Young Turks on Dark Side of Moon
- Naeem Mohaiemen
The American mediascape is agog about Google's $1.6 Billion acquisition of YouTube.com this week. The central "wow" factor is the insanely high valuation for a company that is only a year old, representing a return to the "irrational exuberance" of the first Internet mania (from which I carry battle scars). Much has been made about "Web 2.0", which is supposed to represent the new model of Internet startups -- steady leadership, bottom line focused, and no more crazy parties. Whether that's true or not remains to be seen, but the zero-to-hero trajectory of YouTube has everyone buzzing.
Looking at the YouTube story, I focused on the third co-foundery -- 27 year old Jawed Karim, a graduate student who made a fortune as the third-highest equity holder. More importantly, he generated instant clout with his track record (he was an early member of PayPal, which was bought by eBay). The youth factor is also an immense lure for an age-obsessed media cycle. For my own intervention purposes, Jawed's Bangladeshi-German roots were the more interesting twist. DNA is not destiny (far from it) and nurture is the real determinant, but you can still spin this as a story of a Bangali doing quirky, unconventional projects.
While the US media is ga-ga over YouTube (the New York Times lead Business story -- with photo -- was about Jawed), there has been little coverage of the story in Dhaka. No doubt that will change in the next few days, but it's interesting to note a six-day lag for a story with a Bangladesh link, long after the CNN mafia have chewed the story dry.
In a comparable high profile story involving an Indian, the Indian and Indian-American press runs at light speed to cover it. Kiran Desai winning the Booker, DJ Rekha's album release, Raju Narisetti becoming Deputy Editor of Wall Street Journal, Gautam Malkani's Houslow rudeboys in Londonstani, Jagdish Bhagwati's nomination for Nobel Prize, Rana Dasgupta's shimmering ephemera in Tokyo Cancelled, Indra Nooyi becoming CEO of Pepsi, Shashi Tharoor's nomination for UN Secretary General, Jhumpa Lahiri's Pulitzer, Fareed Zakaria's tenure as Newsweek International editor, Sabeer Bhatia's founding of Hotmail, Rajat Gupta's time as head of McKinsey - every single one of these stories has been celebrated (often to excess) in the Indian press. This can even lead to over-extending, as with front page stories celebrating Norah Jones multi-Grammy sweep (her father is Ravi Shankar), even though Jones herself does not (publicly) claim a primarily South Asian identity. The NRI bloc has been so crucial to molding India's global image and opening new doors, even crusty Indian citizenship laws have been changed to create a new category of PIO (Persons of Indian Origin) passports. An excess of "India Shining" should lead to nausea in the audience, and the intersection with Indian superpower designs are a potential danger. But on a simpler level, the focus on diaspora accomplishes a limited goal of instilling optimism.
By contrast, the Bangla media is slow on the uptake to talk about younger diaspora such as Deeder Zaman (Asian Dub Foundation), Moushumi Khan (Muslim Bar Association of NY), Akram Khan (Sacred Monsters), Chaumtoli Huq (Taxi Workers Alliance), Farook Shamsher (Joi), Aziz Huq (former clerk for US Supreme Court), Sham Miah (Vol de Nuit), Sam Zaman (State of Bengal), Abeer Hoque (Olive Witch), Aladdin Ullah (Port Authority Throw Down), Shazna Nessa (Milky), Monami Maulik (DRUM), Fariba Alam (Bangla East Side), Shireen Pasha (Roti Eaters), Monica Ali (Alentejo Blues), Dishad Husain (Viva Liberty), Monica Yunus (Magic Flute), Ivan Jaigirdar (3rd I), and many others are not covered comprehensively or quickly. When the voracious Chernobyl virus invaded the Internet, a young student of BUET programmed an anti-virus in 24 hours. If he had been an Indian student of IIT, the Consulate would have ensured that he was on CNN by live satellite link within hours. But I had to wait two years until the BUET wunderkind came to graduate school in the US to meet him. Living inside the New York media frenzy, I look at the wall-to-wall coverage of Indians in the media and think that Bangalis are the little engine that could -- if only the Bangla press would wake up.
I am wary of excessive nationalism because it can quickly lead to chauvinism and exclusion. There is also a deep contradiction in gaining domestic applause after validation from a Western power structure. But at the current crisis crossroads, we could do with an injection of optimism and inspiration from unconventional locations. A decade ago, Mahfuz Anam gave a heartfelt lecture at Columbia University about the Bangla diaspora. But Daily Star and others have been slow to follow the lead of those words.
Media profiles do not have to focus only on middle class professionals, or the sons and daughters of "established" people back home (the latter would re-inscribe hierarchies and local elites). There are many other stories to track down -- the near monopoly of Bangalis in Brooklyn's brownstone renovation business, the Bangali head cheese buyer at Balducci's, the huge bloc of Bangalis in the pugnacious Taxi Drivers' union, the Sylheti uber-dominance of "Indian" restaurants in London and New York, the packed-to-the-gills Belgian bar-restaurant and trendy East Village hotspots, the new young Bangla activists in New York's immigrant rights battle, and the men who commandeered a signature campaign for International Mother Tongue Day. We can also attempt, emotionally and politically, to embrace a pan-Bangali identity and take the success stories of West Bengalis as part of our mosaic.
Current politics is a death-bound roller coaster, and the passengers can't disembark. People are always banging on about the resulting short supply of optimism. The stories are there, inside and outside the borders - vested with the Innovative NGOs, Tireless Activists, Young Turks and Culture Agitators.