Contemplating South Asia Through “Carnival Row” by Rida Akhtar Ghumman

Covid-19, leading to a global seclusion by a larger populace, enhanced the user base of modern television media like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO etc. manifold. Today when America is revolting against state level practice of racism and discrimination, the role of such media channels and their creative criticism of various political prejudices becomes even more relevant.

Paving way for constructive criticism, Carnival Row streaming on Amazon Prime is a step taken ahead in progressive television discourse. With a yearning of political stability at its core, released last year; the season one of Carnival Row has joined in the millennium of politically plotted dramas, period dramas and modern fantasy but what separates it from other Gen Z TV shows is the representation of modern-day marginalization metaphorically depicted in a 7th Century Victorian model society. The amalgamation of several 21st century literary genres to depict a supposed medieval culture enriches the conception of the whole series and bridges a gap between modern and medieval literary theory. It is about time that television series start acknowledging the political manifestation of races, cultures, & genders and start depicting dual sided narratives of imperialism, misogyny and racism.

In early September 2019, Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury prostrated at the site of Amritsar Massacre as a symbolic request of seeking forgiveness for the horrendous Jallianwala Bagh Massacre of 1919 under the colonial rule in India. Such acts of acknowledging the British tyranny in its imperial rule set a precedent for reviewing and editing conceptions of Great Britain of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Carnival Row depicts imperialism in metaphors too, where the Pact symbolizes colonial trendsetting- the Fae nation of Tirnanoc losing their lands to the Burge and its economic pursuits. Based on the script by Travis Beacham, Carnival Row is taking up the legacy of the likes of Game of Thrones one step ahead by acknowledging the political struggle of marginalized communities. Voicing LGBTTQQIAAP through mythical creatures as kingdoms of fae, pixies, bux, fauns, witches- denounced as Critch, replicating the feminist movement of the twentieth century by depicting voting rights and equality movements echoing in the ambience, the Burge caters immigrant population in The Row, a specific area allotted to mythical creatures while they struggle to mingle in with human population.

Carnival Row as a modern literary venture deals with mystery and crime fiction in its epicenter – refugees as the Critch are subjected to almost all the crimes and if evil happens to them, the cases are never taken seriously, ‘typical Critch business’. Gender roles questioned in the show reflect upon the present-day crisis especially of the post-colonial states struggling for economic stability. Feminist waves lurk in the plot where women are finally getting enrolled in universities and debating for “a room of one’s own” pitched through education, gender role and societal construction. The struggle for equality and economic ventures of the Critch are particularly important in lieu of estimating the modern political struggle of states like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with little or no reparation received for the lost glory of the pre-colonial kingdoms.

The eight-episode season has been renewed for a season two and audiences interested in political allegory and critical fantasy should be looking forward to it!

Rida Akhtar Ghumman is a post-grad student of English Literature based in Pakistan. Typically interested in pop culture reviews, books of all kinds and literary revolutions. She can be reached on Twitter and Instagram at @RidaAkhtar_

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