This was easily the best Super Bowl show
A lot of times, when it seems like celebrities die in bunches, it’s just a product of our need to search for pattern, our instant awareness of anything that happens anywhere, our public mourning, and the sheer number of famous people meeting the normal rate of human attrition. It’s a normal thing that is elevated into a big deal, and we all pretend there is something cruel and unusually hideous going on.
That’s the case this year, though. Bowie and Prince, man. It’s a legitimate artistic and human loss. Two of the (the two most?) idiosyncratic geniuses in 20th-century music, whose influence goes far beyond their songs. But even if you didn’t know that, and don’t think influence matters, there’s the music. Prince’s pulsing, experimental, sexual and raw and controlled and inventive and weird and amazing sound spanned decades, but never defined them, because he stood apart, on top. He contributed some influence to every musician, but could anyone touch him? There’s literally no one like him, and there never will be. There probably never could be, again. How can someone be like Prince when Prince already existed?
Hassan Ngeze was a touch and hyper-verbal little criminal in Rwanda, one of those guys who is too smart for his station, but clinically unable to be anything but a criminal. It was his instinct. He insinuated himself with the clan surrounding Rwanda’s President Juvenal Habyarimana; or, more specifically, the cruel inner circle of the First Lady, Madame Agathe, the circle out of which Hutu Power spread. It’s a cliche to say that the Madame and her family were the real power, both political and intellectual, behind the throne, but it is nonetheless true.
This is the circle to which Ngeze was drawn, and his skills made themselves valuable. He was appointed as Editor-in-Chief of Kangura, a pro-government newspaper whose name roughly translates as “Wake Them Up!” It was there he really hit his stride. The most famous publication under him was the “Hutu 10 Commandments“. This list jumped around between assaults on Tutsi women (the main target), bureaucratic racism against Tutsis, buried in the middle, #8: “Hutus must cease having pity for the Tutsi.”
It worked. Kangura, along with Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines, helped create an atmosphere of fear and paranoia and violence that helped spur murderous insanity of the genocide. Ngeze stepped up his role during the killing, passing out names of targets, but in a way those were his secondary crimes. Ngeze, along with RTLMC’s Ferdinand Nahimana and Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, were put on trial for inciting genocide, and convicted for their role. These were the first propagandists to be convicted of war crimes since Julius Streicher, the violently anti-Semitic publisher of Der Sturmer, the clear antecedent to Kangura.
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