Matthias Krings. African Appropriations: Cultural Difference, Mimesis, and Media. African Expressive Cultures Series. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015. Illustrations. 328 pp. $80.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-253-01625-6; $30.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-253-01629-4.
Reviewed by Jodie Marshall (Michigan State University - African Studies Center)
Published on H-Material-Culture (April, 2016)
Commissioned by Marieke Hendriksen (Utrecht University, Netherlands)
In African Appropriations: Cultural Difference, Mimesis, and Media, Matthias Krings explores African uses of media to manage cultural difference, demonstrating that there is still more to be said on the topic of culture contact. Krings employs examples from African popular culture to describe African engagement with global media. The diverse cottage industry of African media from which Krings draws includes music, photo novels, cyberscams, videos, comic books, and even Osama bin Laden merchandise. While the title suggests a highly specialized theoretical text, the content of African Appropriations is an accessible account of media in the sociopolitical context of twentieth-century African popular culture.
African Appropriations is written as a series of case studies that both stand on their own and speak to each other, intertwining several common themes throughout the book. The major themes that Krings explores include the mediation and borrowing of power, the use of media to imagine different manifestations of modernity, and the exploration through media of the conflict between social expectation and individual desire. These case studies are drawn primarily from Nigeria and Tanzania, although there are a few nods to other parts of the continent.
Following the introduction, the book begins with two historical chapters. The first of these traces the history of spirit possession by European colonial spirits in West Africa from the 1920s to the present. The following chapter is about the 1960s magazine of photo novels, African Film. The middle section of the book consists of three chapters on film appropriations: recreations of Titanic (1997), Nigerian copies of Bollywood films, and Tanzanian copies of Nollywood films. The most provocative chapters of the book are arguably chapters 6 and 7. In these chapters, respectively, Krings contextualizes bin Laden merchandise in the sociopolitical landscape of northern Nigeria and uses e-mail and chat-room interviews to explore cyber scammers’ use of orientalist representations of Africa.
One of the most compelling pieces of argument is not solely about Africa but about the global processes of creative originality. Namely, in claiming African copies as key parts of a global network of media re/production, Krings de-sanctifies popular media from outside of Africa as the “original.” Rather than an outsider’s original being passively reproduced as faithful or unfaithful copies, both media are given equal weight as creative productions dynamically engaged with the interests and concerns of their creators and audiences. What emerges is an image of Africa as a piece of a larger tapestry of mimicry, mediation, and creation. Krings argues that African mimetic productions should be understood as particularly creative due to the cottage industry nature of African media culture.
Like any piece of scholarship, African Appropriations leaves its readers with some questions. Most pressing is the issue of geography. What aspects of the arguments are specific to Africa? Moreover, given that the majority of the case studies are drawn from Nigeria and Tanzania, a deeper reflection on what aspects of the argument are only specific to these locations as opposed to reflective of Africa as a whole is called for. However, this criticism could be made of virtually any scholarship that takes continental Africa as its boundary. Overall, African Appropriations is an engaging, readable, creative, and well-researched piece of scholarship. I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone interested in African media, popular culture, or the nature of cultural contact and appropriation. Additionally, given Krings’s case study approach and engaging writing style, sections of this book could readily be assigned in an undergraduate classroom.
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Jodie Marshall. Review of Krings, Matthias, African Appropriations: Cultural Difference, Mimesis, and Media.
H-Material-Culture, H-Net Reviews.
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