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Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

The Tyranny Of Visibility

On the politics of visibility and the biases in-between

In the recent past, we often have been called to unlearn, disabuse, compromise, debase ourselves from preconceived notions and biases in the spirit of promoting equality and advancing the cause of feminism.

Beyond just lexical refashioning, there have been quite radical suggestions in an attempt to address the patriarchy in the language(s) we use every day because of they're, well, toxic masculinity foundations — for example, a woman has been refashioned to womyn by some.

There have been more verbs and nouns invented to address the same, as a way of neutralizing testosterone-infused dicta. However, simplistic as these propositions may seem, they espouse a fervour of determination that has not been seen in the last decade or so.

In their resolve, the feminist movement has borrowed much from the political correctness movement: a movement that promotes the form of expression that engenders inclusion to marginalized groups/kinds of people. At the moment, to be politically incorrect could bear heavy repercussions on one’s reputation and public image.

Therein, a lot of dissenting voices have been silenced and what we have now is a society of clones thinking alike. Those who try to raise their voices are labelled as sexist, chauvinist and, well, a patriarch.

In a bid to lend objectivity to this contentious issue, it’s quite unfortunate that the debate has been reduced to ‘you’re either with us or you’re against us’. And hence platforms for rationale, tolerance and objectivity have been obliterated.

“But the spirit of discussion and interrogation should never leave our midst.”

Following the recent events surrounding Robert Mugabe’s military coup but in name, the media has been full of stories of how the coup was Mugabe’s wife’s doing. Her fault. Grace Mugabe, also nicknamed Gucci for her spendthrifts, was seen as a security threat for several reasons; her gender being among. In fact, some respectable media houses went blast on blaming Grace for nursing presidential ambitions as if that was the original sin.

I realized that Marie Antoinette, also accused of her spendthrifts and deficiency in empathy for the poor, is most remembered for the French empire’s demise than some of King Louis XVI’s executioners and handlers. Conversely, Emmerson Mnangagwa who is come to be seen as the redeemer of Zimbabwe from the throes of Mugabe was actually one of Mugabe’s fiercest executioners (following the butcher of over 20,000 Ndebele people in the 1980s), yet when they ask for the bad guy, for the security threat: all eyes on Gucci like Tupac.

  1. The tyranny of visibility is like a billboard. Perception imperception
image: Another Round billboard before it was taken down

NBS TV was accosted by feminists for its indecent and objectifying billboard along Spring Road in Bugolobi, a suburb in Kampala. The billboard was for a men’s TV show creatively dubbed #AnotherRound featuring two male adults drooling at the derrière of well-endowed mama. By all measures, this was utterly objectifying. And the rage was expected.

In an interesting turn of events, NBS TV brought down the billboard as fast as it had gone up. However, in retaliation, it put up a different billboard of the same men’s TV show. Just that this time it has one lady staring at the backsides of the two men (the show hosts). Alas, there was no rage. Predictable humans aren’t we?

The game of inverting is a game everyone hates because on surface level is looks like ‘whataboutism’ yet it’s not

The game definitely looks like a stack of cards on blackjack, but it is more than just meets the eye. A good application of the ‘game of inverting’ would be in one of the many incidences that have rocked Makerere university in the not so distant past. In one of the recent strikes, there was a viral picture where a policeman drew a handgun (pistol) at a striking student. Again, there was all rage especially on social media at how the errant law officer could have killed the chaotic young man. Scientifically, a pistol has an effective shooting range of about 40m and a typical automatic Kalashnikov (AK47) has an effective range of over 900m. An Ak47 is tenfold plus more dangerous than an ordinary pistol.

In spite of the fact that the pistol was way less dangerous than the AK47, the people were enraged because they are not used to seeing pistols brandished around in public. If anything, the people could have used the opportunity to lobby for banning of not only deadly AK47s but also other guns from the public eye.

In short, the order from way back has been of security operatives comfortably brandishing their AK47s in public and quickly reaching for the trigger under flimsy excuses like dispersing a rowdy crowd of protesting students even with an abundance of alternative means such as teargas.

This is where we need to be careful in our interrogation of the tyranny of visibility.

The gun example may seem like a call to maintain the status-quo other than upend its toxicity. Right, whilst we have lived with many unfair attitudes, cultures and norms, we should never use that as an excuse of maintaining their order. Similarly, we should not simply lash out at whatever we deem inconsistent with the trends of the day as toxic and exclusionary.

The creation of partisan echo chambers, where we cheer those who think like us and sneer through who dissent, is self-defeating in its own right. Instead of harmonizing opinions and building consensus so as to moot a way forward on how to minimize exposure to gun misuse or state-sponsored violence from errant security officers (and criminals), we’re bickering at how a pistol was pointed at a student.

2. The tyranny of visibility is in the food you eat. But of course, you only care about your stomach

Food is like money. It’s a universal religion. Everyone for their stomachs.

Since the first point was about billboards, it’s only natural for us to segue into another billboard, a food/drink billboard.

If you have watched an advert promoting a beverage, you must have noticed how refreshing and revitalizing the beverages often are. Also, the scripts of the adverts are centred around feeling good things: falling in love or getting lucky especially after tasting the beverage in question.

Cue Coca-cola. This could arguably be one of the most sexist brands in the history of brands. A quick example is their soda bottles. I used to listen to musicians paying homage to their women having shapes like coca cola bottles and didn’t care much. Where I come from women are usually well endowed in the physical arena. The coca cola bottles seem to be subtly curved in homage to the shape(s) of our women.

However, there are countries next door that have lean and taller women. I thought the bottles would be standard, but lo, I was so wrong. It turns out coca cola paid homage to the femmes in the area. I don’t really know whether this is a big deal or not. But one thing stands out, these bottles are made in women’s images.

What’s not surprising is people never complain about such issues simply because they don’t see. And it’s not their fault really. The tyranny of visibility is at work.

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image: Coca cola 350ml bottle

But if we can label ourselves #foodie and swear by all the ‘hearts’ and likes on our Instagram posts often decorated with savoury and tasty cuisines, then maybe we could look at what history posits about such human behaviour. It is said that our hunter-gatherers' ancestors developed a strange sweet tooth for fruits for their high sugar content. At that time there was no processed sugary stuff that one can easily find in a shop today.

It could be very well argued that the proclivity to gorge on sweet stuff was passed on from our hunter-gatherer forebearers and we’re just carriers. This is a fair assessment. What else did our hunter-gatherer forebearers do that has passed on generations after? Many, many things. Let’s take monogamy as an example. A man was never monogamous. The ravages of high infant mortality rates exacerbated men’s never-ending innuendos in justifying polygamy. A man had to sire multitudes of children from different women if he was ever to have the chance of passing on his genes from one generation to another.

With the passage of time, culture has evolved and several aspects of human life have been rejected while others have been amplified. For food and beverages, the sweet tooth fairy has never been more pronounced than it is today. People are even parading their food for the entire world to see. For aspects like polygamy, the church and other architects of society rejected it, in favour of ‘one man, one woman’. And that is where we are today. But then also, the order of the world is dynamic.

What could be done differently, that is deeply ingrained in our human psyche? What could be done differently, that was never part of our human psyche but is good for the progression of society?

3. The tyranny of visibility dances to music too

Music is undeniably the food of the soul. Music speaks to almost everyone. For that, many musicians have been turned into icons and wield such influence.

There are several ways of looking at it. Let’s take Bob Geldof, the Irish rock artiste, for example. His 13th July 1985 Live Aid concert attracted viewership of over 1.5 billion people. He raised awareness over the plight of highly indebted African countries and their failure to provide basic social services. The 16-hour public disco quickly turned into a charged public discourse. It was a huge success. Over £150 million was raised for the cause.

Western donors have increasingly been blamed for looking to anyone but Africa’s elected officials or policy experts and technocrats for guidance on how best to tackle Africa’s afflictions. The donors have courted the musicians and artists and in essence, the plight of Africa has been relegated to people whose electric guitars make more melodious and evocative sounds than just ordinary activist voices.

It sounds ludicrous how a fully developed country like the UK can trust a mere musician on critical programmes on Africa’s development until it hits home that the electorate is clutched on the promise of a musician’s activism to redeem their exasperation.

I am talking about none other than Bobi Wine. Let’s make a wild comparison here, how different is Bobi compared to Bono or Geldof on issues of politics and development? Context matters, the difference is fundamentally large in terms of status and scope of influence. But the similitude here is that they all use their music to influence the development and even the politics of the day.

But for a pan-Africanist, the thought of leaving the plight of Africa’s future in the hands of a British musician is quite deplorable. Let alone the fact that these musicians could be competent for the job. Yet they would find it more than acceptable to front an inexperienced Bobi Wine to challenge the politburo.

At the end of the day, what matters is the tolerance and rationale and debate. Unquestionably, we’re living in an age where it’s more than easy to get radicalized and not tolerate anything but your view. While some people advocate for equality, others fervently advocate for equity. Others, supremacy, maybe. The greatest learning we could take from this convoluted post is there is so much we don’t see (by choice or error or omission) and we should always pause and reflect before we react.

Begin with the why and then advance on the what before jumping for another person’s throat. Nobody has figured out everything.

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What do you see in the picture above? Equality? Equity?

I see a family probably cheating the system by watching a game of baseball free of charge because, certainly, those seated in the pavilion have paid.

I blog for believers, spirited optimists, and ambitious movers. I am writing to build a home that will be filled with Ideas & Inspiration.

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