Monday, November 30, 2009

Problems of a global audience

In this weekend's Guardian, there's an article by Pankaj Mishra which talks about the problems of writing for a global audience. Writers from non-Western countries, he suggests, may often end up perpetuating the exotic cliched way in which the West looks at their cultures, because that is what sells to the monied Western audience. So Cuba is sex and salsa, Africa is starvation and corruption, India is poverty and spirituality in equal measure. I've written a bit about this before, thinking in terms of the Indian novel, and how often it is actually written with an eye to British and American readers, for all its "authenticity".

Usually, this isn't an issue which affects theatre. After all, theatre tends to address a specific, often very localised audience, about particular issues and concerns. Often its power comes from its very specificity. But in the case of work created cross-culturally, and intended to be seen in more than one country, this is no longer so. And so, if we're not careful, the globalised cliches could easily sneak in through the back door.

The sentence in Mishra's article which set the alarm bells ringing ways near the end: "Perhaps, one day soon, a Chinese novelist aspiring for an international reputation will be able to steer clear of the misery of the cultural revolution or the massacre in Tiananmen Square (perennial favourites in the west). " Dis-Orientations includes (admittedly very subtle) references to both of these things, and the imagery continues into Re-Orientations. Does that mean we are simply doing what the West expects / wants us to do? I remember Wang Jue being worried that the image of China presented in the plays might be too negative (although I do feel there are many, many positive things we say about the culture). On the other hand, part of the point of this work is to deconstruct the exotic cliche of the Orient: if you don't show aspects of this, then you can't overturn it.

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