Student Response: "Outside the Whale"

Nicola Able



Salman Rushdie's

"Outside the Whale"


In his article, "Outside the Whale," Salman Rushdie writes of the need for literature to be analyzed from a political perspective.  What is amazing about his writing is that it is as relevant today, in our current political climate, as it was 20 years ago when Rushdie originally penned the article.  People look to entertainment, whether it’s through books, movies, or music, for an escape.  However, according to Rushdie, there is no escaping the harsh realities of our world, and our sources of entertainment should reflect that fact.


Living “inside the whale,” as explained in Rushdie’s essay, means to accept the world and all the horrible events that occur on a daily basis.  It’s about sitting quietly and minding your manners.  It is about being well behaved.  It is about comfort.  Honestly, for many people, it’s just easier to live life that way.  But Rushdie believes that living quietly isn’t living, and that it is the responsibility of writers and artists to take a noisier, more proactive stance in their work.  He says that “works of art, even works of entertainment, do not come into being in a social and political vacuum; and that the way they operate in a society cannot be separated from politics, from history.”  Even “fluff” movies or books are products of a certain political environment, and thus cannot be judged separate from that environment.  (An amusing note; Mr. Rushdie had a cameo in the movie Bridget Jones’ Diary, whose sole political statement was Singletons are people too.)


Rushdie specifically discusses movies and books about the British occupation of India, and how Indians are misrepresented.  He talks about how these movies, although supposedly not political, are reflections of the political situation in England in 1984, when he wrote this essay.  According to Rushdie, Britain at the time needed to believe in its own superiority, and these movies and books were political statements of that need.  This is where I believe Rushdie’s essay to be relevant in our country today.


During our last presidential election, there was a lot of talk about how America was truly divided.  Now, basing this solely on the fact that George Bush was reelected, the conservative side seemed to actually win this time.  All of a sudden, there are stories on the news, and in the papers, about how Hollywood is no longer a true reflection of America; that the liberals in Hollywood are writing scripts and making movies that only show their beliefs, and not the concerns of the majority of U.S. citizens.  This is implying that because we have a conservative administration in the White House that we should only have conservative entertainment.  That our artists, writers, and musicians need to live inside that whale and quietly accept an older, white, Republican agenda.  As Rushdie says “passivity always serves the…people already at the top of the heap,” and right now, sitting at the top of our political heap is a white Republican.  He doesn’t want noisy, angry artists talking about equality, same-sex marriage, and abortion.  He wants nice, polite, quiet artists who help to keep America, in their La-Z Boy recliners, comfortable.  Somehow, I don’t think Rushdie would approve.


I know people who want badly for there to be a whale that they can live in peacefully.  There are days when I am one of them.  But I believe Rushdie is correct in his assertion that there is no whale.  There is no comfort zone, and there shouldn’t be one.  Comfort is not an option in our violent, scary world.  That’s why we need to analyze our entertainment from a political perspective; because politics permeates every aspect of our lives.  The only way to achieve positive change is to fight, yell, and never, ever just stay quiet.