29 January 2011

Outsourced

For some reason, Outsourced has managed to upset a lot of critics, who in turn call the show racist.  I’m not entirely sure why that is.  Using cultural differences to make a joke is a staple of comedy.  The Marx brothers did this to great effect with Chico’s Italian slyster character, which was far more racist than anything I’ve seen on Outsourced (it was also really funny).

I guess that critics object to how Indians are portrayed as eager and obedient but not particularly intelligent, at least in an entrepreneurial sense.  This is an absolutely correct portrayal of Indians, at least as far as I’m concerned.  Granted, I only spent a month over there teaching in a mission school, but my impression of the students I had at the time was that there were all eager to learn, but not necessarily capable of independent thought.  In fact, Indian teaching consisted of little more than telling students what to think, which they would be expected to regurgitate immediately.

There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this method of learning, but it does produce certain results.  Among those results are a dependence on being told what to do, whether by another person, or by heavily scripted marketing routines.  This is simply the way things are in India.

The show also stays true to certain elements of Indian culture, like the street sellers, tiny taxis, population density, prevalence of disgusting bugs and amphibians, devotion to Bollywood productions and the presence of cows.  Furthermore, the male Indian characters dressing in western-style clothing is believable, as are the references to arranged marriages.  Frankly, this level of accuracy is surprising to me.

Thus, I am simply unable to understand why critics call this show racist.  Sure, the acting is a bit weak in places, and the comedy isn’t always there, but the show is far from racist.  American culture is significantly different from Indian culture.  The show has done a good job of representing Indian culture, far better than I would have imagined. Analyzing Indian culture through the American way of thinking is a laughably impossible task.  I just understand how doing so offends people.

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