I love Hoda Afshar's portraits and videos from Manus Island (it's Australia's Refugee Devil's Island - you go in but you n...
Wednesday, 30 May 2018
The Spiderman of Paris Story Happy Ending? Let's see
I saw the video of the spiderman in France and it just didn't strike me as quite right. There are all kinds of reasons why it is right, and why it is a good thing that it is right, especially considering the hero, Mamoudou Gassama., has gone through such a gruelling journey involving time in Libyan ... It's amazing to think that refugees who went through pre-2012 Libya had it easy in comparison.
Anyway, he climbed up the balcony, rescued the child, came down, got made a citizen of France, and has an internship to the fire service. What's bad about that? It's a great rags to riches story.
Nothing except the whole storyline stinks. First of all it is a storyline. And it's a bad storyline. It's this sudden arc that reads like it was written on the back of a fag packet. And the backdrop to the story is the forced closure of migrant camps around Paris a few days before - making 1,700 already marginally housed people even more margiinal. With one finger you giveth, with the other nine you taketh away.
Second, the story isn't finished. This isn't rags-to-riches. It's a tragedy. You can play it out over two days and it has a happy ending. Play it out over a little longer and see what happens. It's the same as always happens with migrant focussed stories. Because packed tightly inside this rags-to-riches story is the flipside. The flip side of being worthy to become a French citizen, is the idea that if you're not a hero you're not worthy. What if you're a bit morally suspect, what if you're a bit of a failure, what if you have some kind of a questionable past, what if you have done something illegal, then what? Are you not worthy?
This heroism is a fantasy heroism, but behind it there's a real man with real traumas, and real failings which will be put under the spotlight to further the ends of the status quo. The story doesn't end with getting citizenship and an internship. That's the beginning. Anyone who has made that journey and experienced what Gassama has experienced will have difficulties in settling into this new, supposedly idyllic routine of being a French citizen with an internship in the fire service. Make a list of them and it's just about everything that matters. If you are serious about helping him, then you provide services for Gassama and others in his situation that address those needs; needs to do with health, housing, education, language, community etc etc. If you don't, your actions are empty and are part of the problem, precisely because you are setting up the story for a different kind of ending.
The happy story of Mamoudou Gassama isn't over. It's just beginning. It stretches into the future. Positioning a man in this unrealistic role is part of a status quo because in the long run, without addressing what really matters, there will be a fall, and that becomes and reinforces the bigger story which, once the exceptional bravery is over, is the one of land clearances in Paris, and forced returns and quotas in the UK. Behind every story of the hero, the non-heros lmass in their thousands, behind every story of the deserving poor, there are the non-deserving poor. And that's what this story is all about.