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The Other

Author: joe

Monday, 20 June, 2005 - 21:01


In the car from Bristol to Bournemouth, Andrew Marr of Start the Week, Radio 4, guides the discussion from archaeology to genetics to science and ethics to existentialism to the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004.

History is written with the cultural references of the historian. That Britain absorbed Romans, Vikings, and Normans, amongst others, can only be interpreted today in the muddy air of the populist media's xenophobia, and the political expediency of the exploitation of "normal people's" fears.

But there is no such thing as "normal" - the existentialists taught us that. They also taught us to deconstruct the discourse of "the Other". The thread of Orientalism which describes foreign cultures as exotic, alien and inhabited by a heart of darkness, and its dissection by feminists and others, has fed into our intellectual legacy - the legacy which in Britain is only admitted to with a shamed face in even the most rarified circles. The Other is still there to be un-foreigned - un-othered.

And so there is still the need for it to be stated, apparently, that "they" understand the scientific reasons for the earthquake and subsequent tidal wave and the destruction it brought.


The utilisation and appropriation of cultural assumptions is not always malign. Sally and I discuss the idea that Michael Burke's land-mark report on the Ethopian famine in the '80s may well have been trawled over by academia and cultural theorists as exemplary of the "Othering" of Africa in the West, but that is not to say that one reporter's use of emotive cultural references which reinforce our stereotypes did not have the desired effect of waking millions of people to the intolerable injustice which operates in the sphere of political geography and real-politik. Just one of those people was Bob Geldof.


BBC 1. Geldof in Africa. How do you express a Western viewpoint on Africa without reinforcing its otherness - the singlemost stubborn obstacle to action? Use your own voice. Geldof superimposes himself onto an exotic, alien landscape, the heart of the dark origins of humanity, with a voice which is inflected with his own awareness, and acknowledges that any generalisations are his own. There is no all-knowing narrator here, who explains to us what we do not know. There is Bob who gives us his understanding of what we already feel.

This is brilliant.

Bob introduces us to a nomadic tribe which has been ever more nomadic since the introduction of a tax which forces them to move on every two weeks, disrupting their tradition of following the seasons. "These people are doing a runner form a poll-tax".

Un-othering can be written with the cultural references of those un-othering.


Radio 4. Ferry across the Mekong. The West has a remarkable ability to stand by and overlook genocide - in Cambodia and Rwanda, to name but two. Here is a fascinating piece of programming which alerts us to a wider world and its concerns.

But, more importantly, will the final of Celebrity Love Island attract a larger audience?

Categories: other, geldof, culture, media,
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