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Friday, September 21

'What if Batman was from Chennai' and other Stories: Language, Cultural Regions, and Digital Media Platforms
South Asia Initiative Speaker Series - Year 3
3:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Aswin Punathambekar, University of Michigan—Ann Arbor
407 Cathedral of Learning
Sponsored by:
Asian Studies Center
Lynn Kawaratani
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This paper explores the significance of linguistic and cultural regions for the global expansion and localization of digital media platforms. Bringing enduring concerns of cultural difference to bear on digital media in South Asia, I explore the industrial and cultural logics at work when platforms like YouTube recognize and value southern India's linguistic and cultural diversity. Focusing on Tamil internet culture, I explore how one specific YouTube channel (Put Chutney) leveraged algorithmic knowledge as well as industry lore about south Indian internet users to produce a series of videos that articulated three distinct and at times competing conceptions of the region - a peninsular region of south India, a linguistic region revolving around the Tamil language, and an urban region centered in Chennai, a powerful global media capital. More broadly, I argue that platform localization is the contingent outcome of the interaction of algorithmic and representational logics that structure the operations of digital platforms.

Aswin Punathambekar is an associate professor of media studies and founding director of the Global Media Studies Initiative at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. His books and articles explore the impact that globalization and technological change have on the workings of media industries, audience and user practices, and cultural identity and politics. He is the author of From Bombay to Bollywood: The Making of a Global Media Industry (NYU Press, 2013) and co-editor of Global Bollywood (2008, NYU Press), Television at Large in South Asia (2013, Routledge), and Global Digital Cultures: Perspectives from South Asia (forthcoming, University of Michigan Press). He is currently working on his next book, provisionally titled The Digital Popular: Media, Culture, and Politics in Networked India. He is an editor of the peer-reviewed journal Media, Culture and Society and also co-edits the Critical Cultural Communication series for NYU Press.