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Cultural Nationalism on MTV India Journal of Communication Inquiry

Jocelyn Cullity

The Global Desi: Cultural Nationalism on MTV India
The article examines how the introduction of satellite television into India during the 1990s has led to the emergence of a new form of cultural nationalism based on the active and self-conscious indigenization of global media. Using MTV India as an ethnographic case study, this process is demonstrated through analysis of the images themselves and by a consideration of what they mean to informants. It outlines a now-mythical historical narrative whereby a wired-in middle class forced the indigenization of programming on MTV India, programming that was initially aimed at a more abstract global audience. It then demonstrates the ways and reasons why this cultural nationalism depends, somewhat paradoxically, on its own global dimensions.

This article examines some effects of the introduction and expansion of satellite-based commercial television in India during the 1990s. Most of the existing scholarly work on Indian television has appeared relatively recently and focuses on how discourses of the Nation and issues of gender have been treated on the various channels run by the government broadcaster, Doordarshan (known commonly as DD). Especially notable are two booklength studies, Arvind Rajagopal’s Politics after Television (2001) and Purnima Mankekar’s Screening Culture, Viewing Politics (1999). In her epilogue, Mankekar detailed the arrival of satellite television in India and raised a number of questions for future research. What does the Indianization of transnational satellite production imply when the meanings, symbols, and discursive practices relating to nationhood, national subjectivity, and national culture are themselves undergoing rapid transformation in conjunction with global capitalism? Whose experiences gain center stage in these new cultural productions? . . . What spaces do transnational texts create for resistance, subversion, or appropriation through the production of desire, fantasy, and imagination? How do viewers’ interpretations of these texts articulate with their social relationships? (P. 350) Author’s Note: I would like to warmly thank Judy Polumbaum, Jael Silliman, Prakash Younger, and the anonymous reviewer from JCI for their thoughtful comments and suggestions. Journal of Communication Inquiry 26:4 (October 2002): 408-425 DOI: 10.1177/019685902236899 © 2002 Sage Publications

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Cultural Nationalism on MTV India

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These are undoubtedly complex questions, and this article cannot presume to address them comprehensively. That said, the challenge of finding answers to such questions can be understood to have guided the exploration that follows. The article attempts to identify a new form of cultural nationalism in India, a nationalism that is clearly distinct from both the original GandhiNehru version and that put forth by the Hindu Right. This new nationalism emerges most clearly in the active and self-conscious indigenization of global media. Using MTV India as an example, I aim to demonstrate this process through analysis of the images themselves and by a consideration of what they mean to my informants. The article examines how a wired-in middle class effectively forced the indigenization of programming on MTV India, programming that was initially aimed at a more abstract global audience. Moving from a brief history of Indian television, I explore the precise ways in which MTV India localized its programming and then offer an interpretation of how the new nationalism created by this localization hinges paradoxically on its own globalized dimension, how the global and the local, the cosmopolitan and the traditional, modernity and tradition, are all inextricably bound together in a hybrid I call the “global desi.” The article concludes with some observations about the broader context in which this cultural dynamic flourishes. My argument is...
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