holland park school
"What different types of violence were involved in European colonialism?"
European colonial violence can be defined as a process of negation, eradication and imposition. This was performed both by explicit acts of physical violence and through more oblique structural and symbolic modes of force. More accurately, European colonial missions sought to deconstruct pre-colonial models of societal organisation. Effectively, this was to eradicate native constructions of economy, production, class and sex under the guise of a united ‘civilising’ project. Though militarised force was central to the expeditious deposition of indigenous authority, this on its own was not synonymous with enduring colonial control. Thus, European colonisers were tasked with preserving the subordinate position of the ‘native’. Principally, in championing eurocentric narratives that were concordant with -but not a translation of- western notions of hierarchy, they aimed not only to justify acts of physical violence but also to invent new forms of structural violence. This essay thus contextualises these colonial models of violence, applying them principally to the European creation of the indigenous ‘other’.
Fundamentally, the organisation of colonial authority necessitates incursions of physical violence to displace existing dynamics of power within native communities. Indeed, we may say that violence is inherent in conquest, and such is observed in the Spanish colonial mission in the Americas. Functioning simultaneously as an invasion and as a civilising mission, the Spanish imperial project into 16th century America was marked by the political expediency of the conquistador, who sought to invalidate the diverse experiences of native peoples (Deagan, 2003). This binary relationship between discovery and dominion was echoed in the often militarised displacement of native polity and production. As Gabbert notes, the consolidation of imperial authority was complicated in less centralised societies, where stable leadership, division of labour and production had to be invented anew (Gabbert: 2012, p.257-58). This, combined with the disinclination of natives to cooperate with colonial leaders, saw these communities “subject toviolent incursions of Spanish troops and slave raiders for the entire colonial period” (Gabbert: 2012, p.258). Evidently, the displacement of pre-colonial notions of power and production inherently included supplanting structures entrenched in native ways of life, such that were not readily surrendered. Militarized acts of physical violence thus functioned as a natural corrective to such lack of coordination from indigenous peoples.
Yet, physical impositions of power were not innately conducive to prolonged colonial sovereignty. Indeed, onslaughts of militarized violence on their own were built on an insubstantial base- one that called for fortification. Primarily, this was performed through the notion of the colonial ‘other.’ This colonial model of essentialism was invoked almost ubiquitously in narratives of European hegemony, acting as central to the construction of the innate inferiority of colonised peoples. Robin Burns applies such notions of ‘otherness’ to concepts of ‘structural violence.’ That is, in casting colonised communities as a homogenous ‘other’, they were removed of individual rights and the ability to define ‘self’ within these imperial systems (Burns: 1982, p.63-7 cited in, Lemonius: 2017, p.82). Thus, they were subjugated -almost by default- by the autonomous coloniser. Indeed, the invention of this singular, distinct identity was such to justify the perpetuation of European dominion in the colonies. Notably, the ‘otherness’ of colonised persons was not an inherent difference, but one that needed to be defined and maintained (Cooper and Stoler: 1997,p.7 cited in, Gino: 2010, p.60). As such, European colonial agents were provided with a continued civilising project: to fabricate and preserve the distinct position of the native inferior. In this, not only were physical acts of violence justified in the colonial mentality but also intangible notions of European supremacy were solidified -even embodied- in the existence of a collective ‘other.’
This was certainly echoed in the violent racializing discourses that often came to define these obscure European civilising missions. Indeed, racism is not the effect but an active polarising tactic for the disjuncture of colonial relations; it is in the invention of biological “internal enemies” that the coloniser isgiven their purpose (Stoler: 1997, p.59 cited in Smith: 2003, p.72). Namely, colonial missions operated to simultaneously defend the racial supremacy of the European and cultivate the innate depravity of the ‘native’. Martínez’s examination of race relations within Spanish Equatorial Guinea delineates an oblique performance of such racial discourses. Principally, colonial constructions of ‘the African’ were defined by their degenerate cultural practices, recorded in missionary journals as involving idolatry, cannibalism, polygamous customs and a nomadic lifestyle (Martínez: 2016, p.46). Spanish colonial bodies thus acted as the moral corrective to the ‘primitive’ African, tasked to educate and ultimately civilise the ‘native’, upheld by their innate racial virtue- their ‘Europeanness’. Whilst ostensibly characterised not by biologistic but culturalist forms of racialisation, Martinez does not fail to note the biological implications implicit in the construction of two antithetical colonial identities. Fundamentally, in elevating the European as ‘civilised’, the native was inherently debased, associated with a regressive and ‘savage’ racial identity (Martínez, 2016, pg.48). The racialisation of the ‘other’ thus highlighted the division between the coloniser and the colonised. This ultimately consolidated the callous purification of ‘the African’ as the key ambition of Spanish dominion in Equatorial Guinea.
This symbolic invention (and subsequent imposition) of the imperial racial dichotomy sought also to violently promote a process of institutional subordination- one secured by colonial constructions of power. This was chiefly enacted in the introduction of gendered and patriarchal concepts of control and organisation. Lugones’ review of the ‘Colonial/Modern gender system’ analyses the intersection of race and gender not as a translation of existing European gender arrangements, but as a violent and explicit colonial project (Lugones: 2007, p.186-87). This ‘dark side’ of the gender system, as she notes, sought to violently deconstruct the agency that native women had possessed in pre-colonial economies to positions of effective animality and exploitation, secured by a racialised patriarchal model (Lugones: 2007, p.206). Tellingly, West African pre-colonial societies viewed ‘male’ and ‘female’ not as hierarchically opposed social categories; instead the vague application of gender served as much to divide sex determined statuses, as to codify their inherent ambiguities (Sudarkasa: 1986, p.93). In this, female leadership occupied not a subordinate position to that of men, rather a complimentary one. Though often operating within an internal feminine sphere -- including the management of trade, the disposal of income and legal authority- women’s activities in external affairs were nonetheless active, and they engaged almost ubiquitously in governmental and economic affairs (Sudarkasa: 1986, p.99-100). Evidently, operations of patriarchal hegemony were manifested in the violent interplay between the negation of pre-colonial female prerogative (as in West African communities), and the imposition of a racialized gender system. Indeed, we must accept European conceptions of gender as the key organising concept for the sociocultural and structural organisation of patriarchy (Lemonius: 2017, p.80) and the subsequent displacement of women from native economies.
Yet, such gendered derogation of native bodies did not solely exist in the realms of polity, production and economy. First, we must conceptualise this understanding of gender in relation to the crude sexual conquest of colonial territories, precipitated predominantly by European male agents. Principally, the uncertain continents of Africa, Asia and the Americas were libidinously erotised and feminised in the European imagination as “spatially spread for male exploration” (McClintock: 2013, p.23). This subsequently framed colonial conquest as a process of penetrative invasion. As such, masculine domination was brought to the foreground in the imperial reassembly of societal structures. Male sovereignty within these ‘virgin territories’ was hence evoked in the bodies of native women, who could now be sexually possessed and dominated. Walther’s analysis of male sexuality in Germany’s colonies intimates that while sex in Europe existed as a contained societal force, “in the colonial setting sex, both metaphorically and literally, became a force for colonising the non-western world” (Walther: 2010, p.45). That is, in casting the uncivilised non-west as the subject of sexual conquest, this feminised ‘other’ became integral to defining heterosexual male control, not solely over their imperial territories but also their bodily dominance over native women (Walther: 2010, p.45). Thus, colonial conquest became a lascivious project of masculine dominance, one in which violence was enacted not merely through the symbolic assault of native lands, but also in the forced sexual submission of colonized women.
Nonetheless, such debasement of female bodies acted not simply to elevate the heterosexual European male but was also included in a more unambitious form of sexual conquest. It is the same libidinous energy that was applied in the sexualised occupation of the colonies that exacerbated the desire of the male coloniser to master the exotic feminity of the indigenous woman. Yet, such wanton acts depended upon the innate sexual impurity that polluted native bodies in the colonial imagination (Smith: 2003, p.78). Namely, women that were racialised as inferior were understood by the coloniser as possessing distorted femininity, or more accurately, they existed as modified versions of ‘women’ (Lugones: 2007, p.203). Such dehumanisation created a body that could be violated physically. Indeed, Lugones reveals that the rape of African and Indian slave women coexisted with instances of concubinage (Lugones: 2007, p.203). Such exposes at once the hedonistic tendencies of masculine dominion and the self-serving nature of their sexual subjugation of indigenous women. Andrea Smith intimates a further perversion of this. She suggests that “because Indian bodies are dirty they are considered sexually violable and rapeable...the rape of bodies that are impure or dirty simply does not count” (Smith: 2003, p.73). Evidently, colonial projects sought not only to deny indigenous women of their bodily integrity but also of their humanity. Again, we see a tactical invention of a violable ‘other’ - a construction that tolerates societal violence, and also serves to amplify destructive patriarchal narratives.
In conclusion, European colonial violence was not singular and occupied many forms. In the invention of a united indigenous identity, European colonial projects were enabled to apply modified structures of control that acted to reconstruct and brutally negate pre-colonial dialogues of power. Though we see this initially enacted through militarized force, these forms of violence needed to be fortified in order to continue. This essay has proposed that it was in the inextricable and simultaneous application of racial and gendered models of authority that European colonial leaders were enabled to violently subjugate the masses. Further, the feminisation of colonial borders enforced European patriarchal dominance in the colonies. This form of violence not was not solely performed symbolically, but also in the perverseentitlement of heterosexual European men to the bodies of ‘Indian’ women. This served the hedonistic desire of the European male. Indeed, the possession, rape and exploitation of native women was not simply included in the elevation of patriarchal authority but also rendered a recreational activity. Ultimately, in homogenising the native ‘other’ European colonial violence found its natural justification. That is, colonial bodies became innately inhuman -denied individual rights- able to be mercilessly conquered by the autonomous European coloniser.
Deagan, K. (2003). Colonial Origins and Colonial Transformations in Spanish America. Historical Archaeology, [online] 37(4), pp.3–13. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25617091 [Accessed 18 April 2021].
Gabbert, W. (2012). The Longue durée of Colonial Violence in Latin America. Historical Social Research / Historische Sozialforschung, [online] 37(3 (141)), pp.257–258. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41636608 [Accessed 17 April 2021].
Ginio, R. (2010). French Officers, African Officers, and the Violent Image of African Colonial Soldiers. Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques, [online] 36(2), pp.60. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41403692 [Accessed 22 April 2021].
Lemonius, M. (2017). “Deviously Ingenious”: British Colonialism in Jamaica. Peace Research, 49(2), pp.80–83
Lugones, M. (2007). Heterosexualism and the Colonial / Modern Gender System. Hypatia, [online] 22(1), pp.186–203. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4640051 [Accessed 26 April 2021].
Martínez, E.O. (2016). They Were There to Rule: Culture, Race, and Domination in Spanish Equatorial Guinea, 1898–1963. Afro-Hispanic Review, [online] 35(1), pp.36–59. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/26335048 [Accessed 26 April 2021].
Mcclintock, A. (2013). Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. [online] Google Books. Routledge. Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=DSEiAQAAQBAJ&lpg=PA1&dq=Anne%20McClintock% 2C%20Imperial%20Leather.%20Race%2C%20Gender%20and%20Sexuality%20in%20the%20 Colonial%20Contest&lr&pg=PT33#v=onepage&q&f=true [Accessed 24 Apr. 2021].
Smith, A. (2003). Not an Indian Tradition: The Sexual Colonization of Native Peoples. Hypatia, [online] 18(2), pp.72–78. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3811012.[Accessed 20 Apr. 2021].
Sudarkasa, N. (1986). “The Status of Women” in Indigenous African Societies. Feminist Studies, 12(1), p.91 Walther, D.J. (2010). Sex, Race and Empire: White Male Sexuality and the “Other” in Germany’s Colonies, 1894-1914. German Studies Review, [online] 33(1), pp.45 Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40574927 [Accessed 1 May 2021]
harris westminster sixth form
"Is it possible to create a European identity?"
Creating a new European identity from scratch, in modern day, is not possible. It would be possible to alter the current one, as the EU and governing bodies are promoting, but even this takes time. What the European identity means to different people is wide ranging, taking into account the history and influence of the continent within and outside of Europe, through colonialism and otherwise. The intentions and results of creating a new identity for Europe are also important to consider, with the (unsolved) migrant crisis causing national movements of splitting from the Union rising in the past decade.The European identity as it stands is formed through exclusivity and power. By changing this to tolerance and equality, past wrongdoings are not being addressed, which draws an important question- does a new European identity excuse Europe from its crimes in the past? If so, the new identity would be founded on concealing the tracks of a dark, unforgiven past, having negative impacts on the future of the world.
In order to understand Europe, one must understand the EU and its aims and controversies. The EU was officially formed in 1993 under its current name, but was initially created in 1950 following the end of the Second World War with the intention of ending frequent conflict within Europe. This aim continues, with modern rhetoric revolving around peacetime equality and social justice. Whether this is achieved or even strived for is debated. The problem is that the equality being considered is not intersectional- it is equality between genders, but not between races. The then President-elect of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, details her intentions of government in her Mission letter, starting with the subheading of ‘an open and inclusive way of working’. She then goes on to promise ‘gender balance’ within her government, ‘striking an appropriate balance in terms of gender, experience and geography’. If the word ‘geography’ was intended to cover race, there is a void where race equality should be. As Daniel Trilling comments on her commissioners, ‘she seemed not to notice that all of them were white’. This is followed up by a section called ‘Finding a common ground on migration’, which contains three points; ‘New Pact on Migration and Asylum’, ‘Creating pathways to legal migration’ and ‘Ensur[ing] the coherence of the external and internal dimensions of migration’. For a time when the topic of migration is both controversial and poorly dealt with, her statement gives surprisingly little detail of her migration policies. Following on from Europe’s colonial past is the migrant crisis, caused by the breaking down of colonised countries (in which Europe had a major role) leading to present day conflict and migration from war-torn areas. The Brexit referendum of 2016 was fueled by the fear of immigrants, a racist view propelled by the far right. Discrimination of migrants runs deep in the Brexit debate, but it is not only those who want to leave the EU who descriminate- in the same Mission letter, Ursula von der Leyen aims to ‘bring in people with the skills and talents our economy and labour market need’, which is in itself problematic. As Nesrine Malik puts it, the use of ’exclusively economic arguments [is] a facade for private racist attitudes’. Anti-migration attitudes are widespread within Europe, forming a solid part of the current European identity, of exclusivity, ‘to protect a white, Christian European “civilisation” against other civilisations’. Creating a new European identity of tolerance and equality while ignoring the major failures of its past will cause more harm, laying a broken foundation which would be harder to change.
As mentioned before, the migrant crisis is a result of Europe’s colonial past, with exploited countries being left in hardship, resulting in their citizens leaving in order to live a better life in Europe. When they arrive, instead of being greeted warmly, migrants are subject to ‘militarisation, asylum laws, detention policies and deportations’ which, according to a list published by a coalition of human rights groups in November 2017, have caused the deaths of 33,293 people since 1993. As Europe’s internal borders have relaxed, external borders have been strengthened, with two billion Euros spent on border security and only an estimated seven hundred million Euros on reception conditions for refugees between 2007 and 2013, ‘but europe continued to make security its priority, rather than the protection of vulnerable people’, as Daniel Trilling puts it. The current identity of the EU is one of ‘Justice, Freedom and Security’, but in action this seems to be exclusive to its citizens. It is Europe who caused conflict and instability in countries it colonised, but is now unwilling to take responsibility for its actions. Some may call this irony, but it is the opposite- Europe continues to follow a pattern of behaviour, which is to exploit others until it suits it to, then refuse to apologise. This is seen clearly through the words of David Cameron, who refused to pay reparations to Jamaica in 2015, saying that Jamaica should ‘move on from the painful legacy of slavery’, because it would give the opportunity for other nations to ask the same. David Cameron, while both acknowledging that Britain (and Europe) took part in an ‘abhorrent’ trade and refusing to pay reparations for it, encompasses the attitude Europe takes towards confrontation about its colonial past, which has in turn formed as part of the European identity. To create a new one without first addressing these historical and very current problems would not only preserve systematic racism within government, but it would also make it much harder to combat these ideas in the future. This racism within Europe is also presented through its trade links with countries outside of Europe. Britain’s interference in the Middle East has caused conflict which continues to this day. From 1798 to 1882, one of Britain’s main objectives in the Middle East was to protect access to trade routes, becoming the biggest trading partner of the region. As the last Shah of Iran said, ‘the English always talk about the merits of democracy, but found it perfectly normal to dictate how Iranian elections should be held’. It is clear to see the same pattern of behaviour, of using British (or European) influence in an area to proffit. New ideas of tolerance and equality coming from the EU is in direct contrast with both its past and present actions. While it may succeed in forming this identity as values to promote in theory and policy, it is yet to do so in action. Until equality is achieved in the actions of the EU, its identity will be one of contradiction.
When thinking of the historical politics of Europe, one may think of revolution, monarchy, class divide and the extremes of society under communism or capitalism. The internal view of Europe shows how leaders are no less shameful about exploiting their citizens for economic gain than they are other countries. The French Revolution of the late 18th century showed the inadequacy of the monarchy in ruling their people, both in control and in its duty of care. The Three Estate system of the Ancien Regime was undemocratic, which led thousands of French citizens into poverty, creating the conditions leading up to the Revolution. The overthrow of the monarchy marks an important part of the current European identity, though this is complicated through the fact that other European nations continue to be ruled by monarchy, such as Britain and Spain. This difference is also something which characterises the identity; tolerance and diversity, adding another layer of nuance and contradiction. The preservation of the monarchy of some countries highlights a significant part of the European identity, which is that of heritage and preservation of European tradition. In Victorian Britain, even with the powerful British Empire, precautions had to be taken in order to protect the monarchy from destruction, as seen in neighbouring countries. These precautions took the form of One Nation Conservatism, which boils down to changing in order to conserve, meaning the British public were given enough for their demands to be satisfied while maintaining the status quo as much as possible. This is much associated with PM Benjamin Disraeli, who brought in The Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act of 1875, commenting that it would ‘gain and retain the lasting affection of the working classes’, in turn protecting the monarchy and aristocracy from the common people and potential rebellion. This meant that the monarchy would still be able to reign over their subjects, continuing the oppression of the people through hierarchy. The destruction caused by the leading classes in Britain (mirrored in other European countries) on its poor shares similarities with its destruction abroad- it is this hierarchy within countries which sustains to this day, with the same aristocratic families holding major roles in government, such as David Cameron, who is connected to many notable figures, including King William IV, the first Duke of Fife and the 7th Earl of Denbeigh. While not all European countries share this history, all share one of monarchy whose interactions have contributed towards the modern European identity. With shared borders, cultures, traditions, languages and history, European identities become entwined, fortifying the overarching European identity. To create a new European identity, the past would have to be separated from the present, which is not possible. It would be possible to add to the current identity, but not to create a new one.
The current European identity has been formed through Europe’s past actions, the good and the bad; of community, exclusivity and power. What divides Europe from others is what defines it, but what this is varies from different viewpoints, especially if one is welcome or not. European politics, with migration and security playing a major role, shows in action European values, which may differ from its policies of equality and diversity. Creating a new European identity centered on tolerance and equality without first addressing Europe’s past destruction through colonialism would be to preserve racist values within Europe. The growing divide in European countries, seen most prominently in Britain, revolves around the migrant crisis and the EU- what leavers object to is the reception and treatment of migrants, though in reality this is not dealt with appropriately. The attention given to the migrant crisis is a large part of what constitutes the current European identity, because of its resonance with Europe’s past. The future of the European identity depends on how the migrant crisis is dealt with and whether European policy values (promoted by the EU) will be translated into action. To avoid the continuation of systematic racism in Europe, this action must be partly in the form of reparations and resolving the migrant crisis. This way, the European identity would be able to move on from its history of colonialism and destruction.
Barber, T Charles ‘British and French impacts on the Middle East: Three Phases of Influence, 1905 to 2005’ University of Indiana https://www.usi.edu/media/2431739/ram-barber.pdf [Accessed 16 April 2020]
Blake, Robert (1966) Disraeli, pp. 485–87 (publisher uncredited)
Gabbatiss, Josh (27 November 2017) ‘Brexit strongly linked to xenophobia, scientists conclude’ The Independent https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/brexit-prejudice-scientists-link-foreigners-immig rants-racism-xenophobia-leave-eu-a8078586.html [accessed 15 April 2020]
Mason, Rowena (30 September 2015) ‘Jamaica should move on from painful legacy of slavery says Cameron’ The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/30/jamaica-should-move-on-from-painful-legac y-of-slavery-says-cameron [accessed April 16 2020]
Ridel, Chloé (28 November 2018) ‘Europe is in the grip of a cult of identity. But we can fight back’ The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/nov/28/europe-identity-far-right-democrati c-freedom [accessed 15 April 2020]
Trilling, Daniel (13 September 2019) ‘Protecting the European way of life from migrants is a gift to the far right’ The Guardian
Von der Leyen, Ursula (2019) Mission Letter: Vice-President-designate for Protecting our European Way of Life [Letter, online] 10 September
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/dec/14/immigration-racism-and-the-deep-roots-ofbrexit [Accessed 16 April 2020]
https://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/government_in_ireland/european_government/europea n_union/european_union.html#:~:text=The%20aims%20and%20values%20of%20the%20E U,-The%20Treaty%20of&text=To%20offer%20EU%20citizens%20freedom,the%20euro%20 as%20its%20currency [accessed16 April 2020]
https://eur-lex.europa.eu/summary/chapter/justice_freedom_security.html?root_default=SUM _1_CODED=23 [accessed16 April 2020]
Cardinal vaughan memorial school
"To what extent can popular culture shape identity? Use examples from an international context"
Popular culture has a varying capacity to shape the identities of consumers in accordance with the needs of those in power. As the social structure of modern society has grown more complex, the need to define oneself culturally as belonging to various groups within society has increased (Horn 2009). Hence, popular culture has become more widespread as it allows us to differentiate ourselves from others through subcultures but also enables heterogenous masses of people to identify collectively (Delaney 2007). Sartre said, “We are our choices” and through them we reveal who we are and reshape our identities. So, the popular culture we choose to consume, at least to some extent, reflects our personal identities. However, to understand the impact of popular culture on identity, we first need to know what it is. Popular is derived from ‘populus’ meaning the people (Kidd 2018, p.5). In Ancient Rome this referred to the large mass of poor working people, so popular culture was disregarded by the elite as common and inferior to high culture. Thus, the idea that popular culture is inconsequential and superficial is not surprising given the term’s historical usage. However, this historic dismissal of what has become an increasingly bigger part of our lives is premature due to the great extent that it influences identity.
One example of popular culture’s powerful effect on identity is through colourism in India. Initially the concept of fairer skin being superior was introduced in India by the colonial era. Since people from lower castes were mainly engaged in working out in the sun, the idea of “fair” skin became associated with higher castes. Moreover, European rulers were fond of lighter skin tones, presumably because they thought it was superior (Mishra 2015). Thus, in colonial India, people with lighter skin tone felt privileged, and people looked up to the lighter skin tone of the rulers, which created the divide based on skin tone. Hence, the legacy of colonialism perpetuated a national identity of subordinate Indians (Chakravarty, 1989) which expresses itself in a post-colonial context, in Indian popular culture: the most significant being advertising and the film industry.
The promotion of whitening products via the media is widespread throughout India and while it impacts men, it puts significant pressure on Indian women attaching negative connotations to their appearance and personal identity. Moreover, it creates an environment in which skin tone is a part of one’s personal and social identity. The reason why this messaging carrying colonialist undertones has prevailed in contemporary Indian popular culture for so long is due to its support of a US$450 million economy of fairness products (Verma & Srivastava 2020). Established in 1978, Fair and Lovely have film and television to promote their colourist message: the name of the brand instantly causes one to associate lighter skin with goodness. Consequently, this has been internalised by all age groups and classes in modern Indian society which is evidenced by over 90% of Indian women citing skin-lightening as a high-need area (Ahuja 2018). When a baby is born, the family often gather around to judge its skin tone in order to assess its future life prospects. This displays the instilling of this harmful message from birth by popular culture through the family. Male identity in India is also shaped by the popular culture they consume due to the introduction of brands such as ‘Fair and Handsome’ (Mishra 2015).
Moreover, popular culture doesn’t just negatively impact personal identity, but it also impacts employability and marital prospects (Ahuja 2018). This is a result of popular culture relentlessly entrenching the idea of fairness as being superior. For instance, a Fair and Lovely TV commercial in India depicted the father of a dark-skinned girl wishing he had a son to provide for him- the implication being that his daughter could not get married nor get a better job. The girl then uses a Fair and Lovely cream, becomes fairer and gets a better job as an air hostess. In this way, popular culture can impact social structure as it’s more difficult for people of darker skin tone to be promoted or marry someone of a higher social class. Thus, colourism in popular culture actively causes lowers the socioeconomic status due to skin tone which in turn affects both social and personal identity. Additionally, the colourism that is portrayed by the media has the capacity to influence the voting patterns of certain groups, affecting the political identity of the country. For example, the higher caste, lighter-skinned groups are more inclined to vote for a political candidate that is fairer. On the other hand, poorer social groups, who are typically darker, vote for candidates who look like them as they believe that they will best represent their interests. As a result, the difference in support between the fair and dark candidate was statistically insignificant. (Ahuja 2018) This has stemmed from the political mobilisation of Indians with a lower socioeconomic status. So, although they have been seemingly rejected by popular culture which has imposed offensive stereotypes upon them, ‘dusky- toned’ Indians discovered their political strength. Furthermore, pop culture icon, Nandita Das have played a supporting role in the ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign in order to subvert ideas about darker skin to promote a new, positive sense of identity.
In many ways it is difficult to define how much popular culture shapes the political identity and how much the political identity of those in power shape various forms of pop culture (Grayson ; Davies & Philpott 2009). The politics reflected in film is often linked to the needs and desires of political leaders, but film and TV can also provide subversive messages, contesting prevailing political narratives so that new ones can emerge (Bleiker & Duncombe 2015). The US film industry frequently utilises positive American stereotypes opposed with negative foreign ones to celebrate national values. In this way, films use the visuality and emotion of their narratives to promote national unity and a cohesion of beliefs amongst the American public. Hence, subconsciously enforcing a significant aspect of the US national identity within citizens by allowing large heterogeneous masses of people to identify collectively. One example of this is superheroes since they embody traditional American values such as love for the nation whilst also presenting virtuous characteristics (Gabilliet 2010). Overall, popular culture can generate emotion and a feeling of national togetherness for a set of political ideals, embedding them into one’s political identity. On the other hand, they can also destabilise these politics that people identify so strongly with, causing them to question the values and beliefs that comprise their character.
Moreover, non-western countries can combat derogatory cultural stereotypes through popular culture. Bollywood films such as Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) utilise formulaic narrative structures, typical in Hollywood (Kaur 2002, p. 208).This challenges the Western view of India which involves exoticism and poverty, displayed by the British film Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and instead positively represents India and its values, inspiring a pride in national identity.
Therefore, popular culture is essential to world politics since it frames how a nation views themselves and the emotion they attach to their country. It also impacts how they feel about the rest of the world. Historically, we observe the use of European popular culture to shape the identity of the Other as barbarous whilst it maintained the enlightenment and tolerance of Europe.
In an increasingly globalised world, popular culture has played a pivotal role in defining and regaining national and regional identity. There is much debate to whether the globalisation of popular culture has encouraged an international cultural exchange or become another aspect in which America can assert dominance over the rest of the world. This is especially important due to the strong link between popular culture and consumerism (Bleiker & Duncombe 2015) which allows America to economically benefit from cultural dominance. One may argue that the globalisation of popular culture has promoted integration and a removal of cultural barriers so that larger groups can identify collectively. Additionally, it minimises the negative aspects of culture since there is a uniting factor between nations thus a reduced inclination to other or fear countries (Rothkopf,1997, pg.38). In this way, pop culture could potentially create an international identity. On the contrary, others may say that the globalisation of popular culture has pushed the idea of a universal way of thinking, erasing the divergence in identity across countries to create a homogenous belief system in accordance with American ideals due to the disproportionate influence of its popular culture on the rest of the world. Consequently, this has led to a sense of alienation and loss of identity for many countries as they feel their popular culture is being Americanised. For example, the function of American English as a lingua franca is partially caused by listening to lyrics in American music, interpreting advertising slogans and watching Hollywood films. In response, organisations such as the Académie Française have felt obligated to protect national language and culture (Weldes & Rowley 2015). Also in 2001, only four of the top ten films at the French box office were French, emphasising the obvious reduction in the consumption of French popular culture (Richburg, 2002). Perhaps, this has incited a sense of fear in French society because there will be a diminished sense of French national identity among younger generations due to the dwindling of French culture. To go even further, extreme views of globalisation liken it to neo-colonialism (Hebron & Stack 2011, p. 20-24) due to the pervasive power of international institutions e.g. the IMF, in which the US and it’s allies have notable authority, as well as the assimilation of ‘universal’ American views through popular culture.
Alternatively, there has also been reverse cultural influence as a result of the globalisation of popular culture, which has shaped new forms o8f personal and social identity in America e.g. Asian practises have been adopted by the American public such as yoga and acupuncture (van Elteren 2011, p. 160). Furthermore, the increasing foreign audience of American blockbuster action films has led them to become more violent and explosive rather than dialogue-based, to better market it them to foreign countries as there is less emphasis on language (Leiber, & Weisberg 2002).
Having said this, trading routes for popular cultural items have long been in use in the East, demonstrating that diverse and geographically distant countries have been more complexly interconnected than contemporary narratives of globalisation imply (Artzy 2007, p. 121-147).
Overall, it seems daunting to provide a conclusive answer to the above question because popular culture encompasses the most immediate and contemporary aspects of our lives (Delaney 2007), hence the answer will constantly vary as technological advancements and unforeseen circumstances cause the nature and impact of popular culture to mutate. Although there are many reasons to consider popular culture as an immense force on the way we view ourselves, it is important to question its supposed significance. Firstly, the short life cycle of popular culture, which has shrunk in the past 10 years due to increased consumerism, could mean that its effect on forging identity has waned because of its temporary nature. This may lead people to believe that popular culture is insubstantial and unimportant. Additionally, mass culture is often seen as an inauthentic manipulation of the consumer’s identity, manufactured by transnational corporations in order to sell product. Yet, its ability to impact personal identity like this may reinforce its power. Conversely, people aren’t helpless consumers in the culture industry so still have the ability to identify with subcultures that clash with the ideals promoted by those in power (Horn 2009, p.1-9). Ultimately, it is difficult to distinguish whether popular culture constructs identity or popularises pre-existent forms of it but despite being easily overlooked ‘popular can be very profound and can contain durable values in a cheap, commercial and ephemeral packaging’ which in turn frame the way in which we see ourselves and the world (Horn 2009, p.1-9).
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