February 07, 2010

middling humor

I've been watching episodes of Dekh Bhai Dekh on youtube, and while amazed and delighted by the comic capers of the DBD family, I've also felt bemused by how much of its humor seems to be at the expense of those who are not middle-class (or Hindu, upper-caste, urban). This bias shows how eager its makers must have been to position the show (like much else on Indian satellite television in the 1990s) for the middle classes, who were just coming up as the new elite.

The middle classes in the 1990s were in a way the new "normal", and television, with its scores of private channels, was an apt venue (young, flexible, starry-eyed about middle-class ideals and values) to reflect this nouveau-hegemony. While even beloved Doordarshan's programming was heavily Hindu-centric, the new middle-class centred programming in the satellite era was for the first time blatantly using economic status as a marker to separate the "all-rights" from the "not all-rights". Hence, derision for and suspicion of those with a low place in the class hierarchy.

The character of Karima itself reflects the interests and preoccupations of the middle classes: servants, after all, were the symbols of the middle class family's prosperity/income/class position. Perhaps the makers, when creating this character, also wanted to acknowledge the practice of the entire family - including the servant(s) of the family - gathering around the television at night to watch the popular shows. But just like the real-world servants' participation in the family dynamic was ambiguous/limited at best, Karima too would choose to stay on and show his loyalty to the Diwan family - who had earlier made fun of his aspirations to move to Dubai to work and his "modern" getup (ep. 19) - thus appeasing their class anxieties - servant-like, "though he was never treated like one by the family members."

No comments:

Post a Comment