Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Desire and the Enrapture of Capitalist Consumption: Product Red, Africa, and the Crisis of Sustainability

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Desire and the Enrapture of Capitalist Consumption: Product Red, Africa, and the Crisis of Sustainability

Article excerpt

In his "Guest Editor's Letter," penned for the special edition of Vanity Fair (i) dedicated to Product Red, Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, outlines the purpose of the campaign which he heads. The purpose of the Product Red campaign is to provide the Global Fund with money to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. He explains its rationale thus: "We needed help in describing the continent of Africa as an opportunity, as an adventure, not a burden. Our habit--and we have to kick it--is to reduce this mesmerizing, entrepreneurial, dynamic continent of fifty-three diverse countries to a hopeless deathbed of war, disease, and corruption." (ii) On the facing page of the letter there is an advertisement for Dolce & Gabbana, a producer of men's and women's fashionwear for a "modern hedonist" (as described on its web page). The advertisement features a photograph of a nude woman with her torso covered by a large upscale leather or crocodile bag (a signature feature of the company) hooked around her left shoulder. She is straddling a nude man with her naked legs around his naked thighs. His eyes are closed while she stares, with a sultry gaze, into the camera. A second, equally nude, man is straddling her back, upside down. The woman's head appears to be resting slightly on his naked thighs. The man's upper arm hides her nude buttocks. His elbow rests on the bag, and his lower arm touches almost the entire length of her leg. The man's face is seemingly positioned between her legs in a pose that suggests cunnilingus. Her arms are wrapped around the neck of the other male in the photograph. Both men are muscular with light brown bodies indicating racial ambiguity. The woman's eyes are blue and her body tanned.

I was struck, but certainly not surprised, by the seamlessness with which all the tropes and figurative representations of white supremacy, (cross)racial desire, sexism, developmental historicism, and materialism combined in the juxtaposition of the two-sentence Bono quotation and the advertisement. Franz Fanon, the black French psychiatrist and scholar of race, who was born in Martinique, has analyzed the unconscious association between black maleness and white female desire. The black man, he claims, is generative of anxious fear--with "phobogenetic" roots (a term he uses)--because black men in the white imaginary "might do all kinds of things to the white woman, but not commonplace cruelties: sexual abuses--in other words, immoral and shameful things." (iii) Such fear is derived from a profound sexual desire. (iv)

Fanon's intervention relies upon the analysis of psychiatrist Angelo Hesnard who interrogated the relationship between contact and anxiety: "Contact alone is enough to evoke anxiety. For contact is at the same time the basic schematic type of initiating sexual action (touching, caresses--sexuality)." (v) In this regard, Vanity Fair's Mission Statement on the web page of Conde Nast, the magazine's parent company, is worth quoting in its entirety:

 
   From entertainment to world affairs, business to style, design 
   to society, Vanity Fair is a cultural catalyst--a magazine that 
   provokes and drives the popular dialogue. With its unique mix of 
   stunning photography, in-depth reportage, and social commentary, 
   Vanity Fair accelerates ideas and images to center stage. 
   Each month, Vanity Fair is an unrivaled media event that reaches 
   millions of modern, sophisticated consumers who create demand for 
   your brand. (vi) 

To the right of the mission statement, along its entire length from above the heading to below its last line, is a photograph of a blonde white woman partly clad in a white shawl with one side of her white bra exposed. The shawl is positioned between her wide-open bare legs, one of which is curled up, resting on the ground. Her other leg is extended, flat footed on the ground, positioned as far back as possible, with her lower right arm resting on her knee. …

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