Cinema and politics : the creation of postcolonial self/other and the shaping of strategic cultures in Southeast Asia, 1945-1967
Darlene Machell de Leon Espena
Date of Issue2017-04-05
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
This research examines the intersections among Southeast Asian strategic cultures, cinematic visualizations, and the formation of Southeast Asian foreign policies from 1945 to 1967. Veering away from realist, political, economic, and strategic frameworks on foreign policy and international studies, I apply cultural analysis to the study of the foreign policy orientations of Southeast Asian states in the early period of the Cold War–a period that coincided with the era of nation-building and decolonization in Southeast Asia. The underlying premise of this approach is that politics and foreign policy formulation are not impervious to culture–that the processes by which states relate to one another are inevitably grounded in distinct cultural spheres. Through an investigation of the strategic cultures of Southeast Asian states, I provide a provocative alternative for understanding how and why these states navigated the Cold War the way they did. I examine how Southeast Asian strategic cultures reflected and/or were shaped by the dominant ideologies in the national cinemas in three countries–Malaya/Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. I then explore how the strategic cultures of these Southeast Asian states eventually influenced their nation-building processes and international relations. Using films as the primary analytical reference, I investigate what the dominant ideologies in popular cinematic products that circulated in the region illuminate concerning the broader cultural context, in general, and strategic cultures, in particular, of Southeast Asian states; how these films depict international realities following the Second World War, the Cold War and its major players (the United States, China, and, albeit to a lesser degree, the Soviet Union), and the role of the Malayan/Malaysian, Philippine, and Indonesian states in the battle between the communists and the anti-communists; how popular films and genres impinge on the corroboration or rejection of particular discourses dominant in Southeast Asian nation-building and foreign policy-making during the Cold War; and finally, how the strategic cultures of Southeast Asian states, which were captured in and influenced by the popular films produced by Southeast Asians themselves, shaped the outlook of key policy makers in dealing with and coming to terms with decolonization and Cold War realities in the region. I argue that Southeast Asian films advance a cultural narrative about anti-colonialism, independence, and nation-building that produced, affirmed, and reinforced the Southeast Asian strategic culture of non-alignment. The ideologies, (re)created, negotiated, and embodied in Southeast Asian films, reflected and influenced the strategic cultures of Southeast Asian states. I further maintain that the strategic cultures not only shaped the perceptions of Southeast Asians concerning international affairs, they also affected the manner in which the peoples viewed themselves and others, and shaped their international behaviour.