So this is the first week for response to the readings assigned to us in the class. There were some 12 readings total, a mix of journal, newspaper, and reference articles which gave us a steady footing on Botswana’s history, the basics of development and democracy, and some other related topics.
Class on Monday the 10th was great. It really was. I was surrounded by other students with similar work ethic and interests as I and yet, combined in discussion, we all had our own opinions and different ways of expressing them. I am really looking forward to learning from Mike and Lori, as it seems (from Monday’s discussion) they can offer me a helping hand on understanding the course theme of political development. I walked out of class that day feeling like I was totally ready for this course. I know that my classmates will support me and together we are going to exceed not only the course expectations, but our own personal expectations as well.
This week I’ll mostly share with you my thoughts on our readings with an overall theme of photos and visual conceptions.
Something that I found interesting in Thomas Sugrue’s The Origins of Urban Crisis article was his mention on how images have the power to change not only peoples’ attitudes but government practices.
Think Vietnam Napalm,
Apollo 11 Launch,
or the more recent Mired Bird from this summer’s oil spill.
These are just a few images that truly changed (and continue to change) the world. They changed policy, approach, and attitude. Sugrue mentioned a 1962 book, The Other America, by Michael Harrington. I’ve never read this book before but couldn’t help but think of the striking similarities it seems it would hold with Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives, an 1890 photo-journalistic book revealing New York City slums. That striking early twentieth century book, through its harrowing images of crowded tenements, sweatshops, and poor children initiated new hygiene laws, the destruction of old homeless shelters replaced with newer ones, and the establishment of public parks and bathhouses.
Something that Sugrue prompts us to think about is the idea of transformation. Most people, when they hear the word, might think about a positive change or a new beginning. Sugrue challenges this notion within the first line of his article, calling Detroit transformed from a prosperous boomtown to physically decaying city plagued by poverty.
One of our course readings for this week was an article out of the magazine Granta entitled “How to Write About Africa.” Loaded with sarcastic commentary, the article gives a basic idea of how to make your book about Africa successful, especially ways to market your book to the Western audience. “In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving.” The article mentions almost every image or notion that Western culture may have held concerning the continent for the past couple centuries, including those ideas I had as a child about the place. Naked women, naked babies, flies, big sunsets and vast deserts, AIDS and malnutrition, poachers and lions, exotic rituals. Now I’m not going to say that none of these things actually exists in Africa and promote that they’re all fake stereotypes. Of course this is not the case. But why is this the case? Because we view the continent as being the least developed in the world? Because those images are usually associated with that? Because of bad governance? Because of the type of democracy in place for that small handful of democratic African nations? Why do we see coral reefs and opera houses when we hear Australia? Do we associate those things with development? Maybe. With democracy? I think I’ll leave this discussion where it is for now and come back to it later. But it’s something to think about.
Do you know what happens when you search on Google Images Gaborone, Botswana? You don’t get much material. Mostly low to medium-pixel photos of views from hotels, stock photos, photos to promote airlines, or photos from visitors to the region of Kgale Hill. Without searching, we already know that the quality of results would be dramatically different if you searched for, say, Tokyo, Japan, Brasilia, Brazil, or Vienna, Austria. Something I’d like to see change would be to increase the quality and breadth of images available on major search engines, such as Google, to the world of non-scholars or non-specialists. I only wonder how Google selects images to index for certain search queries.
Moving on…I’m currently finishing up reading the book Saturday is for Funerals by Unity Dow and Max Essex. Keep looking this weekend for a post about the book.
Tsamaya sentle – Goodbye
This week I’ll leave you with a song. “Paradigm” by Ani Difranco. The first verse and chorus really leave me with how I felt about democracy when I was little. Or at least how I thought democracy, and therefore, our government should be viewed. Without further ado, here it is.
I really enjoyed reading your posts. I really loved the idea of transformation and how pictures have such power behind them. Your point about the quality of images for places like Botswana on Google serious struck me like a slap in the face. Why is it that places that really need help via the power of photos don’t have any pictures? As for this being your first blog and for school no less, you are doing an awesome job and I look forward to reading more!
I don’t know how much you’ve learned in the past about Africa, but when I started learning about the region, I definitely was shocked by the disparities in pretty much every context.
I think this is a great, current example:
Haven’t read it yet, but The Bang Bang Club is supposed to be really good. The photos they came up with are pretty amazing. A movie about them came out last fall. Ehhhh, I’ll just order the book right now.
The images we “see”, whether we see them in print or on the web, are the “most popular”, “most viewed”, or “most” something. Certainly, many of them portray a powerful picture. Yet why just those particular images??? My jaded, old opinion is that much of what we see is controlled by the media. But we often have more control than we think if we just search a few more pages, not just the first three on Google. Our impatience and hurry-up attitudes are partly at fault. Your point about the need for more images is well taken. I hope you and your class document your life experiences, whether they are in Botswana or elsewhere. And yes, I believe the images that are embedded in our minds are the basis for much of our stereotyping; unfortunately, those are not easily erased.
Coming from someone who has an appreciation for photography it was refreshing to see someone who specifically pinpointed the effects of images. I agree with the notion that images evoke strong emotions (maybe even stronger than ANY words) that speak to us. What’s wonderful about images is that they are unique to everyones personal experience and have an impact on how we view they world. You mention the images that google produced. Its interesting to see how in the matter of seconds human mind can analyze these images to form an idea.
I really liked how your different examples of the photographs that have changed people’s thinking! One that always comes to mind for me is the picture of the young woman screaming right after a student was shot at Kent State during a Vietnam War protest. That’s one that helped turn the tide of opinions against fighting in Vietnam
When Sugrue calls Detroit “transformed” from a prosperous town into a decaying pit, it’s a word that’s still applied in force today, mostly because of the images that are shown through the media. When you watch the news, most of the stories about Detroit are the bad ones, and they’re accompanied by video footage of burned out houses or empty neighborhoods. It doesn’t boost ratings to show happy stuff.
One venue who is showing Detroit in a positive light is Johnny Knoxville’s documentary “Detroit Lives.” It shows images from a city that’s slowly starting to revive once again. I really liked it, check it out! 🙂
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