19 July 2011

Life as the Global North Sees It

Journalist Clair MacDougall writes a reflection on seeing the new film Life in a Day on her blog. Her final section has me thinking.
A great deal of the footage from the ‘third world’ looked like it had been taken either by skilled cinematographers or members of the Peace Corps or other volunteer groups. The only footage I saw from Africa was of that of a man saying that he was against homosexuals, another man saying he liked football, a woman from the Masai Mara saying a few funny things, and beautifully shot footage of women singing while pounding some form of grain in the Congo.

One of the final clips showed young people at a beach party setting forth paper bags filled with candles into the night sky, a suggestion that though we are individual souls glowing bright, we are collectively part of something bigger, more wondrous and beautiful. While the visual metaphor may bear some truth, I did not leave the film with a greater feeling of connection to the world but rather one of alienation. I left with a heavy sense that we, from the global north and elites from the south, are flooding the world with increasingly sophisticated messages and projections that have more to do with how we want to be seen than who we are. While the poor, and those who have less access to and a less sophisticated grasp of technology, continue to be represented by others.
What Clair says is not new, but it is right. The aid blogging space is full of people with privilege (such as myself) who have constant internet access so that they can write about and discuss the latest information from an RCT. I am not beating up on myself nor am I critically writing about anyone else. However, there continues to be a significant and important group missing from the conversation. From time to time that must be recognized. Outsiders showing what is happening in the global south, as seen through NGOs, this blog, other aid blogs and films like Life in a Day have utility. They are not giving a voice to the voiceless. That ability lies with the people who are living in poverty and in nations where access to internet is rapidly growing.

HT Rachel Strohm