I STARTED writing this column last week without introducing myself. Let me quote Oprah Winfrey and say that this opportunity is somewhat of a full circle moment. I started my writing career many years ago under the guidance of the then Zimbabwe Independent editor Iden Wetherell at this same paper as a correspondent till I was entrusted with writing a column. I have to thank the current editor Dumisani Muleya for his magnanimity and trust in facilitating a second coming. So I am not coming from zero as you may begin to realise.
State of the Art: Admire KUDITA
This column might as well be called The Eclectic for obvious reasons. It does not serve my purpose to discuss the African entertainment industry without juxtaposing it with the world. In my view, everything is interconnected.
A radio station may be broadcasting terrestrially in Zimbabwe, but it may be streamed globally via the World Wide Web and its content has a far-reaching socio-economic and cultural impact. Such is the power of technology right now.
Moreover, it is prudent to explore the intersection of popular culture, leisure industry and new media technology alongside perspectives and policies that guide the entertainment industry.
Arts Minister Awol
My commitment this year is not to gripe. If the following statement sounds like I am griping then kindly humour me just this once for my reasons are substantial.
Three years after his appointment as Rural Development, Promotion and Preservation of Culture and Heritage minister, Abednigo Ncube is an absentee minister as far as the arts sector is concerned. His portfolio is dubiously named anyway, as far as we are concerned.
Here is a minister who has yet to meet stakeholders in the creative sector. Commentator after commentator has lamented his conspicuous absence. What to make of this behaviour? We cannot quite say.
The general sentiment is one of dismay. Truancy. Negligence. Indifference. These are all befitting descriptions of the minister’s current behaviour which is hardly an improvement upon the former minister Andrew Langa’s own deplorable ignorance about the creative sector. How excusable is the minister’s apathy towards the creative sector?
Make no doubt, however, that whenever there is some kind of celebratory gathering where these “chefs” officiate, a token imbongi (praise poet) or dance group will be hired to perform. Of course, the crumbs from the high table are available to feed them.
An American idea
The United States serves as an example of how a nation has utilised the entertainment industry. Over time, that nation’s popular culture has shaped and influenced the way we live, feel and even act.
The cultural output and ideas encapsulated in the country’s multi-billion dollar entertainment industry productions have had both a negative and positive impact on the lives of millions of people the world over. Before some of us knew better, we were so gullible to the point of believing that Superman actually flew!
From the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s to the ’90s and even up to the present day, the Western world set the popular culture agenda for the world aided by technological superiority. Thus, even the generation of our parents were exposed via television, radio and print media to the likes of the rock music gods Elvis Presley, James Brown and the Beatles, movie icons Marilyn Monroe and Sammy Davis Jnr, fashionistas Jackie Kennedy and Coco Chanel.
Generation after generation has mimicked the all-pervasive music (think Motown), fashion, dance moves and even things as basic as food (Think French fries, pizzas and hamburgers). I could also delve into the influence of the Walt Disney Company founded by the late Kansas-born dreamer cartoonist Walter Disney and his brother Roy in particular.
Not a game anymore
Disney as a company is a good example for what I am about to discuss. The start of the Second World War saw the fortunes of US companies plunge. As the US emerged from its isolation after Japan bombed Pearl Harbour and because of the war, many of Disney’s animators were conscripted into the armed forces. Both the US and Canadian governments commissioned Disney to produce propaganda material in support of the war effort.
According to trusted accounts, by 1942, 90% of the company’s then over 500 employees were working on war-themed films all intended to galvanise public support for the nation’s military activities with some of the company’s film characters such as Donald Duck starring in comedic propaganda short films.
The film industrial complex turned its whole machinery to help catalyse public sentiment and participation in the conflagration. One distinct film that Hollywood studios churned out was Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, which was a parody of the German tyrant Adolf Hitler.
A clued up leadership
Given this little history lesson as background, I remembered wistfully poring over a Hollywood Reporter article online about former US President Barack Obama’s visit to Hollywood and the comments he made at a ceremony at which powerful film industry executives, the likes of DreamWorks Animation (responsible for the billion dollar Star Wars movie franchise) Jeffrey Katzenberg gathered.
“Believe it or not, entertainment is part of our American diplomacy. It’s part of what makes us exceptional. You helped shape the world culture,” said Obama as quoted in the 2013 Hollywood Report article.
“I’ve come here today because this is one of America’s economic engines,” Obama was quoted as saying.
“Not just DreamWorks, but this whole cluster of companies that generations have grown up knowing Disney and Warner, Universal and others. When you think about it, what finance is to New York, what technology is to the Midwest . . . entertainment is to this part of the country . . . In the global race for jobs and industries, the thing we do better than anybody else is creativity. That’s something that cannot be copied . . .”
Dear reader, one hopes that our leadership — those that frame policy are able to grasp the overarching theme of this week’s column. We simply need leaders that are less enamoured with themselves and their “politricks” and more committed to creating actual jobs for our young people. It is a vision thing I suppose.
Essential facts: Disney is valued at around US$150 billion and generates revenues of over US$50 billion annually.
Not bad for a company that started with a cartoon called Mickey Mouse !
Follow me on twitter @amkudita