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Old 19th October 2005   #1
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Join Date: July 2005
Posts: 517
Default ''Rich in all the cultural indicators of health''

Here is an utterly fascinating article from the website of a Nigerian newspaper about modern efforts by African journalists to impose liberal democracy in that continent.

The author develops a careful analogy between these efforts, and an attempt to impose a size-0 standard of beauty on a culture that is resistant to it.

Here is the passage with the analogy (emphasis added):

"If African journalists were to scrutinize beyond minimalism the democratization projects with which they’ve been involved since the early 1990s for example, they’d agree that implementing liberal democracy in Africa has been like trying to force onto the body of a full-figured person, rich in all the cultural indicators of health Africans are familiar with, a dress made to fit the slim, de-fleshed Hollywood consumer model of a Barbie doll-type entertainment icon.

They would also agree, that together with others, instead of blaming the tiny dress or its designer, the tradition amongst journalists has been to fault the popular body or the popular ideal of beauty, for emphasizing too much bulk, for parading the wrong sizes, for just not being the right thing.

Not often have African journalists questioned the experience and expertise of the liberal democracy designer or dressmaker, nor his/her audacity to assume that the parochial cultural palates that inform his/her peculiar sense of beauty should play God in the lives of Africa and African cultures where different criteria of beauty and the good life obtain."

I find it fascinating that the fuller female figure should be seen this way -- as an expression of a true national/cultural identity, and the anorex-chic standard as something that is being imposed from without -- and by journalists specifically.

It's also interesting to see that the author is not attacking ideals of beauty per se, but rather, the supplanting of a full-figured "popular ideal of beauty," which is seen as valid, with a "slim, de-fleshed Hollywood consumer model."

I have no doubt that the same dynamic applied to the cultural history of the West, especially during the 20th century, when the underweight standard was imposed in the first place.
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Old 20th October 2005   #2
Join Date: July 2005
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Default Re: ''Rich in all the cultural indicators of health''

The article is extremely insightful, and deserves careful consideration.

The most significant component of the author's brilliant fashion analogy is his assertion that if the apparel does not harmonize with the figure that it is meant to clothe, then the fault lies with the craft of the designer/dressmaker, not with the figure itself. The shape of the clothing must conform to the body, not the body to the clothing.

(If only full-figured women could internalize this concept . . . )

And just as Emily suggested, the article provides us with a revealing contemporary parallel to the circumstances under which the thin-supremacist ideal was established in Western culture in the first place--i.e., during the 1900s (and particularly, after the second war). By examining the political/cultural quasi-missionary process that the article outlines, we can learn much about how our own culture was first reoriented along artificial, modern lines.

In many ways, 20th-century modernism represented a concerted effort to overthrow the political and social organization that had evolved organically within Western civilization over the millennia. Modernity sought to eradicate our common cultural memory, and to refashion the human being to fit within a systematized, ideological scheme--a mechanistic, utilitarian plan that was imposed from without, rather than one which grew from within.

To invoke the fashion analogy that the article employs, the goal of the 20th century was to remake society to fit the system, rather than tailoring the system to fit society; and then, to remake the individual human being to fit within that artificial society, rather than having society grow naturally around the individual.

And just as modern political systems have sought to change human nature along ideological lines, rather than governing in accordance with essential human needs and wishes, so does the modern media brainwash the modern woman into seeking to alter herself (both physically and conceptually), rather than providing her with aspirational ideals that accord with her essential desires.

The apocalyptic wars of the 1900s left the Old World (the origin and repository of Western culture) in a uniquely vulnerable state. And just as the victors of the second war imposed their own political systems on this shattered landscape, so did they export their cultural ideologies ("Hollywoodism") as well. At a time when a shell-shocked Europe doubted the validity of its own heritage, successive generations rejected their Old World values, and swallowed the new alien paradigms uncritically--paradigms that the rootless media were only to eager to provide, then as now (as the article indicates).

But just as this article suggests that African cultures may be resisting the imposition of such anti-historical principles, so is Western civilization rediscovering not just the validity, but the vitality of its own cultural legacy. It is building a bridge to the past, right over the moat of the last century. It is reestablishing a connectedness to its own traditions, and drawing on those traditions in a new flourish of artisitic creativity (particularly in the fashion world).

Curvaceous Raven-Symone--a blessedly non-Hollywood embodiment of beauty, succeeding within Hollywood itself:

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Old 22nd October 2005   #3
M. Lopez
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Join Date: August 2005
Posts: 587
Default Re: ''Rich in all the cultural indicators of health''

What I also find especially important in the the article that Emily linked is the author's analysis of media/journalism and its motivations - that far from being objective, media/journalism seeks to foster a cultural environment that is in its own best interests (i.e. the best interests of the journalists themselves) - whether or not that actually acords with bests interests of the general pubilc.

The author's fashion analogy is consistently apt. When he writes,

"In Europe and North America, liberal democracy is said to guarantee journalism the best environment it needs to foster freedom and progress."

he reveals the underlying motive that journalists have in differentiating their beliefs from the will of the so-called "masses" - i.e., so that they can see their work as some sort of crusade, and themselves as secular missionaries, trying to shepherd their supposedly less-enlightened readers towards "progress" (as they define it) - whether than progress is political, or aesthetic ("drop a dress size").

Another point is especially relevant to the fashion analogy:

"journalists are at risk of employing double standards as well, by claiming one thing and doing the opposite, or by straddling various identity margins, without always being honest about it, especially if their very survival depends on it."

To extend the writer's analogy, the media (as it exists today) depends on the imposition of an artificial, underweight standard for its own survival, because if readers were to discover that they don't need the media's guidance to show them how they are supposed to look, but can follow their own impulses in how much to eat, and what sort of figure to have, and what kind of attire to wear, then they wouldn't need to buy diet/torture magazines, would they?

To paraphrase a familiar saying, "What's good for the media may NOT be what's good for America."

I think the last sentence in the article is applicable not just to Africa, but to any corner of the globe where the influence of the Media Superpower is felt:

"The future of democracy and the relevance of journalism to Africans and their predicaments will depend very much on how well Africans are able to negotiate recognition and representation for their humanity and creativity beyond the tokenism of prevalent politically correct rhetoric on equality of humanity and opportunity."
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