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I don’t think I can finagle this into being about the news media, but since (as previously discussed) House sometimes gets almost as large an audience as the three network evening news shows combined, I think its sociological messages are fair game.

I am a pretty faithful House fan—Hugh Laurie’s misanthropic commentary and my love of weekly mysteries (even trite ones) provide enough enjoyment to make up for what I perceive as a decline in the show’s quality over the last couple of seasons. But tonight’s episode about a brutal dictator from a generic African country rubbed me wrong, and not just because of it’s corny gestures toward wrestling with Big Philosophical Questions.

For those who don’t schedule their Monday evenings around the show (I’m ashamed to admit that we actually got a digital converter box two hours before this year’s season premier in order to catch it), today’s episode found Dr. House and his team treating a genocidal African dictator and wrestling with the implications of restoring him to health.

The problematic element for me was the generic country, which I thought fit too neatly into uncomplicated Western ideas of an unstable African nation. The script’s use of details picked from various African conflicts (ethnic violence, an uprising “in the south,” genocide perpetrated against a once-powerful ethnic minority that sounded an awful lot like “Tutsi,” child soldiers abducted, drugged and forced to commit atrocities, a charismatic and ruthless leader, etc.) and lumping of them into one generic African genocide seemed to play on the audience’s expectations about the Bad Things that happen in Africa. The conflation of conflicts separated by decades and thousands of miles undermined the unique horror of the real conflicts. And it erroneously suggested that those conflicts were interchangeable, apparently bound together by some vague tie of “Africanness.”

And I do know that shows like this have to simplify complicated ideas in order to create satisfying one-hour units of entertainment. They often pull similar tricks of conflation without raising anyone’s hackles—drawing together details of several famous crimes, for example, into a Frankenstein’s monster of a crime that resembles many but duplicates none. But Western thinking about Africa, and especially African conflict, is too important and too fragile for the the usual one-hour drama treatment. I would rather House had avoided the topic entirely than reinforce such simplified and un-useful conceptions of conflict in Africa.

[EDITED to remove photo due to rights concerns.]