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.

The Phasing Out of Story Mediums

“Jordan wore a black T-shirt with a drawing of a marijuana leaf in the center…He stood up straight and stamped a Timberland boot on the floor… ‘You think it’s some Orwellian shit?…Like that War of the Worlds radio broadcast back in the day that caused all that panic?'” (302)

“There’s a ‘witch slapping’ scene in Lagoon. Are there self-proclaimed holy men slapping the so-called witchcraft out of women? Yes. See for yourself at: youtube.com/watch?v=bfeGpcmfMBA.” (306)

When I saw Okorafor’s comment at the end of Lagoon (in which she gives further insight to some elements of the story), I immediately wondered how quickly the link would expire — or, even further, when YouTube itself would no longer exist and the link be wholly unusable. I paired this with a scene in the extra chapter at the end of the novel, which not only gives the story a specific era in terms of fashion (the marijuana leaf shirt and the Timberland boots) but also brings up a question of the inevitability of the phasing out of technology and whether stories will surpass this phasing. The character, Jordan, brings up the radio drama adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of The Worlds, which first premiered in 1938. While radio dramas have mostly gone out of style (largely due to the introduction of television), the tale of The War of the Worlds radio drama lives on. Jordan’s comparison of the “The President of Nigeria Saved by Witches and Warlocks” YouTube video to the infamous radio drama doesn’t seem to be accidental; Okorafor may be toying with the notion that, while the mediums these stories are presented on may eventually phase out, the stories themselves may survive.

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”.