Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bonnie Honig on 'Slumdog Millionaire'

In a remarkable column on 'Slumdog Millionaire' (published in Indian Express last month), political theorist Bonnie Honig reads the movie as "a meditation on the contradictions of democracy and the ideological faces of global capital."

This is the kind of piece that probably should be read on the page not the screen, so, having not yet printed it out but just read it on the computer (and read it somewhat hastily at that), my reactions must be tentative. What Honig says about the movie's peddling a fantasy that the global capitalist economy rewards human singularity, when in fact it doesn't, seems right. But the movie's consciousness of the fantasy-like quality of its plot (among other things) prevents it, I would suggest, from being an apology for capitalism (and I suspect Honig would agree).

Where I am less convinced by the piece is its argument about democracy. What makes Jamal's story a "tale of democracy," Honig says, is its "dependence on chance," and she quotes Jacques Rancière on contingency's link to democracy. I do not really see this, at least not as clearly as she does. It's also telling, I think, that the words "justice" and "injustice" do not appear in the column. If instead of citing Rancière, Lacan, and Hannah Arendt, Honig had quoted, say, Amartya Sen or Thomas Pogge, the column might have had a somewhat different flavor. That said, this piece is still worth reading and, indeed, worth printing out.

[Hat tip: The Virtual Stoa]


Anonymous said...

I finally saw Slumdog Millionaire the other day. I thought it was interesting that what was a quiz show to millions of people was life to millions of other people. That was THE central message I took home ( I am not sure if that was the intended message of the producers). The other, more obvious point, was the feel-good ending.... the overcoming of adversity

LFC said...

"...what was a quiz show to millions of people was life to millions of other people."
You mean inasmuch as most of the quiz questions put to Jamal happened (somewhat implausibly) to reference events in his life (and, by extension, the lives of others)? Or am I missing the point here (which is quite possible)?

Btw, the post on megacities I promised is coming, probably on Friday. It won't be long, but it will be up. I am occupied w/ some other things these days and as a result the blogging is suffering a bit (well, more than a bit).

Anonymous said...

I was referring to the kinds of investments and interests that we analysts bring with us when we study global politics or international relations.


LFC said...

OK, I think I see what you're getting at.