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Tigers in Africa - when condescension hits the screens

Crocodile Dundee is a movie that introduced me to faraway lands where time is supposedly known from the position of the sun. Brought up in rainy Britanny, I always found the fixed-magnitude concept somewhat frustrating. Even in Australia Paul Hogan had to roll up his sleeve and look clandestinely at his watch while the blonde was'nt looking, to make sure the Australian clouds hadn't altered his solar expertise. Something to respect the film director for - it was in 1986 and attempts to challenge cultural stereotypes and clichés weren't as prevalent in Hollywood blockbusters as today, at the end of a string of series of calamities from Out of Africa to Tears of the sun and Blood Diamond.

Needless to say, Americans aren't the only ones to fail the challenge. This year, the French are putting their shoulder to the wheel. A wheel that they still seem to think is missing on the African continent. French channel TF1 has set up the third episode of "La ferme célébrités", shooting in South Africa. The French version of the reality TV show "Get me out of here I'm a celebrity"  was brought to my attention by French friends holidaying in South Africa.

-You will never believe who we saw at the airport in Johannesburg!


-No. What's his name and what's her face. And Johnny Halliday's ex wife. And that girlfriend of Sylvester Stallone.One of them was wearing a huge hat with long ostrich feathers!

Imagine sixteen French celebrities locked up in a game reserve in Natal called Zulu Nyala farm, just a few hours from Durban. All 1800 hectares! The wild continent of Africa. Joseph Conrad's heart of darkness. You get the picture.

Every week one contestant gets evicted. But Olivier le ranger, the Farm mentor who happens to be French, is there to help them face the African beasts throughout their 10-week journey in the savannah. "Here, in Africa, there is no time, says the sun-bleached, long-haired, barechested guru. We function with the sun, and we make a difference between important and urgent things. Anyway it's cool, hey? (sic)"

So much so, that the little crowd of celebrities, all dressed up in their compulsory khaki safari outfits, happily complete their duties: running after ostriches, taking care of the python, walking cheetahs on the leash - all apparently very "common" activities in Africa. Angela Lorente, the French producer, is 100% positive. "It is entertainment more than anything, but we get the chance to know more about humankind at the same time. " So much so that the candidates learn about how women can be exchanged for cattle -trivialising the cultural concept of lobola-; how to deal with electricity blackouts; how to make fire and so on.

It reminded me of a recent film, Avatar. People are raving about the 3D blue people and the supposed diatribe against the war on terror of the Bush regime. What a fraudulently noble gesture? The film continues the American holier-than-thou tradition of the John Wayne frontier Westerns, only this time disguised by billions of dollars worth of never-heard-of techniques. The native population gets painted blue and granted unrealistic animal-like physiques. A blue skin and a tail. Zebra stripes. Udders out. The blue stripey people must owe their deliverance to Jake, the white messiah condescending to be stirred by his communion with nature and natives: "You have been chosen", said the blue girl, and then she forgave him for several blunders equivalent to crimes against blue-manity.

The cliches seem to satisfy the needs of millions of viewers. Avatar will be the most profitable film of all times according to humble director James Cameron, whilst The French farm in Africa, hopefully bound to be sent to the oubliette of French culture, will leave a sweet'n sour taste of wild African adventures in millions of western viewer's mouths.

Meanwhile the celebrities continue their trip for a comfortable salary of R500 000 a week. It is 20.04 according to Olivier-the-ranger's solar time. One of the celebrities drives back from his afternoon safari to share his exploits with the rest of the contestants. Africa hasn't been good to him today: "Argh man, I only saw tigers".

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