King of the Jungle

a scene from the Lion KingLooks like Prince William’s been listening to Toto

The latest in the royal baby craze is news about baby-and-future-king George’s nursery theme.  If you haven’t been paying attention to the news (soon to be featured in grocery checkout lines, no doubt), you may not know that the new parents are decking out their baby’s room with an “African theme.”

This was revealed in an CNN special, Prince William’s Passion: New Father, New Hope, which will be aired in September (but which is already being advertised).  Now, the roles of media hype and royal “traditions” have been debated upside-down and sideways. Depending on your own persuasions, that baby may be none of our business in the first place. But I have to admit that the African-inspired nursery buzz struck me.  William apparently wants his son to “experience the same Africa that he saw as a boy” and encourage the wee one to share his own passion for endangered species.  This will happen, obviously, by putting a bunch of “toy elephants and rhinos around the room.”

A couple of quick things that need not distract CNN viewers from the new father’s happy complaints about sleep-deprivation and changing the baby’s diapers:

1. “Africa” is not a monolith.  The Africa that interests Prince William and for which he advocates is a particular one indeed, hearkening back to a sort of romanticism à la The Lion King (remember the headlines right after George’s birth that used the same image from the cartoon as the one above?) and reminiscent of Kate and Bogie roaring down the river in The African Queen (British good intentions included).  That Africa is the one that translates nicely to Disney movies and romantic adventures, not to mention nursery decor.

2. Where constructions of certain Africas in consumer imaginations are concerned, another specific historical context is present here: that of British colonial power and imperial interests.  In this regard, the Africa that William is interested in is the Africa that Matt Lauer brought into the homes of Today viewers in an exposé, promoting safaris and “one of the oldest cultures on earth” to a certain demographic: people who can afford first-class resort accommodations, which also make an appearance in the piece.  Enjoying this Africa costs a lot of money!  The efforts of Britain’s imperial machine made Africa an item of consumption in lots of different ways for hundreds of years.  And now we’re still buying, selling, and advertising “Africa” as an exotic land of mystery and intrigue.  Since the buying and selling is cast in the kindler, gentler language of advocacy and awareness instead of imperial expansion, the royals’ aesthetic innovations strike many only as…well, JUST the cutest thing.

Because, like with the moniker “George,” which is rocketing to the top of the list of popular baby names, Africa may well become all the rage.  And you can enjoy it from the comfort of your own home!  Some grassland wallpaper here, a stuffed giraffe there, and voilà! You’ve just helped your infant appreciate the wide world outside its nursery…with just a quick word from our sponsors: This cozy scene of home furnishing and child development was brought to you by centuries of “cultural” exportation and empire building.  Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.  Hakuna Matata!

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