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Opinions of Saturday, 2 June 2018


‘Obengfo’ ladies; enoa ne resurrected bodies

During my Graduate Teaching Instructorship days in the United States, I taught Freshman College Composition, the Ghanaian equivalent to Communication Skills, the compulsory writing and speaking course for all first-year students.

The version I taught in the US had a “Rhetoric” foundation to get students to think critically and be more open-minded about content, information and texts they encountered in their day-to-day routines and lifestyles. It deviated slightly from the Ghanaian module to emphasise on “construction of arguments” instead of grammar and its many rules.

For the most part of the course, we simply analyzed multi-modal texts (media that uses/combines different forms/modes of communication at the same time: written texts, visual codes, sound, etc). Therefore, TV commercials will fall here, posters also fall here, same as billboards, movies, music videos, newspaper ads, and like we have in this image here, a political cartoon.

Political cartoons were my favorite texts to analyze. They quickly registered in my mind as an equally important branch of journalism because of how “timely” and well they took on national issues. In just a few words, interesting character depictions and exaggerations, the audience is pushed to think about angles they would normally not think about. The artists cleverly teased out more important nuances for the public to engage with.

I’ve seen some really great political cartoons on our social media scene but for some time now, this particular artist/media brand with the signature name “Tilapia” seems to be dominating my timeline when it comes to political cartoons on social issues.

I will not be too quick to conclude that I’ve seen all his/her/their work but I’ve seen a couple and there are a few things I want to say about his/her/their work.

Every time I engage with texts (articles, videos, movies, political cartoons, etc), I ask myself, “so what is my take home from this entire piece?” By this, I try to figure out what the author/artist’s main message/concern/argument is. Yes, “main” message because there could be several other minor messages in a piece that build into the overarching argument.

I’ve seen several Tilapia cartoon commentaries on a number of trending topics and I honestly struggle to see any new nuance, critical angle or valid projections they are making. Simply because there is so much focus on the minors and overplayed humour that they tend to miss out on great opportunities to EDUCATE, INFORM, CORRECT, REDIRECT ATTENTION to other equally valid concerns and to ESTABLISH any fresh arguments on the topic.

At the end of the day, what the audience gets is an oversimplified discussion which feeds directly into mostly sexist and toxic mindsets.

I saw this in their take on the Moesha Bouduong saga, the KOD and female celebrity’s saga, and now this: no critical, candid, cutting-edge, or humbling realization.

This cartoon is supposed to serve as a commentary on the “Obengfo Plastic Surgery gone wrong” case. Yet, all it does is set women (who are the victims in this case) up for even more ridicule, judgment and condescension without making any connections with larger social, cultural and political antecedents. The artist’s use of colloquial jargons like “resurrect” and “fallen breasts,” coupled with the images of women with “irregular” body types give his/her/their intentions away all so easily.

This cartoon doesn’t get anyone thinking about the doctor, the culprit and the criminal, who has been operating serious surgical procedures on vulnerable patients without the appropriate credentials and qualifications; it doesn’t reveal that this “well-known” doctor has been investigated before and still managed to escape the law even in the face of evidence; it doesn’t shine light on the numerous people he’s left horribly scarred for life: it doesn’t magnify his dishonesty, his cruel soul and his heartless quest for wealth at the expense of people’s lives and life-long savings.

By focusing on women’s bodies and normalized jokes around women’s bodies, it fails to REORIENT the single narrative around plastic surgeries and to teach a valuable lesson that not all his victims may have been superficial people with irrational body image issues.

Road accident victims may need plastic surgeries too, fire victims may require plastic surgeries too, some post-natal complications may require plastic surgeries, and most importantly, women are not the only ones who may opt for plastic surgeries at some point in their lives!

And even on the popular narrative around plastic, the artist creates the impression that the women who gather “courage” to undergo plastic surgeries for body enhancement do so in a vacuum.

I am a huge social media addict and not a day goes by without tasteless and often times cruel jokes about women’s bodies, mostly from MEN!: sagging breasts, bloated stomachs, flat buttocks, hip-less women, dark-sinned, light-skinned, makeup reviews, etc. TV, radio and billboard commercials are flooded with static, myopic and idealized notions of beauty which are still very much in the shadows of Western media. We also live in a society where women are told to cope with cheating spouses whose only reason for cheating is their wives’ “out of shape” bodies.

Aside these social antecedents, there are real medical outcomes that may heighten women’s body image insecurities like side effects of contraceptives, childbirth, and general hormonal changes.

I am, with this case study drawing the attention of the artist/artists/media brand behind these “Tilapia” political cartoons to first of all realize that this branch of journalism is as crucial as the other branches. They may be animations and may even thrive on “humour” to drive home a point, but they are not in the least trivial!

LANGUAGE is important. CONTEXT is critical. TIMING is everything! And your AUDIENCE, their NEEDS and the quest for SOCIAL CHANGE should guide you in your creative CHOICES and ELEMENTS.

#PepperDemMinistries #UnlearningToxicNarratives

The Writer, Efe Plange is a Ghanaian blogger and social media enthusiast. She is a founding member of the Pepper Dem Ministries with keen interest in gender discussions. Connect with Efe Plange on social media.