Culture affects the psychology of an individual because it prescribes certain norms and values that affect the perceptions, attitudes and behaviors of an individual. Culture varies by geography and philosophical traditions. As technology makes geographical barriers irrelevant, people from diverse cultures are brought close together resulting in frequent interaction. An understanding of cross-cultural differences can help to make these interactions productive opportunities for personal and social development. The setting of the movie West is West during 1970s Britain and Pakistan has enabled archival data to be used for the purpose of analyzing cross-cultural differences between the East and the West in the movie.
The Movie: West is West
West is West is a British 2010 movie that illustrates the challenges of living in a culturally diverse family. The movie is about a British-Pakistani man trying to bridge the gap between his British life and his first wife and family back home in a Pakistani village. George/Jahangir also has a British wife Ella with whom he has seven children and is desperate to ensure that his children are brought up as good Muslims. The youngest son Sajid refuses to accept his Pakistani identity and also faces behavioral problems due to experiencing racism at school. According to a report by Bam-Hutchison (2012), Paki-bashing (a form of verbal and physical racist abuse directed at Pakistani immigrants as well as those who had similar brown skin and Indian heritage) was fairly common during the 1960s and 1970s. To meet both his goals, George takes Sajid to his village in a bid to help him connect with his roots and to make amends for ignoring his family for 30 years. The family feels betrayed and is not happy to see him. George continues to try building bridges while Sajid succeeds at making friends in the village and becomes more accepting of his identity. Ella follows George to confront him about his intentions. She is insecure about George's first wife, but realizes her love for George after Rashida assures her that she has no feelings for him. George and Ella make up towards the end of the movie.
Collective and Personal Agency in West is West
George is shown as a man of Pakistani origin who migrated to Britain in 1937, ten years before the establishment of Pakistan through the partition of India. The BBC archives (2003) state in a report that a number of seamen of Pakistani origin migrated to Britain. However, it does not seem likely to assume that George was a seaman because he belongs to the Punjab region which is a land-locked part of Pakistan with no remarkable history of seafaring. His desire to reach out to his roots back home is typical of a trend during the 1960s and 1970s documented by the BBC (2003).
The belief in collective and personal agency can be seen clearly in the Eastern and Western characters in West is West. When George's British wife Ella discovers that George has withdrawn funds from their joint account to visit his first wife back in Pakistan and help improve their living conditions of his family, she is infuriated and makes the long trip to Pakistan to confront him and demand an explanation for being unfair to her. Through these actions, Ella demonstrates a belief in personal agency because she feels she can take steps that will make her life different and better for her. On the other hand, George's Pakistani wife Rashida does not take personal initiative at changing her circumstances to her own interest. She fatalistically accepts George's defection of her family and tries to explain to Ella how George means nothing to her in the present and has no place in her heart. Whenever Rashida is seen expressing her disappointment she is seen in the company of her sons and daughters, who give her the courage to express her feelings to George. On her own, she is unable to speak out her mind as she feels she has to defer to her husband.
George himself displays a belief in both collective as well as personal agency at times. He sets out on a visit to Pakistan to help his son Sajid get over his behavioral problems and to learn about his culture. This desire is typical of many first-generation Pakistani immigrants to Britain as described in a 2009 report by The Change Institute (10). While initially he tries to independently deal with the problem in his dominating nature, he soon adopts a different strategy by putting Sajid into a completely different context with the expectation that the environment and society of his village in Pakistan comprising of family members, neighbors and local village folk will help him achieve what his personal efforts at disciplining his son have failed to. In this way, the movie sees George moving from a belief in personal agency towards collective agency and displaying the eastern attitude favoring collective agency.
Analytic and Holistic Approaches in West is West
Differences in analytic and holistic approaches are also evident in the way characters in West is West respond to life's challenges. It is seen that Ella has greater difficulty in coming to terms with George's two marriages although she has known the fact for many years. On the other hand, Rashida accepts the second marriage in a Stoic manner even though it has caused her a lot of suffering and a life of poverty and deprivation. Also, when the two wives meet one another, Ella is less prone towards making useful communication and engagement than Rashida. Ella does not feel that she can have anything to say to a woman who may be close to stealing her husband from her, while Rashida sees room for engaging with Ella on a human level even though she could have blamed Ella for her sorry state of affairs.
This difference reflects an analytic approach to life held by Ella who sees Rashida only in terms of competition. On the other hand, Rashida holds a holistic view of her life which is why she can feel hurt at having been betrayed for another woman while trying to communicate with the same woman as a human being. This is also reflected in the findings of a study on part and holistic cues by Ishii and Tsukasaki (103-109). Rashida is able to simultaneously hold differing perceptions of the same individual while Ella learns to develop this view through her interactions with Rashida and the local environment.
Another interesting character who reflects a transition from an analytic to a holistic view is Sajid, who at first comes to the village as a cynical and skeptical person without any belief in the power of his environment to change his view of his identity as a British lad. However, through interaction with his cousins, village friends and a local pir, Sajid is able to come to terms with his hyphenated identity as a Pakistani-British young man. While earlier, he is unable to identify with his Pakistani roots, towards the end of the movie; his views have accommodated his roots into his identity.
Individualism and Collectivism in West is West
Hofstede (1980) presents an analysis of diverse cultures along individualism-collectivism. The characters in West is West can also be analyzed along these dimensions of cross-cultural difference. The Easter characters in West is West, in particular Rashida and her son, live in a close-knit, collectivistic rural society and their perceptions are shaped accordingly. Their ability to share common emotions as a group is typical of East-West differences noted by Masuda, Mesquita, Tanida, Ellsworth, Leu, and Van de Veerdonk (365-381).
Rashida devotes herself to fulfilling the needs of her children during her husband's long absence. She does not see an existence for herself outside of her responsibilities towards her family and conforming to the social norms of her village. In this regard, Rashida demonstrates vertical collectivism because she sacrifices her happiness for the well-being of her children.
Similarly, her son agrees to marry the girl of his parents' choice since he places a high value on fulfilling an obligation towards his parents and the view that his wife would also have responsibilities towards the family and not just himself. On the other hand, Ella and Sajid display individualistic behaviors. Ella and her friend do not try to conform to the expectations and sensibilities of the rural society they are visiting. They smoke openly and take sunbaths in the open, which makes Rashida's family and the villagers a bit uncomfortable. They also continue to dress in western attire. This reflects the idea that British society is individualistic. In fact, according to a report in The Telegraph (Alleyne), research by Dutch psychologist Geert Hofstede Britain is the most individualistic country in the world. Sajid learns to conform as he adopts the dress and language of the village in order to fit in. he also attends the village fair and consults to the village pir to understand the values of the culture. Another…