Book Review: New Kings of the World by Fatima Bhutto

Book Name: New Kings of the World

Author: Fatima Bhutto

Publisher: Aleph

Genre: Non-fiction

Rating: 3.8/5

Book Blurb: There is a vast cultural movement emerging from the Global South and sweeping all before it. India’s Shah Rukh Khan, after all, is the most popular actor in the world. Bollywood, Turkish soap operas called dizi, K-pop and other aspects of Eastern pop culture are international in their range and allure and the biggest challenger yet to America’s monopoly since the end of World War II. Bestselling author Fatima Bhutto’s new book is about these new kings of popular entertainment in the twenty-first century. Carefully packaging not always secular modernity with traditional values in urbanized settings, they have created a new global mass culture that can be easily consumed, especially by the many millions coming late to the modern world and still negotiating its overwhelming challenges. Though this is a book primarily focused on India, it also explores the cultural industries of two other countries at the forefront of the challenge to American soft power: Turkey and South Korea. Plummeting American prestige, the belated rediscovery that local cultures are valuable in and of themselves and the rise of classes with different tastes and backgrounds emerging out of the turbulence and migration of globalization have marginalized the old guard of “Westoxified” elites and created a vast new landscape of cultural power. Indian, Turkish and even Korean mass culture offer a much better fit for this majority’s self-image and aspirations of sovereignty and dignity. Fatima Bhutto brings her thesis alive through exclusive interviews with Shah Rukh Khan, a behind-the-scenes-account of Magnificent Century, Turkey’s biggest TV show, watched by upwards of 200 million people across 43 countries and her travels to South Korea to see how K-Pop transformed the world of popular music and “Gangnam Style” became the first YouTube video to be viewed one billion times. Edgy, insightful and entertaining, New Kings of the World is an eye-opening look at the rise and rise of Eastern pop culture.

Review: Fatima Bhutto traces the rise of eastern pop culture. She covers a lot of ground, from Turkey to Korea and much of the focus is on Bollywood too. This is understandable as Bollywood is by far one of the largest industries in the east and quite popular among the diaspora abroad.

Fatima starts with a brief background about American culture which is good since the music and film industry that has shaped much of our modern culture began first in America. In fact, many of the other industries merely copied much of American culture. Some even went overboard in their zealousness to become American.

“America’s popular culture was not universally appealing, but for many decades, it was the only global pop culture available.”

This is a book loaded with opinions (often political) and is written from the perspective of the author.

The book covers Shahrukh Khan in detail as the author managed to land an interview with him. One of India’s biggest stars, Khan’s appeal has diminished over the years. It would have been nice if the book had also covered the new alternate and modern cinema movement. Many of the modern films are loved mainly because they focus on content and fulfill the intellectual curiosity of the Millenials who are now smarter and fed up with the cliched films served by Bollywood. So, in a sense, this book is a bit of an anachronism and gives the nineties feel.

Fatima writes well and is a good researcher. She covers K-pop diplomacy in detail. Korean pop arrived rapidly on the international scene but also disappeared quickly. Very few can recall any other hit song except Gangnam. There is, however, some appeal for Korean films but the language remains a big barrier.

“In many ways, K-culture is little more than American culture repurposed. To call Korea Americanized is putting it lightly.”

This book is a good introduction to the rise of pop culture in the east.

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