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IndianMatchmakingNetflixAuntieSima.jpg

Why Are So Many People Who Aren't South Asian Watching 'Indian Matchmaking'?

By Alberto Cox Délano | TV | May 30, 2023 |

By Alberto Cox Délano | TV | May 30, 2023 |


IndianMatchmakingNetflixAuntieSima.jpg

We need to ask ourselves this question because even though Indian Matchmaking is a hit in India and among the South Asian diaspora, this show was not made with the latter in mind. There is literally nothing I can say about Indian Matchmaking that hasn’t already been written by people with actual cultural insights, namely, South Asian people in the diaspora or in the subcontinent. They have already dissected how uncritical the show is about casteism, the blatant colorism of some of the match-seekers, the overarching sexist and patriarchal message it perpetuates, and overall, how it is basically a vehicle for wealthy, upper-caste South Asians to craft an orientalist representation of the subcontinent’s cultures.

I am sure I have learned more about South Asian culture from the people tearing Indian Matchmaking apart than from the actual show, which is to be expected. As Prem Sai Ramani says, it’s a reality show, not a documentary. Both are deliberate in molding the recorded material into a narrative, but documentaries need to have at least the pretense of being objective. I know the bare minimum and then some about South Asian history, culture, and geography; I didn’t need to watch Ms. Marvel to learn about the Partition. Being culturally curious means always being open to cultural representation, but also always having a critical outlook on whatever is being presented to you as “true cultural representation,” even something as banal as a reality show (Why… yes, I am single, and people find me a drag, why do you ask?). But somehow, the minute Indian Matchmaking came out, I ate it up. I did it because I knew, subconsciously, that it would give me exactly what I wanted to see: A sensationalized depiction of a foreign cultural practice, reinforcing my underlying belief in the superiority of my own.

Everything wrong with the series’ depiction of the matchmaking process has been covered in the articles linked above. But what we, as “Westerners,” want to reinforce in our uncritical consumption of Indian Matchmaking is that our way of practicing dating, romance, and love is superior to the one depicted in the series: Spontaneity vs. deliberateness; passion vs. checklisting; improvisation vs. scheduling; intimacy vs. exposure; similarity vs. compromising. And more importantly, exogamy vs. endogamy. Or that’s what we want to believe about ourselves. We watch the series believing that we are doing it better, what with finding partners on our own from a dating pool so broad that the clichéd metaphor compares it to the sea (even though we are probably going to be more successful meeting people within the networks we are used to and we will still select them through filters). We then cringe at the prospect that the matchmaking process involves the parents, brothers, and other relatives, leaving barely any room for intimacy (even though the process of introducing a romantic partner to your relatives and close ones, exposing them and yourself to their judgment, is taken as a given even in the most Protestant and aloof of societies). The sole idea of having to “date with a purpose,” that purpose being, namely, starting a family, is something we consider a first-date red flag (even though you never don’t think that this new prospective partner might be worth it in the long-haul). We deem it the ultimate unromantic move when the matches take into consideration the other’s work credentials and economic standing (even though people who want to commit long-term should and must have honest conversations about money and not leave it to “what will be will be”). It’s not a case of “we are not so different, you and I,” but at least the process of matchmaking to find a marrying partner is transparent. “Our” dating process has to carry all the asides I just wrote between parentheses as anchoring anxiety. Moreover, matchmakers could fulfill a priceless role by helping people through the most demoralizing, vulnerable, anxiety-ridden, and plainly inhumane part of dating: Actually asking someone out.

To be fair to myself/ourselves, as Ria Modak describes in the link above, this is exactly what the producers behind Indian Matchmaking are trying to sell to their Western audiences: a self-exoticized version of South Asian culture. Emphasis on the lowercase and singular “culture.” Even my use of the term “South-Asian” is a cop-out because Indian Matchmaking is true to the title, and we never see a single Pakistani, Bangladeshi, or Nepali person in the show; it’s overwhelmingly Indian people from the South and Northwest. No Bengalis, no Muslims. There is something to be said about how the dominant groups in countries that have been colonized are also complicit in perpetuating the stereotypes about themselves. Ironically, the show attempts to portray arranged marriages as a more rational, honest alternative to “Western Dating,” perhaps in an attempt to subvert the narrative. But when you repackage an element from your culture for the consumption of others, those foreign to it, said foreigners will probably fail to understand it if you yourself are not examining your own culture critically. The people behind Indian Matchmaking just wanted to peddle sentimental fluff, that arranged marriages work and are worth it, conveniently gliding over Auntie Sima’s dismal success rate or that the people in the show have more success finding a partner on their own, setting aside the pressures and expectations of the arranged marriage process (to the suppressed horror of Auntie Sima, an obvious BJP voter, one of her former clients finds love with a lovely Muslim man). But more importantly, the people behind the show forgot to consider that we in the “West” have been primed to consider South Asian cultures as inferior because they practice things like arranged marriages, while we conveniently forget that the preference for love-matches is as recent in our culture as the locomotive. The producers could’ve turned Indian Matchmaking into an instrument that interrogates issues of gender, race, and class among both in India, among the South Asian diaspora, and in the general “West.” Yes, I was barely able to write the previous sentence with a straight face, but they could’ve.

One myth we Latines love to tell ourselves is that we privilege exogamy in marriage, that we are founded on the mixture of peoples from Europe, Africa, Native Americans, and Asia, which is genetically and culturally true, something that can be traced back not just to the Conquista and the Colonial periods but to the very way Spain and Portugal came to be. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Latine audiences rolled their eyes at the show’s participants’ fixation with finding peers with the same precise background, especially those in the diaspora. What’s the point of migrating to the US if not to meet and perhaps start families with people from other origins, whichever they might be?

But… isn’t that a myth we tell ourselves? Do we prize exogamy as much as we claim we do? Or would a hypothetical Latino Matchmaking just be participants looking for tall and blonde partners (and with even more meddling mums)? We conveniently forget about our own colorism in our mythmaking, about how race-mixing in Latin America, historically, has been celebrated as a way of “whitening the gene pool”. Go ask Enrique Tarrio.

I was just as shocked as anyone at watching, for example, that lovely and successful girl from California at the end of season 1, who openly said her prospective match should be “not too dark.” But then I realized, would that be much different from what you would hear from a Latina auntie or mum? If anything, Indian Matchmaking is an exercise in Matthew 7:5.

Alberto Cox says “It’s me, Hi, I’m the problematic it’s me”. He also wants to say Justice for the Teachers: Vyasar and Bobby Seagul deserved better. Also, Auntie Sima sucks.