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“Outsourced” – NBC’s Latest Foray Into Racist Xenophobia

Piya Sinha-Roy |
September 24, 2010 | 2:55 p.m. PDT

Senior Entertainment Editor

 

The cast of "Outsourced" on NBC (Mitchell Haaseth/NBC)
The cast of "Outsourced" on NBC (Mitchell Haaseth/NBC)
The premiere of NBC’s new sitcom, "Outsourced," kicked off last night and managed to singlehandedly piss off every Indian who made the mistake of thinking that in the 21st century, television may slowly be phasing out the stereotypes.

We start with Todd Dempsey (Ben Rappaport), a dashing young white American go-getter, who has just been informed abruptly that his entire sales team has been axed and the job has been outsourced to India. Dempsey then takes a trip in some rickety auto-rickshaw in what can only be a studio lot depicting the hustle of Mumbai, and lands in his new office as the manager. 

Now here’s where the writers get it completely wrong – instead of taking this opportunity to deliver some smart, topical comedy, they resort to racist Indian stereotypes. Within Dempsey’s first day, he manages to insult Indian names (Manmeet must obviously find it difficult when he trawls the internet because, yes, his name sounds like man meat…), insult Indian ‘funny headgear’ (turban and headscarf jokes are so 2001), joke about cows being sacred and yes, you guessed it – give not one, but two speeches on America being the land of the free.

Whether Americans like to believe it or not, India and its people have come a long way from the naively backward depiction in “Outsourced”. Even if the eastern cultures are steeped more in traditional values, it is very likely that educated Indians will know exactly what American culture is like, purely from the saturation of American influence in popular culture around the world – Indians have access to Hollywood movies and American television shows, and chances are, the educated masses will know what mistletoe is (yes, they do have Christians and Christmas in India). Indian food doesn’t usually resemble yellow and green shit, and promiscuity isn’t just an American invention - there is a youth culture in India, and trust me, they do their fair share of experimenting, like any young kids. 

And talking of America being the land of the free to express yourself, as Dempsey preaches – really? REALLY?! Just the mere fact that profanity and sexual content is banned from most the networks and yet, it’s perfectly ok to see Khourtney Kardashian being humped on a balcony on primetime E! (the explicit parts blurred out, of course), once again spells out American hypocrisy. By portraying one negative stereotype, the writers either intentionally, or unintentionally, manage to bare another stereotype shared around the world – the ignorant American. 

Rebecca Hazelwood (Asha) delivers a disappointing performance, especially since she’s an established soap-actress in the UK. Being a British-Indian should give her the advantage of being able to study the accents much closer to home, and yet her character comes off contrived. Sacha Dhawan (Manmeet) is able to bring a marginally more dynamic performance, but the scripts are so appalling that the cast may as well break out into a Bollywood musical number. 

The show is based on a 2006 film of the same name, and the film’s two writers are involved in the script of the television adaptation. The plot is also very similar to a short-lived British television show called "Mumbai Calling," written by the talented British-Indian comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar (one of the masterminds behind BBC’s "Goodness Gracious Me") – being Indian, Bhaskar was able to portray the race without descending into caricatures, and even then, the show didn’t really have staying power.

With shows like "Community" and "The Office", NBC should have a handle on how to do situation comedy without resorting to stereotypes. However, the writers of this show have clearly either never been to India, or else they have a disturbingly skewed impression of it. There are some amazingly talented Indian-American comedians in Hollywood (Aziz Ansari, Arj Barker, "The Office’s" Mindy Kaling and "The Big Bang Theory’s" Kunal Nayyar to name just a few), and while on one hand, it’s nice to see more Indians on television, it’s embarrassing to see them depicting their race in such an appalling light. As for the comedy, there was none. Underlying every joke was a not-so-thinly-veiled insult, and Rappaport does not have the skills to pull off awkward humor like Ricky Gervais and Steve Carell. 

Coming from a family of educated, hard-working Indians, it's frustrating to see our race stripped down to such a degrading level. Cultural differences are always a good go-to topic for humor, especially for stand-up comedians (although if I have to hear another “Englishman, Irishman, Scottishman”, bar joke, I’ll lose my mind), but “Outsourced” fails to explore cultural differences – rather, it insinuates India = silly, while America = clever (and what a clever invention that fake dog poo is). Indians are hugely underrepresented on the big and small screen, but when portrayed in this incredibly demeaning manner, it’s safe to say that I’d rather have no representation at all. 

Reach Senior Entertainment Editor Piya Sinha-Roy here, and follow her on Twitter @PiyaSRoy.



 

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