Shameless Self Promotion

| March 2, 2018 | 0 Comments

Western media is pervasive around the world like no other media is, and it’s understandably proud of it. It’s telling that two of pop culture’s biggest icons are Captain America and Superman, paragons of “truth, justice, and the American way,” who dress in red and blue and who fight all manner of unknown threats on a regular basis. But I love Captain America and Superman; they’re not superpowers in the way that America is, but outcasts themselves. One is a kid from Brooklyn who couldn’t even throw a proper punch before he became a Super Soldier, and the other is the most extreme form of immigrant alien possible. Both are marginalized characters in their own right, as are Spider-Man and especially the X-Men. But that doesn’t stop them from being symbols of the west.

For most of my childhood, I found myself asking why none of my heroes looked like me. I was able to shrug it off, of course – because here’s the beautiful part – they acted like me, and dreamed to rebel against the bullies and the oppressive regimes holding them back. That they didn’t resemble me stopped mattering once I realized how Bangladesh viewed pop culture and media. My people committed the cardinal sin of talking and texting in theaters, of casually discussing spoilers, and of never really taking media seriously enough to critique it. They saw it and loved it, and that was that.

And I blamed them for it.

I questioned repeatedly why they couldn’t appreciate art for what it was beyond the surface, and I wanted to break away from that view and engage with western media, so I could write about heroes whose problems extended beyond just our own world. My parents would tell me to write whatever it was I wanted, but to be sure to write about my people, about people with Bengali or South Asian names. And to me, that prospect sounded terrifying. I blamed the country for not thinking critically enough, not being open-minded enough, to look at local media the way they did foreign. They enjoyed local TV, but they revered India and Bollywood. Their bootleg merchandise market was almost entirely all western characters. How would I ever earn their respect by writing within the country?

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Why, by melding the best of both worlds together to become CAPTAIN BANGLADESH, of course!
No but seriously. Not my best idea.

Of course, it took until college for me to look at it from a different perspective. The reason that western media spreads so seamlessly is that it knows how to promote itself – much like America does. It presents itself as a superpower, as pop culture and not just movies or TV or books. It hit me that I myself had not been open-minded enough, about the wonderful Bengali narratives my parents had ensured I’d read.

It hit me that Satyajit Rai’s Detective Feluda was every bit as clever, driven, and upstanding as Sherlock Holmes; that Meena wasn’t just a fun cartoon with an enlightening message, but an important perspective in animation aimed to re-educate the socioeconomically underprivileged in an entertaining way. Today, Bangladesh has its own comic book industry and superheroes; we have Shabash and Ms. Shabash, who get their powers from eating atomic mangoes and fight crime around the country – crimes tailored to our own local and political issues. My dad is now the face of Bengali pop culture icon and children’s Detective Chotokaku, and I could not be prouder.

But none of our properties see coverage like Captain America or Superman do, and it’s unlikely they ever will. America participates in a brand of shameless self promotion that is, quite frankly, as appalling as it is genius. By marketing itself as “global” pop culture, it has redefined the playing field so that kids worldwide would rather look to heroes from the west than they would their own, and it’s every bit as America’s responsibility to welcome new diverse narratives as it is other countries’ to push for newer, bolder art for themselves. After all, if we ourselves cannot respect our own stories and media, why should foreign powers? And if foreign powers cannot welcome any stories from outside their own comfort zone, why should we keep caring what it is they have to say?

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Er. Ahem. Moving on…

But let us also be humbler about it from now on, and stop touting diversity as a favor we owe each other. In an increasingly diverse climate, America has learnt to market and commodify different minority perspectives, and often prioritizes that promotion over understanding where we come from. Diversity must eventually become a prerequisite instead of a selling point, and America’s viral self promotion and marketing must be met with humility; it must be met with art that speaks for itself.

It must be met with art like The Chosen Zeroes, my project three years in the making about a team of Bangladeshi superheroes, available for free right here on my WordPress! The Chosen Zeroes brings a fresh new diverse perspective with a group of Bangladeshi kids all raised on different kinds of pop culture – and both celebrates and challenges what each of them have learned as they bond together and eventually grow into a found family, in a country where not many large-scaled stories like this are set. Each Season of this written webseries will focus on a different genre – from superhero to sci-fi to fantasy to mystery and thriller, we’ll cover it all – and subsequently critique different kinds of stories, tropes and entire fanbases and communities, sometimes lovingly and sometimes harshly. So tell your friends about The Chosen Zeroes, today!

It must be met with art like Naveed Hossain’s; my best friend who is not only a talented musical genius, but also one of the funniest people on the planet and who currently writes the webcomic Ginger and Sushi on Instagram. Be sure to check out his work and follow him too!

And last but not least, it must be met with art like yours; a perspective that only you could have, and that only you can deliver to the world. So write, draw, sing and play; and once the dust settles and you feel you have a product that truly does speak for itself, sink below your rivals’ level, and force us to care like you’re all of America.

Featured photo credit: The Chosen Zeroes, art and characters co-created by Mayeesha Ahmed. Be sure to check out her incredible portfolio of work too, and support her on Redbubble!

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Category: Art and Literature, featured, Music, Poetry, Prose and Comedy, Social Activism, TV and Movies

Aaraf Afzal

About the Author ()

Aaraf Afzal is many things, but he's not particularly good at being any of them. He continues to work towards this goal, among others, studying Film & TV and Economics at Boston University. An avid subscriber to the belief that all forms of media have their own sense of artistic beauty, he is particularly invested in writing fiction and recently released his first novel "Re: Revolution" in Bangladesh. Alongside his pursuits at Culture Shock, he's currently at work writing an online series called "The Chosen Zeroes." Fandoms and inspirations include Neil Gaiman, Kingdom Hearts, Ratchet and Clank, Marvel Comics, and Culture Shock. Giggity.

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