Critique of Critique of Exotica

By Thanos Moutsopoulos, 10 April 2001

In his Critique of Exotica Hutnyk sheds critical light on pop orientalism and its variants as articulated in contemporary cultural industries and, more specifically, in the growing popularity of Asian culture in the West. The book is an enjoyable read, despite the fact that it suffers from cultural studies insiderism. For Hutnyk, Asian pop represents a hybrid of the contemporary culture industry and old fashioned orientalism which produces a transatlantic exotica. In Hutnyk's words: “The book is ... about how well-meaning Other-love (anti-racism, esotericism, anthropology) can turn out to be its opposite, can be complicit at best, counter-productive at worst, part and parcel of the evil dynamic of capitalist exploitation...”.

The book centres around the wave of the New Asian dance music (based in the UK) with bands like Asian Dub Foundation, Fundamental, or Apache Indian stressing elements of Indian Identity and/or multicultural radicalism; a trend which Hutnyk endorses, identifying a genuine ‘street level attitude’ in a band like ADF as opposed to old skool hippy exoticism.

Despite his politics, Hutnyk seems to fall victim to what he accuses others of: he is reluctant to apply his critical rigour to his cherished second generation Asian producers. This is probably inevitable. What is less inevitable is Hutnyk’s disinterest in the role of homeland in this process of pop exotica. Do the products in question mean something in their homeland? Has this been theorised by academics in New Delhi? Does India have an intermediary function in this process? Should academia start by asking whether the Mumbai b-grade horror film industry or musical directors like Vijaya Anand or Kalyanji Anandji are more challenging than the leftist rhetoric of Fundamental or Apache Indian, it could require a real shift in the analytical categories used to theorise the Other.

Thanos Moutsopoulos

Critique of Exotica: Music, Politics and the Culture Industry // John Hutnyk // Pluto Press // May 2000 //176 pages // ISBN: 0745315496