Category Archives: Celebrity

“At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities”

Since my first Mad Magazine at age 6, I have always been a huge fan of satire. A variety of satirical sources have become incredibly popular, more prominently The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and the Onion. These programs and publications, humorously illustrate the inadequacies of our news sources, while drawing our attention to the absurdities of our society. ‘How to write about Africa’ is a satirical piece that is able to address the overabundance of problematic representations of Africa in literature and print. Binyavanga Wainaina’s piece may not have received such attention if it had been written in a journalistic or academic style of writing. Perhaps appealing to the shared human experience that is humour and laughter makes satire so popular, compared to appealing to intellect.

Satire may be great for a good laugh, and to numb the anger that Fox News or The Star can so easily induce. However, there are those that contend that satire is another source of misinformation and results in cynicism rather than action. If this is the case, then we are breeding many sceptics and cynical individuals.  In the United States, more people are currently watching ‘fake news’,

“In the US, a poll for Time magazine asked who was America’s most trusted newscaster following Walter Cronkite’s death. More than two fifths said Jon Stewart, the host of fake news show The Daily Show. Stewart beat more established news anchors including Katie Couric. Stewart’s show attracts 1.8 million viewers a night compared to 1.2 million for CNN’s highest-rate politics show’.

(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/6155175/How-much-influence-does-satire-have-on-current-affairs.html)

It is difficult to differentiate whether The Daily Show’s popularity reflects Jon Stewart’s likeability, or citizens’ fatigue of the awful news sources in the US, or an inability to take current issues seriously. Whatever the case, with so many people consuming political satire, it is worth pondering the implications.

  • Is political satire’s main value merely its humour and in order to be ‘effective’ it must be supplemented with ‘real’ news?
  • Is satirical news replacing ‘real’ news?
  • Does satire spread misinformation to a population who does not have adequate news sources?
  • Does a source that ridicules the current state of affairs lead people to be cynical and complacent or does it challenge them to think about the world in more creative ways?

For myself, I find satire is a means of illustrating that at the basis of the many crises in our society are deep routed systemic issues. While the Daily Show ridicules the individual actions of politicians and news commentators, it also more profoundly attacks the current state of journalism, politics and education in the United States.

As a viewer of satire, I no doubt bring my background into my viewing experience, and thus satire obviously resonates differently with various individuals. Perhaps what irritates critics of satire is that no solution, or avenue for action is offered. But quite rightly there is no single solution, to the multitude of national and international issues we.  While we are barraged with complex issues daily, sometimes it is necessary to laugh at how screwed up everything is.

To end this blog post I would like to include a bit of satire. Please enjoy the following video from the Onion that challenges the ultraistic nature of development work and the role of celebrities in development.

How Can We Let Darfur Know How Much We’re Doing For Them?


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Filed under Africa, Binyavanga Wainaina, Celebrity, Consumerism, Current Events, How to write about Africa, Politics

Stop Trying To ‘Save’ Africa

An interesting article regarding the images and language that are continually employed in the ‘West’ to talk about African ‘development’, enjoy.

Stop Trying To ‘Save’ Africa

By Uzodinma Iweala

Washington Post Sunday, July 15, 2007

Last fall, shortly after I returned from Nigeria, I was accosted by a perky blond college student whose blue eyes seemed to match the “African” beads around her wrists.

“Save Darfur!” she shouted from behind a table covered with pamphlets urging students to TAKE ACTION NOW! STOP GENOCIDE IN DARFUR!

My aversion to college kids jumping onto fashionable social causes nearly caused me to walk on, but her next shout stopped me.

“Don’t you want to help us save Africa?” she yelled.

It seems that these days, wracked by guilt at the humanitarian crisis it has created in the Middle East, the West has turned to Africa for redemption. Idealistic college students, celebrities such as Bob Geldof and politicians such as Tony Blair have all made bringing light to the dark continent their mission. They fly in for internships and fact-finding missions or to pick out children to adopt in much the same way my friends and I in New York take the subway to the pound to adopt stray dogs.

This is the West’s new image of itself: a sexy, politically active generation whose preferred means of spreading the word are magazine spreads with celebrities pictured in the foreground, forlorn Africans in the back. Never mind that the stars sent to bring succor to the natives often are, willingly, as emaciated as those they want to help.

Perhaps most interesting is the language used to describe the Africa being saved. For example, the Keep a Child Alive/” I am African” ad campaign features portraits of primarily white, Western celebrities with painted “tribal markings” on their faces above “I AM AFRICAN” in bold letters. Below, smaller print says, “help us stop the dying.”

Such campaigns, however well intentioned, promote the stereotype of Africa as a black hole of disease and death. News reports constantly focus on the continent’s corrupt leaders, warlords, “tribal” conflicts, child laborers, and women disfigured by abuse and genital mutilation. These descriptions run under headlines like “Can Bono Save Africa?” or “Will Brangelina Save Africa?” The relationship between the West and Africa is no longer based on openly racist beliefs, but such articles are reminiscent of reports from the heyday of European colonialism, when missionaries were sent to Africa to introduce us to education, Jesus Christ and “civilization.”

There is no African, myself included, who does not appreciate the help of the wider world, but we do question whether aid is genuine or given in the spirit of affirming one’s cultural superiority. My mood is dampened every time I attend a benefit whose host runs through a litany of African disasters before presenting a (usually) wealthy, white person, who often proceeds to list the things he or she has done for the poor, starving Africans. Every time a well-meaning college student speaks of villagers dancing because they were so grateful for her help, I cringe. Every time a Hollywood director shoots a film about Africa that features a Western protagonist, I shake my head — because Africans, real people though we may be, are used as props in the West’s fantasy of itself. And not only do such depictions tend to ignore the West’s prominent role in creating many of the unfortunate situations on the continent, they also ignore the incredible work Africans have done and continue to do to fix those problems.

Why do the media frequently refer to African countries as having been “granted independence from their colonial masters,” as opposed to having fought and shed blood for their freedom? Why do Angelina Jolie and Bono receive overwhelming attention for their work in Africa while Nwankwo Kanu or Dikembe Mutombo, Africans both, are hardly ever mentioned? How is it that a former mid-level U.S. diplomat receives more attention for his cowboy antics in Sudan than do the numerous African Union countries that have sent food and troops and spent countless hours trying to negotiate a settlement among all parties in that crisis?

Two years ago I worked in a camp for internally displaced people in Nigeria, survivors of an uprising that killed about 1,000 people and displaced 200,000. True to form, the Western media reported on the violence but not on the humanitarian work the state and local governments — without much international help — did for the survivors. Social workers spent their time and in many cases their own salaries to care for their compatriots. These are the people saving Africa, and others like them across the continent get no credit for their work.

Last month the Group of Eight industrialized nations and a host of celebrities met in Germany to discuss, among other things, how to save Africa. Before the next such summit, I hope people will realize Africa doesn’t want to be saved. Africa wants the world to acknowledge that through fair partnerships with other members of the global community, we ourselves are capable of unprecedented growth.

-Uzodinma Iweala is the author of “Beasts of No Nation,” a novel about child soldiers.

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Filed under Africa, Aid, Celebrity, Charity, Current Events, Development, International Development, Politics

The More Fashionable Berlin Conference

In Africa, we were around thousands of people who have seen a lot of poverty, but they were fun at the end of the day- Angelina Jolie

I used to assume after watching the movie Blood Diamonds [sic] that diamonds were not acceptable to buy from Africa. However, it is the complete opposite! -Kim Karasian after visiting diamond mines in Botswana

I am overwhelmed and inspired by my trip to Malawi and hope that it helps bring attention to how much more the world needs to do to help the children of Africa- Madonna

I represent a lot of people [in Africa] who have no voice at all… They haven`t asked me to represent them. It’s cheeky but I hope they’re glad I do.’- Bono

And one more quote from Bono, just because I care so deeply for him and his sunglasses:

Africa is sexy and people need to know that – Bono, The New York Times

Celebrity involvement in development has appeared to have exponentially grown over the past few years. Each month there is another story of an international celebrity donating, building, adopting etc. in Africa:

‘Angelina Jolie builds orphanage with her very own hands’

‘Madonna adopts entire African village’

‘Bono cures AIDS’

The idea of ‘African development’ has materialized in the shape of celebrity causes. Since I am attempting to explore the ways in which development is substantiated in North America or the ‘developed’ world, the involvement of celebrities in development is an interesting topic. The argument in favor of celebrity involvement in ‘African development’ usually follows the logic of why should they not do something positive with their fame and fortune? In their positions of influence, why not draw attention to the dire situations around the world?

Well I, along with help from some all-knowing academics, will tell you why not. With the greater involvement of celebrities in development, academics have busted out of their ivory towers and joined forces to squash this idea of this positive altruism. In their article ‘The Downside of Celebrity Diplomacy: The Neglected Complexity of Development’ Heribert Dieter and Rajiv Kumar explore the relationship between celebrities and development in three particular areas :

First, [they] chart the rise of prominent celebrity activists in international affairs, in particular their impact on development policies of the member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Second, [they] examine the competence of celebrities to handle development issues and suggest a more nuanced and less paternalistic approach. Third, [they] consider the legitimacy of celebrity activists and whether these nonelected individuals are well positioned to berate democratically elected governments.

In the first page of their article Dieter and Kumar summarize their argument:

The Irish rock star Paul Hewson, better known as Bono, is not only the front man of the band U2 but has also become the champion of an antipoverty movement with worldwide impact. Bono is supported by US economist Jeffrey Sachs, who has become a global spokesperson for poverty reduction, especially in Africa. Surprisingly, the recipes being suggested by Bono and Sachs are breathtakingly one-dimensional and akin to the sweeping propositions of the 1960s: give aid to Africa, waive debt, and provide education, and the continent will develop. While these remedies may look seductive, unfortunately the reality is far more complex and demands attention to the specific circumstance of each individual country or subregion. Grand ideas for development are a dangerous recipe and may in fact worsen the situation of the poor.

In their argument Dieter and Kumar, raise very important issues regarding celebrity knowledge of development and their portrayal of Africa. I do not doubt that most celebrities involved in ‘development’ are legitimately passionate for the causes they are championing. However, the methods in which they go about addressing the so-called issues are problematic. As argued by Dieter and Kumar, celebrities often offer simplistic solutions:

-Angelina Jolie proposes to build more schools, improve conditions in refugee camps

-Kim Khardasian champions more purchasing of diamonds to fuel African economies

-Madonna raises funds to build more orphanages or improves the lives of African children by bringing them to America

-Bono loudly champions more school, education that is more accessible, more condoms

While there seems to be nothing inherently negative about these suggested methods of ‘developing’ Africa, there ineffectiveness has clearly been illustrated with the reversal of development that has happened over the past century in Africa (In her work Dead Aid, Dambisa Moyo reviews how the trillions of dollars of aid pumped into Africa have not improved conditions). Many scholars and development practitioners have argued against the effectiveness of the sort of development championed by celebrities (see Kapoor, Ilan “Participatory Development, Complicity and Desire 2005, Giles Mohan and Kristian Stokke “Participatory Development and Empowerment: the Dangers of Localism 2000). The theories presented by these scholars criticize common participatory frameworks of development and suggest rethinking the concept of development. These critical development theories would imply that celebrities are unqualified to suggest methods of ‘developing’ Africa. But why would we expect them to? Why would individuals who devoted their entire lives to careers based on themselves, suddenly be qualified to address one of the most complex international situations? Dieter and Kumar’s argument that celebrities’ “grand suggestions for development…may infact worsen the situation” is an idea I have wrestled with extensively in my own work. I have reviewed the various ways in which the ‘third world’ is portrayed in the North American media and how these visuals are tied to notions of ‘development’ that are unsustainable and may worsen the situation.

The ways in which celebrities often frame Africa and development fall into these categories:

-Africa as a whole or country

-Africa as destitute

-Africa as rural

-Africa as ‘black’ ( Paulette Goudge’s work The Whiteness of Power: Racism in Third World Development and Aid greatly addresses this topic)

-African development as reliant on us (us being the western world)

Without getting into it too extensively (as I would like to address it over various blog entries), I argue that these representations result in the employment of development methods that ignore the complex histories, cultures and peoples of Africa.

Does building the same orphanage in Sierra Leone and Botswana and Zimbawe make sense?

Does adopting children address the historical, systemic and economic issues that various African nations face?

Is greater access to orphanages and schools improving the overall situation in African countries, or are we missing the target?

And the questions could go on and on.

I believe that celebrity involvement in development, similarly to consumerism, is not conducive to serious knowledge exchange regarding the complexities of development in Africa. It is this same notion of development that is pushed through fair trade products and travel holidays, in which ‘development’ must take place in the ‘third world’. There is often little conversation regarding international economic policies that are detrimental to African countries, North American interest in various African conflicts, or implications of colonial histories in current ideas of development.  Dieter and Kumar elegantly summarize my sentiments when they suggest that:

Celebrities’ contemporary calls to ‘make poverty history’ in Africa are so widely repeated and commonsensical that questions about the exceptionality of this humanitarian action itself rarely arise.

Celebrities are contributing to this understanding of development that must take place in the ‘third world’. The discourse of ‘they are the problem and we will help them’, is continually being disseminated to a population who worships celebrities. I believe that celebrities interested in aiding Africa, should stick to acting, singing or fashion and be involved in ‘development’ by giving some of the outrageous amount of money they make to development professionals, academics or people like myself…

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Filed under Aid, Bono, Celebrity, Current Events, Development, International Development, Paulette Goudge, Politics, The Ivory Towers