Vote Lamb on Australia Day!

Saturday, 27 January 2007

As promised, Sam Kekovitch is back with a thoroughly politically incorrect advertisement for eating lamb on Australia Day. It starts off by saying

Un-Australianism remains as prevalent as unexposed genitals on a reality television show….

With traditional Aussie pastimes such as Pommie and greenie bashing, and littered with Aussie icons such as the Hills hoist, barbies and the beach, he sends out his message in the form of a political message for the Australia Day Party (whose logo is the Southern Cross that forms a lamb chop).

See the video here. A slightly different audio address to the nation is here.

His policies include replacing tax cuts with lamb cuts, using nuclear powered barbeques for greater grilling power and testing migrants on their ability to use barbeque tongs. He also suggests that we could use the terrorists responsible for bombing Australians (and the odd Pom) in London, to fill gas bottles- ‘the occasional explosion won’t bother them’.

All in all some practical suggestions on how to be a dinky-di, fair-dinkum, true blue Aussie.

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Fair Dinkum Manjit

Saturday, 27 January 2007

Yesterday, on Australia Day, we saw a documentary about Manjit Boparai, a Brisbane cabbie who is really grateful to this land of Oz and considers himself a fair dinkum Aussie, that is to say, he is a true blue Aussie.

He was inspired to ‘pen a song’- Song Australia– celebrating the country and all it offers and this got some airplay on a local FM radio station. He then sets to to make a video clip for it. The documentary follows Manjit in his cab as he goes around getting support from celebrities and politicians for his project and the actual filming of the video.

When I started seeing the programme I thought this was another cringe-inducing demonstration of a desi trying to ingratiate himself with the locals by living up to their stereotypes. However, it turned out not to be so. Mainly because Manjit’s enthusiasm and self-belief are so infectious that you can’t help but smile along with him and his funny accent.

And the song itself… well, you be the judge! Listen to a sample here.

Goodonya Manjit! Seems like you have certainly bought into the dream.

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Ideological thickness

Sunday, 21 January 2007

US conservative Dinesh D’Souza, in his new book, has reached back to the Jimmy Carter administration to lay blame for the 9/11 attacks on the liberals. In an interview with Salon (subscription required), he says that there are foreign-policy dimensions and cultural dimensions to the hatred in the Muslim world that led to 9/11 that have not been recognised. He says

Jimmy Carter came to power, [and] he said, ‘I believe in human rights,’ and the left basically got around Carter and said, if you believe in human rights, then you can’t support the shah, the shah of Iran is a dictator, he has a secret police, and so Jimmy Carter was encouraged and pressured to withdraw American support for the shah, which he did … In trying to get rid of the lesser evil, we got the greater evil. That’s one small way in which the left sowed the seeds of 9/11.

On the cultural side he says that when the Islamists say they feel under attack by American values as they are perceived overseas- atheism and homosexuality among them- these being the values that the liberal left pushes.

From a review of his book in The Washington Post, which calls it “dim, dishonorable” and “the worst nonfiction book about terrorism published by a major [publishing] house since 9/11”:

Here’s the main argument, such as it is. Why has al-Qaeda targeted America? “Not because of U.S. troops in Mecca,” D’Souza writes. “Not even because of Israel. . . . The suicide bombers of radical Islam are not blowing themselves up because they are distressed over the Gulf War of 1991 or because they are in solidarity with the Palestinians.” Rather, “what bin Laden objected to was America staying in the Middle East, importing with it the immoral ingredients of American values and culture.” That makes the left “responsible for 9/11” because it “has fostered a decadent American culture that angers and repulses traditional societies” and has waged “an aggressive global campaign to undermine the traditional patriarchal family and to promote secular values in non-Western cultures.” In sum, “the cultural left and its allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the nonprofit sector, and the universities are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world.”

Salon’s questions bring out several areas of ignorance and even dishonesty in D’Souza’s views as have others such as the Washington Post article quoted above.

In the culture wars that continue post-9/11 and post the Iraq invasion, it is clear that a refusal- or inability- to learn is still a hallmark of the ideologues of the right wing.

For a lighter take see Stephen Colbert’s interview with D’Souza.

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A lament for Air India

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Three things happened this week to remind me of good old Air India.

Just the other day at a backyard barbeque dinner, I met an ex-Air India pilot and we were talking of the old days when I used to travel on (and he used to fly) the last remaining Boeing 707’s to Aden, Nairobi and Addis Ababa. These were the dying days of Air India as a credible international airline. By then it was well into government bureaucracy mode, sloppy, bumbling and uncaring. But this particular flight was a favourite of mine. Great meals were served on each sector, the crew were friendly and I got to know some of them over the years.

In cities such as Aden, the Air India office was a link to things otherwise not available in the then communist country- newspapers, magazines and books. In fact, one of the staff who worked there, a comely local girl of Indian origin, used to run an informal lending library for books that we could borrow and read. In return, we would leave with her the books we had brought in to add to the library.

Because I had got to know quite a few of the staff, I was often upgraded to business class.

Then I see Patrick Smith at Salon (subscription required) laments the changeover of Air India’s livery for its aircraft:

First, a sneak peak at the latest airline livery abomination. There’s been no shortage of these lately, but this one is particularly disappointing because it afflicts Air-India, until now wearer of my all-time favorite color scheme. Here’s the original, shown to gorgeous advantage on a 747. How can you not love it, from the Rajasthani palace window frames to the Nike-style fin flash? It’s exotic, classic, understated, refined. All airlines should be those things.

Now for the update, depicted here on what I believe is a pre-delivery Boeing 777 at the factory near Seattle. The window arches and striping look emaciated. That scrambled egg on the tail is a bastardized version of the carrier’s elegant Sagittarian centaur logo. He appears to have been electrocuted.

In an earlier post he also comments on why the airline chose the centaur from Greek mythology as its logo:

Air-India’s earliest long-range planes were Lockheed Constellations, the first one taking off in 1948. With the new planes came a new logo, and the plan was go with a constellation theme. The centaur, representative of Sagittarius, was a logical choice because it suggested movement, strength, and somewhat resembled the farohar, a Parsi heavenly symbol featuring a winged man, like a guardian angel. The Parsis are a Zoroastrian sect of the Subcontinent — of which Air-India’s founding family, the Tatas, were members — and their farohar is a sign of good luck. Furthermore, incarnation of the Sagittarius brings forth, in the mind of many Indians, images of the master archer Arjuna from the mythological epic Mahabharata. Whatever the exact reasoning, the emblem was adopted and has remained.

And lastly, I saw a recent documentary film about The Doors concerts in Europe in 1967-68. When they came to England they got off an Air India plane!

Alas, the Air India with the maharaja as mascot and the series of classic humorous ads the defined a carrier with some attitude is long gone, replaced now with younger brighter better airlines in India.

An article in a 1960 Time magazine relates how the club-footed ‘socialist’ politicians started hobbling the airline’s personality.

Here is a link to some of the older Air India ads and posters. And one to pictures of the covers of their timetables over the years, including the one pictured above.

And lastly, a link to some more recent ads.

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I came across a post by the always interesting Manish on Ultrabrown, frothing about the way Indian accents are depicted by whitefellas (in or out of brownface- or brownvoice in some cases), especially Apu in the Simpsons.

He has many problems with the accent used by Apu (as spoken by Hank Azaria): it is ‘crudely done’, ‘a poor imitation’, ‘a travesty’ (of the real Indian accent), ‘crudely pasted’, ‘synthetic’, ‘artificial’ and how ‘gut-level revulsion this churns up’ in him just talking about it. Strong words and fair enough, being his opinion. But he goes on to say in a couple of places including a comment I left, that this caricature of an Indian accent is racist, including this:

It’s not that only desis are allowed to do desi humor. It’s that the version done in the U.S. exists only in the U.S. and Britain and is done only by white people — it’s artificial. It’s badly done partly because the language lacks Hindi phonemes (as you know, Spanish and Hindi have soft consonants missing in English), but also because of a racist lack of interest in doing it well.

Let’s look at this a little closer.

Manish feels that it is racist because it is a poor imitation or ‘synthetic’ version of an Indian accent and because it creates or perpetuates a stereotype of Indians in the USA and UK. But that is just caricature, isn’t it? It can be offensive but most humour is offensive to one party or the other.

If racism is

a belief system or doctrine which states that inherent biological differences between human races determines cultual or individual achievement — with a corollary that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others (Wikipedia)

then doesn’t that rule out cultural differences such as language or accents? Is the way we speak English (and there are so many regional accents for Hinglish) a characteristic that defines us as a race? In that case, if I spoke with a plummy British accent would I then not be part of the Indian ‘race’? What a great way to escape racism!

And which Indian accent is acceptable then? Is is that of the Bengali with the b’s instead of the v’s, is it that of the Maharashtrians with there hard ‘t’s and d’s or the Malayalee english pronounciation with the oily vowels and funny consonants? Well, the accents of UK desis Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal are held out as an example of an Indian accent done well. Oho, so it is the accent of the upper middle class ‘convent’ or ‘public school’ educated upper middle class kids that meets with approval! But that is no more Indian than the faux upper-class stentorian English accent that we used to hear on All India Radio’s news from Surajit Sen and others in the 70’s and 80’s.

And what is the subtext when Sellers- or now Steve Martin- send up the French in the Pink Panther films or how the German accent is stereotyped by Hollywood (ve haff our vays). Is that racist too?

And here’s the nub. All these representations of Indian or other accents are but caricatures. Why should they have be close to the real thing? Whether they were too lazy to do the work to get it right (as Manish and another comment leaver have said) is besides the point! It’s meant to raise a giggle with the target audience! Yes, naina, it was mocking of Indians as is most humour mocking of some person or group. You don’t have to like it but you cannot wheel out the ‘R’ word for someone making fun of your accent! It might be also insulting, revolting, boring and any number of other adjectives, but racist- I don’t think so.

To accuse people of racism seems to be the first resort of the educated Indian whose hypersensitive antennae perceive a slight where none may be intended.

As the thoughtful comment by musical points out

Hindi movies take the cake when it comes to racial and linguistic stereotyping. Even desis mock each others accents! What about all the South Indians saying Ayyo Rama, all the Bengalis saying Uri baba, all the Punjus saying Balle Balle, all the Sindhis saying Vadi Saayin-all bad stereotypes, all perpetuated by us, the desis.

These are all examples of one social class making fun of another social class for general amusement. It really has nothing to do with race. Given time the stereotype of the Indian in the West will change from the mindless depictions of Sellers, to that of the current call centre agent stereotype to something that more accurately represents the Indians that people in the mainstream meet.

No, girls and guys, un-knot your chaddis, relax the sphincter, unwind yourself (as Kaa the snake said to Mowgli in The Jungle Book) and put a smile on your face. Then go and make some more jokes about Mumbaiyya Hindi, Malayalee English or Punjabis with American accents (heard venture capital guru Vinod Khosla talk?).

In short, get a sense of humour.

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How to get Aussies to eat lamb

Friday, 5 January 2007

The traditional Australian diet is very meat (read beef-) centric; meat and 3 veges was the standard meal for most Anglos and still is for many. So when you have to promote the consumption of other meats, it’s like pushing shit uphill- apologies for the unappetising metaphor. What it then takes is some really creative messages- the guys who sell pork did it with their campaign some time ago touting it as ‘the other white meat’ (in USA too apparently, where this link leads).

The Meat & Livestock industry association has come up with a campaign using an ethnic-origin ex-rugby footballer who uses the most ocker language and slang to make his point to cook lamb for Australia day as doing otherwise would be un-Australian. The ethnic stererotype rings true because in my experience the most ocker accents now come from the Greeks, Italians, Lebanese and East-European migrants (once collectively called wogs). They did this with award-winning ads in 2005 and 2006 and are doing it again this year (will post a link to the new ad when available):

Australia Day Lamb Commercial with Sam Kekovich by MLA

In the latest ad, he is expected to take aim at retired swimmer Ian
Thorpe and “bling-encrusted” teenagers for being un-Australian.

“In this election year, Australians are faced with a stark choice:

allow un-Australianism to flourish, or take a stand against it, before
it becomes as prevalent as exposed genitals on a reality television
show,” Kekovich says at the beginning of the ad.

“In the past year, I’ve travelled all over this wide, brown land.
I’ve met a few people, both young and old, and listened to what they
had to say. I’ve seen first-hand the devastation un-Australianism has
caused. And frankly, I’ve had a gutful.”

The first ad in 2005, when the commentator launched a stream of
invective and called for capital punishment for un-Australian
behaviour, resulted in a major boost in lamb sales. Last year, the
campaign by ad agency BMF resulted in more than $2 million worth of
free publicity and lamb sales jumped 16 per cent.

More here.

Have to love a people who can laugh at their own stereotypes!

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Hinglish hits the radar!

Friday, 5 January 2007

I like a lot of stuff that comes out from NPR but was not impressed by this little news story about what they call ‘Hinglish’ or a blend of Hindi and English that we speak in India. Listen to it here:

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Firstly, why should anyone be surprised that India has it’s own version of English- after all America, Ireland and Australia, to name a few, all do too. Secondly, some of the words that they find quaint probably would not be by a British audience- so NPR makes the mistake of interpreting things through its own rose-tinted glasses. And lastly, does anyone else notice a hint of more than amusement at the tactic of asking someone to read from the Wren & Martin grammar book? I felt it was not just the content of the book that they were bringing to our attention but they were also having a dig at the accent and diction of the reader of the passage too.