Author Archives: Jennifer Bohlman

Digital Participation: #BandAid30

This blog post on the recreation of the Band-Aid video from 1984 explains a lot of the reasons why the video is so frustrating to Africans. It plays right into the White Savior Complex that we discussed a lot in class. It also brings up a topic that I find very interesting: aid pornography. This is very similar to a topic that I’m interested in when it comes to disability studies, inspiration porn. Aid pornography isn’t pornography in the way we expect it to be. It is the showing of people’s suffering, perhaps without their consent, in order to influence people to donate to “save” them. It is dependent on the White Savior Complex and the problem with it is that it strips people of their dignity. The blog post makes a simple but convincing argument as to why it’s wrong: the celebrities in the video would never, ever let themselves be seen in the same way that the “suffering Africans” are shown, so why should we say it’s ok to show the Africans that way when we wouldn’t want people to see us like that? (Hint: It’s because we devalue African lives.)

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Digital Participation: Africa Cartoons

Though this class focused on literature, we’ve talked about other forms of media, particularly film. Through Africa Is A Country, I found a site called Africa Cartoons. This site says that it is an “Encyclopedia of African Cartooning,” and I think it’s fascinating. Cartooning is an often-overlooked form of media, but I’ve always found it fascinating how political cartoons can break down the major points of an issue into a single image. This site is definitely geared towards Africans and people who are paying close attention to the political situations in different African countries, as most political cartoons require context to be understood. You can search by specific country or by cartoonist. This is a very new site, and the creator says in the About page that they are hoping to include interviews, reviews, journal articles, and scholarly books on cartooning in Africa. I think this is very interesting as an alternative and up-and-coming art form in Africa, and it’s something I’ve never really thought about before. It’s relevant to our class, though, as a form of media that critiques and closely examines African politics and life.

Digital Participation: Who Wants to be a Volunteer?

Who Wants to be a Volunteer?

This is a hilarious satirical video by a Norwegian group called “Students and Academics International Assistance Fund” (when put through Google Translate; the original name is in Norwegian) to promote the Rusty Radiator Awards, which “award” the most stereotypical fundraising campaigns that make use of such tropes as the White Savior and Exotic Other. They also have a Golden Radiator Award, which is given to the most creative fundraising campaigns that don’t make use of harmful stereotypes. The video, Who Wants to be a Volunteer?, makes fun of tropes used in fundraising campaigns and it makes fun of American/European young adults to go to Africa to “save” it while knowing nothing about it, not even that it’s more than one country. While humorous all the way through, from its Amazing Race-esque start to it’s group dance number finish, near the end there is a moment of seriousness when the words “STEREOTYPES HARM DIGNITY” are shown on a black screen. I think in all that we’ve talked during this class about the White Savior complex and the problems with this kind of fundraising, these three words sum it up perfectly. It also reminds me of Adichie’s TED Talk about the problem of the single story. (By the way, on the Rusty Radiator Awards site you can see all the 2014 nominees. I highly suggest seeing how awful some of these ads are. You can also vote for your favorite!)

Bisexual Erasure

When I read the first chapter of Walking with Shadows, I was almost completely sure that Adrian was bisexual. While he’s arguing with Ada, Ada asks him if he is gay and he tries to avoid the question. He tells Ada that he loves her, and he mentions how “meeting [Ada] changed a lot for [him]” and when Ada finally pushes him for an actual answer he says that he was, and that “being gay was my past and when I met you all that didn’t matter anymore and I loved [her]” (19-20). To me, this came across as a person living in a society where bisexuality is not considered to exist. This is a trope in a lot of Western media, too – someone who has had either only straight or only gay relationships ends up in a relationship with a person of a gender different than they usually date and then it is said that their sexuality has “switched.” This bi erasure in Western media has only recently begun to be addressed (such as in shows like Bones and Orange is the New Black). I was surprised at first that a bisexual character would be the first non-straight main character in an African novel, and then later on in the first part Adrian insists to his siblings that he is gay, for once actually using the word “gay” to describe himself.

I’m wondering what you all think. Is Adrian gay or bisexual? He says that he is gay, but if he was raised in a culture where even homosexuality was abhorred as much as it is, the resources and information about bisexuality may not be readily available. Maybe he does consider himself bisexual but finds it too hard to try to explain that to other people who already find homosexuality hard enough to accept. Also, what does the erasure of bisexual identity and identities other than homosexuality and heterosexuality mean for queer people in Nigeria and other homophobic societies?

Alcohol and Colonialism

Weren’t they the thousand bottles my master had opened up in front of that makossa-dancing man? Beaufort, tritri, chômé, nsansanboy, quatre fois quatre, gwan, gnôle, odontol, petit Guinness, and so on: in a word, jobajo. (28)

Alcohol obviously plays a huge role in Dog Days, as a lot of the action takes place in a bar. I noticed as I was reading, particularly in the above passage, that a lot of the alcohol they drink is foreign. From what I could find of the ones listed above, the alcohol is a mixture of Cameroonian, French, German, and British alcohol. This makes complete sense as Cameroon was colonized by France, Germany, and Great Britain.

The foreign alcohol is significant because it turns men lazy and gluttonous. Throughout Dog Days, we see how nobody does anything productive when drunk. In the midst of this economic crisis, everyone opens up bars and imports foreign alcohol and they sit around doing no real work. At one point there is a conversation in The Customer Is King about what the President should do about opposition leaders overseas, and a customer says of the opposition leaders:

“At least if they come back, they’ll be of some use. Instead of wasting their time criticizing, they’ll build the country with us.”

Panther’s voice said, “Mbe ke di? Ou mbe ke di? What are you saying? That you’re building Cameroon, sitting there behind your jobajo?” (73)

In the novel, alcohol is constantly getting men into fights or leading them to suicide, and the character of “Alcoholic Candy” represents the link between alcohol and death. Alcoholic Candy digs graves, and his name leads to the implication that alcohol digs men’s graves, too.

What does this say about colonialism? The alcohol that is driving these men to their graves is provided by the countries that used to colonize Cameroon, and to me this signifies how colonialism brought terrible things like laziness and gluttony into Cameroon. However, some of the alcohol in the book is distinctly Cameroonian – such as the odontol – so I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Even so, I still believe that there is a clear message here about some of the customs and products and influences brought in by the colonizers and the negative effects they had on the people of Cameroon.

Clothing and Gender in Lumumba

Clothing plays an important role in Lumumba. The men throughout the film wear suits and other Western clothing, particularly for political events. Unless it is a very casual instance, Lumumba himself mostly wears dress shirts and slacks, if not full suits. Clothing is a form of assimilation, and the fact that so many Congolese wear western clothing is a sign of how assimilated they are. I find it a little ironic that Lumumba, who rails against the intrusion of Belgium in their lives, always wears western clothing. If anything, Mobutu is a little less assimilated, as he wears some nonwestern clothing. However, by the end Mobutu is wearing all-white suits that just emphasize his opulence and westernization.

What I find interesting is the women’s fashion throughout the movie. I’m not an expert on Congolese fashion, but I know that what the women are wearing in the movie is not traditional fashion for western women in the 1950s and 60s. There are very few shots in the movie that have western women, but even from those few one can see the difference. The women’s clothing is most likely more traditional to what women wore before colonialism, though there are definitely some western influences.

I find this interesting in connection to what we talked about with Nervous Conditions and the portrayal of gender there. We discussed in class that women in Nervous Conditions were symbols of tradition. While the men advanced and became westernized, women were expected to uphold tradition. I believe that the difference in fashion between the men and women in this movie reflects that theory.

Another interesting point is that Lumumba’s daughter seems to wear very westernized clothing in the movie, unlike his wife and other Congolese women. She even wears a very white, lacy dress that to me seems very European. I’m curious as to what this represents – if Lumumba wishes for his daughter to receive an education and be westernized as he was, or if it calls into question his anti-colonial mindset, or something else entirely. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.

Darkness in Umuofia

We discussed a little in class about the relationship between Things Fall Apart and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Because of the argument some have made that Things Fall Apart is a response to Heart of Darkness, I wanted to look more closely at depictions of darkness in Achebe’s work. Specifically, I want to look at two mentions of darkness.

The first is in Chapter 2, beginning with “The night was very quiet. It was always quiet except on moonlight nights.” The following paragraphs describe the fear the citizens of Umuofia hold for the darkness. It is painted as a source of evil, with animals becoming “even more sinister and uncanny in the dark.” (page 9 in the 50th Anniversary Edition) I believe that this fear of the dark serves as a unifying feature between Ibo culture and “Western” culture – in “Western” culture, though it is portrayed differently, the darkness is also something to be feared; Joseph Conrad portrays this in Heart of Darkness. What is interesting in these few paragraphs in Things Fall Apart is that Achebe makes a clear distinction between “darkness” and “night.” “On a moonlight night it would be different” Achebe writes (10). Achebe makes it clear that this is a fear of darkness rather than night, and that leads me to believe that this is a response to Conrad, because this distinction is maintained throughout the novel.

The second section of the novel I’d like to examine is at the end of Chapter 23.

“It was the time of the full moon. But that night the voice of children was not heard. The village ilo where they always gathered for moon-play was empty. The women of Iguedo did not meet in their secret enclosure to learn a new dance to be displayed later to the village. Young men who were always abroad in the moonlight kept their huts that night. Their manly voices were not heard on the village paths as they went to visit their friends and lovers. Umuofia was like a startled animal with ears erect, sniffing the silent, ominous air and not knowing which way to run.” (196)

This passage turns on its head everything that was mentioned in the beginning of Chapter 2. At this point, the moonlight nights are equal to darkness, evoking the same amount of fear. The people of Umuofia feel and act as if it is dark even though it isn’t, and the question is: why? There’s the obvious answer; that the town is in shock over having some of their men detained and the threat of their leaders being hanged if they did not pay the white men. However, looking at it from the perspective that this novel is a response to Heart of Darkness, I argue that this new darkness that has settled over the town is because of the invasion of the white man. Though the white men had been working their way in before this, this instance is what shows the villagers that they had been invaded and are no longer in power. This serves as the antithesis to Conrad – in Heart of Darkness, the darkness from Africa invades the white colonizers, turning them “dark” as well; in response, Achebe shows that the white men were the ones to bring the darkness into Africa, and as such expanded the fear there.