ktravula – a travelogue!

art. language. travel

Browsing ktravula – a travelogue! blog archives for the day Tuesday, September 6th, 2011.

America’s Language War

These are interesting times in this country. I have been watching a lot of television lately (something I haven’t done in a while), usually the frontline of the many ideas competing to take hold in the national mind. Today’s issue is about language use, and rhetoric, in politics. Fox News had just juxtaposed the video of President Obama talking in February about civility in political discourse with the video of Labour Leader Jimmy Hoffa calling the Tea Party activists “sons of bitches” though not directly.

President Obama had made the remark at the memorial for the dead at Tuscon, Arizona, calling for people to tone down the heat in their talk and bring civility back to public discourse. However, now after such a pummeling by an unrelenting army of conservative activists in his own political career, he seems to have now been tacitly endorsing a retaliatory verbal retort by his own army of union workers. Sean Hannity, on his All-American show this evening, stacked  the set with a group of people who believed that the president needs to step up and censure his own people. What is not being verbalized is that if that is not done, the Conservative right will return to do the same and won’t listen to any entreaties.

What I find mostly interesting about it all is the spin that confronts the viewer depending on which television station they watch. I had been watching Fox News, the mouthpiece of the conservative movement (as contrasted – by their own words – to the mainstream media*). When I am watching MSNBC, I get a different perspective. I grew up in Nigeria watching CNN so I had a pretty “mainstream” access to the American news world. There was Larry King, Wolf Blitzer and a host of others. Watching Fox News today is like watching a different country. It finally dawned on me that there are many Americas, and each of them has a different window on the world which they often defend to the exclusion of others.

In his exclusive interview with Vice President Cheney yesterday where he did all he could – sometimes superfluously –  to make the former Bush Administration powerful man discredit the current administration, Sean Hannity played a clip of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and then asks the Vice President whether he was offended by Colin Powell referring to him as Mr. Cheney rather than Vice President Cheney. When the latter said “no”, Sean Hannity seemed surprised. The irony of the situation, of course, was that for many more times than the former Vice President in the same interview, Sean Hannity referred to the current president as “Barack Obama” or “Obama” and the current Vice President as “Joe Biden”, but the ex-President as President Bush without a hint of self-awareness.

So here is what I see: that the ideological underlining of these media enterprises makes it hard for them (and thus their viewers) to admit a simple universal truth whenever it favours an opposing ideology. Ed Schultz of MSNBC needlessly puts a racial slant on Rick Perry’s “black cloud of debt” speech while Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh – no matter how much it comes out of the mouth of even their own favourite interview subjects – would never agree that the current administration ever did anything right. It’s strange that each of them believes that their viewpoint represents what America really is. On the one hand, some viewers are able to see this spin. On the other hand, there are many more who views the world and the country only through these narrow media viewpoints.

On the bright side, it will always give people like Jon Stewart something to amuse us about, and people like me something to write about on an idle evening.

*PS: By what standard exactly is Fox News not part of the mainstream media, with their record of consistent high ratings for many years. I never quite understood that part of their usual talking points.

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Curious and Endless Spaces – Ehugbo!

By Emmanuel Iduma

I expected nothing when I arrived Afikpo; yes, an aimless wanderer. But I made a determined effort to witness a town I had known from earliest memory, as a stranger, and as though learning was inevitable, cogent, compulsive. My father was born there, and I have always visited in the company of family or relatives. But I decided I was going to visit alone, because I was challenging myself to draw closer, see farther, evaluate my ethnicity.

It happens that once in a person’s life, home becomes a nagging question, a heavenly call and a desperate need. Some might answer the call to investigate Home (or hometown, ethnic group, ethnicity, tribe, etc. etc. – in whatever word the calling is guised), and some might choose to close their ears. But I figured I had too much of the world to see, in all its relentless fullness, to journey without an understanding of who I was, where I began.

Afikpo is a town in South-eastern Nigeria, in Ebonyi State. The original name of the town, before being anglicized, was ‘Eha Igbo.’ Literarily, this means ‘name of Igbo.’ Igbo and Egu are said to have been war lords who had several running battles, but Igbo gained the upper hand. Egu and other leaders accepted Igbo as the strongest under whose name they agreed to live hence ‘Eha Igbo,’ unwittingly called ‘Ehugbo’. Ehugbo has come to be a name for the people, her language, and their locale (from henceforth, I take the liberty to include myself, hence ‘our’).

I spent eleven days in there, and in the period produced an e-journal of daily reflections on Afikpo, her people, my fractured process of questioning identity, and such other strands that became luxurious in a retrospective consideration. For the sake of logic and synthesis, I will present the reader with bits of some of my daily posts – excerpts I consider perfect postscripts – with the hope that such will provoke a useful lure to read the full.

This is the way I begin (Day 1, 19 August):

It happens that I am travelling to Afikpo, my hometown (my Dad’s birthplace) on a motorcycle. I am not good with measuring distances, but my guess is that it is about 10 to 15 km. I am, at first, angry that there is no easier means of transportation. There is, actually. The Church (my Dad’s official) driver tells me that to travel by car to Afikpo from Ohafia I will have to wait for an indeterminable period. I am not good with waiting, so I opt for a bike ride. My anger calcifies into exhilaration, because the ride turns out to be adventurous – considering it in retrospect, that is.

And on Day 2:

There is a smell that I have only perceived in Afikpo – in Amuro (where Uncle Otu’s house is) and in Mgbom (where my Dad’s house is). It emanates from smoke, I believe, and elsewhere it might have been disgusting. I am not alone in this assertion; my elder brother has corroborated it several times. If this holds out to be true, and I mean as an anthropological detail, it would seem that Afikpo is unique and without doubt a city that must come to the light. And which must be written about.

Day 4:

We are cautious with electricity in Nigeria because we are uncertain of how long it might last when restored. This is a worse response to the occasional ‘gift’ of power supply than a grateful response. How do we carry on our businesses – writing with a laptop, inclusive – with unrestrained productivity when we are in the danger of being usurped? I am disturbed as to what impact power supply will have on my prolificness if I live all my days in Nigeria.

Day 5:

I began to consider that here in Afikpo, as elsewhere, people are intent at stamping their individuality on others. The Devil…is even more with us than we like to admit (and by this I do not consider that we are as much ‘devils’ as human). Thus, the woman-preacher was right to request that her audience speak to one another! We are always asking face no dey fear face, every time, seeking to assert, to our friends and foes alike, that we have an identity that should not be undermined. For instance, I write because, in addition to many other reasons, I am angry at any attempt to subvert my talent, vision and art.

Day 6:

It is true that 9/11 was the date in which a global consciousness was awakened to the monstrosity of terrorism. Often it appears to the superficial onlooker that on 9/11 terrorism began. This, of course, is not true. What is acceptable is that on that date we began to think seriously about ‘terrorism’ as implied by the attacks. And this is why I have begun to think in another direction: In a post- 9/11 world, what is the incidence, possibility, and nature of African terrorism? We are not all Americans.

Day 9:

I will speak again tomorrow.

On Day 10, I joked:

(In the middle of writing this, electricity was usurped again. I call on the reader to implore the Power Authority to consider the plight of an emerging African artist, whose livelihood is determined by how many hours he puts into his computer. Consider, also, initiating a Save Iduma From Electricity Failure Fund. All proceeds shall go to the personal upkeep of this writer, who has not used a pressing iron in almost two weeks. Thank you).

And on the last day:

Although I agree with Eco that remembrance is labour and not luxury, I state that I have found an exception: when a young writer finds solace in Afikpo, the memory that comes afterward will be luxurious.

All my posts can be accessed here

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