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OP-ED: Unlearning is as important as learning

  • Published at 04:29 am August 23rd, 2021
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Culture and tradition do not need to be the opposites of evolution

Changing the narrative is a long process. The background work before changing any narrative has to be in-depth. 

Many a time, to make a positive change we need to alter different aspects of our culture -- culture that many of us take pride in. What is the definition of culture, one may ask. According to Edward Tylor, “Culture…is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” Our films, music, social media, the shows we watch on OTT platforms -- everything is a part of our culture. It’s also a reflection of us as humans.

Global culture is an amalgamation of local cultures. Our history of colonialism has a part to play in this global culture. To be specific, the English language has a big part to play here, and hence English-speaking films, shows, and people influence us in different ways. Their culture influences us, which is also part of modern day globalization. People are on the move. Because of that, the concept of borders and citizenship are blurred. So, which position does this put culture in?

Culture doesn’t need to be the opposite of evolution. According to me, era has a big role to play in building culture. To understand culture, you absolutely need to understand that era as well as the people of that era. One can appreciate a culture, and yet point out the changes it needs to make to be time appropriate. 

Human tendencies are pretty by the book. People look for their representatives in popular culture. People’s perspectives about reality can be changed by a film , a show, or even social media. Normalizing and glorifying are two aspects that any form of popular culture should be aware of.

We can have a debate about whether films or shows are just a form of engagement or if they can change society. But here I am not talking about sending a message through a popular medium. I am talking about normalizing diversity and inclusivity, and not glorifying toxic masculinity as well as specific gender roles.

Here is why I am talking about these things: The trailer of Amazon Prime Video’s (a renowned OTT platform) Cinderella is out. At first, I avoided it; I didn’t watch it till it was unavoidable. The reason behind me avoiding it was mostly the previous movies I had seen on the story of Cinderella during my teens. Growing up, Cinderella was my favourite Disney character. I still have the book. I loved the fairytale.

Now, as a person who is in her mid-20s, my thoughts have evolved. The concept of diversity, inclusivity, and more importantly equality as well as equity are clearer to me (and hopefully to the world as well). I know the importance of correct representation now. A book or film with the story of a woman whose miseries end after marrying a prince has no value in my eyes. But it had some value to me when I was younger and didn’t know how to think critically. And as I said, yes, it had and continues to have an impact on me.

Now, two questions can come up.

1. Do we blame the writer who wrote Cinderella in 1950 for being regressive or “not woke?”

2. Why are diversity, inclusivity, and changed gender perception important in pop culture?     

To answer the first question, we cannot view the material of 1950 through the lens of 2021. The material or the medium were built around the idea of 1950s society. 10 years ago, we didn’t have a clear understanding of the correct way to address racism or gender inequality. We know better now, and that is reflected in films, shows, and social media. The wise thing to do is to acknowledge what was wrong, and yet understand the depth of the situation.

I promise you, within 10 years, you will criticize your own thoughts and this society. This is the only constant.

Now, let’s come to the next question. Diversity, inclusivity, and changed gender perception, roles, and norms are very important. The definition we make in our heads or the standards we build are based on what we see. This is how we have done it for the longest time -- we thought only “white, skinny” women are beautiful, or it’s a mother’s duty to wash the dishes. Seeing an empowered, brown-skinned person, an empowered woman, or an empowered queer person on screen normalizes these categories of people; it also makes these people feel a sense of belonging. This is where representation has a role to play. Everyone needs or wants that acknowledgement.

This is very important to me because these princesses were my childhood “inspirations.” Clearly, I had to unlearn a lot. Unlearning is as important as learning is. 

Simin Ibnat Dharitree  is an anthropologist, a development worker, and a gender rights activist.

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