“Outsourced”: The Media’s Manipulation

Rashmi mentioned to me that a recent episode of Outsourced was particularly troubling, so after I watched it we decided to each write about it.  Read Rashmi’s take on the specific episode in her article “Outsourced, I love you no more!”.

I suppose I have something more along the lines of “Outsourced, I never really loved you”.  To give some background: The reason why Outsourced is… the way it is, is because of its producers.  It is another show that is mostly about desis, but is primarily produced by white men.  It enforces stereotypes about desis that white people, and really anyone who isn’t familiar with our culture, are usually unequipped to understand or analyze.  There is a certain sense of self-affirmation and being in on the joke when we see desis playing out stereotypes about our community in a humorous fashion.  However, there is a difference between Outsourced and a show like Goodness Gracious Me, which had a desi cast, a team of desi writers, and at least one desi producer.  Outsourced, on the other hand, grounds the colonial concept of a large group of desis working for a white man, in their own country.  The stereotypes performed and played out in this show are not owned by empowered desis.

I am a huge fan of sitcoms and lighthearted comedy, so initially Outsourced was just another show I was going to give a shot.  Since it was about desis, I was wary, but even critics don’t have the tools to critique until they’ve indulged the thing.  Aaand the more episodes I watched the more I was convinced the white people that made this show were out to ruin us.  While the producers were preying on clues as to what desi jokes to use for their next episode, I do not doubt that they were playing up on the stereotypical desi man’s repressed sexuality and queerphobia.  In fact, desi men have been depicted as timid and weak since colonial times; since it was then that those with more power delegitimized desi men’s sense of self.  And to neutralize any sense of powerlessness or vulnerability, desi men have acted out with sexism, homophobia, and transphobia.  But will viewers of the episode “Rajiv Ties the Baraat” understand this?  Will they see through the marketing of this show, and the manipulation of desi culture and imperfections?  No.  They will continue to laugh along and think about how much it would suck to find out that their “female stripper” was “really a man”, as Rajiv said, degradingly.  I want to mentally slap the producers of this show, because it is essentially them that produce these transphobic thoughts for people to buy.

There were several instances in this episode that play on stereotypes of desi’s gender and sexuality expression across the spectrum.  To begin with, the two significant white men on the show, Todd and Charlie, are at the Sangeet and have a side conversation.  First they remark on the woes of not being able to find a single stripper in “a country full of so much unintentional 3rd world nudity”.  Ugh.  Then they proceed to claim that they couldn’t find any of the supplies they needed for a bachelor party, because of course the citizens of India must pray when they party.  While Todd and Charlie are stressing out about that, Manmeet is figuring out how to get it on with his White American girlfriend.  Manmeet is a character that is portrayed as more effeminate and instead of respecting or celebrating this characteristic of his; his sexuality and character are infantilized and made to seem humorous.  This is a common trope assigned to “the innocent brown boy” in a show, comparable to Fez from That ‘70s Show.  Moving on, we get to the aforementioned scene.  When the bachelor party happens, one of them says they have found a stripper.  As she walks in the door Rajiv is horrified that she is a hijra and starts insisting on being confused about titles and pronouns.  While Charlie ponders whether the stripper’s status as a “hijra” was the cause for a cheaper or more expensive price, she dances silently around Rajiv smiling at him, dancing with him, as he berates her.  I question the motives of the producers as they wrote this part of the script.  With sexism and transphobia compounded, the hijra was completely objectified.

Rather than expecting or trusting primarily straight, white people in control of the media to represent us fairly and respectfully, we have to do it for ourselves.  And more accurately, rather than allowing them to continually fail at representing us fairly and respectfully, we need to let them know that they do not have our permission or the right to do so.  First we have to take ownership of what is our own and learn what stories we want to communicate to each other that are positive, negative and neutral about our culture.  Then we undeniably have to consider how the public may react to what we put out there about our intra-community dynamics regarding race, gender, and sexuality.

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Anurag is a queer, feminist, social worker-to-be. Currently residing in the cornfields of Illinois.  Fierce, emotional and reclaiming the brown-ness. 

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