“Africans unite to save Norwegians from dying of frostbite. You too can donate your radiator and spread some warmth”
So it’s rare, very rare, that I do back-to-back blogs. But once in a while, something so delicious and overflowing with blog-worthiness pops up on your radar–and demands a write up. The recipient today is the super-snarky and wonderful video “Africa for Norway.“
This faux PSA was the brainchild of The Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund, who have launched the equally tongue-in-cheek, Radi-Aid. In the video, African entertainers and artists beg for fellow Africans to donate radiators to the poor frostbitten and sunlight deprived people of Norway. “A lot of people aren’t aware of what’s going on there right now,” says rapper Breezy Vee, as the scene cuts to hapless Norwegians struggling against the Scandinavian wind and cold. The self-congratualtory African activists, showing off their Radi-Aid t-shirts, come together to record a song to help Norway because “people don’t ignore starving people, so why should we ignore cold people?”
On their site, Radi-Aid breaks the satire for a moment to explain the meaning of the video. “Imagine if every person in Africa saw the ‘Africa for Norway-video,’ and this was the only information they ever got about Norway,” they ask viewers. “What would they think about Norway?” Radi-Aid follows in what is becoming a growing call for more nuanced and diverse images of the African continent and its many peoples. Fed up with a constant stream of imagery funneled to the West of poverty, disease, famine and war, many are
asking demanding for less one-dimensional perspectives of the second most populous land mass on the planet. It is a topic common on African-populated online forums, and which African journalists, writers and more have long criticized. Even a recent article on oft-repeated movie stereotypes by CRACKED.com couldn’t help but notice that in Hollywood, “Everyone in Africa Is Uncivilized or a Warlord;” they single out blockbusters like Independence Day for portraying modern day Africans as “naked dudes brandishing spears” while nearly every other film seems to believe “half the continent’s population consists of corrupt soldiers.”
This all recently exploded into the mainstream with the now Kony2012 video, which while being shared by Westerners in record numbers sparked a backlash from African journalists and bloggers who labeled it yet another “White Man’s Burden” campaign. Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire took to recording her own youtube spot, denouncing the video as yet again a case of “an outsider trying to be a hero, rescuing African children.” These depictions naturally permeate various mediums, from the news to documentaries to literature and films–so that even in science fiction, when Africa does make the story, what we get are tales like District 9–by which time the tropes and stereotypes have become so normalized, we accept them without question. In the case of District 9, we even leave thinking we’ve witnessed something “profound,” when in fact it’s the same old patronizing story in a different package. Machine-Gun Preacher anyone?
There is at the same time a speculative fiction dynamic to the video, part of that reversal of power dynamics I’ve discussed in previous blogs, such as the art of Kehinde Wiley and the 2001 African Diesel. These stark images of a conquering “black Napoleon” crossing the Alps, or of wealthy Africans juxtaposed to starving Europeans, are so outside what we expect, they force us to confront them, and in doing so make us confront some of our own biases. I think perhaps before our various media break from these simplistic tropes of Africa, we’ll be seeing more snarky videos like Radi-AID.
I for one am off to donate my space heater, and do my part for Norway.
For an alternative (and reality-based) vision of modern-day Africa, see the worthy blog Africa Is a Country.