Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Rant

A friend sent me an article about AIDS orphans in Africa, from a CNN site. We are all well aware about how Americans love to sensationalise and to simplify (and Champs loves to generalise about entire nations!) which always gets my back up. One such thing in this article got my back up, and I have overreacted to it, but it sparked an issue I always have boiling at the back of my mind.

One paragraph reads:
Millions and millions of AIDS orphans are the devastating legacy of this epidemic. Africans suffer the most.(View images of those most vulnerable)

Firstly, what is this sick fascination people have for publishing or for viewing pictures of suffering African people (or people maimed or killed in the Middle-East wars and crises). Somehow some people believe that the compromise of others' dignity is justified when making a point in their 'newsworthy' story or plea for funds. I do not agree.

I believe that the publishing of a person starving and malnourished simply desensitises the rest of the world's population to the issues at hand. It strips that person of their dignity. And it also portrays people in drought-ridden areas, HIV-riddled areas, war-torn areas, as useless and that they cannot fend for themselves, and have no hope. It continues the idea of the rest of world pouring funds into a black hole, simply to keep people barely yet still alive.

This is not the idea that I believe should be put across. The idea that should be championed is that these people, if it were not for some pretty kuk exterior circumstances, are intelligent, are capable, and are willing to create wonderful lives for themselves, their families, their countries and for the world as a whole. In not assisting the development of such areas, that we are losing potential and talent left-right-and-centre.

The kids who are considered OVC (orphaned and vulnerable children) who I worked with weekly in my last job (and miss like hell at the moment) were some of the politest and most grateful and happy children with whom I have interacted. AIDS orphans who would quietly walk behind me when I snuck them into my company's volunteers' Xmas party. They would come and collect juice from me, go back to their seats, drink and laugh and watch, then collect all the cups and bring them back to me. One of the kids would be sent to tap me on my arm and quietly whisper a simple request in my ear from all of them. Or in Mozam, I remember one girl carrying my digital camera around to take photos from her perspective, and she would carry it with absolute respect, pride and sensitivity. (Also the men & women I met on the way were sure to dress smartly and expect proper greetings and intelligent conversation.)

These children have dignity & the only pics I have of them are where they are smiling and proud. I used to tell them that best they all just work damn hard and become leaders of this country. Yes, these children had lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS (AIDS Orphans are not necessarily infected themselves) but they still live their lives each day and know how to joke and play and live like the people they are, not some new scary phenomenon that they are currently made out to be from various sources.

What breaks my heart more, rather than seeing a person who is dying, is meeting a person who deserves & will work for so much but lacks the choices or opportunities to realise this. (Which is why the stories of buses not being available to get children to school gets me back shouting on my soap box!)

If you do not know by now that AIDS is not worth acquiring or that there are massive food and development problems across the continent of Africa and the world, no photograph or statistic or sob-story article is going to register this for you.
I believe so, anyway.

[As for the rest of the article, I cannot really see the newsworthy element of it, except for the last section, as the information is nothing new. Also there is the mistake of not knowing that a child who is termed an AIDS orphan does not necessarily have HIV/AIDS themselves. A simple concept that got lost by simplicity-seeking people.]


TwoFlower said...

firstly, i have to agree with you about America and add that they love to put their noses in other country's businesses (note the whole Israel/Lebanon thing).

secondly, i did journalism at varsity for a while and the thing we learnt the most was that if it wasn't sensational it wouldn't be published. people have this sick obsession with blood, guts, poverty, death and destruction and the media only worsens this obsession and makes people want it more. i have to agree with you because i don't think those kind of things should be published unless it is absolutely necessary (can't think of a good reason as of yet but i know they are out there).

just a thought but have you ever considered running for the government because you make some very important and valid points, and you seem to have a very strong mind and personality that would get you heard by people...

Champagne Heathen said...

Don't even get me started on the Israel/Lebanon issue!! [And as I type a friend of mine flies back to her home city of Haifa from here. Nothing like your friends ensuring you stress about them!]

I always do wonder is it people's need for sensationalism that the media puts out what it does, or is it the media manipulating people into believing that they have this intense sensationalist need! Personally, I think sensationalism is lazy journalism, and if you put out intelligent articles & pics people will appreciate it. Though, the way I hear it, you still have to get this intelligence through the editor.

As for Politics - maybe, one day, we'll see. I fell in love with Political Science & still have to keep studying higher. So we'll see after that. Although 1 of my dad's famous quotes, "All politicians should be shot at birth" does put me off slightly. Plus I am more for manipulating the system subtly and from within the most powerful structures. The guy shouting loudly is not necessarily the one with any power.

Also, I would lose any election should the opposition be able to say one word on my private life & how it measures up to society's ideas of good clean living!!

Anonymous said...

This kind of response also stems ignorance. The frightening thing for me is that people in our own country also respond in a similar manner.
How many people do you know who have never set foot in a township who think these are dirty, dangerous places to be? The media twists endlessly, and people simply lap it up. I know from video editing how anything can be twisted to suit an end - and I have very little respect for this approach.

Champagne Heathen said...

It frustrates me to a great degree, that we can no longer (could we ever) rely on our media to give us as objective a version of the situation as possible. It is extremely time consuming to have to seek down the many sides of every news story, but it does become so necessary.

Just look at the Lebanon/ Israeli situation at the moment - every channel tells a different story! It is one region I would love to visit just to finally have a real idea of who lives in what way etc.

Revolving Credit said...

Champs, you need to understand the US media - it's not neccessarily about news, but more about hype, shock and entertainment.
Remember that these are the same peeps who brouhgt us Jerry Springer - why do people like it you ask? Well it's cuz when one sees people is a worst situation than oneself, it make you feel better about yourself and your lot in life. This is not about reaching out to Africa to help, understand and grow with and through these orphan stories. No, the primary media motivation is a lot more self-centered/selfish - it make americans feel better about themselves and there lot in life.
The 'I'm so glad I live in the USA, not that Africa shithole' fucking attitude. So feel guilty, give cash, and then feel really great.(fuckers!)
If you're going to reachout, hold someones hand and learn from them, don't just hand them cash. It's like all the beggars in our country. Don't give the guy food or cash, give him a job cuz with it comes pride and dignity.

Basically, teach the fucker to fish.

Ok, I'll stop bitching now :)

Champagne Heathen said...

You're always welcome to bitch away here...especially when you make so much sense. The kind of sense that makes my feet twitch as I begin to want to kick something, but that's america's issue, not yours.

Ignorance may be bliss, until your two tallest buildings get planes directed into them!

Anonymous said...

Guys, I don't really understand the anti-america vitriol? The US has had zero involvment in Kenya in comparison to the British.

The article is a report by a journalist (I recognise her as one of the middle east reporters) on the current state of public health in Kenya.

It might not be brilliantly written or contain enough clarification on what you consider to be over-simplification (e.g. not all aids orphans have aids themselves - good point by the way) BUT it does provide a detailed account of the experience this woman encountered in a Kenyan Village. It is valuable as a social piece more than anything, for relaying the problems faced by the local community in dealing with AIDS and for highlighting the gulf between a western STANDARD of living and the standard the Kenyans portrayed have to "endure".

So, yes, people do look at the pictures and think thank god I was born in the USA etc. But surely it is better they realise that not all people live on this earth in the luxurious standards precedent in the USA. Imagine this kind of reporting did not happen!

Your story about your experiences working with AIDS orphans is touching indeed but I do get the impression that your sense of objectivity flies out the window a bit when you look at photos depicting Africa as helpless, downtrodden etc. It is understandable given your point about dignity, but I do not think these photos demean the people depicted in them. Rather they provide a realisitc portal to the western person on what daily life is like.

Could be debated for hours really, but I think it's important to remind everyone that this argument is surely not about bringing up irrational disgust for the USA, a meddling country which thankfully saved the entire world from speaking either Japanese or German.

Champagne Heathen said...

Dave,thanks for that. Really appreciate this point.

I did say that I was generalising about an entire nation and I was over-reacting to a minor point she did make. My rant was not based on the article but 1 or 2 points she made (and that I so often read in articles) that sparked former ideas in me.

I am not sure if I did get it across, but my point about simplification is that this article does not really look at her experience in this village. I read a lot of AIDS articles every week, and her one should have been written years ago, back when those concerns were being voiced. She had such a unique experience to write about, but she rather writes an article I have read 1000 times before in the past - as it was too general & too simple. That's what disappointed me.

As for the images, I think this is a very subjective issue that, as you say, can be debated back and forth for hours. I wanted to put my viewpoint across, as it flies against the accepted idea of publishing the worst or the worst to gain other people's sympathy & money.

As for America - hey, everyone has to hate someone, and my 'someone' is the one with the grating accent. And Dave, they are very much involved in Africa and in pumping their own values throughout Africa (1 reason for my resignation from my last job actually). They use their aid money as a means of manipulation, and a good percentage of the aid money they claim to give is actually going to their own citizens who happen to live on this continent...but let me stop this train of argument before I get to into it...

My story about my experience I actually thought bordered on pretencious. It is also one way for me to deal with having made the job change I have & to deal with the guilt and loss that I now feel. So you probably expect many more such irrational from-left-field rants in the future.