The Influence of Western Media in Dogeaters and Half of a Yellow Sun

Categories: Literature

Western Media in Dogeaters and Half of a Yellow Sun Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters, set in the Philippines, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, set in Nigeria, are both novels by non-Western authors that take place in non-Western countries. However, one of the themes of each text is Western influence. Film and literature are major vehicles for Western influence on the characters of these novels. American movies, television, and celebrities play a big role in Filipino culture in Dogeaters, and British and American literature is popular but controversial in Half of a Yellow Sun.

Books and movies in these works are a sign of colonialism, but also a marker of success as seen by the characters – they try to emulate what they see in Western media, and even aim to be performers or creators themselves. Intertextuality and the references to Western media as compared to native media in these two novels reveal how Western, colonialist power is enforced through entertainment and education, but also how it can be used to counteract Western influence.

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Hagedorn and Adichie frame their novels so as to underscore the importance of media.

Rio, the main narrator of Dogeaters, begins and ends her account of growing up in the Philippines with American movies. Dogeaters opens with Rio explaining that “All That Heaven Allows is playing … In this perfect picture-book American tableau, plaid hunting jackets, roaring cellophane fires, smoking chimneys, and stark winter forests of skeletal trees provide costume and setting for Hollywood’s version of a typical rural Christmas” (Hagedorn 3).

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Filipino culture and experience is central to this novel, yet it starts out by describing an American film and American culture. This suggests that American influence is woven into Filipino society and entertainment, an idea that is supported throughout the book and by the way Rio begins the last part of her story. She writes that is it “maybe 1960 or 1961. West Side Story plays to a standing room-only audience” (Hagedorn 241). American movies are very popular; the American entertainment industry has extensive influence even outside of the United States, and their movies have a big impact in previously-colonized countries like the Philippines. The fact that Rio frames her narrative with two American movies emphasizes the extent to which Western influence permeates her country, at least during this time period. Everything that happens in her parts of the novel – and even events that occur outside of this stretch of time, since she begins the book and one of the last chapters is also hers are contained by two examples of Western influence. The more serious political events in the book are juxtaposed with these and other mentions of media, but this structuring of the novel suggests that not only do Western countries have an influence on entertainment in Filipino culture, but that their involvement has influenced the political corruption of the Philippines.

Adichie also uses recurring examples of literature in Half of a Yellow Sun; several of her chapters end with excerpts from a novel that readers first assume is written by Richard, since he is introduced as an Englishman hoping to write “a brilliant novel” while in Nigeria (Adichie 69).

Even late in Half of a Yellow Sun, the true author of the excerpts is hidden, as Richard thinks of the title, “The World Was Silent When We Died” and plans to “write it after the war, a narrative of Biafra’s difficult victory” (Adichie 469). For most of Adichie’s novel, it seems that this clearly important work, which tells the overarching story that Adichie writes through the eyes of a few characters – a text within a text – is written by a white, privileged foreigner. Though it is Adichie, a native Nigerian (though she later moved to the UK), writing Half of a Yellow Sun, within the context of the book it is this outsider that gets to tell the story of Biafra’s struggle to the world.

This is one sign that Western writing is prioritized in Nigerian culture. However, toward the end, after Ugwu begins writing about his and others’ experiences, he asks Richard if he’s still working on his book; Richard replies “No… The war isn’t my story to tell, really,” and Ugwu nods, because “he had never thought that it was” (Adichie 530-531). Although Richard learns a lot about Nigeria and does live through the Biafran war, he is still a privileged outsider. Half of A Yellow Sun ends with a note about The World Was Silent When We Died, saying that “Ugwu writes his dedication last: For Master, my good man” (Adichie 541). It is finally revealed that the excerpts are from a book written not by a Westerner but a native Igbo Nigerian who experiences a wide range of situations, from being a member of a small village, to working for a professor, to being a soldier in an ill-prepared army. However, Ugwu is still influenced by Western culture.

Adichie shows that although Western influence has had a large impact on Nigeria, it is the right of Nigerians to be able to tell their story.

Ugwu starts becoming aware of Western influence when he starts working for Odenigbo, who shows him how books can both support and combat colonialist power. When he enrolls Ugwu in school, Odenigbo tells him: There are two answers to the things they will teach you about our land: the real answer and the answer you give in school to pass. You must read books and learn both answers. I will give you books, excellent books. They will teach you that a white man named Mungo Park discovered River Niger. That is rubbish. Our people fished in the Niger long before Mungo Park’s grandfather was born (Adichie 14).

An important theme in Half of a Yellow Sun is the idea that Western influence enforces colonialist ideals and beliefs in Nigerian culture; many American and European books in schools give a Western perspective to Nigerian students rather than teach them the truth about their own people and history. Odenigbo shows Ugwu that colonial influence still has a lot of power; his education will demand their perspective. However, he also feels it is important for Ugwu to learn the other side of things. By writing Half of a Yellow sun, Adichie herself is trying to represent accurate experiences of Nigerians and the Biafran war. Odenigbo further discusses the conflict of Western influence when comforting Olanna about his mother; he tells her that “of course she will feel threatened by an educated woman living with her son… The real tragedy of [a] postcolonial world is not that the majority of people had no say in whether or not they wanted this new world; rather, it it that they have not been given the tools to negotiate this new world” (Adichie 129).

Many Nigerians seem to be aware of some of the problems that can arise from Western influence in books, to a certain extent. They view a Western education as threatening because it is so different from what so many Nigerians are familiar with; furthermore, Western education can present ideas and views that are contrary to what Nigerians want. However, education can also be a tool to help people succeed, and introduce new ideas. Characters with more formal and extended educations, like Odenigbo and Olanna, have a lot of resources to discuss their country’s political situations.

In Dogeaters, American movies shape how Filipinos view their own culture and show how associations with Western culture are tied to their ideas of success. Successful or notable native Filipinos are compared with American celebrities, such when talk show host Cora Comacho is called “the Barbara Walters of the Philippines,” or a televised singing show contestant is lauded as “THE BARBRA STREISAND OF THE PHILIPPINES!” (Hagedorn 2.

176). Western entertainers are the standard to which Filipino entertainers are compared; they strive to reach their success and put Filipino culture into an American framework, instead of emphasizing media that is uniquely Filipino. The more nationalist Senator Avila “describes [the country] as a complex nation of cynics, descendants of warring tribes which were baptized and colonized to death by Spaniards and Americans, as a nation betrayed and then united only by [their] hunger for glamour and [their] Hollywood dreams” (Hagedorn 101). Western media and the concept of Hollywood is exciting to many Filipinos, because colonialism has imposed a preference for the excess of American culture. Since Western countries previously had control in the Philippines, Western culture represents power and therefore success. According to Rio’s father, Filipino radio drama “Love Letters appeals to the lowest common denominator… It’s the same reason the Gonzagas refuse to listen to Tagalog Songs, or go to Tagalog movies” (Hagedorn 12). Western culture is prioritized over Filipino culture due to the power implicated in colonialist influence, so many Filipinos associate it with success and wealth. Several characters in the book have goals of performing or working in the entertainment industry. Romeo competes in the aforementioned singing show, and later tried to audition for a movie, arguing with a guard that his friend “Tito (Alvarez] said he’d recommend [him) for a screen test” (Hagedorn 127). As a poorer, less powerful citizen, Romeo aspires to the glamorous life promised to movie stars by the American media. In contrast, Rio claims, “When I grow up, I’m moving to Hollywood… I’m going to make movies… Not act in them!” (Hagedorn 240-241). She, too, longs for a taste of Western influence, but she wants to shape what people see instead of simply participating in the culture. By telling her own account, if somewhat misremembered and fictionalized according to her cousin Pucha, Rio makes it clear that she likes telling stories and thinks it’s important.

Perhaps Rio wants the power associated with American films, but hopes to use it to show everyone, including her own country, the unique realities that differ from what is portrayed in Western entertainment.

Hagedorn and Adichie use media to portray Western influence in Dogeaters and Half of a Yellow Sun. In Dogeaters, American films, television, and celebrities represent success in Filipino culture, and many Filipinos strive to achieve similar success in the entertainment industry. The focus on Western media shows how strong colonial powers continues to be; a preference for it undermines national power and culture and enforces Western ideals among Filipinos. It’s clear that film offers glamorous ideas to occupy people and motivate materialism, through a Western lens. In Half of a Yellow Sun, it’s shown that literature can both uphold colonialist perspectives and ideals, especially through education, but also provide power to Nigerians to learn other views and express their own. Books have the power to influence the interpretation of events. Both novels contain characters who hope to perform in or create media, sometimes for material gain, but also simply to tell stories. Hagedorn and Adichie emphasize the importance of narrative and show that the way it is conveyed, and by whom, is very powerful. They use intertextuality to reveal a major Western influence exists in their cultures, as well as how it can be changed.

 

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The Influence of Western Media in Dogeaters and Half of a Yellow Sun. (2022, Apr 11). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/the-influence-of-western-media-in-dogeaters-and-half-of-a-yellow-sun-essay

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