would at least indicate some engagement with the place.  
  • 'People wear bright colours.' Like in every other place in India?
  • 'Mustaches are popular.' Again, that's just as true in Kerala.
  • 'Women wear headscarves in temples, but are more modern outside' FFS. Isn't there a clothing difference in UK/US churches vs. on the street? Or in ANY formal setting vs. while getting groceries/attending college/catching a train?  
  • 'Men often wear button-down shirts in the street' ....am I really supposed to take this seriously?
  • Oh, there IS a clueless stereotype about Punjabs: 'The turban is a symbol of pride. it's like a crown.' Joy
Like I said, it's lazy. You could have written more or less this exact same article using a few lithographs from the 1930s. It's uninteresting and uninterested in actually seeing what's there. I'm not interested in furthering some narrative of progress based on arbitrary standards like the number of cars or prevalence of Western clothing in any given Indian town. But I'm even less interested in—in fact, I'm bored to tears by— yet another instance where the shorthand for India is colour, fabric, turbans, faceless women, unusual transport, temples. And in the process you ALSO flatten out regional variation, dissent, protest, subcultures, and everything that makes a place unique within India. Why bother going to Punjab at all if this is what you have to show for it?   

But there is a small silver lining. At least there were no cows.
 

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