Tween TV and Self-Reference

Jet Airways has very few domestic planes equipped for inflight entertainment; but it’s inflight entertainment systems completely pwns Kingfisher’s inflight TV (which shows some shady Zee network channels, and horrors of horrors, Kambakht Ishq). You get touch screens, video and music on demand, the flight path interface is nicer; and quite a selection of movies and TV episodes. My dad, who travels Delhi-Chennai and back twice a month these days complains that they haven’t updated the selection in two months, but this was the first time I was traveling on a Jet flight with the entertainment system, so it was all new to me.

I wasn’t interested in either the Hindi or English movies they had, so I went through the TV section. They had an episode of Sarabhai vs Sarabhai, which I liked, but somehow Ravikiran‘s raving about it had led me to expect more. Perhaps it was one of the weaker episodes, or perhaps the humour only comes through with multiple episodes. Anyhow. Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai was good, but what was really brilliant was that this flight got me on to Disney Channel shows – notably Sonny With A Chance. I loved Sonny With A Chance. It sent up soap operas, has a nerd-girl who builds catapults, and despite being a kid’s show, the writers sneaked in enough innuendo for a couple of That’s What She Said moments (“Stop blowing. Start talking.”). And they also did something I’m very fond of – setting up a joke in one segment, and then delivering the punchline much later1 (the setup involves the catapult mentioned earlier). Oh, and this is for Rahul Raguram – according to Wikipedia, Demi Lovato is a fan of symphonic black metal band Dimmu Borgir. All in all, brilliant stuff, and I think I shall thulp the whole season soon.

I also saw The Suite Life on Deck, which was funny in parts (London Tipton! Bwahahhahah!), but not extraordinary; and Hannah Montana, which brings us to the second part of this post.

So… Hannah Montana. In case you don’t already know this, in Hannah Montana Billy Ray Cyrus and his daughter Miley Cyrus play the country singer Robbie Ray Stewart and his daughter Miley Stewart. And Miley Stewart’s secret identity is Hannah Montana, teen pop-star. And frankly, the whole layers and layers of self-reference (or as the darling girlfriend puts it, “self-referencing her ass like yeah“) are a pain to sort out. The only thing worse is reading the Wikipedia entries of professional wrestlers, where trying to work out what the wrestler did as part of kayfabe, what the wrestler did as a side project, and what the wrestler got up to by accident, and what the wrestler does while he (or she) is at home leaves you dizzy.

But of course, Miley Stewart self-referencing Miley Cyrus and then the whole thing becoming a recursive joke through Hannah Montana is no more self-referential than all of Bollywood, especially the Bachchan family and Shah Rukh Khan. Shah Rukh Khan plays Shah Rukh Khan in Billu and Om Shanti Om, all the My Name is Khan promos try to be cute by having them man say that his name is Khan, and so on and so forth. And the father-son in-jokes every time Abhishek and Amitabh Bachchan are in the same movie got tiresome about five minutes after they started. (Here’s an old Jabberwock post on the subject.)

Which actually makes Miley Cyrus not as bad as Bollywood. In her case, one can at least blame the self-referencing on her faceless2 corporate handlers at Disney. In Bollywood, there are no such corporate handlers, and the blame is all on the stars and the writers themselves.

The only thing that comes close is how almost every Colin Firth movie contains a reference to his Pride and Prejudice role, and even then, they’re only one off jokes and Colin Firth does not actually play Colin Firth. Except in Bridget Jones’ Diary, but every dog is allowed one bite.

Summing up: Referencing is sexy. Self-referencing is intellectual masturbation. In Bollywood’s case, though, it’s not even intellectual3.

1: Terry Pratchett is the master of this. In Thief of Time, he sets up the joke by describing the abbot of a monastery having re-incarnated as a fully sentient baby; and then about eighty pages later delivers a punchline about him being in touch with his inner child. And though it’s implausible that he planned it that way, you could argue that he sets up a joke in The Light Fantastic by magically transforming the Librarian into an orang-utan; and then eight books later, in Moving Pictures, he delivers the punchline of having a screaming ape being carried up a tower by a giant woman being pure cinema. Eight books between setup and punchline is hardcore wait-for-it.
2:OK, not actually faceless in the metaphorical sense since Disney has an active brand (many active brands, in fact); and not faceless in the literal sense since it’s very unlikely that people working at Disney don’t have faces. Though the thought of Disney employing an army of featureless golems to manage Miley Cyrus’s career is sort of awesome.
3: Similar to how Professor Ramnath Narayanswamy once told my batch “The majority of you have indulged in creative bullshitting, most of it not even creative.”

Can’t a single working woman live in a city different from the one she belongs to?

I called a colleague in India for some work and this being the first time we spoke; he first expressed shock over the fact that I work in “China” and then asked me if I got married to shift here!! This is not the first time such a conversation took place and almost every time people assume that I moved outside my own city (Bombay) as I must have got married. Indian men are most likely assume that if a woman is not living in the city where her parents live or the city she is originally from; it must be because she is married and her husband is working in the new city.

The other day I called a junior of mine from b-school who like me is from Bombay and now lives and works in Bangalore and she was talking about these “narrow minded” men as well who assume that she must have got married and hence shifted to Bangalore. The sad part is when men from your business school; who may/may not have done as well as you academically and are doing a job similar to yours ASSUME that they can move cities for “better career prospects” but women would move only for husband’s better career prospects.

Talking about being “narrow minded”, one cant forget to mention some of the NRIs. Most Indian social gatherings (here in Shanghai) end up having the women together in one corner and all the men huddled up in another. During the couple of such gatherings I attended by mistake (once bitten, twice shy – now I just keep myself away); this is the kind of individual conversation I had with a handful of women:

Fellow desi nari: Haan ji, toh kahaa kaam karte hai aapke husband?

Me: Sorry; I am not married – yet.

Fellow desi nari: (in a surprised tone) Toh tum yehaa pe kya karti ho?

Me: (!!! thinking WTF) I work here; excuse me! (and move on with a smile to have a repeat of the same conversation with another desi nari.

So rampant is this assumption that now I actually feel like punching the next person who assumes that I shifted to Shanghai because I must have got married! GIVE ME A BREAK! I know how to live my life and don’t need a guy for that!

Thankfully there are some exceptions to the above rule (whom I count among friends and rightly so) wherein these people don’t assume stuff about others. I also know Indian men who have moved geographies to be where their wife is working. Unfortunately these constitute only a very small minority of Indian men! I have a theory that for a lot of Indian women; their own dreams, aspirations take a backseat when they get married (more so if the marriage is on insistence of parents, or for image in samaj etc) and these dreams are reborn as dreams for their children when the children are born – but more on this theory later.

In their new book; Superfreakonomics; Levitt and Dubner look at rates of women dropping out of work compared to men from a prestigious university and not surprisingly women drop out more and for more family related reasons then men do. This is true; no doubt. But does this make it the rule? Don’t ambitious women exist? And is it nice to assume that every woman who moves to a new city is doing so because of her husband/ family? I aspire to live and work in different cities around the world and I know many other women who do too. Problem is that men STILL expect women who are as smart; as qualified as them to not follow their dreams but go after their husband’s dreams instead – too bad it doesn’t cut ice with a lot of us!

p.s. I am not saying that only men should follow women; but they should not expect women to be the only ones to follow at all times! It’s a two way street, darling.

Idiot in Her Head

Sagarika Ghose has a blogpost up that can be summarised as follows:

“I went to St. Stephens. I enjoyed it. Therefore I know that the education system is fine, and that all you philistines who did not go to St. Stephens should stop talking about how much the education system sucks, otherwise you will become a nation of idiots.”

When the poor woman has stopped hyperventilating about how appalling it is that her hard-to-obtain education is being devalued by a mere movie, can somebody please tell her that being snobbish about having gone to St. Stephen’s is so twentieth century? These days, you can be snobbish about what you buy if you’re a yuppie, what you do if you’re a hippie, or the size of your SEZ if you’re a lala. Or, given that we’re in the Great Recession, about how frugal you are. And if you must resort to education, please bring at least an Ivy League degree or a PhD to the game. St. Stephen’s just doesn’t cut it any longer – I mean, even Shashi Tharoor went there.

(Note: haven’t actually seen the movie, which is why I’ve refrained from an argument about whether it’s accurate or not.)