Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"If He Hollers Let Him Go" and "An Interview With Mona Eltahawy"

Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah and Yasmine El Rashidi have both set out to interview a controversial and outspoken person in Dave Chappelle and Mona Eltahawy. While Mona prides herself in her activist, visible role in her particular community, Dave turns away from it and moves to his hometown in Ohio, away from the eyes of the people who had come to respect and appreciate him. Rashidi gets to thoroughly interview her subject; Ghansah does not. When I sat down to write this I hadn't even thought how the two interviews (or better said, case studies of a particular person) were similar because the two subjects were so different. But now it's obvious to me how you could compare and contrast the two.

While Rashidi's interview is primarily a classic question and answer structure, Ghansah writes from her own perspective and gives a deep amount of background about Dave, his upbringing, his cultural effect, and those who know him well. Her interviews with Dave's old business partner, his mother, and other influential black comedians help characterize the person who she could not interview. In the end she even has the opportunity to speak to Dave, but chooses not to based on what she has learned about him. Her interviews are also written in the prose format rather than question and answer. She is detailed enough that anyone could read her piece and leave with some understanding of who Chappelle is without even knowing who he was in the first place.

Rashidi's piece, however, is written as if the reader is well aware of who Mona Eltahaway is, or at least what she stands for. The piece she wrote for Foreign Policy is referenced throughout with very little context clues to go on about what exactly it is about. If the reader knows very little about the Arab spring or the Muslim Brotherhood, they will be very lost as there is little to no explanation. I had to do a lot of research to understand quite a few of the subject matters that they touched on. However, I don't think Rashidi's intended audience was the average Joe who isn't at least somewhat aware of who Mona is, and that should be taken into account.

In both cases, the writer certainly places significance and importance on their subjects in almost the same way as being a voice for young people who they represent. It is just very interesting to consider how each interviewee accepts this role - while Mona embraces and revels in it, Chappelle rejects it in favor of privacy and desire not to be sold out as a poster figure.