A Brief Diatribe on Outsourced S01 E15

 

Gupta drills Charlie on Indian culture.

 

Charlie: That’s the god Shiva, the destroyer, transformer–that looks
like that dude from avatar.

Gupta: Many of them do. A lawsuit is pending.

Alright, before I begin this entry on Outsourced with a clear conscience, I need to address something that really bothered me about the latest episode. Not even two minutes into the show, Todd’s manager Jerry comes to India for a surprise visit and calls Todd via cellphone video chat to inform him of his arrival. Todd doesn’t believe Jerry at first, so Jerry turns his cellphone camera around to face an emaciated Indian beggar and says to Todd: “Oh, then who’s this guy? The ghost of gay pride parades past?”

My immediate reaction was shock. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t this joke imply a comparison between the emaciated beggar and a gay man with AIDS? I know Jerry is supposed to be a crude American character, much like Todd’s friend Charlie, but how is this still acceptable on television in 2011? This is unbelievably wrong, and I felt guilty just for watching the rest of the episode.

But this line was so brief and insignificant in the greater context of the episode that I wouldn’t be surprised if most viewers missed it altogether. When I think about my reaction to this tossed-off one-liner, I know that it’s a different kind of shock than what other Outsourced viewers experience. I imagine that most people who watch this show experience a culture shock that overtakes any momentary outrage at cheap gay jokes. Outsourced isn’t trying to awe us through its written material, but rather through the unfamiliar visual stimuli that consume us every time we tune in.

The real joke here is Outsourced‘s depiction of Indian culture. I previously wrote about the novelty of seeing a white American male character like Todd, but his naivetĂ© and helpless passivity is wearing thin. Todd should be the one scolding Jerry for his disrespectful behavior, not Indian manager Rajiv. Americans tend to mistrust the counsel of foreigners, but when one of our own tells us what’s good for us, we’re more inclined to listen.

If Outsourced is going to succeed as a show that exposes Americans to a new culture, especially a culture which may play a more visible and important role in future global affairs, then it has to depict Americans convincing other Americans to give this culture a chance. The tired trope of Indian guru instructing buffoonish American in cultural etiquette, seen in this episode through the interactions of Gupta and Charlie, needs to end. We’ve seen it before, and it’s hasn’t yet made us into more culturally-sensitive individuals.

Maybe living in Canada has helped me gain some perspective on my own country, but it’s time our popular culture responds to our political obligations. Americans need to become more understanding of foreign cultures, Americans need to engage with the rest of the world, and Americans need to stop watching television with potential if it’s going to resort to ugly attacks on minority groups.

Will Outsourced get back on track with Jerry’s departure? And can television really change the way we think about our world? Well, I certainly think so. Stay tuned!

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