Television review

I really enjoyed reading this one! I thought the layout was a bit busy and distracting, but there was some fantastic analysis across different spheres (soap opera-African-American-reality tv etc.) of television. Off of the first point, I was never quite sure where I was supposed to be looking, but there were so many interesting things to catch my eye that it almost didn’t matter. I read “The Real Africa” first, and it set a high bar– I thought it was an excellent integration of all the material we’ve been studying over the semester, trenchantly focused. I thought the Nenna/Fatima comparison piece was particularly effective. I wasn’t totally sure what to do with the next “Live from Africa” segment… I liked that they included it as a snippet, but felt that it would have benefited from some analysis on the part of the group members. (If only to direct the eye/ear of the reader/viewer.) I thought the Africa Live scrapblog was well-orchestrated and presented with compelling and interesting analysis. (My one highly minor technical gripe is that the youtube clip insertion blocked out part of the background quote several times. Like I said, really minor but the form did hinder content somewhat there.) The “Going Tribal” section raised some thought-provoking questions and sound analysis, and I particularly liked how, once again, everything comes back to Tomb Raider! The “Africa on Stage”/soap opera section was great; I loved having a glimpse into South African pop culture in the mundane/inane yet trainwreck fascinating world of soap opera. I thought that the “Dramatizing Africa” section could have used a bit more analysis and a little less summary/explanation, but I thought the stereotype checklist was a nice touch.

As I said, I thought the television group did a great job. I thought all of the sections were handled adeptly, and liked the ratings system and whole television channel conceit. The setup could possibly have been restructured to be a little more user-friendly and streamlined, but it was a cool concept and the whole project was well-executed.


Comix Review

I thought the group did a good job of juggling the idea of “myth” in different ways, and presented adroit analysis of their respective source materials. In looking at the first page, I think the simple but attractive layout worked well to highlight the great JFK quote in the corner. As for the individual projects themselves, I particularly appreciated how “Seeing Africa” and “Using African-Americans” contextualized their analysis… the visual aids of the individual panels were well-placed and well-dissected, and both gave just enough explanation to stabilize/direct the reader without weighing down the project. (Which I struggled with a lot in my own project, personally. It’s hard to gauge how much background info will actually enlighten versus just bore and distract from the real analysis.) However, the comic panels needed a bit more enlarging, particularly in “Seeing Africa,” for full legibility. I also wish that someone had gotten a chance to explore contemporary African-made comics within the lens of this class. (Partly because it would just be cool to see what they’re doing in that field, or if there’s even a market for it! Hm, or even if there have been aborted attempts to try to get one going in the past, to little effect… It would be interesting to assess how/why such a venture would fail or succeed in that cultural climate, and how stereotypes might feed into that.) The drawings in “Mystifying Africa” were incredible! Really enjoyable to see it unfold like that. I think it would have benefited even more from having the author give a more detailed, textual overview of her aims and thought process behind the project, though. I could glean some of it from the storyboard of course, but it was difficult to make out some of the penciled writing once the scanner had done its thing. So some sort of addendum would have been a great way to hammer out themes of the comic and the way in which the main character was supposed to be haunted by specifically African myths/representations (I have to admit, I don’t quite see how he was being plagued by A. myths yet), while also just lending insight into the whole creative process.

“Smile” is another project that definitely would have benefited from some sort of authorial addendum. I was pretty confused as to what the two guys were supposed to represent, so a paragraph or two about the author’s intentions would not have gone amiss. (A transcript with the video would also have been helpful; there were definitely stretches where I couldn’t quite make out what the characters were saying.) And I wish I’d gotten a chance to look at “Going to Africa,” as well, but the page didn’t seem to be working for me. On the whole, though, I really enjoyed looking at such diverse explorations of African myth!

Critique of “Advertisements”

I really enjoyed going through the project “Advertisements”. The group had obviously done a lot of research and talked to each other about what they hoped to achieve with the project. I do think, however, that they could have organized their website better so that the mission statement was the first page. Reading the mission statement before watching the projects would have contextualized my understanding of their individual parts better. The bar on the top shows the ideal order in which the pages should be read, but the pages on the sidebar don’t make the order clear.

I liked how they created the two soap advertisements from scratch in order to explain what American and African ads are really like. It showed an assimilation of what they had learned from all the research they did for the project. But I wish they could have explained more how they came about all this knowledge. The group offers a detailed reading of the ads, but I wasn’t sure if they were reproducing a ‘typical’ ad and thus perpetuating the stereotypes we all find problematic, or consciously playing with the stereotypes (perhaps both).

Another question I’m struggling with is the subject matter that some of them picked. The billboards and advertisements analyzed had to do with HIV/AIDS awareness, and wearing condoms. The project doesn’t make it clear whether these topics were deliberately chosen, or just presented the best material for analysis. I think one of the first things that comes to a lay person’s mind when you ask her about Africa is the prevalence of AIDS. Since the issue is already problematic and over-exploited by the media, focusing on those ads doesn’t completely explain the general trends in advertisements, unless the group was choosing to analyze that particular sub-trend. Also, sexuality in itself can be a very delicate issue across all cultures. I’m not very familiar with visual ads in Africa that deal with selling everyday things, so I have no basis for comparison between ads that deal with issues like sex and, say, liquid detergent. But I’m sure ads about liquid detergent would present a very different picture.

All in all, I enjoyed viewing the project Advertisements, especially the close readings they provided for every visual and aural image. Their analysis summed up all that I’ve learned in this class this semester. Great job, guys!

The Constant Gardener

It occurred to me a while ago that in some cases, despite the presence of elements that can be problematized, sometimes the ends justify the means, especially when the means are not overtly destructive. And this works both in the production of The Constant Gardener and in the development of its protagonist.

The Constant Gardener, despite being a relatively commercial film and placing the act of addressing an important issue next to a love story, does a great deal of good. Like those behind the Product Red campaign, the author of The Constant Gardener did not have to feature this issue in any way. But the novel (and later the film) The Constant Gardener would not exist without addressing this issue. It would not be what it is. It would not exist. And no one comes out of the film under the impression that paying to see it has in some way aided in saving the world They know that they must do something further in order to do that. But saying that it is the responsibility of the film to feature more of the issue is unrealistic and unfair. The film is first and foremost an adaptation of the novel, and being a film that stars Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz was bound to expose more people to the issue. And it has. People see the film and then look to Amnesty International. But if it didn’t sell, if it was all about a man who went off and discovered these things and was then shot, it would be less interesting, appeal to fewer people, and may even be more problematic. But whether or not the motivation behind the film is in question, it has done a great deal of good.

Somewhat similarly, I feel that the question of whether or not Justin Quayle did what he did for Tessa alone just isn’t that important. I think he changes the way that he does because he realized just how passionate Tessa was about what she did and comes to see that if it was important enough for her to risk her life for, then maybe it’s really important after all. In addition, he didn’t have the chance to understand the full extent of the problem, because she was keeping it from him. The important thing is that he made a strong attempt at helping. He went so far as to give his life in order to expose the truth. And I think there’s a huge difference between giving one’s life and spending a few dollars, so I personally can’t really criticize the guy, no matter what his motivation was.

Disney’s Animal Kingdon

Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park is divided into 7 areas:

  • Oasis
  • Discovery Island® area
  • Camp Minnie-Mickey
  • Africa
  • Rafiki’s Planet Watch® area
  • Asia
  • Dinoland, U.S.A.® area

And once again, Disney exhibits complete disregard for historical, temporal, or spatial accuracy. In the case of Dinoland, U.S.A and the entirety of Africa and Asia, fictional locations are placed next to real ones (does this make the fictional places seem more realistic or does the opposite occur?), and those real places are essentialized, making them, in a way, fictional.

Even if people believed that Dinoland existed within the United States, it is not pretending to be the entirety of the United States, much less an entire continent.

There are other problems here, but that was the one that stuck out to me.

When analyzing the blockbuster film Black Hawk Down in class we discussed the differences in “organization” between the American army and the Somalian militants. Similar to the opening Kilgore scene from the movie “Apocalypse Now,” in the first part of the first attack scene the director of Blawk Hawk Down presents the American army flying over the ocean onto the SOmalian mainland. This illustration captures the Black Hawk helicopters as very quiet, graceful, and moving in accord. At this point it is hard to imagine that these machines were made for destruction. This type of beauty turns into chaos as the camera turns to the heart of Mogadishu, where people are frantically moving around, yelling and congested. Once the general of the Somalian army gets word of the oncoming United States attack, his signal to the rest of his troops to prepare for attack seems very informal and sporadic. Troops, of all ages and dressed in very different clothes, quickly rush to racks of AK-47 assault riffles and head into the streets. There does not appear to be a directed order from the Somalian general; the insinuated order is along the line of the expression “kill or be killed.” The apparent disparity in military organization led us to the conclusion that the poorer and “more corrupt” country of Somalia was not on the same level as America.

This assumption of organization is one that people have also given to the Somalian pirates today. To think that relativley small groups of men, riding through turbulent ocean waters in small speed boats, are capable of overtaking large commercial tankers and cruise line ships seems inconceivable.  The reality of this situation, however, is that these “unorganized” terrorist groups are more organized than we think. In a recent CNN news article. it was reported that at an international conference concerning the pirate issue in Somalia, a total of $213 million was put up to help tame the situation. The last time I checked, unorganized groups of criminals never needed $213 million worth of defense.

I went to youtube to find one last bit of material to blog on and had to look no further than the homepage. At the top is a Spotlight: Connecting to a Cause. Today they’re featuring the ENOUGHproject, which seeks to have electronics companies not fuel war in Congo over control over minerals.

I would write more about it but, frankly, I need to stop thinking about these issues for my own sanity. I saw this and groaned because I feel over saturated by causes and celebrity endorsements when it comes to Africa. All I have to say is, watch the opening video about their contest.