Orientalism is a Western way of portraying Eastern cultures. This term usually implies a negative connotation because orientalism tends to show characteristics or traits of people from Asia or Asian culture in a stereotypical way. For instance, for a Western layman Asians are all lumped together without discerning whether they are Indians, Pakistani, Arabs, Middle Easterners, or sometimes Southern Asians. This phenomenon allows the viewer to apply the same set of stereotypes with regard to the religion, food habits, language, and lifestyle to all the Asians. This paper shows how Coldplay exhibits orientalism regarding the country whereas Shades of Ray and The Party refer to it on a personal level.
One of the illustrative examples of the still reigning orientalism among the Western public is a recent Coldplay video Hymn for the Weekend, which depicts India quite stereotypically. Frontman Christ Martin is shown against a colorful backdrop of Indian urban scenery with the serious looking Brahmans and happy children, who are celebrating Holi by tossing around the colored power. Through Coldplay’s lens India is beautiful and rich in color, and the first visit to this country can broaden a tourist’s experience. However, the fact that Coldplay is a British music band quickly comes to mind, and the viewer might wonder that people from the country, which had colonized India for two centuries, might have had a deeper knowledge of it. Furthermore, the Hymn for the Weekend video shows laughing children and Indians, doing religious ceremonies, in stark contrast with the lyrics “Got me feeling drunk and high.” It seems an awkward pairing and not very appropriate one. Thus, the director of the video can be accused of cherry-picking the most stereotypical ideas of India. Although he shows its beautiful scenery, bright colors in clothing, and visually rich religious ceremonies, this does not provide a deeper insight into Indian culture. In fact, even religion is used only as a decoration here. All these can be explained by a superfluous treatment of the topic. Furthermore, the band had Beyoncé to perform a role of a Bollywood star whereas the Indian actress Sonam Kapoor was allowed only a cameo appearance in the video. It proves again that India is treated very superfluously and more like a decoration rather than something interesting and captivating.
Meanwhile, stereotypes about the personality of Asian people are the main focus of Shades of Ray. This series tells a story of a half-Pakistani and half-white boy called Ray, who was going to marry his white fiancé but ended up taking interest in a Pakistani girl. As an actor, Ray is pigeonholed as some stereotypical Pakistani character such as terrorist or deli owner due to his dark eyes, black hair, and slightly darker skin than that of an average American. Even though Ray knows English as any other native speaker, he is asked to speak with ‘accent’ at castings. Eventually he has to master the accent because only this can please casting directors, who expect it from him. These episodes make fun of the ways people of Asian descent are usually portrayed in mass media even though there are several generations of Asian immigrants living in the US, whose parents and grandparents have already been naturalized. Another step from the stereotype is Ray’s profession. Asians are often believed to be brainy and good at math. However, Ray defies it and pretends to be involved in investment banking, so that his father could believe that his son has a prestigious job. However, in fact, Ray is a struggling actor, and he has night shifts at the bar in order to pay his bills.
The Party, a film of 1968, features a struggling actor of Indian descent as well. This film shows not only how the American public treated people of foreign origin, but also reveals inherently racist attitudes towards casting a Caucasian actor of English descent as an Indian guy, Bakshi. It involves some brown paint applied to his face because fifty years ago Asian actors did not have leading roles at all. Thus, the main character is a set of stereotypical traits such as the brown face, very thick Indian accent, and a certain clumsiness that a foreigner might feel in the presence of the upper class bourgeois. A metaphorical depiction of India can be read into the episode with an elephant at the party. The house owners’ daughter brings a hippy crown to the party and an elephant, painted into bright colors with pacifist and hippish slogans written over it. Bakshi is appalled to see a symbol of his country to be treated this way, and the viewer can see a parallel with the appropriation of India, exhibited in Western mass media. Without respect and deep knowledge, the West views India as an entertainment that can be used for its own benefit.
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In conclusion, the problem of orientalism is reducing the richness of some cultures to several ideas. In the Coldplay video, India is shown as a country of immense spirituality. Although spiritual practices are important for Indian identity, India cannot be only limited to it. In its turn, in The Party, the protagonist is shown as bowing and apologizing all the time, which can be partially true about Asian people, but again they cannot be only reduced to such comic behavior. In Shades of Ray, the director attempts to challenge the existing stereotypes about South Asian people by showing a half-Pakistani guy, dealing with the same problems that an average American. Ray confronts his overbearing father, and he has to juggle night shifts and daytime interviews to pursue a career he dreams of. Overall, today’s media registers a departure from a rather racist depiction of ethnic minorities, but it still remains a battlefield of orientalism against cultural studies.
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