Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Will We Better Off in MTVBase Was Available Around the World?

Africa’s image problem, I submit, is more of an issue of Western media’s trouble with nuance than any real malice. It is hard, it turns out, to portray that people can be more than one thing at the same time -- that one can wear fancy Italian shoes with traditional garb; that there can exist in the same country a place where people drive SUVs to the supermarket and a place where some people have to walk miles for clean water in the same damn city. If one must be true, it seems, surely the other cannot. And relatively few consumers of media will really go to African countries themselves. And the few high-profiles ones that do go (looking at you, Kristof) tend to go to confirm their own biases, not challenge them.

And that’s where MTV Base comes in.

MTV Base’s shows an Africa that does not see itself as a problem, but as a party. We are young and sexy. We have style. We go to clubs and drink and laugh and rap and sing along with the best of them. This is us: Our Advertised Version. The "Monkey sweats but you can't tell from its fur" version. In terms of reality, it is not much different from the advertised version of what we are told that we are: overly-reliant on Western generosity, potential atrophying from lack of initiative or care, clay resting too comfortably within the grubby hands of greedy autocrats. In a sense, MTV Base's Africa is as mono-dimensional as the Africa that we see in Western media. It’s just a different dimension, a dimension that we would rather see.

It is not that music video Africa is any more “real” than the West’s version of Africa. Reality, in fact, is beside the point. It’s just another representation as simple as the one that is currently all the rage. The genius of indulging this fantasy of an MTV Base Africa all over the world – I’m fully aware this will never happen – is that it recognizes the need for simple narratives of Africa, and delivers on this. And by countering one simple narrative with another, it adds shade and color to the already-existing simple narrative. In so doing, It brings simplicity and nuance. And what is more African than that?