Sunday, March 22, 2009

more thoughts on slumdog

I just got through reading an article about Slumdog Millionaire, and it's from the perspective of a woman who is not happy about the movie. There's a phrase being used about this film--"poverty porn," they're calling it.

The article is really interesting, actually, and as much as I can say (without ever having been to India or really much of anywhere remotely like the slums of Mumbai), I'm not sure I agree. I see what she's saying--that the film shows the slums, exploits the lives of the people, and has a lot of success and makes a lot of money because of it. Except I don't agree, I don't think that was the point of the film. The comments below the article talk how about how we aren't meant to feel good about the poverty. It's hard to watch, it's heartbreaking. But I think the story is about hope. And with that sort of thing, it's wrenching and terrible and beautiful.


I think that's overlooking something huge. I think maybe this is a Western problem, and it's one I've seen before. First, an example:

When I was in Colombia (and later in Mexico), we went to this farm a few departments (states) outside of Bogotá and the people had outside bathrooms and no plumbing. I'm not sure they had electricity, actually. But we walked around their farm and they showed us everything that was theirs, and they were proud of it. And never once did I think about how awful it was, I didn't feel sorry for them. They didn't have most of the luxuries we have in the States--but they did have the things they needed. Food, water, family. They were happy. They lived simply, and they were happy.

Same in Mexico. Just like in Colombia, I don't have any distinct memories of culture shock. There were certainly poor people. And we went to a rancho one of the days while we were there, and it was fairly similar. They didn't live the way we lived, but it wasn't a bad thing. I wonder how often we forget that having "enough" isn't what we have. And one of the women who went on the trip with me was talking to me on the way back about how she couldn't believe people lived like that, and I remember thinking about how I couldn't understand how there was anything wrong with how they lived. They had what they needed--it wasn't flashy or fancy or luxurious, but it was enough, and it was good.

Now, that isn't to say that the slums as they were depicted in Slumdog Millionaire are like this. I don't think that at all. I think that the sanitation looked horrible, and I know these places the live are made of cardboard and aluminum and things like that, and there is real poverty there. But it's more than that. I mean, yes, it is that. But it's also a huge community of people, and when I use the word community I mean it in the 'together-ness' sense of it. I was watching this video about how in these slums everyone knows everyone and they have votes and it's like a huge family. And there's good in that too.

I don't think it's just looking at something awful. There's a huge amount of good in it too. It's not the West's idea of poverty, I think, of only desperation and filth. It's a powerful dichotomy, Mumbai as a "a city in which sensitivity coexists with despair, commitment with indifference, activism with inaction, and humanism with the inhumane."

I have to remember it's not just about fixing stuff, about going in to help. I'm willing to bet there's more for me to learn than I could ever offer, and I want to go out to the whole world like that.

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