what’s funny in Kenya?

That’s what American comedian John Ramsey is trying to figure out. Here is his best guess:

John Ramsey is volunteering in Kenya for a year with International Justice Mission, and while he’s there, he’s been honing his craft for a Kenyan audience. He’s written about trying to figure out what makes Kenyans laugh, and it turns out that the jokes that he “liked the least were the ones that worked the best.” (Although, he’s careful to point out that “it’s not that I get Kenyan jokes and don’t like them (like primitive humor) – I just don’t get most of them at all.”)

The above clip is from the show Churchill Live, an extremely popular “late night” show in Kenya which reaches 10 million viewers (in Kenya, the surrounding countries and the diaspora). Props to John Ramsey for trying to connect with Kenyans through their own language and sense of humour, instead of hiding out in embassy smoking lounges cracking jokes about colonialism.

ps – Kenya friends – they film Churchill Live at Carnivore every Thursday evening… who’s in!?

diversions

1. “As the situation descended into chaos, the researchers stood by and watched—until one of their colleagues finally spoke out.” (It was ethical at the time.)

2. This is totally disgusting, but not disgusting enough to change my habits:

3. “The end result of less diving is that watching women play soccer at the highest level is less encumbered by obvious cheating histrionics and more of a pure experience.”

4. It’s Wednesday. Hump day. Here is something to get you through the afternoon — 39 songs in one. Girl Talk, watch out, you’ve got company:

a battle cry for Canadian journalism

Kai Nagata’s July 8 blog post (on why he quit as CTV’s Quebec City bureau chief) has been making the rounds in media circles. If you’re interested in journalism and politics, or you just generally give a damn about public discourse and democracy and the responsibility of the press, read it now. When you’re done, you can read his follow-up post.

KAINAGATA.COM photo

This isn’t an unconditional endorsement of his blog posts, but I do admire Nagata for his eloquence, his thoughtfulness and how he hits some of the issues pretty close to the bullseye. He has put into words a lot of the things I feel about the media dynamics in Canada — things I didn’t know how to verbalize, or I felt I had no authority to say. Not only has he written a damning account of the Canadian media’s failures as the fourth estate (I think there are lots of successes too… maybe more than there are failures… but, yes, there are failures), he put his money where his mouth is. Speaking as a fellow 24-year-old, I can tell you it would not be easy to flip my superiors the bird, pack up my pick-up truck, and watch a promising career crash and burn in the rearview mirror — but this is where it becomes clear that a promising future is only useful if you want what it’s promising. I think it is the job of the media to promote understanding — to provide citizens with all the aspects of the issue, so that they can make their own informed decision. If I found myself in a job where this was no longer my mandate, I only hope I would have Nagata’s courage to stand up for journalism. (Although I hope I would be a little more humble about it.)

The things Nagata is describing are particularly prevalent in television news, which works within the confines of shorter items and pretty pictures. I think the trend is also more obvious at the CBC these days, as the organization moves towards boosting ratings by being more like the other guys (if you want a long-time but now former CBC-er’s take on the process of dumbing down the media, please drop in on Andy Clarke. I have a hunch he and Nagata would get along.) And, of course, there is the newest entry into our media landscape: SUN TV. Enough said.

This may all come across as a criticism of mass media in Canada, but it is also a criticism of Canadians. The media have many interests, but one major interest is giving the people what they are asking for/willing to accept, because if you don’t have an audience, you don’t have advertisers (or a legitimate claim on continued funding from the government). So when you see wall-to-wall coverage of Will and Kate in a dragon boat race, just remember we are getting the media we deserve… and it will go on like this until the audience stands up and asks for something different. I think I would also be remiss to leave out the fact that this issue doesn’t just apply to covering federal politics. It covers all levels of government, from the echoing halls of Parliament to the sleepiest town council chambers. It also applies to covering international affairs and multilateral agencies, like the UN or IMF. These are all annals of power, and they all need a watchdog. If not journalists, then who?

That said, I don’t think Nagata’s manifesto applies to all of the media in Canada. There are certainly smaller media outlets that make it their mission to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted” or whatever journalism adage you want to employ (like The Tyee). There are also admirable reporters at the big media outlets who aren’t trying to make any friends (Terry Milewski comes to mind). And there is the point that journalism is about more than holding power to account — some of the best journalism I’ve consumed or produced has been simply about telling a story or sharing a viewpoint, because the more we know about the world around us the better equipped we are to interact with it (I’ve been talking about this New York Times Magazine article for weeks).

But, the general direction the mass media discourse is heading isn’t pretty, if you want to see journalists elevating the debate instead of letting it get lost in the sound and fury (and fascinators). Just months ago, thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in Tahrir Square to demand the very rights that Canada’s major media outlets are squandering. So whatever your political stripes or ideological leanings, if you value accountable government and public discourse, I think you’d have to agree that Canada needs more Kai Nagatas up in here… as long as they’re willing to work to change the system, instead of quit it altogether.

Brynania uncovered

McGill public affairs made a mini-doc on Rex Brynen’s fabled peacebuilding simulation this spring, and I finally tracked it down. It does a good job of capturing the elements of the sim, from formal meetings to whispers in hallways. The only problem is no one looks tired enough.

The simulation remains one of the most valuable experiences of my master’s degree, and not only because it was when this guy and I became ridiculously close ridiculously fast. (We’ve since concluded that one week of sim bonding is like being friends for three years in real life. It also explains why, more than a year later, we still reminisce about the sim with the excitement of recounting a crazy three-day bachelor party in Vegas where we met Bono and stole a private jet, instead of the 18-hour-per-day laptop-and-coffee marathon that it really was.)

The simulation gave me my first taste of what it’s like to actually go out there and work in development, instead of reading in my cushy office and criticizing what’s going on in the field. Turns out, the world out there is incredibly complex and confusing, even when it’s just a bunch of 20-something McGill students playing make-believe. There are so many choices to be made, and the options are rarely ideal. There are the relationships and informal channels under the surface that foreigners can’t see at first, or may never see at all. And finally, you just can’t know if the information you’re getting is reliable. It felt like running blindfolded and backwards into a minefield.

I can’t say enough about how useful and valuable simulations are, and I think they should be incorporated into the classroom more often. I actually loved the sim so much that this year, I put together an item for CBC Montreal, as well as harassed Brynen until he rewarded me a minor role as a political prisoner — which mostly meant I wrote revolutionary poetry and checked my email 95 times a day. (Bonus: I make a guest appearance in the mini-doc.) The year I participated, I was the head of the U.N. mission. Looking back, it would have been way more fun to be a rebel, so I’ll keep that in mind as a career path if this journalism thing doesn’t work out.

Finally, what I imagine will be the highlight for POLI450/650 students: we finally get to see inside Rex Brynen’s torture chamber, where he is literally rolling the dice. Honestly, I expected it to look a little more like a panic room.

Rex Brynen runs a blog on simulations, if you’re intrigued.