article, opinion

We are all clowns.

WARNING: Spoilers ahead.

For the purpose of this article:

Clown (noun). just a downright fool (Source: Urban Dictionary)

Clown (noun). a comic entertainer, especially one in a circus, wearing a traditional costume and exaggerated make-up. (Source: Oxford Dictionary)

Source: Joker (2019) by Warner Bros Pictures

I watched Joker last weekend and here are my two cents, and maybe a few more, on the film. Please bare with me as I try to resolve the emotional disturbance and socioeconomic conflict that I am still experiencing as a result.

As a work of art, I loved the film! Todd Phillips has managed to create a cinematic masterpiece that not only moves you emotionally, but puts into question the functioning of the modern capitalist society. The film also challenges the long-held belief that no one could ever top Heath Ledger’s Joker in Christopher Nolan’s 2008 ‘The Dark Knight”, Joaquin Phoenix delivers to us Arthur Fletcher. The debate has just begun.

Arthur Fletcher is a representation of the modern man (or woman) who is depressed because of unresolved childhood trauma and the effects of a failed capitalist society, which can be observed in many parts of the world, including Gotham City; homelessness, unemployment, little public funding for mental health and the very poor provision of social services in general. At the beginning of the film it is brought to our attention that Gotham City is drowning in trash and later on, as a Joker fanboy brutally murders Thomas and Martha Wayne, one or two big rats are shown in the back shot, further indicating how bad the situation is.

And then I came across this tweet and had the awakening I needed.

Source: @doomgis on Twitter

Joaquin Phoenix’s character embodies the awakening of the exploited and humiliated proletariat of our time as he calls out Murray Franklin for making fun of him during his late night show because he was doing something he loves to do, something he had believed for a long time would be his gateway from poverty and into the social class in which Murray belongs to, more or less. In addition, this proletariat’s anger stems from the lack of sympathy from the bourgeoisie, embodied in the character Thomas Wayne, who denies Arthur the possibilities of being a member the upper class (remember that Arthur wasn’t after the Wayne fortune, just recognition by Mr. Wayne) by challenging Arthur’s claim that he is Thomas Wayne and Penny Fletcher’s lovechild. To top it all off, with little or no knowledge at all about the three murdered employees of Wayne Enterprises and the disgusting behavior they exhibited to the woman in the night train and Arthur who seemed “less than”, Mr. Wayne takes their side as soon as he is asked about the matter on television.

Arthur is like the rest of us. He is born into a system that is set up for him to fail and be driven to insanity. As he grows up and he gets pushed down by the system that won’t allow him to advance to anything more than a depressed clown. He reaches a point of maturity and comes to the realization that his failure is not entirely his fault (assuming he skipped school or made some bad choices), but largely because the system allowed him to get hurt, both physically and psychologically. The system includes his mother who was so incapable of taking care of her son that one of her boyfriends physically abused him in horrifying ways. The system is also the government that doesn’t ensure health care to its people, including mental health for its citizen and this goes as far as deciding to cut funding for Gotham’s counseling services, which Arthur depends on no matter how terrible they are. This whole tale peaks when Arthur, as the Joker, says to Murray Franklin while on air, “if it was me dying on the sidewalk, you’d walk right over me.”

The sad thing is that what Arthur said is true, not only in Gotham, but also in our own reality. Think about the millions of people whose lives have been destroyed because of senseless wars and we largely ignore them. Instead we choose to channel our sympathy and emotions to a lifeless object like the Notre Dame Cathedral because it symbolizes what most of us aspire to have or be a part of; western socioeconomic and cultural power. But the Arthurs of our world; Sudan, Kashmir, Cameroon, Syria, Yemen, Libya and others are left to rot on the sidewalk as the rain washes off their clown make up, because the people in these places were promised “world peace”.

Finally one key thing the film explores is Arthur’s failure to separate reality from fantasy. He fantasizes an intense romance with Sophie Dumond, Zazie Beetz’s character, a trip that comes to an end when she begs him to leave her apartment. This begs the question, did the quasi proletariat revolution of Gotham City really happen or was it just a passing thought in a disturbed mind of a man who, for a long time, had wished the odds would be in his favor?

Knowing the end of the the romance, could the awakening of the people of Gotham simply have been a false reality and consequently, a way of director Todd Phillips to tell us that yes, it would be something if people “woke up” and changed the oppressive system, BUT the system just won’t let you do that the same way reality didn’t let Arthur have his romance? Are we, the audience, just too stupid to get Arthur’s joke? At the very end of the film, a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum asks Arthur if he would like to share what’s making him laugh and Arthur says to her “you wouldn’t get it”. And that’s the joke we didn’t catch. We are, indeed, all clowns.

article, opinion

Climate Change and Capitalism, a rant.

I had a fit after seeing a lot of talk on social media, especially from celebrities, about what to do to tackle the climate crisis. I’m not quite sure how in 2019 we sheepishly follow whatever people with more money than us say in a 3 minute video.

I find it very ironic how celebrities who have very large carbon footprints; flying around the world in private jets for world tours, vacations and fashion shows, buying new designer clothes every now and then, etc. are trying to tell us that we should “act now” and “make our voices be heard”. I admit, a celebrity using their platform for serious causes does help spread awareness, but how much more “awareness” do we need?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I do not believe that we are unintelligent enough to believe that big oil corporations, government officials and almost anyone with access to knowledge has no idea that climate change is an issue that we need to work on with everything we have.

Climate change and capitalism go hand-in-hand. Capitalism is one of, if not the major, cause of climate change. Capitalism is essentially about the profit you make and you, the capitalist, are not obligated to care about the well-being of anyone else and this is what is happening. Even after science has been proving for decades that fossil fuels destroy the planet by emitting greenhouse gases that trap heat within the earth, oil companies have continued to do what they were made to do. People who profit from these companies obviously do not care about what will happen to someone’s poor kid in the middle of nowhere a few decades from now once global warming starts killing us (it probably has, I haven’t seen every piece of news).

In case you didn’t know, here’s a list of the 100 top greenhouse gas producers in the world by The Guardian. These 100 companies alone are responsible for nearly 71% of global emissions. Of course, coal and oil companies form a big percentage. Ironically, celebrities support these same companies by using private jets and buying new fuel cars with every paycheck they get. It’s a circus, really, and people are blindly praising these celebrities because “they care”. No, they don’t care. There is no caring to a certain extent. You either care and give it 100% of what you can or you don’t at all.

What I finally want to say is that once the temperatures become to high to bear, we won’t all be suffering. The rich will continue to live in air-conditioned houses and fly to cooler locations whenever it becomes unbearable.

We’re being lied to. Sure, we should try to do our part in all this, but we need to be aware of who the greatest emitters are and instead of us, these corporations and people are the ones who should be told to “act now”.

article

Chasing Happiness

A true Jonas Brothers fan must’ve felt something from reading that title.

But, sorry, this isn’t about the Jonas Brothers.

I’ve been trying to read two books for months now; Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah and Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah. The former is an autobiographical book on Trevor Noah’s childhood. Now if you don’t know who Trevor Noah is please look him up, he’s very very smart! The latter is a fictional book by Ishmael Beah about a community recovering from war. He also wrote (and lived) A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, which was a book about his time as a child soldier during the Sierra Leone Civil War.

Both of these books make me sad whenever I think of them, although they have happy endings (I haven’t really finished them, but in my head these are the “endings”): Trevor goes on to become one of the greatest comedians of the 21st century (he hosts The Daily Show) and of course, a community recovering from war is a good thing.

But being someone who has been chasing happiness for a long time, I don’t know if these are the kind of books I should be reading because the process of getting to that happy ending involves a lot of emotional moments. The same applies for the Netflix series, The Spy, which seems very interesting, but it gives me this feeling of melancholy that I can’t seem to shake off even after deciding to quit the show nearly three weeks ago. And for some reason, just yesterday I found myself trying to watch another episode.

That’s the thing about sadness, once you feel it too often it becomes your “comfort” feeling and you keep wanting to stay in that state because the feeling of being happy becomes too foreign. Happiness shouldn’t be something that we have to chase. We shouldn’t have to tire our minds and emotions in the pursuit of something that should be a constant in our lives because life is meant to be beautiful.

I don’t think I know where I’m going with this post.

Maybe just to say this, if you know you’re depressed or could be triggered into depression then please stay away from sad books, TV shows, songs and films. You might say “it’s just art”, but sometimes consuming art comes with a price that no one should have to pay.

Life should be about enjoying things you love – even when people make fun of you for loving One Direction music. You shouldn’t have to chase happiness because happiness should begin every time you do something, including the most normal things like grocery shopping or looking at memes.

OK maybe it is about the Jonas Brothers just a bit. Happiness Begins is their latest album’s name and it is amazing!

article, opinion

Time to cancel the white savior complex

I’m sure you’ve come across white savior films like The Help, Blood Diamond, Green Book, La la land and the latest being The Red Sea Diving Resort. This list is definitely not exhaustive.

First check out this Seth Meyers parody, just because:

The white savior complex is refers to the need/desire of a white person to help (save) “people of color” from problems that have been and are still caused by predominantly white societies, structures and practices (slavery, colonialism, imperialism).

White savior films are the scum of film-making. Not only do they undermine the struggles of people of color fighting against oppression, but they also continue to reinforce the idea that things can only work out if a white person is involved.

Meanwhile, in Africa, the toughest work clearly falls to the local guides who led the perilous Jewish exodus from Ethiopia to the Gedaref Refugee Camp. Raff composites all these heroes into a single character, Kabede Bimro (played by Michael Kenneth Williams, Omar of “The Wire”), the film’s only nonwhite ally of note.

From Peter Deburge’s film review of the red sea diving resort for variety.com

The existence of these films is one of the reasons why white savior practices continue to thrive in the real world. Think of the horrifying case of Renee Bach. This is just one example of the white savior complex going into someone’s head to the point of her thinking she can actually bring change by playing doctor on Ugandan kids from a poor area suffering from all sorts of illnesses even though she has no medical degree. 105 kids died because of her irresponsible actions.

In his essay The White Savior Industrial Complex, Teju Cole writes, “if Americans want to care about Africa, maybe they should consider evaluating American foreign policy, which they already play a direct role in through elections, before they impose themselves on Africa itself.” I agree with this statement because the politics side of things is often overlooked. We might write hundreds of blog posts condemning white saviors, but the cause actually lies in politics. Western governments usually play roles in all kinds of conflicts and destruction in developing countries: Syria (currently), Cambodia (20th century), the colonization of Africa (Since the 15th century), the colonization of the Indian subcontinent (read on the Kashmir situation today). The result of all this chaos is that these places have become places that now need to be helped through charity organizations from the same countries whose governments contributed to the chaos through evil ideologies such as white supremacy that then led on to slavery, colonialism, etc. Even though lives get saved and significant numbers of people get the help they need, charity is pointless if the politics are all the same. Think about how we have had the United Nations for 74 years and organizations like UNHCR and UNICEF are literally everywhere, but today we have more than 25 million refugees and nearly 300,000 child soldiers worldwide.

I might have gone on a tangent there, but I hope you get my point: a good number of the world’s problems are a result of evil racist ideologies like white supremacy (colonialism and its effects, etc.) and the funny part is that films and some people try to tell us that the same ideologies are part of the solution. The white savior complex is cut from the same cloth as white supremacy. Thinking you’re capable of saving “people of color” through medical procedures even though you are as unqualified as they are is white supremacy.

Now back to the white savior films-they are simply a reflection of our world. One thing I feel that people with the white savior complex tend to ignore (in the context of African countries, for example) is that there are locals who can do the exact same thing a western volunteer does. The tough part is that locals are not seen as capable because of many things including the message carried by white savior films and the inferiority complex that many “people of color” still have to this day.

Also, a message to westerners wanting to spend a summer in some remote African village: there are literally people suffering in your own countries. Think about them before spending thousands of euros to travel across the world to do something that can easily be done by the local population. I’ve lived in Germany for 2 years now and I know western countries also have issues that need normal citizens to help, such as refugee integration.

Ever heard of ‘charity begins at home’?

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“You’re not the river, you’re the city” – John Green

So it was a Friday morning. The weather was good and I left on time for work with my bicycle that I had bought just two days before. I cycled in heels, a mini skirt and my bag that says ‘boy bye’ was hanging from the left handle. To quote Thanos, ‘Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.

I ended up cycling thrice around a park.

It’s been two weeks in a new city. I moved to Bonn to do a six-month communications-related internship at the UNFCCC headquarters. In case you’re like me a few months ago and don’t know what the UNFCCC is, it’s the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Basically, it’s the UN organization dealing with climate change and government negotiations on climate change mitigation and everything else in between. So yeah, pretty unbelievable, I know. I still don’t know how exactly I found myself at the United Nations, but I am at the United Nations and I can’t describe how incredible it feels to be there. I’m not gonna tell you how it’s the most perfect International Relations student’s dream come true or share photos of me with some top UN people and government officials at one of those meetings we all say are pointless since governments rarely do much to contribute to the good of the world anyway, because that’s not my experience. Not every International Relations student has the same generic professional dream. It wasn’t mine either, but being at the UN is a huge deal to me now that I’m here and it’s only important to look forward.

For the first few days in Bonn, I had to live at a hostel because finding a place to I can sleep and eat comfortably at for a few months needed to be the most difficult thing. I stayed at a place called Max Hostel and the receptionists there are the nicest I’ve ever met. I was welcomed with a smile each morning. That was one of the two things that made the painful first week in Bonn bearable, the other being that I’m at the UN!!!

The people in Bonn are very nice, foreigners and locals alike. The streets are beautiful, the trains and buses are packed in the mornings and evenings and I like it because it gives me that big city feeling. And maybe it’s just because it’s summer, but I love how a lot of people here choose to cycle instead of using cars and contributing to the horrific tale of global warming. (Me here wishing Dar es Salaam found a way to deal with the overflow of cars in the city). I still haven’t seen Bonn properly, but I have 6 months to do that and more and I’m really looking forward to all it.

66456847_2363636970585418_975214410941333504_nHere’s the view from my room, you know, what I stare at when listening to the Jonas Brothers’ album Happiness Begins and thinking of ways to make friends in the city and not embarrass myself by getting lost every morning.

Oh and the river in the featured photo is the Rhine 😉

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Lessons from Sudan

We need to talk.

Due to recent events (and some not very recent ones), it has become clear that the bar for peace and security in Africa has been set very, very low.

Sudan is in trouble, a massacre is happening; innocent civilians are being killed by the military that is in control since the dictator Omar al Bashir was overthrown in April after three decades in power. Their internet has been shut down and the death toll is said to be somewhere above 500.

It took a while for the internet to become aware and start speaking about this. People had to post stories, share links and retweet in order for the world to say ‘hey, this is bad and we should care’. It’s touching to see blue profile pictures everywhere. While some may think changing your profile picture doesn’t do anything, I would like to tell you that it does. Because of that, Sudan is getting the coverage it deserves. But let me write this: more coverage is needed.

I remember on January 7,  2015 when the Charlie Hebdo attack happened. Everyone was talking about it. It was a tragic event and it happened in France. On January 9, two days after the Charlie Hebdo attack, Boko Haram were said to have massacred around 2000 people in Nigeria. The events were similar, people died in both and despite the huge difference in number-human life is human life. Even if one died, it should still matter. Another important similarity is that both tragedies were products of Islamist extremism-al Qaeda in Yemen, who claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attack, and Boko Haram.

If the world has decided that Islamist extremism is evil, which it is, then how come tragedies of this nature and others happening in Africa do not receive the same amount of attention as those in Western countries?

Currently there are terrorist attacks in Mali which have caused more than 200 deaths this year. Mali is not making headlines the way New Zealand did earlier this year when terrorists attacked Muslims worshipping in mosques.

There’s the anglophone crisis in Cameroon, which, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council, is the most neglected crisis today and the situation is close to a civil war.

These are just two of the crises happening in Africa right now. Unfortunately there are several more: Burundi, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Libya.

Africans have been reduced to numbers.

It reminds me of Ted Hughes’ poem Six Young Men about six young men who fought in WWII and all died. He refers to them using numbers: ‘six young men’, ‘this one’, ‘six celluloid smiles’ and that’s exactly what the situation is for African tragedies. It goes to show how much human life is reduced to figures because of situations that could be prevented.

Unfortunately, African lives are not the kind of numbers that get to have trending hashtags and breaking news stories that pull the whole world into a big conversation, either online or elsewhere, about the attack on the human right to life. It’s almost as if they’re numbers that simply exist to prove the centuries-old point that Africa means chaos. In a situation in a class I was in, someone was commenting on a topic related to Africa and said, “…all the wars going on…” This made me think of how normal it has become for us Africans to bear the ‘war’ label and at some point I find myself being forced to carry this label as part of my identity as an African even though I come from a country that has never known what war, tribal or religious conflicts are.

This article by Charlotte Alter for TIME sends an important message by saying we should be concerned for the lives of all people on who tragedies such as terrorist attacks have befallen not only because African, European and Asian life is precious, but also because “as long as people are killing in the name of Islamist extremism, or any extremism, all of us are at risk.”

So we should all condemn the massacre of the Sudanese by the transition military government, condemn terrorist attacks by white supremacists and Islamic extremists, condemn resource-related conflicts in the DRC and condemn ethnic violence in South Sudan.

Ask questions online like ‘what should the UN be doing?’ so they see and know we care about the lost lives and that these lives are not just statistics to us. We never know what part of the world is next, it could be where I am or where you are and IF it ever happens, you’ll need the world to side with you.

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Pain demands to be felt.

Yesterday I watched a very heartbreaking TED Talk  about slavery. No, I’m not referring to the slavery we saw in 12 Years A Slave. Different times, but similar and equally heartbreaking situations.

I honestly couldn’t finish the video because my mind just drifted away. In my experience, when things like slavery, famine and war come up, people would usually say ‘just be grateful for what you have’ or something else along those lines and I have to say it’s the most annoying thing ever and here’s why:

First, people who say this usually overlook the mental health part of someone’s life. Someone twice told me that I should be grateful because there are people dying of hunger. This was after I told them that I am depressed. What’s wrong with saying something like this is that you completely disregard someone’s emotional and psychological struggle. I have never been hungry or experienced war and I’m glad I haven’t, but that does not mean my depression should be or can be pushed aside because someone else is suffering from something completely different.

Ishmael Beah, the author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier and Radiance of Tomorrow, once said something similar: if a friend lost their dog I wouldn’t tell them to get over it or think about other people’s bigger problems, because I don’t know what it feels like to lose a dog. And even if I did lose a dog before, I still don’t know how much that particular dog meant to my friend.

Second, it’s true, we should be grateful we only get to see these haunting slavery photos through a screen. But that should not be the only response to this video. Instead of thinking ‘wow, I’m glad I have minor problems’, think ‘what can governments do to end slavery?’ ‘what can I do to decrease the demand for this or that product that is supplied by child labor?‘ These are the things we should be thinking about on top of spreading awareness. Even if we’re not in positions to do much, we should allow our thoughts to shape our actions so that we’re more inclined to vote for leaders who are not only aware of slavery and child labor, but also ready to do something about it. At the end of the day, charity organisations and the like will have a very difficult time if governments are not actively involved.

John Green wrote in The Fault In Our Stars, “pain demands to be felt”. We should allow others to feel pain, even if it’s someone crying over a broken lamp that was a special gift to them. We should also allow ourselves to feel the pain of watching others enslaved in Mica mines in Jharkhand and Bihar, India and fishing grounds in Lake Volta, Ghana, so that we can do something about it. Saying ‘I’m glad it’s not me’ is simply ignoring the pain and turning a blind eye, therefore, allowing evil to continue.