TV's social signals

Television, Ethnicity and Cultural Change

September 8, 1995

This examination of the impact of television and video on Asian youth mercifully departs from the usual tried and tested academic themes associated with Asians in Britain: race and racism. Marie Gillespie contends that, "the consumption of an increasingly transnational range of TV and films is catalysing and accelerating processes of change among London Punjabi families." By focusing on leisure patterns and the newly emergent second generation of Asian youth, Television, Ethnicity and Cultural Change bravely voyages into new and uncharted waters.

Gillespie's main project is located in the findings of the Southall Youth Survey, a questionnaire-based survey conducted with 333 young people aged 12-18 in the summer of 1989 in Southall, west London, one of the country's densest and best-known areas of Asian settlement. Ethnographical research augments this survey.

Ideas of globalisation, post-colonialism and diaspora are high on the agenda. Postmodernism receives attention too. Gillespie asserts that: "The apparently marginal experience of Punjabi Londoners can thus be seen to be, in fact, central to the so-called postmodern culture in which 'translation' is becoming a common global experience."

To appear out-of-date is one of the occupational hazards of those who attempt to chronicle youth culture: after all, the subject is intrinsically ephemeral and frequently defies interpretation. However, apart from the fact that the fieldwork is already over half a decade old, the author's methodology at times veers dangerously close to the patronising tone of anthropologists in the last century. An entire chapter grapples with "Living Fieldwork - Writing Ethnography" which Gillespie claims proved to be "intensive and hectic, emotionally elevating and distressing". Furthermore television seems a curious focus for the study of youth culture, which is fragmenting ever-more diffusely than before with the rise of interactive technology, rave culture and bhangra.

Of course one book cannot address everything. Such points aside, as a first attempt to theorise second-generation UK Asian youth, Television, Ethnicity and Cultural Change succeeds overall. The interviews are entertaining and instructive. "We can take the best of both worlds but if there was a rift between India and England where would we fit in?" agonises one respondent. Elsewhere some interesting insights are offered. I have never before looked on Neighbours as a representation of kinship processes or McDonalds commercials as a celebration of autonomy, but having read this book I will undoubtedly think twice when I see them again.

Rupa Huq is researching a PhD in the department of cultural studies, University of East London.

Television, Ethnicity and Cultural Change

Author - Marie Gillespie
ISBN - 0 415 09674 X
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £37.50 and £12.99
Pages - 238

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