A Duty to Call them Dooty

by zunguzungu

"Duty Calls"

I try not to fall into the Duty Calls model of blogging too often. There will always be someone wrong, because there always is, anyway, and because the internet manages to combine an abundance of easy targets with the temptation to flatter yourself about the significance of pointing them out. If you have an issue, you can find someone on the internet who is saying something so very wrong and stupid about that issue, and you can easily convince yourself that repudiating that person on the internet achieves something useful.

I try not to do it too often, because “it” never runs out, and because it’s too easy. If blogging is to be anything but completely irrelevant, there has to be a value-added ethic to it, a sense that unless you have something new to say about why a thing is wrong, something interesting to add, what’s the point? You’re just preaching to the choir (and you are the choir). And you can be fooled into thinking that writing about something exerts some sort of power over it. So my ethic of blogging has lately become — sort of to my surprise — a bit more creative, a bit more artsy, if only a little. The posts of mine that I’ve liked the best have been the ones that work by collage and juxtoposition. We’ll see if that lasts.

Excuse the naval gazing; I do it as prelude for a trio of wrong people I found via the internet that must be dealt with. First, I saw this on Sociological Image a few days ago, and from the ever vigilant Wayne, but resisted the urge until now to blog about it:

“…a story about Natural High, a Japanese company that reportedly makes “extreme” pornography. The producer, Sakkun, felt bad that many children in Africa live in poverty and so he sent a porn star to Kenya to have sex with African men (on film, of course). The company gave a Kenyan aid organization one million yen (around $10, 800 U.S.) and 1,000 more (currently about $10.77 U.S.) is donated for every DVD sold (story here).”

One of the few images I can display on a family blog

Here’s the necessary piece of text on why this whole thing is preposterous and fucked up, from Womanist Musings, who notes that this is basically an amped up version of the pernicious idea that promoting consumerism is the solution to the world’s problems:

“It all seems to work just fine if you ignore the fact that it constructs Africa as the land of unevolved savages waiting to sexually consume women. It’s harmless if you ignore the exotification of African black bodies for western consumption…The fact that there is even an attempt to justify it only reveals the degree to which our self interests takes precedence over the actual suffering of human beings. We will do anything to make our narcissistic tendencies seem less harmful than what they are…”

It’s totally ludicrous, of course, but if you’re surprised by this sort of thing, shame on you for having not been paying attention. For how spectacular it is, it’s also banal, predictable as rain. This sort of shit will happen again, and again, and again. This is the world we live in. So what to do?

Here’s another one, Burger King’s new ad campaign, “Whopper Virgins.”

Angry Asian Man has the rundown, which I’m just going to steal:

Watch the commercial that’s been running here. The campaign has already generated a lot of negative buzz from bloggers and pundits, who are calling the “experiment” tasteless and exploitative: Fresh Palates for Burger King. More here: Whopper Virgins: it doesn’t get much more offensive than this. And here: Burger King’s ‘Whopper Virgins’ Documentary Takes Whoppers to Remote Places. The “Whopper Virgins” documentary premieres online on Monday. If you’d like get in touch with Burger King about how you feel about this particular ad campaign, there’s some corporate contact info here. I’m skeptical that they’ll give a damn, but it’s worth letting them know.

UPDATE: Here’s an ABC News report on the “Whopper Virgins” ad, with people talking about some of the controversy the campaign has drawn: Flame-broiled Advertising Controversy.

But Socialism and/or Barbarism has the most interesting read on it, I think, noting that “The rough idea would be that in order to decide which round-shaped-travesty-called-a-burger (Whopper, Big Mac, everything else) is objectively better, one must find proper subjects who… don’t have a word for burger? Don’t consume primarily the products of monocultural farming and excessive processing of simple carbohydrates?” Going on, he writes:

These are ads that hinge on the support structure of those subjects who do not grasp advertising, who are “pure.” Encoded in this, then, is the oddly self-aware stance of the corporation: look, we know that your consumption habits are so mediated by advertising – as we want them to be, we’re not suggesting that you change that, good God no – that you no longer can even taste things correctly. So we’re bringing in a pinch hitter, the global dispossessed, to function as the externalization of the sensual apparatus you all used to have.

Perhaps most striking of all is the way that these adds play into the schematics and promises of “reality porn” (Bang Bus, Milf Hunter, Border Bangers, Coeds Need Cash, etc), porn that hinges on the fantasy that one can pull up alongside a random “real” teenage girl who will not only have sex with you (and a couple of your friends) but who is quite fine with the idea of you making a videotape that “you won’t show anyone.” … But in the ads below? The promise of “Real Whopper Virgins.” And that promise is… Indigenous peasant women gone wild! For processed meat and fluffy white buns!

As Homer would say, it’s funny because it’s true. Again though, using quasi-sexualized exoticism to sell shitty products? Next thing you know they’ll be saying the Iraq war isn’t really about democracy!

Finally, although not quite a tour-de-force performance up to the standards of the previous examples, it gets points for trying, and would be — in other contexts — a real contender (h/t Sepoy). From the New York Times:

“For a truly one-of-a-kind gift, nothing could beat what Michael Chambers received for his 40th birthday on Thursday: a world-class runner from Kenya for a day. “What a birthday present,” a stunned Chambers said as Richard Kiplagat, 27, entered his SoHo apartment, ready to run. It was like a take-home fantasy camp, akin to hiring a Brazilian soccer star to kick the ball around in the backyard, or a Chinese table-tennis champion to play a few games in the basement.

“Chambers had become enamored with the strength of the Kenyan runners, and the stories of poverty and perseverance behind them…But the family wanted to give Chambers something to experience on his actual birthday. A call was placed to the New York Road Runners about two weeks ago. The request was a first, and it was specific…“No knock on Ethiopians, who have been amazing,” Tina Chambers said. “But to find Richard, it couldn’t get better.”

I mean, seriously. Receiving a Kenyan for your birthday? Even I blush a little at this. And the total lack of self-consciousness with which the various flavors of ethnicity (Brazilian, Chinese, Ethiopian) are compared is sort of sublime. By the time we get to the line “It’s literally like running next to a cheetah,” I’m actually more irritated by the misuse of the word “literally” than the skull grinding racism of it.

So, what to do with all this? Well I’ve blogged about it; now I don’t feel like I have to anymore. That’s a load off. But in thinking about why I felt the need to blog about it, even while disclaiming (and deriding) the sense of a duty to do so, I’m reminded of a story told by Chris Abani, who I’ve spent the last two weeks teaching in my class. His novel is Graceland and it’s fantastic, and you’ll be hearing more from me on it in the near-ish future. For the moment, though, the value added portion of this post will be this little excerpt from a talk he gave that you can watch in its entirety here:

“When I was growing up in Nigeria…there were always rites of passage for young men. Men were taught to be men in the ways in which we are not women… A lot of rituals involved killing. Killing little animals and progressing along. So when I turned thirteen – it made sense. It was an agrarian community. Someone had to kill the animals. When I turned thirteen it was my turn now to kill a goat. I was this weird, sensitive kid who couldn’t really do it. But I had to do it. I was supposed to do this alone. A friend of mine called Emanuel who was significantly older than me who’d been a boy soldier during the Biafran War, decided to come with me which sort of made me feel good because he’d seen a lot of things. When I was growing up he used to tell me stories about how he used to bayonet people and their intestines would fall out but they would keep running. So this guy comes with me. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a goat or seen one. They sound like human beings. That’s why we call tragedies “the song of a goat.” Anyway, a goat’s eyes are like a child’s eyes. So I tried to kill this goat and I couldn’t. Emanuel bent down and puts his hand over the mouth of the goat. Covers its eyes so I don’t have to look into them while I kill the goat. It didn’t seem like a lot. This guy who had seen so much and to whom the killing of a goat must have seemed such a quotidian experience still found it in himself to try to protect me. I was a wimp. I cried. For a very long time. … He just sat there watching me cry for a while. And afterwards he said to me, “It will always be difficult. But if you cry like this every time, you will die of heartbreak. Just know that it is enough sometimes to know that it is difficult…'”