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    Wednesday, August 16, 2006

    Into Africa

    Your favorite paper, and mine, The Paper of Record that is, published a piece a few days ago called Into Africa which was interesting. Or it's concept was.

    And much as it may strain the limits of good taste to say it, Africa — rife with disease, famine, poverty and civil war — is suddenly “hot.”

    Beginning early in the decade with a trickle of celebrity fact-finding missions to strife-torn sub-Saharan nations (Bono in Ghana, Bono everywhere) that became a torrent within the last couple of years (Clay Aiken in Uganda, Jessica Simpson in Kenya), Africa has now been embraced by the masses.

    Those who work with or study Africa-related causes report that tourism in many African countries is way up, that students are increasingly choosing to study and volunteer there, and that money is pouring into Africa-centric charities — from grassroots efforts organized at churches and suburban dinner parties across the country, to larger aid organizations. Even among hipsters, clothing decorated with the image of Africa is beginning to replace last season’s Che Guevara T-shirts.

    I can hang. It sounds, even, like my kind of thing to read. But Alex Williams feels the need to blast us with this as his last paragraph:

    The larger question is whether soccer moms and flyover people will continue to care about Africa once the celebrities move on. As Mr. Musto said, “Just like a trendy restaurant lasts 18 month, so will interest in Africa.”

    Hmmmm. "Flyover people" has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? A slur is born. But anyway, that's not what this article is even about. The article seems to take stock of a national trend. Let's take a look:

    Celebrities, celebrities, celebrities ... Genevieve Parker, a 17-year-old student at the Potomac School in McLean, Va ... Daniel Millenson, a Brandeis University sophomore ... dollar-wielding Bills — Clinton and Gates ... A recent celebrity-dotted fund-raiser at the Puck Building in Manhattan featuring Kevin Bacon as the master of ceremonies — Donna Karan and Iman attended ... 125 people banded together at a Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., restaurant ... parishioners at Christ Presbyterian Church in Madison, Wis. ... Jay-Z on clean water, Gwyneth Paltrow on aid to children, and Lucy Liu on AIDS ... Lindsey Lohan, Alyssa Milano, Don Cheadle.

    A whole lot of soccer moms in that bunch! What that whole last paragraph implies is very much the opposite of the way the rest of article reads: celebs have gotten a bunch of people, mostly other celebs and A-list types, to give a whole lot of money to different causes on the continent of Africa. Whether soccer moms and flyover people are involved is really only one teeny tiny piece of the puzzle.

    Plus, the construction of that last paragraph makes no sense. We're given to assume that soccer moms and flyover people are not cool, not trendy, don't know what the hell is going on until it's over. Then Michael Musto, of all people, shows up discussing trendy restaurants as an apt comparison, when not one of those "soccer moms and flyover people" would ever visit such a restaurant and, if they did, they'd be led out of the "soccer mom and flyover people" category, because, "soccer moms and flyover people" is shorthand for another shorthand, let's say "people who go to the [get ready to cringe with all your might] Olive Garden instead of a trendy restaurant in MePa".

    As for the article itself, I admit I am susceptible to the trendiness of certain social issues. You'll note how quickly I became all about local and organic when Michael Pollan's book came out. For me, I don't think I'm into this stuff because celebs are. I'd much rather read about their clothes, workout regime, ridiculous purchases, and sex lives. I think it's because the media actually starts covering this stuff and then I get into it from reading about it more often.

    Also, while that Paltrow ad APPALLS me (I can't believe she did that - I'm sure that Natalie Portman's next) and I'm not a big fan of the opening to Madonna's new concert, I think it's good for celebs to try to use their money and influence for causes they believe in. I sure as hell would. So it's Africa right now - alright. It's their money and influence. Just try not to be so disgusting about it.


    Blogger Sly Civilian said...

    what distrubs me the most about that kind of commentary is that it's enabling. prediction becomes demand. The same cultural arbiters that decide to show interest also prefigure their withdrawl, all while casting class aspersions. In case any of us flyover people actually get committed to a cause...

    Why that wouldn't be cool, hip, and aspirationally upper class of us.

    11:53 PM  
    Anonymous admin said...

    Surely, all of this attention is welcomed if it brings focus to serious humanitarian issues; however, such a "trend" could prove to be very dangerous for Africa as a whole. The problem begins with calling such a paradign shift "trendy" because as we all know, trends fade. What if these celebrity agenda setters decide to blaze new trails elsewhere, the zombie hordes (most Americans, including the mainstream media) are sure to follow, leaving their dedication to "Africa" behind.

    Is it truly humanitarian to treat the plight of others as a trend?

    please link to my website...where my full op-ed is placed in the cultural section.


    12:57 PM  

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