Wednesday, March 17, 2010

All the World’s a Stage

All the World’s a Stage
‘How am I supposed to understand what’s going on?’ Amock wondered. ‘Everyday the Daily Mail tells me that our democratic government is working well in the interest of everybody, and that’s why the country is developing fast. But everyday The Post explains that the government is just a gang of selfish thieves who have illegally captured the state in order to loot the treasury, and that’s why we’re wallowing in poverty and underdevelopment.’
‘I have the solution to your problem,’ I declared.
‘What’s that?’ he asked.
‘Just buy one newspaper,’ I replied.
‘That doesn’t solve the problem,’ Sara objected. ‘The question is, which of the two entirely opposite explanations is actually correct?’
‘Neither is correct,’ declared Jennifer.
‘You mean the truth is somewhere in between?’ suggested Amock.
‘Certainly not!’ scoffed Jennifer. ‘These newspapers have no power to reveal the truth because they are writing in a vocabulary which is irrelevant to the subject matter. They begin from incorrect assumptions, and proceed by inapplicable theory, to reach meaningless conclusions.’
‘Huh,’ said Sara, ‘what exactly is wrong with their analytical framework, and how should we instead understand government behaviour?’
‘These papers just ape their Western counterparts,’ explained Jennifer, ‘and try to explain politics in terms of democracy, which is conceived as competing parties, each with different programmes and ideologies, and each claiming to serve the common interest.’
‘And isn’t that what our politics is about?’ I wondered.
‘Of course not!’ laughed Jennifer. ‘Our politics is about entertaining people! This isZambia, where we like a laugh! Our newspapers scorn all this as the politics of insults, which they vainly try to analyse in terms of ideology and programmes, quite overlooking that such things do not exist outside of their editors’ imaginations.’
‘We already know about the politics of insults!’ I sneered. ‘Where is your great alternative thesis to explain the process of Zambian politics?
‘Insults,’ declared Jennifer, ‘are just the surface manifestation of a deeper discourse which is part of our traditional culture. For us, politics is pure theatre! It’s about making people laugh! It’s a symbolic contest in the form of drama, spectacle, comedy and farce!’
‘You’re just trying to make a grand excuse for the ridiculous!’ Amock laughed.
‘It seems ridiculous,’ said Jennifer, ‘only if you see politics as the pursuit of economic development. But as soon as you understand that government’s aim is to make people laugh, then you can suddenly make sense of government’s various activities. Why else would we have members of parliament in court for honking? A priest in court for distributing red cards? A reporter in court for not publishing a photo of a woman giving birth? A distinguished professor of law accused of contempt of court for advising a magistrate? A monkey pissing on the president? The government deliberately fomenting a riot? The Kuomboka Ceremony in Kanyama? Isn’t it obvious that all these are designed as entertainment?’
‘Jennifer’s got a point,’ I admitted. ‘By the criteria of economic development, such activities are infuriatingly irrelevant or even counter-productive. But by theatrical criteria they are superb entertainment and high farce, and the government must be congratulated for a job well done.’
‘We know that everybody loved Kafupi, the cheeky little comedian,’ Sara admitted. ‘But could we say that the Great Elephant Muwelewele was entertaining?’
‘Not by intention,’ said Jennifer. ‘When he realised that people weren’t taking him seriously he would fall into a terrible rage, stuttering and spluttering, and then people would fall down on the floor laughing. Finally, as he began to understand what everybody wanted, he began to appoint professional comedians to his cabinet.’
‘Like Mouth Mulufyanya and Shifty Shikashiwa?’
‘Exactly. They perfected a re-enactment of Laurel and Hardy, where Shikashiwa would make a complete mess of everything and then Mulufyanya would try to explain what had happened. It had the whole nation in stitches.’
‘Then came the marvellous day,’ said Sara, ‘when Muwelewele went to Mfuwe, and dug up the old fossilised dinosaur, Nyamasoya, the greatest clown of the Jurassic Period. Everything he touches turns to disaster, but he remains blissfully unaware and walks calmly into the next disaster.’
‘Now that Nyamasoya is in charge,’ said Jennifer, ‘we are living in another Golden Age of Comedy. And the Red-Lipped Snake, since he was appointed Minister for Disasters, has successfully organised disastrous court cases all over the country. Every case is laughed out of court.’
‘But if politics is just theatre,’ Amock objected, ‘how do you explain all the stealing?’
‘That’s caused entirely by the donors,’ explained Jennifer. ‘They provide all the funding for our budget, but they won’t allocate anything for theatre because they can’t understand our Zambian culture. So when we have to take money for theatre, they call it stealing. It’s a clear example of wrong vocabulary arising from cross-cultural confusion.’
‘They’re stealing money for the next election,’ Amock insisted.
‘You’ve been reading too many newspapers,’ Jennifer snorted. ‘Don’t you realise that an election is just a huge expensive piece of theatre. It’s a great national festival of beer, costumes, soldiers, parading, police, speeches, petitions, drama, judges, and victory! It’s our Zambian version of the Oscars!’
‘And will it produce a change of government?’ asked Amock.
‘Of course not,’ declared Jennifer. ‘For good theatre, the cast always remains the same.’
‘So we shall continue to have comedy instead of development,’ Amock said sadly.
‘All the world should envy us!’ Jennifer declared. ‘We shall die laughing!’

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff. A little on the preachy side but excellent with its rediculous analysis well suited to the ludicrous theatre of Zambian politics. 8/10