Tuesday, February 26, 2013

17th-18th Century Propaganda - British Colonialism in India

Many of us with western society origins grew up under these state propagated misconceptions, and were quite shocked to begin studying international history, from an unbiased position, which equally represented the victim’s side of colonial exploitation.  These misconceptions, more precisely propaganda on undeveloped minds or diversions from the issues altogether, are often created and mass produced by controlling political forces.  Today, these elements are political, corporate, and state, most often in cooptation, while a combination of state and corporations during the age of British Empire, when technology of propaganda was basically limited to theatre and literature.  A good majority of those who reported from the colonial territories were either in the colonial territories on the dime of East India Company Shareholders, the British government or optimistic individuals, often in debt, present on behalf of their own private investments.  Prior to the technological expansion of the internet, even just twenty years ago, the information being taught in American and British schools were selective and state regulated.  It is no wonder that many of us, if we were lucky, heard about Martin Luther King once a year.  Even though the modern public school systems have been forced to expand certain areas of studies that the state would rather not reflect on, due to technologies that make researching historical documents instantaneous, the social shaping process is still the same today, only magnified tenfold, with the mass production of historical documentaries, books, and media.  One must own capital to mass produce information, and those entities that possess capital means of mass production are usually not eager to share unbiased information or accumulated capital, and usually utilize their capital toward the false glamorization, propagation of history or current politics, or, the current trend, diversion through mass production of meaningless entertainment.

The first example of colonial propaganda that we should take a look at is in the area of playwrights, as theater was a main form of entertainment, and social engagements, during the British Empire during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.  A play written for stage by Walter Mountfort in 1632, entitled ‘The Launching of the Mary’ is clear East India Company propaganda.  The play was “largely devoted to numerous speeches that are thinly veiled encomia extolling mercantilist philosophy” and was “focused on a singular objective: in the face of criticism from the general public and competitors, the play aims to defend and promote the ideology of its author’s parent company. The play is a text produced largely for its propaganda value”[1]. 

Of course, the political and economic positions, or more importantly the link to their source funding, which most often restricted or shaped written material created by playwrights, were not always obvious to a mind unfamiliar with current affairs, but often could be identified subconsciously, or naturally through the influences, experiences, acquired tastes, and second hand accounts related to the playwright.

On the literary front, there were scores of literary collections that created exotic, “benign and sunlit” mental images of colonialism under the British Empire.  The many writers and poets that glamorized the British colonies had traveled to those colonies on the funding of state or corporate entities, especially in India where “East India Company poets, like William Jones, John Leyden and Thomas Medwin, were dependent on the Company for patronage of their scholarship and advancement in their careers [2].

I have searched in-depth for the full text of the poems “Calcutta: A Poem” and “India: A Poem in Four Cantos”, but regrettably, to this point have not been able to access the text anywhere for referencing.

Even after the death of the East India Company, literature at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century continued to reflect British colonialism as a natural event of civilization.  Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’ collection, to use a piece of literature that most everyone is familiar with, is set in colonial India and, even though a children’ book aimed mostly animal characters, presents British colonialism as a very natural way of life for the British. 

An example of this is the setting for the story of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi which paints the vivid setting of a secure, upper class family environment:

1.) Rikki-tikki went out into the garden to see what was to be seen. It was a large garden, only half cultivated, with bushes, as big as summer-houses, of Marshal Niel roses, lime and orange trees, clumps of bamboos, and thickets of high grass.” 2.) “They gave him a little piece of raw meat. Rikki-tikki liked it immensely, and when it was finished he went out into the veranda and sat in the sunshine” 3.)  “Early in the morning Rikki-tikki came to early breakfast in the veranda riding on Teddy's shoulder, and they gave him banana and some boiled egg. He sat on all their laps one after the other” [3]

[1] Choi, Myungjin.  Social Money: Literary Engagements with Economics in Early Modern English Drama, p. 58-60. University of Western Ontario, 2011.  Accessed on February 26, 2013 from http://ir.lib.uwo.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1391&context=etd

[2] Malhotra, Ashok.  The Making of British India Fictions: 1772-1823, p.35.  University of Edinburgh, 2009.  Accessed on February 26, 2013 from http://www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk/bitstream/1842/4504/1/Malhotra2009.pdf

Kipling, Rudyard.  The Jungle Book.  Public Domain.  Accessed on February 26, 2013 from http://www.online-literature.com/kipling/jungle_book/8/

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