Skip to comments.In a dark land
Posted on 01/22/2010 8:05:09 AM PST by pickrell
After several days on the Congo river, we branched up the Likouala for another two days, before finally leaving our boat secured along the bank. The heat from the jungle was a physical thing, requiring an act of will for us to penetrate overland. But after several days of hacking through the dense foliage, we wearily came to the spot the crude map referred to as Natabangi.
It was only then, after so much travel, that we encountered the first of the tribe. As I swung my waterproofed and ruggedized camcorder into action, we noticed the natives bristling, and the eldest shaking his head.
I quickly tried to calm the situation, "I know you probably think that a camera will steal your souls, but I assure you that no harm will result. We have brought gifts and trade goods." I glanced over at our translator, so that he could explain to the troubled natives, while I dug out some beads and such.
He was preempted by the older, apparent chief of the tribe, who raised watery, rheumatic eyes to mine and sighed. "You miss the point entirely, young man. The camera does steal souls. We know this. But what is lost is not from the subject in front of the camera... but rather from the user behind it."
Before I could interrrupt him to suggest that this historic first meeting between us would be more gripping if he could, sort of, inject a little bit of pidgeon into his speech, he continued.
"You use the camera as badge of authority, with the implicit message of superiority. This is nothing inherently racial, though from your evident discomfort at my words, I could wonder. No, you and your brethren have so long stood behind that recorder, secure in the knowledge that you have absolute control of editing, and thus can rearrange and re-stage this conversation, that you are slowly owned by what you do. You are no longer challenged to learn from the world and other people, for you can enforce an alternate reality in the cutting room later.
"Now, I'm sure when your father sent you off to the city to learn to be a correspondent, he never joyfully pictured the erosion of his son's integrity. He likely didn't remark to the wind, 'I want his view of the world, based on what he was taught in journalism school, to become the story. I want him to use those whom he films as mere props, selecting and editing the right few words among the many exchanged that day, and then explaining to the audience in detail who the subject is, how he came to such a pitiable existence, and how their dollars must in all decency go to the U.N. to help us all learn New York values and habits. I want him to sit on pundit panels, later, with clones of himself and discuss science, economics, other subjects he is blindly ignorant about. He'll agree with all present that silly talk of bias comes from only the great unwashed.'
"But this, sadly, is what his tuition dollars purchased." He patted me sadly on the shoulder, "Don't let this camera steal any more of your soul. Cast it aside, or pawn it in Berundi- you can get 40 bucks for it, if it's in good condition!- and go speak to people. Buy a pencil. It's a small wooden device with a graphite core, which when sharpened will enable you to write on paper to aid your memory of what you learn.
"On the other hand," he amended sadly, "having noted the state of print journalism today- I suspect you'll probably find no redemption there, either."
As they left us standing looking rather sheepishly at our shoes, his parting words were, "Walk the land for awhile. Leave your translator behind, and try to slowly re-learn the language of people who work for a living.
"Your soul may come back..." Doing his best Judy Tenuta imitation, he smiled, "... it could happen."
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