By Dr Tafataona Mahoso
A GOOGLE entry on the origins of facebook simply states:
“It began at Harvard University in 2003 as ‘facemash’, an online service for students to judge the attractiveness of their fellow students.”
Attractiveness here was presumed to be purely physical.
The popularity of the service depended on exploiting an overvisualised culture dating back to the birth of television.
That culture is partly responsible for the rhetoric of ‘new faces’ and ‘new blood’ meaning the replacement of ideology with the appearance of youth which often dominates political discourses during political campaigns in many countries around the world today.
This approach threatens to turn opposing political contests into farcical beauty pageants.
The name Taliban comes from ‘talib’, meaning student in Arabic.
The Afghan movement called Taliban today, who now govern Afghanistan, began as a group of religious students from Afghanistan exiled in Pakistan in the 1990s.
When one looks up the word Taliban, most English language sources start with the formation of the Taliban as a movement and quickly go on to its associations with terrorism, religious fanaticism, mysogyny, intolerance and brutality.
What is left out is the period during which US intelligence services supported the Taliban movement in Afghanistan with a view to deploying them against forces of the former Soviet Union which, at the time, occupied Afghanistan.
In other words, the Taliban, at one time, were marketed like any other ‘youth’ movement selected for Western sponsorship, that is, marketed as representing ‘new faces’ and ‘new blood’ for the otherwise exhausted, war-weary and conservative society, culture and nation of Afghanistan.
In the wake of the Russian special military operation on Ukraine, Western propaganda outlets circulated pretty pictures of the current Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife, Madam Olena Zelenska, so as to attract the world’s sympathy for the Ukrainian side, to humanise the Ukrainian leadership while demonising the Russians.
The couple were pictured as clean-shaven ordinary people in plain t-shirts, without any hint of, or association with, the vicious war, NATO, corruption or the alleged Ukrainian ethnic cleansing against Russian minorities.
At the time the young comedian Zelensky won elections against former President Petro Poroshenko in 2019, he and his generation were also marketed as representing new faces and new blood which would shed all vestiges of the Soviet legacy in Ukraine as it turned West.
The reality has turned out to be the tragedy of a NATO proxy war which characterises Ukraine today.
In African aesthetics and political history, the linear, overvisualised depictions of the succession of generations has always been treated with skepticism.
African philosophy is a relational philosophy which discourages binary thinking and the dependency on appearances for meaning creation.
The terms ‘new faces’ and ‘new blood’ ironically foreground departure, division and fragmentation.
This way of communicating is excellent for marketing.
In African philosophy, it is the voice and the spirit which represent and express connection, linkage and coherence.
After all, according to real science, there is no point in history which can be pinpointed as the place and time where old blood ended and new blood started.
And ‘new faces’ have often been exposed as masks for the most backward and discredited ideas.
Zelensky’s legacy may end up being that of the pretty and smiling face that masked the most vicious proxy war for NATO against Russia.
The long-term losers may be Zekensky’s own people.
So African aesthetics has tended to prefer the voice and spirit over the face.
Its view of blood in succession has tended to remain faithful to genetics, stressing the bloodline as continuous and continuing. The new blood, in fact, reveals and bears ancient genes.
In Zimbabwe’s own installation of the Mbuya Nehanda monument, at the strategic intersection of Samora Machel Avenue and Julius Nyerere Way, there were no arguments over her face.
In 1896, she happened to wear the body and face of Charwe.
But the freedom fighters who made Mbuya Nehanda a household name in the Second Chimurenga did so through songs which expressed her voice and spirit, the continuing message being: ‘Tora gidi uzvitonge….’
In our own African upbringing, the dangers of overvisualisation of reality at the expense of other channels of perception were dramatised through exaggeration in order to bring home the point.
“Kuona roro kutsvuka kunze, nyamba mukati makadyiwa nemakonye.”
“Kuona onde kutsvuka kunze, imo mukati mune honye.”
“Matende mashava, anovavisa doro.”
And when we attended mission schools, this African bias against overvisualisation influenced even the way we heard popular lyrics on radio or at the disco.
The lyrics of the Beatles’ song, ‘I am looking through you’ were particularly striking and we misheard some of them according to our orientation against the overvisualisation of so-called beauty. Here are some of the lines:
“I thought I knew you, what did I know?
You don’t look different, but you have changed.
Your lips are moving, but the words aren’t clear.
Your lips are moving, I cannot hear”
The double play on ‘moving’ lips was particularly nice and instructive, suggesting motion as well as capacity to stir up feelings.
In conclusion, the emphasis on new faces and new blood in contemporary political discourse is typical of linearised hostility against linkage and articulation of coherent ideas in favour of appearance, impression and style.
In the context of neo-colonialism, it may signal the push to overthrow existing relationship of independence and autonomy in what has come to be known as the regime change agenda.