Reading Achebe’s “An Image of Africa” reminded me of the storm of criticism that occurred when Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller Eat, Pray, Love was turned into a film in 2010. (I admit I haven’t read the book or watched the movie.)
Articles and blog posts (and their comment sections) were full of jokes and criticisms of how the protagonist in Eat, Pray, Love was a first-world, privileged woman simply using the people in India and Indonesia as accessories for a “canned spirituality” to gain “self-actualization” and “empowerment.” I found these insights to be very reminiscent of Achebe’s criticism of Conrad and his “fixation on blackness” (345). African “savagery” and eastern “meditative ethereality” are somehow made cooler and edgier in these works through setting without actually talking about these cultures and peoples.
Both Heart of Darkness and Eat, Pray, Love have messages that are supposed to connect to a universal nature of some sort (I’m stretching for a similarity here), but they do so by depicting these developing and third-world countries as a first-world person’s playground. The meanings gained are how the first-world privileged are affected by their experiences rather than what the people in the countries they visited are really like (and treating them as actual people). While I don’t think it dilutes the meanings that Conrad and Gilbert were imparting in their works, being aware of this fact, I think, is important.
Anyhow, it was a fun little similarity I found in Achebe’s essay that still seems to pop up in criticism today. (The picture above is from the past NBC show Outsourced, which I also have not seen.)