Sunday, May 31, 2009
Voiceover: "There's something about exploring Africa . . . "
Yes, there is something about it.
Something "white," I'd say . . .
This is advertisement for an upcoming reality show on America's History Channel, "Expedition Africa." This eight-part televised "event" will follow a set of "modern-day explorers" as they attempt to recreate, as fully as they can, the conditions and path of Stanley as he sought Livingstone in the 1860s.
As in any advertisement, key words and phrases were carefully selected to jump out at the viewer from this one. These are the words that jumped out at me:
"Stanley's search for Livingstone is the Super Bowl of all expeditions."
"There's no turning back."
"There's a chance none of us will make it."
I think that these words were chosen, and then emphasized, because they resonate with a largely white audience's fantasized, fearful, and paternalistic view of "Africa."
Despite the fact that Stanley and Livingstone's "explorations" took place in what are now specific African countries, no mention is made here of them. The only place name used in the advertisement is "Africa."
What's worse than merely conceiving of all things "African" in monolithic terms is that this mythical concept of an extremely variegated continent has specific characteristics--and cartoonish ones, at best. Africa was of course thought of by Westerners in Stanley and Livingstone's day as "the Dark Continent," full of "dangerous animals," "bugs," "diseases," "infections," and the very high risk that any Westerner who "journeys" there "won't survive/make it."
Oh, and there were people in that monolithic concept too, though they never get mentioned in this ad. "Savage" ones, of course, but some tamer ones too. Those are the "Africans" who were willing to help Stanley find Livingstone. I wonder if this program will attempt to recreate that aspect of Stanley's journey, or indeed, anything having to do with the abusive, often murderous colonial relations between Europeans and "Africa."
What I find especially exasperating about this ad is that its makers clearly realize that most white Americans still more or less think of "Africa" this way. As a result, news presented by the corporate media of events in particular African countries quickly fades into this same imagined morass of chaos, disease, wilderness and danger.
And, as another result, Western corporations can continue the centuries-long Western plundering of African resources, largely out of the sight and consciousness of most Americans. And Americans can go on blithely failing to realize how much of their relative comfort is a direct result of that plundering.
Maybe it's unfair to judge a TV show by its ads. Nevertheless, by the looks of this one, I think it's a safe bet that this upcoming effort to provide a glimpse into "history" won't do much at all to educate viewers. Instead, it's going to reinforce some of their dark, ridiculous, and ultimately pernicious and murderous fantasies.