Heritage and the Politics of Culture
The “war on terror” rhetoric on Afghanistan is often seen as a political manoeuvre. But what implications will this have on its culture? Using a postcolonial lens to examine the culture industry in Afghanistan, this paper examines the representations of Afghans and the complex production and consumption of ‘war victim’ identities locally and globally. A mixed methods approach – including a BBC documentary, articles, interviews, as well as performance reviews – is adopted to analyse one Afghan theatre company’s performance of Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” in the 2012 London Olympics. This case study from, and beyond, Kabul shows the export of Afghan cultures and performances outside Afghanistan, underscoring tropes of impoverishment and suffering while inviting international interventions and conciliations. “The Comedy of Errors” also highlights the unequal, and possibly manipulative, relationships between Afghans and non-Afghan cultural stakeholders. On one hand, the World Shakespeare Festival can be seen to promote a worthy cause by having an Afghan representation and, on the other hand, the theatre group takes delight in showing the world that Afghans are capable of comedies, to perhaps erase the stereotypical rhetoric on war and terrorism. As Theodor Adorno argues, and this paper agrees, “The culture industry turns into public relations, the manufacturing of ‘goodwill’ per se, without regard for particular firms or saleable objects.” In this case, unfortunately, the object on ‘sale’ is the Afghan identity – and the consequence of this uneven exchange is further complicated by real consequences of attacks, estrangements, and possibly death.