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Sustainability as Representation (Panel 2)

posted on 2024-06-28, 08:26 authored by Elke WeissmannElke Weissmann, David Levente Palatinus, Blythe Worthy

Critical Studies in Television Conference

Blythe Stevenson Worthy (The University of Sydney)

Sustainable Pedagogy in Mira Nair’s Television

Despite the process of deregulation and privatization of national broadcasting rights and intensification of global digital communicative technologies, many television theorists persist in arguing that television is still overwhelmingly defined via national lines (Geraghty, 2024). For these theorists, television has always played a crucial role in publicising “a nation’s private life” (Ellis, 1995, 5) and remains an influential cultural ambassador. The pedagogical politics offered by television as correctives to misconceptions of a country’s citizens have long sustained the work of Indian practitioner Mira Nair. While her more famous feature films also revel in this “cross-cultural social acumen” (Muir, 2006, 9), it is Nair’s overlooked television work that more comprehensively applies the role of television for educational purposes to a transnational setting. Highlighting quotidian Indian life to develop criticisms of the structural roots of postcolonial crises and hegemonic discourses of white supremacy in international feminism, Nair’s television is made in English, or in Hindi with English dubbing and subtitles for a foreign audience. Nair’s early television, including teledocs India Cabaret (1985) and Children of a Desired Sex (1987) investigate the lives of go-go dancers deemed as untouchable in public Indian society, and women who are forced to abort their female foetuses. Providing a stark vision of the private life of Indian women for US television networks, Nair’s teledocs confirm what Chandra Mohanty has determined as the internationalisation of the gendered division of labour (Mohanty, 1988, 76). The Indian subjects of these works are shown by Nair to exist so deeply in the unsustainable “pores of capitalism” that they are inaccessible via the capitalist dynamics that normally allow for channels of cross-cultural communication (Spivak, 2006, 186). In Nair’s 1998 telefilm My Own Country (Showtime Networks), for example, an Indian emigree and infectious disease specialist finds himself and his family ostracised with “AIDs-by-association” in mid-80s southern Tennessee, the Indian diaspora enmeshed with AIDs-era paranoia. Recovering these overlooked television works from history, this presentation analyses the sustainable pedagogy in Nair’s works for television, located within the productive area of transnational Indigenous feminism. Using a historically grounded and geographically contextualized critical aesthetic approach, an analysis of the conditions that facilitated Nair’s television work in the 1980s and 1990s are shown to result from the inevitably contradictory intersection of intellectual developmentalist projects proffered by sustainable economics within the television industry.

David Levente Palatinus (Technical University of Liberec / University of Trnava)

Climate-Conflict-Migration: A TV Studies Perspective

This paper wishes to tackle the interrelation of climate, conflict and migration, and the ways their pertaining ecological, political, and ethical complexities are construed and circulated via various cultural practices and ways of symbolization that television as a dominant mode of storytelling uses. Forms of conflict, and in their wake, migration have become key players in the recent radicalization of global politics and have frequently been construed in political discourses as threats to national security and to the perceived cultural values in Western societies. From Huntington’s highly controversial Clash of Civilizations (1996) to Derrida’s concept of ‘hostipitality’ (2000) to Zizek’s ideas about the militarization of society (2015) to Thomas Nail’s Theory of the Border (2016), conflict and migration have been mobilized as political capital as well as new critical idioms that thematize discourses on how we understand human subjectivity, and the ways we negotiate historical and cultural legacies of territory, identity, safety, economic interests and democratic liberties. The recent emergence of populist agendas also necessitates a radical rethinking of issues ranging from politics of inclusion to social mobility to climate justice and violent borders. On the other hand, a growing body of scholarship (see for instance Abel et al., 2019) suggests a correlation between climate change, violent conflicts and forced migration. Research on global security, exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year, established itself as one of the pivotal agendas to pursue in in relation to the question of sustainability.

Therefore, this paper attempts to bridge the gap between current political discourses and the ways in which television responds to the emerging anxieties around the construction and circulation of cultural ideas about the multi-faceted relations between conflict, climate, and migration. It looks at the ways in which symbolic representations render the subjective dimensions of conflict, from heroism and sacrifice to devastation, victimization and suffering, and, conversely, the ways in which screen narratives are also weaponized and will have produced paradoxical responses among audiences in different geographic contexts. How television (and media) scholarship critically assess the impact of screen narratives on the dynamics of climate, conflict and migration? How can audiences harness the potential of television for peace-making and reconciliation? How can showrunners ensure the ethical and responsible use of screen media in situations of conflict? How ‘sustainable’ are the cultural ideas that such fictional representations circulate? This complex and dynamic media landscape poses new challenges and opportunities for negotiating the causes, consequences and responses to contemporary conflicts, as well as the roles and responsibilities of different actors involved in them.


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