issue 214 - December 1990
directed by Derek Lamb
You're not going to see this one at your local Bijou nor are you likely to pick it up at the corner video store. Karate Kids is a 22-minute AIDS education cartoon aimed at Third World street kids. Produced by Canada's National Film Board and the Toronto-based Street Kids lnternational, in consultation with the World Health Organization and UNICEF, the video is already being used by health educators and street workers in Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, the Philippines and more than two dozen other countries.
And it is easy to see why. This is a courageous and inventive bit of film-making, building on the potential of video as a democratic medium for grassroots education. The film is technically impressive (Academy Award-winning animator Derek Lamb directs) but more admirably it zeroes in on kids' interests without patronizing them.
The cartoon features a gang of street children who hang out in the town market - begging, stealing, doing odd jobs and just horsing around. The market setting is purposely generic - it could be Khartoum, Bangkok or Recite. And the kids themselves are a mix of black, brown and yellow. To refine the final video an early version of the cartoon was screened for children from five different countries. The results were encouraging and their suggestions practical. (For example, the young critics suggested the cartoon kids should be barefoot since street kids can't afford shoes.)
The story focusses on Mario and Pedro, two kids who are having a tough time scraping together enough money to live on. Mario is tempted by 'the smiling man with the black car' to sell sex for hard cash. But the streetwise Karate Hero intervenes and warns the boys against the danger of AIDS: 'Anyone can get AIDS from sex: we must all protect ourselves and our friends'. The language used is direct ('That man wanted to tuck you,' Karate warns the boys) and the lessons clear: people with AIDS need our help and support; condoms can protect us from the HIV virus.
Along the way there are tears, laughs, harrowing chase scenes, infectious Afrobeat music - and the villain even gets his comeuppance in the end. The video is part of an education package which includes a pocket-size Karate Kids comic book and a 'What we need to know about AIDS' guide for educators. The material is available in Portuguese, French, Spanish and English, and Street Kids lnternational will help translate and adapt the material. Though conceived for Third World kids the video has also been used with inner-city kids in Washington and New York and with Canadian Indian children.
Available from: Karate Kids, 56 The Esplanade, Suite 202, Toronto M5E 1A7, Canada.
Bananas, Beaches and Bases
by Cynthia Enloe
In the 1940s Carmen Miranda sang and danced her way to success beneath exotic head-dresses festooned with leaves, flowers, fruits and berries. This bizarre get-up helped slot Latin American women into a caricature of fruit-bearing flamboyance in the US mind. Carmen Miranda's image was deliberately used as vehicle to help consolidate a commercial menage a trois between the Brazilian singer, the US-Latin American 'good neighbour' policy and the banana.
It is this kind of intriguing connection which makes Cynthia Enloe's book so novel and fascinating. The subtitle is 'Making Feminist Sense of International Politics', and those very words make you realize how little we are used to seeing feminist analysis applied to the ebbs and flows of global power. We are used to bursts of solidarity with, say, African women farmers, with women suffering genital mutilation or with women confined to their homes in some Islamic societies. And we have latterly seen a feminist perspective informing the debate about nuclear weapons.
But while we might note that international politics is conducted almost entirely by men, we are not usually aware of gender as we analyse it. Enloe sets out to prove not only that 'the personal is political' but also that 'the international is personal'. Governments depend on a network of unacknowledged female support to survive. 'If we can expose their dependence on feminizing women,' she says, we can show that this world system is also dependent on artificial notions of masculinity: this seemingly overwhelming world system may be more fragile and open to radical change than we have been led to imagine.
The book is consistently thought-provoking and written with one eye firmly fixed on the reader's attention span: each chapter has a different theme and has numerous subsections, each with its own headline. But while this makes the book accessible it is also an admission of weakness: instead of in-depth analysis it offers a series of snapshots - if the tourist industry; of military bases and the women that serve them; of diplomatic wives and so on.
Nevertheless this is, as she says, a way of thinking about international politics which is still more or less in its infancy. And Bananas, Beaches and Bases at least takes those vital first few steps.
The Domino Club
by The Men They Couldn' t Hang
Two very English albums. The Men They Couldn't Hang are, as usual, refreshingly unafraid to delve amongst the dregs of modern-day Britain and lambast its morality (or lack of it). The Lion and the Unicorn, for instance, sees the spirit of the Blitz as living on in London's army of homeless people. The lion is caged and the unicorn extinct in the land we made and the land we betrayed - what price patriotism now? The sincerity is deep and bitter, the examples almost too close for comfort.
The England of The Men They Couldn't Hang is one where old ways of life are being destroyed and where the Thatcherite ideology of the family is construed as a mafia nightmare world of violence, distrust and revenge. And, as if subverting the tradition of the John Bull patriotic ditty, this comes couched in a relaxed, singalong style which lures you into a false sense of security and then attacks with a biting message. Yet somehow at the end of it all there is still an optimism as the beat moves inexorably through defeat and depression to affirm a spirit still strong and thriving.
Blowzabella have always been considered more traditionally folky, though this, their ninth album, is something of a departure, melding strong traditional English dance rhythms and experimental jazz. Each track builds to a giddy crescendo of sound that is unmistakably Blowzabella. You wind up with an invigorating blend of brass, hurdy gurdy, melodeon, bagpipes and strings which it feels an honour to dance to.
The only pity is that while the band are so admirably proficient at reworking their cultural musical past into more modern rhythms, they seem unable to take up the same challenge on the lyrical front -as in Solveig's Song, about a woman who will wait forever for her man. But overall this music has a cultural authority which is all too rarely evident in English music today. Spiritually exhilarating and imperatively danceable.
Reviews editor: Chris Brazier
Colours of a New Day by various artists (Lawrence & Wishart UK, Pantheon US)
Rather more uneven than you might expect a Book of the Year to be but that's part of the nature ot the beast. This is the literary equivalent of the Free Mandela concert, a collection of prose and poetry by 34 writers who have pledged their profits to an ANC cultural project. A kaleidoscopic and unpredictable contribution to the cause.
Turn Things Upside Down by The Happy End (Cooking Vinyl)
Rich in both texture and text, this resuscitates the big band format of the 1940s and applies it to modern agit-pop. Rooted in and redolent of a struggling socialist past it also takes in the key causes of today - and dresses them up in music that is imaginative, intelligent and exuberant. Enjoy.
Yaaba by Idrissa Ouedraogo
The movie that confirmed Burkina Faso as the epicentre of African film-making - an amazing achievement for one of the world's poorest countries. A deliberately timeless, mythic tale of a boys relationship with an old woman who has been cast Out by his village, Yaaba reaches beyond modern liberal reality into that world of primary emotions which is the stuff of childhood.
...being the book that revolutionized the novel
James Joyce was once approached by an effusive professor who said: 'I want to shake the hand that wrote Ulysses'. Joyce replied: 'Just remember it's done a lot of other things too'.
But Joyce admitted he would have only himself to blame if his book was colonized by academia. And when I was a boy I'd take it down from the shelf and open a page only to be totally banjaxed by fragments of songs, bits of other languages, lists, obscure references and that famous stream of consciousness. Idiosyncrasies abound: for example from the early Dubliners he had abjured 'perverted commas' in favour of French-style punctuation.
But after seeing Joseph Strick's film version of Ulysses I tried again. It helped having been brought up a Catholic, having studied literature and having a mother who could explain the Dublin background. But I still had to constantly refer to books about it (and I still haven't got through Finnegan's Wake, Joyce's most extreme and impenetrable work).
If Joyce is 'difficult' in style, he is equally uncompromising about blowing away polite reticences. His early short stories scandalized the printers. He was asked to tone down one of his Dubliners asides about King Edward VII being kept from the throne by 'his old mother'. Was 'old mother' quite respectful enough to the late revered Queen Victoria? Joyce duly amended it to 'his bloody old bitch of a mother'.
Ulysses is an immensely detailed, often sordid, account of the wanderings of certain middle-class Dubliners around their city on 16 June 1904 - principally Leopold Bloom, a Jewish small businessperson, and Stephen Dedalus, a clever but pretentious young teacher. Joyce laboured for years on it, amassing and checking facts and then drawing them all into various symbolic patterns, above all that of the wanderings and ordeals of Homer's Odysseus (whose Roman name was Ulysses).
Take one episode, narrated by an anonymous Dubliner in characteristic racy style. Bloom enters a pub (lots of action takes place in pubs) and, politely declining a drink, accepts a cigar instead. The Citizen, a nationalist, mutters interminably about foreigners and strangers, in spite of attempts to change the subject; Bloom in turn defends himself and his race, jabbing his cigar in emphasis. But when he is suspected of real unIrish treachery - not standing everyone a drink when he is thought (wrongly) to have successfully backed an outsider in the Gold Cup horse race - the Citizen explodes, throwing the nearest weapon (a biscuit tin) after Bloom as he escapes.
When you've finished laughing the cleverness hits you - the Citizen is the one-eyed giant Cyclops from whom Ulysses escaped by jabbing his eye with a burning stake. The tunnel vision and terrorism that still bedevil Ireland are fought by Ulysses-Bloom as he jabs his cigar at his tormentor: 'But it's no use, says he. Force, hatred, history, all that. That's not life for men and women, insult and hatred. And everybody knows that it's the very opposite of that that is really life... Love.'
The Homeric parallel is only one of the ironic devices. All sorts of others are deployed including one he had already used strikingly at the beginning of his first novel A Portrait of the Artist: matching the style of the narrative to the person or subject temporarily in the foreground. As a Modernist, he wanted his reader to develop an awareness of the framing device, to make this 'visible'. He generally carries off this technique with aplomb, though imitators have not always been so successful, while the academics have dully fossilized strategy into dogma, reducing all substance to style or structure.
Joyce's point is worth thinking about. Have you noticed, for instance, how the framing device above these Classic reviews '...being the book that...' conditions you - and the writer? It catches your attention, but does it risk pigeonholing (sometimes absurdly) a complex work of art as a rung on some great historical ladder of political enlightenment?
Ulysses-Joyce clearly foresaw the dangers lurking in the one-eyed warrior's lair. For his intellectual, Stephen, the only answer was flight: 'Silence, Exile, and Cunning'. Sure enough, the new Irish Free State set up a Censorship Board which imposed a ruthless cultural isolationism and ensured that many Irish people were kept in an intellectual deep freeze. And the Cyclops seem on the march: religious ones (the Satanic Verses case); right-wing Cyclops (the British Government's ban on promoting homosexuality and its censorship of Sinn Fein interviews); and left-wing varieties like Britain's splendidly Orwellian 'Campaign Against Pornography and Censorship'.
Joyce himself never, unlike Odysseus, returned home. He wandered round darkening Europe, his own eyesight worsening. His growing eminence ensured the bans on his books in the US and Britain were eventually lifted. But he had his own Ireland with him in the shape of his fiercely loyal wife Nora, whom he celebrated in the tremendous punctuationless passage that ends his epic. She once confessed she'd never read Ulysses. 'O rocks,' Molly tells Bloom, 'tell us in plain words.' Ulysses did.
Ulysses by James Joyce (first published in full 1922).