Media, Magic, and the Multilevel Network

“A woman who’d been walking down the middle of the busy dirt road that passed through the market wanted to throw her mobile phone away. She’d never liked mobile phones. She knew it sounded crazy, but she had always been sure that they could do more than anyone let on. She had a feeling that they could watch you. That they could speak to you at night when you were asleep and brainwash you.”

Okorafor, Nnedi. Lagoon (p. 277). Saga Press. Kindle Edition.

Okorafor’s novel pushes the limits of the network narrative beyond her readers’ typical capacity, pairing a magical and folklorish use of widespread animal communication (the spider’s web and the enlightened bat’s sonar) with hyper-advanced media technology that helps to align the novel with the scifi genre. This overlapping is most apparent as Okorafor chooses to call Ch. 54, which portrays the President’s speech taking over every single screen in Nigeria, “Spider’s Threads.” I think this is what makes Okorafor particularly unique: throughout this semester we have seen stories portraying the asocial results of hyper-connectivity, as well as the way in which it leads to environmental decay. However, in Lagoon, the President’s sudden and powerful control over mass media, thanks to Ayodele, not only connects Nigeria politically but also, yet again, magically to their physical environment. The president temporarily acts as the spider whose web connects Nigeria as Ayodele simultaneously becomes a fog that everyone inhales–it is connectivity on multiple ecological and social levels. What is more, as the selected quote shows, Okorafor refuses to separate the power of advanced media technology from the mysticism that defines her portrayal of Lagos. Everything–music, magic, media, and Ayodele’s atoms–is contained in the soil of Lagos.

Media and Perspective

That afternoon, the church was packed, thanks to the television, newspaper, and radio, though not so much the Internet.  According to the media, the water along all the beaches was “rising at an alarming rate!” and pushing into the lagoon.  Government buildings and independent businesses were all “closed until further notice!”  There had been an “excruciatingly loud racket tumbling off the ocean.”  Something was amiss, and everyone was getting ready for whatever would come next.  (58)

Throughout Lagoon, we are presented with a staggering multitude of perspectives and, on more than one occasion, multiple accounts of the same event.  In doing so, Okorafor very clearly provides readers with the idea that simply because two people witnessed the same occurrence does not mean that they will interpret that occurrence the same way; in fact, Lagoon almost seems to posit that it is impossible for one person to absorb something in the same way as another.  The presence of the media in the novel only complicates this.  In the passage above, it can be garnered from the three separate quotations that there are multiple outlets reporting on the events taking place in Lagos, and the fact that there are clashing reports–all engendering paranoia of some sort–demonstrates the way in which a different perspective on an event can work towards obscuring that event just as much as it could work toward elucidating it.  In spite of all the information the people of Lagos are being given, nothing is concrete- and as a result, they are not preparing for any danger in specific, only “whatever would come next”.

“He” and “I” in Okorafor’s Media Representation

The boy was there. He had no mobile phone. He had never touched a computer. The cramped room he shared with seven other homeless boys and no television. He had no access to any type of screen, large or small. He hadn’t even been immunized against polio. But he was there. (123)

I was there. To be specific, I was in the Testament Cyber Cafe, not far from Bar Beach… Yet there I was in the cyber cafe totally unconcerned, and up to no good. Okay, so I was good at it. I was good at being up to no good. I was good at 419. Nigerian Internet fraud. (194)

I chose to compare these two excerpts because what Okorafor is presenting us with here is an interesting balance between identity, technology, and media. Okorafor introduces the mute boy in the aforementioned scene through the third person, because seemingly he cannot articulate what is going on in his own life. The use of the third person seems conspicuous because we know that being mute does not affect one’s thought processes; but it seems that Okorafor attributing the lack of identity for this individual to his lack of participation in the media of the novel – at least in the way that he does not participate in the technological part of it. Obviously this little boy plays an instrumental part in the novel, and in terms of what the media is representing, he experiences it first hand, whereas most only experience the actions of the book through some type of media representation (YouTube, news columns, etc.). This seems to point at the fact that many people believe that media – particularly social media – is the best way to represent and be your “true self.” Now, I wouldn’t say that Okorafor believes this, since when we look at the other excerpt with “Legba” we can understand his identity through technology and through different types of media to be false – as he is an expert at fraud. Why then should he get an entire chapter to himself in which he is the  main focalizer and voice?

 

Personal note:

Thinking through with Neuromancer and with the cyber cafes in Lagoon, have you ever walked through a casino – like the Bethlehem Sands – and just seen the people mindlessly pulling the levers, oblivious to the world around them? This reminded me of the cyber cafe where everyone just ignored what was going on until if finally crashed in on them.

Also, in terms of technology, many science fiction stories deal with the idea of connecting ourselves to technology, and beyond the obvious connection we have to phones and the internet, I was thinking about our connection to cars. As a commuting student who is put in many tight situations on the major highways coming to school everyday, I would physically get sick if someone crashed into my car – where did this empathy for physical objects come from? Maybe Phillip Dick can help me figure that one out.

The future of science fiction is already upon us!