Writings of the general word's body

Monday, June 25, 2007

African Vanities

I was going to come to the July issue of Vanity Fair sooner or later. I have already given away my first copy and bought a second – that’s how compulsive it is.

There’s this image of Tsotsi actress Terry Pheto for a start. Isn’t it wonderful when the VF eye-candy is African (presumably with real mammaries)?

The Africa issue is not the first edition concerning which I’ve had to buy a replacement copy. It happened with the famous Demi Moore cover back in the early nineties; someone took away my copy and I went right out and bought another, which I kept for good 5 years until storage issues meant it had to go. I still wish I’d kept it. Some like to call the Demi Pregnancy nude cover ‘infamous’ but I’ve never agreed. The actress has found lots of (expensive) ways to keep looking young/ish since but in my view, she has never looked as supremely woman – and beautiful - as she did on that VF cover. It was an important statement, one that has been imitated countless times since – all pale (or if you consider model Oluchi on the cover of True Love West Africa – dark) imitations. Demi did it first and did it best. Yasmin Le Bon & all others didn’t quite pull it off, though they tried. As for the Oluchi pregnant bare-bellied TL cover,
my friend Sisioge lamented: “Ah-ah, what’s the point? Must we Africans do everything Oyinbos do?” Search me, I shrugged.

Anyway, so I had my Africa Issue VF replaced. I’m flipping through the pages and enjoying and to Africanise the English, ‘I am seriously annoying too’. I have been in discussion on this issue several places elsewhere. My point of contention – or one of them – is that the seemingly well-meaning ‘connections’ concept of the lavish never-before-done 20 separate covers featuring mostly people who are not African – is a massive cop-out. Usually when VF does themed editions, they have several people who fit that theme on the cover. So a music issue will have hot musicians like Beyonce, Beck, the usual suspects - in a group photo. Same goes for the Hollywood issue. With the Africa issue, VF could have put Mandela (surely one of the most recognisable humans on earth) on its cover. Or several Africans.

But no. What we have is a whole bunch of people whose connections with Africa are tenuous at best. So, Jay Z went to ‘Africa’ for the first time in 2006 (that qualifies him for a cover with George Clooney) and there he found 1.1 billion people who “don’t have clean drinking water.” What the- ?

Chris Rock also 'went to Africa' once to see Mandela and so contributes an embarrassing piece of rank juvenilia - utterly pointless.

Not many would quibble with the ‘Africanness’ of Muhammad Ali or Maya Angelou – but ‘Mother Malawi Madonna' and many others just take the biscuit. George Bush(!) shares a cover with Desmond Tutu; and it's no wonder the holy one looks like he’s reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

Of the 20 or so cover men & women, only 3 or 4 are African in any real sense – none of whom are ever posed together. 'Mitigate the African', is what I see. It appears that VF could not trust its American/Western readership to buy an African on his/her own on the cover – or a whole bunch of Africans for that matter, so they are not only outnumbered, they are spliced up nicely with all manners of stand-in Africans. That’s what I see. ‘Connections’ or ‘Conversations’ are mere euphemisms.

But that’s not the worst of what’s wrong with Africa VF. I’ve argued elsewhere also (and wrongly) that this is not the first guest-edited edition of VF, maintaining that Tom Ford’s cover from last year (with nude Scarlett Johansson & Keira Knightley) was also guest edited. On seeing the “1st guest ed.” small print in this current issue, I’ve gone to dig out my Tom Ford cover, only to see that the designer did not edit the issue, merely took charge of the 164 page portfolio. So there goes that mistake.

But yes, the esteemed first ever VF guest editor, the only man capable of bringing us the magazine’s first ever Africa issue, to present the vast mother continent to the world – is none other than Bono. Lots and lots of argument have gone on about this also. There is really not much I want to say about it at this point but to refer blog readers
to this post on Sokari Ekine’s blog – and an article to which she refers, “Welcome to the People’s Republic of Bono.”

After the Demi Moore cover, I remember a reader wrote in, in one of the subsequent editions’ Letters page something along the lines of, “Vanity really is fair when you put a naked pregnant woman on the cover.” And so, the facts of all the above do not detract much from the fact that the Africa bumper issue (since when is VF never a bumper issue?) is a thumping good read. It presaged the award of the Man International Booker to Achebe (oh, and the Orange prize to Adichie, who VF says parted the literary waves like Cleopatra); also the death of Ousmane Sembene, presenting a photo-study of the next generation of African filmmakers it says are Sembene’s “offspring”. The inclusion of Danny Glover (husband of Asake; negotiator of film rights to Sembene’s ‘God’s Bits of Wood’ as well as co-producer & cameo star of Abderrahmane Sissako’s Bamako) among the 'offspring' – is proper.

It’s disappointing that Youssou N’Dour, asked for
his selection of the best West African music for VF readers – stays firmly within the Mali/Senegal axis. As if there weren’t some 15 countries in West Africa, all with vibrant music! N'Dour chose 15 tracks in all, 2 of them his own. Vanity upon Vanity.

There’s a lot to read and look at. The music festival in the desert,
a piece on Kenya by Binyavanga Wainaina; a portfolio of African movers and shakers; and “The Continental Shelf” – on the rising stars of African literature, including some of the aforementioned names.

No one ever said Vanity wasn’t Fair.


Anonymous said...

Jay Z went to Nigeria and mixed only with the elite. He got chieftaincy titles in Kwara and other places. They turbaned him and put him on a horse and everything. We saw the pictures of him living it up.

It is an insult for him to get back to America and talk about how he saw 1.1 billion people without clean water. But that is the only story Westerners are interested in hearing and telling about Africa. Wesley Snipes would never say such crap. He had a whale of a time in Nigeria because he came as one of us.

internationalhome said...

I agree totally MW. I however have not bought this edition and will not. It is the one edition i will not buy. The lady at my local sainsbury's pointed out to me that i didn't buy, i just shrugged it off. Why should i be doubly glad because people who haven't got a clue decide to create a mediocre image of what they think my identity is? I shall be skipping this month's edition (but i will read if i see someone to loan it to me).lol
P.s at anon: Perhaps Jay-Z DID see people without clean drinking water, afterall in Kwara there trully are no amenities; looted funds and all. Do you not see all those govs (saraki especially) lunching boreholes with pomp and pagentry? It is a big deal there!!

Anonymous said...

But that is exactly my point, "International Home".

Jay Z was turbaned in Kwara State and there were pictures of him at the occasion smiling with Governor Saraki. He did not see the lay of the land, so to speak. His concerts were attended by Governors. The ordinary person could not afford the tickets sef. Where did Jay Z see 1.1 biliion people. From the tinted windows of the luxury cars that took him from Lagos to Kwara and Abuja? I don't think so. Jay Z saw 1.1 billion people in his mind's eye. He is merely repeating the same notions he took with him to Nigeria & South Africa from America.

I am not saying there are no people without clean water in Kwara or elsewhere (nowhere near 1.1 billion at any rate). My point is that Jay Z didn't see such. Jay Z's travel to Africa was to make money, for his concerts, not to see the poor people. He did not go for charity or any humanitarian goals.