I AM writing this in a bit of an angry state, after more than thirty hours of flight time and one hour’s taxi time travel, because once again I have been starkly shown the difference between the narrative our imaginations see in the world of media and entertainment, and the reality on the ground in this world of ‘us’ versus ‘them’.
During the lengthy flight time, quite at random, two movies stood out on my mind – the first was titled, “Hector and the Search For Happiness” and took us through the whimsical, fictional journey of the British psychiatrist Hector seeking for the meaning of happiness on an impulsive journey through Asia, Africa and North America.
Leaving, according to the movie, a very orderly and organised life in the centre of Britain, the hero Hector goes to Asia which is depicted as full of colour, whimsical and modernistic night-time fun, svelte and well-dressed men and women, tasty food and drink both on the streets and in expensive hotels, and simple but good living.
And of course, he goes through a Buddhist monastery and meets a white-haired mysterious and wise old monk with a satellite dish and worldly views on top of a snow-capped mountain where the sun shines bright and colourful flags somehow show up.
When leaving Asia, however, the ‘pretty’, well-dressed female Chinese staff at the airport verbally prepare Hector for his ongoing flight to ‘Africa’ by detailing the different levels of flight comfort from a level where the hand is held up high in the air (First Class) to a level where the hand is held near the floor and her expression causes her eyes to disappear in her face (even I was licked by this level).
Indeed, in the next shot, Hector is in an aeroplane that can only exist in the minds of a movie designer whose understanding of science is as warped as his knowledge of reality.
The aeroplane to Africa is practically held together by cellotape and occupied by livestock-cradling Africans, except for the lady Hector is seated next to, who is well-spoken and has even read a book which she readily donates to Hector – a refreshing departure from the usual narrative.
But then he gets to Africa and the narrative is back so all we see is pestilence, dust, thuggery and warlordism and crime, interspersed with dancing ululating African families in shanty towns and villages.
Hector gets carjacked and abducted by rough, ugly, dirty criminals but is saved because he had earlier met, in the same ‘Africa’, a suave European criminal whose home, in the very same ‘Africa’ is a well-lined mansion tastefully decorated!
After he ‘escapes’ from Africa, he goes to Los Angeles in the United States where, I swear, he only meets white people in clean settings (even the beach does not raise any sandy dust on-screen) and generally spends time only in university theatres and medical labs.
By co-incidence, the next movie I caught was Will Smith’s “Focus”, because of a scene I spotted as my neighbour was watching it.
In this movie, Will Smith is a thief, but the glorified type of thief who, again, is suave and debonair and touted as clever in the way he runs his pickpocketing gangs of nice-looking Americans, including his newest recruit – a ‘beautiful’ white lady.
The scene that caught my attention was a shot labelled ‘Buenos Aires’, where my flight was heading to.
In the movie Buenos Aires we see Formula One tracks and cars, beautiful houses, cafes and mansions, filled with glamorous people hosting rich parties, and bright, shiny supercars whizzing about.
But the reality was very different from the minutes the airport doors opened up to me, and I was amused to see that the taxi service that picked me up had had their car radio stolen!
And as we drove through the city to my very nice hotel, I could clearly see the signs of this ‘emerging market’, being very, very different from what the movie label made it out to be.
The number of garbage bags standing on the roadside just metres from the doorway to the Sheraton Buenos Aires, next to cracked pavements and streams of questionable looking fluids reminded me starkly of some spots I have seen in Hector’s Africa.
There were spots I drove through in Buenos Aires that revealed the type of Argentinian you never see when you are watching movies or following the news. The probability of spotting a poor, dirty, struggling Argentinian is extremely high on most streets in their capital city, but quite rare in the media – more rare than the equivalent from any African nation.
Overall, the experience reminded me once again how we must approach global media and entertainment with caution – especially those of us from these nations in Africa…the real Africa, not Hector’s idea of it.