We are public about this — we are huge fan girls but being one doesn’t make us blind to the significant misrepresentation that comes along with the glimmer of chandeliers at the Yule Ball and the questionable tickling in our stomachs by the inappropriate jokes.
While Western pop culture has a huge influence on us, it often makes us overlook the withstanding racism and misrepresentation of ethnicities seen in almost all of our most treasured books and TV series. We understand that diversity and inclusivity have become the norm for western cinema and that it’s meant to be relatable. However, they do not represent it in a manner that is acceptable to the portrayed communities and often fall back on cultural appropriation.
Let us have a look at two of the most loved series, and their not-so-hidden misrepresentation of culture and ethnicities.
The Big Bang Theory
The show that validates ‘nerd’ to be a compliment is loved by many and especially me after watching it for the 73rd time. However, there are instances throughout the show that make us lose the Sheldon-like coy smile when we encounter continuous misrepresentation, especially of…you know where I’m going with this…Dr. Rajesh Koothrapali. Now don’t get me wrong, I too laughed at the jokes. But there came times when the continuous Gandhi stereotyping and Indian accent mimicry increased the depth of the furrow in my eyebrows. They also represented Rajesh as someone who, even after being brought up in India, didn’t learn Hindi or even respect much of his Indian heritage. I, like many, had slid past these references but then I started watching it with my mom who became offended. I started to understand it from her perspective.
Comedy is a much-nuanced concept all over the world and while cultural jokes are meant to be taken lightly, some of them are written in such a lazy manner, just like the jokes in Big Bang Theory, which make us question if the writers were uninformed or just had a low functioning prefrontal cortex. Well, I guess we’d need to ask Amy for that.
Undoubtedly, the most loved and popular book series among people of all age groups, the Harry Potter series contains incredible accounts of the misrepresentation of Asians, which even magic couldn’t disguise.
For instance, did you know while Cho Chang was of Chinese descent, her name consists of two Korean last names?! Someone even tweeted that it’s like naming a British character Churchill Rowling. This is not an isolated incident. The heavy stereotyping of the Indian twins, Parvati and Padma Patil, made each of us extremely uncomfortable. They both didn’t have any character development and were always shown talking and thinking about boys and relationships. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the sheer atrocity that their Yule Ball outfits were in the movies. It’s safe to say that no one will ever be able to get over that.
Seeing the pattern here, all I can say is that, please do your research before trying to be inclusive in future novels.
Western media and pop culture have, more often than not, been ignorant of communities outside their narrow shell of stereotypes and prejudices.
But worry not, dear reader, because Indian pop culture is slowly blooming. Writers like Amish Tripathi, have truly changed the world of Indian pop culture, by connecting our heritage and roots to intriguing and modern plots. Instead of emulating the western world, Indians have now started to weave their own culture into stories that can resonate with the youth, and be more acceptable to the targeted audience.
Even Bollywood movies are gradually evolving and including more nuanced plot lines. While the cliché stories are still seen on the big screen, movies like Gangubai Kathiawadi, Pink, Brahmastra, and many more, are breaking boundaries with new concepts that the Bollywood Cinema doesn’t usually see.
In conclusion, all we can say is that all artists need to be more responsible in the content they put out there. It’s the world of Gen-Z, and pop culture profoundly influences people around the globe. While writers from countries like India are steadily gaining popularity, it is crucial for the western front to be inclusive in a more mature and sensitive manner.
Here’s to a world of responsible inclusivity!
-Ishita Gupta and Tanvi Kamra, AISN