Short Talk Panel WC: Fun and Games: Culture, Politics and New Forms of Citizen Action

Dancing for Democracy? On Bollywood Flashmobs, New Media, and Activism

Presenter: Sangita Shresthova

On November 27, 2011, a flashmob took place in the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) train station in Mumbai, India as a group of mostly-young people performed a pre-choreographed, but seemingly spontaneous, dance set to a Bollywood song. Soon, videos of the event appeared online sparking lively debates and media coverage. In this presentation, I engage the debates that surrounded the CST flashmob to grapple with the democratic potentional that lies at the intersection of live performance, popular culture, and new media. I review the global proliferation and online circulation of Bollywood flashmobs as performed fandom. I also point to how the choice of song and location of the CST flashmob informed its local and online significance.  The CST flashmob took place at one of the sites of the terrorist attacks that shook Mumbai in 2008. The organizers also used a song from Rang De Basanti – a Bollywood film about group of young friends who battle corruption in India’s government (Mehta 2012). While the flashmob organizers never made any activist claims, post-event discussions online (and elsewhere) quickly alluded to citizen action, and even to Gandhian non-violence. Following suit, critics argued that this, and other, flashmobs are nothing more than entertaining celebrations of popular culture.  Engaging these critiques, I argue the local significance and online circulation of the CST flashmob point to Bollywood dance as a site of fan activism, which in turn, has much to teach us about the civic potential of popular cultures that lie outside the Euro-American axis.


Our Voice:  Youths’ Meaningful Communication for Social Change in Sénégal 

Presenter: Laurel Felt

Although over 60% of West Africa’s population is under age 25, youths’ perspectives are rarely solicited or shared. Supporting youths’ capacity to communicate via multimedia would help to redress this situation by offering opportunities for youths to raise their voices, engage in civic/public life, and transform their communities.

This interactive talk will examine Sunukaddu, a summer program created by Senegal’s The African Network for Health Education to foster youths’ multimedia civic discourse. It will specifically analyze how staff redesigned Sunukaddu during the summer of 2010 to increase its effectiveness (see Felt & Rideau, 2012). First, the staff established a collaborative curriculum design process that respected “Nio far,” a Senegalese expression that means “We are together” and exemplifies locals’ appreciation of teamwork and co-ownership. Second, they increased participants’ hands-on exploration. Third, they leveraged smartphones. Fourth, they focused on new media literacies (NMLs; Jenkins, Clinton, Purushotma, Weigel, & Robison, 2006) and social and emotional learning skills (SELs; Elias et al., 1997).

Of the 23 participants (22 youths aged 15-21, one classroom teacher of 8 of the participants), 20 identified the NML skill of negotiation as an area of expertise. Collective intelligence was the next most cited NML skill, embraced by 16 participants.  Both skills boast meaningful relations with SELs social awareness and relationship skills. Responsible decision-making and self-awareness were the top two SEL skills. 

Engaging in participatory professional development (Reilly & Literat, 2010) and fostering youths’ communicative capacities is a meaningful way to prepare future leaders and catalyze social change, whether in the Global South or elsewhere.


#hashtags vs. Soap Operas: How Mexican Youth Use Social Media to Fight Political Manipulation

Presenter: Andres Monroy-Hernandez

The role of social media in movements like the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street has been much discussed, and such "hashtagged" social movements continue to appear in multiple latitudes. In this paper I present an analysis of the #YoSoy132 student movement, or "I am 132" in English, that emerged during the 2012 Mexican presidential election. The movement rallied young people against the alleged manipulation by large media networks, in an apparent effort to determine the next president. I examine the genesis and development of #YoSoy132 by looking at a large corpus of messages on the microblogging platform Twitter and through conversations with some of its members. First, I examine how, despite the movement’s antagonism with mainstream media, it was able to gain visibility and respect from a wide-range of political actors and the general populace. Second, I examine how the movement’s visibility was propelled by public-facing social media platforms such as YouTube and Twitter, while relying on pre-existing offline networks that organized themselves using a combination of face-to-face interactions and private Facebook groups. Third, I discuss the challenges and benefits of decentralization that included a disparate set of social media outlets, some of which were taken over by opponents of the movement and later recovered by the hacker collective Anonymous. Finally, I close by exposing how the movement revealed the limitations of social media in reaching beyond those who are already networked in light of the results of the election.


Mobilizing Queer Publics:  Film as a Tool of Democratic Politics

Presenter: Andy Silveira

Following the euphoria of Delhi High Court’s watershed verdict which read down Section 377 (that criminalizes “whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal,”) of the Indian Penal Code on 2 July, 2009, the Indian LGBT identified youth have persistently sought actual and virtual support through their narratives of coming-out within and outside their respective families as well as in the social sphere. This paper examines how the small, yet growing demographic of LGBT identified people conceptualize their struggles and develop a queer agenda at the policy level that would directly impact the functioning of the state as the chief arbitrator between various lobbying groups attempting to legitimize their struggles for recognition. While the print and visual media in the Indian context, which is biased in a discriminatory fashion in favor of the “romantic” couple, extols queer initiatives within the State, they also sensationalize, marginalize and censure homosexuality as reprehensible, diseased, unnatural and alien. Amidst the threat of stripping the homosexual citizen of his or her fundamental rights, film screenings along with online activism and pride events in several cities and towns foster a sense of solidarity and create a platform for queer mobilization. This paper explores how queer film screening and discussion groups function as sites for political engagement both locally and internationally. This paper also demonstrates how queer initiatives, intimacies, and activism re-imagine democracy through local and transnational support by destabilizing the normative expectations of heterosexuality rooted within a civil society that is strangely at odds with its own ambivalences.

Sangita Shresthova
Laurel Felt
Andres Monroy-Hernandez
Andy Silveira