Monday, November 18, 2013

Chemotherapy for the Soul

The sunday school is behind a glass panel with a clear view of the pulpit... with two big screen T.Vs suspended above which carry a live feed of the stage, delivering a higher definition service to the kiddies. The faint traces of childhood that are scattered around, cut outs of goofy looking African safari type animals, are placed to the rear of the room and the backs of the young audience who it appears sit in compact, tightly ordered rows - and the room itself is at the furthest end of this here house of G. Ohhhh. D! It seems children aren’t even meant to be seen, let alone heard.

My knees had already buckled a while ago, upon first walking in and being hit by the scent of it - the sweaty carpet smell of stale hope and smug desperation - I’d had to sit down for a moment and brace myself. Now however, my legs stronger and my mind grasping the corporate scale of it, disbelieving expletives interspersed by awkward sorries flow in the semi-whisper I still feel obliged to use in “places of worship”. Thank God it was empty. No one to hear it. No one to insult. No one to try convince me that Jesus, this version of him anyway - Jesus of instead-of-going-to-the mall-on-sunday-morning, Life Coach Jesus of the 2 hour guilt workout - is the way, the truth, the light.

Under my breath I laugh for the full 30 minutes we are there and take vicarious joy in the idea that the people who brought me are charging top dollar to do what they have been tasked with by the leader of this charismanic electric meadow. How had this place come to be? And, as overused as the question is, how many of God’s children could all this have fed, taught or healed? What would Jesus do? And is there enough petrol and matches in the world for me try to answer that question regarding this particular building? There is nothing in the whole place that isn’t bigger or more extravagant than it needs to be, and there are even seats with reserved signs on them. The equation seems simple: the more you tithe, the closer you get to pastor; the closer you are to pastor, the closer you are to Gawd! - the foundation of a shame based economy... pay for your sins, then go back to work on monday and find something to absolve yourself of at next week's service. The room looks like it can seat more than 3000 people per service. And they have more than one service on more than one day a week... business is good.

I find myself silently thankful that I missed all this... that I decided that I believed in the truth of Jesus’ words whether he’d risen from the dead or not, or if he’d even really existed at all, and went awol before churches had air conditioners as big as those of shopping centres. The cold sweat I’d felt at the thought of my own religious daze-gone-by fades under the static fluorescence. But I still can’t get over the smell. What I imagine an empty nightclub or casino smells like on a tuesday morning, without the unholy cigarette smoke.

I start itching to leave, and thank God, again, that their measurements are done... Its a large space and it will keep them busy and in the black for a while. And if he likes their work, he may pay them to install the next big plaything him and his flock have been blessed with by the grace of the Most High, and their status as a non-taxable entity.

My skin begins to burn like a dry blush as we leave and the breeze that blows  in the parking lot seems that much sweeter, the trees that much greener, and the early dusk, that much more sultry.

And as we drive away toward the cold beer and joint wherever it is we end up, I am convinced I’ve never been so glad, I am a sinner.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Imagining the Worst

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The imagination is by some accounts, feminine. This is not to say that males lack imagination, but that imagination in it’s broadest possible sense, no matter where it is found in nature nor how masculine the medium or context (more on that later), is essentially feminine in it’s being and workings.

I remember the first time I read the idea that males, in the early weeks of their development during gestation, were basically female. I remember reacting quite scathingly to the idea: I was all for equality, and even then considered myself something of a “male feminist” (don’t ask…), but this was going too far! He even went on to argue that the penis tip of a male and the clitoris of a female originated from the same, ummmm, appendage, only becoming what they become once “hormonal changes” in the mother decided the child’s gender. But as it turns out, the good author was mostly right, and until the 9th week of pregnancy the human fetus is essentially androgynous – possessing indistinct qualities of both male and female.
Needless to say, much of my thinking (or should I say, my imagining?) on the subject of gender has had to change over the years for more reasons than I can count, but ultimately settling at the question: Where is the line between men and women, and who, ultimately, is responsible for what?

But back to the imagination… so, if the imagination is female, then what would the “male” psychological equivalent be? (Because, let’s face it, there just has to be a male involved…) Well, most evidence (and as always, there is too little of it to entirely prove the theory) points loosely towards will; the motivation and direction (hard masculinity) to imagination’s beauty, mystery and potential (soft femininity) – two forces in circular motion, throughout the universe… The idea is that the forces of femininity and masculinity run throughout existence, not only creating the balance in which everything exists, but also the (to use the word broadly) conflict from which everything is created; seed and soil, day and night, sailboat and wind, will and imagination.

George Carlin famously said, “Here's all you have to know about men and women: women are crazy, men are stupid. And the main reason women are crazy, is that men are stupid.” And alas, there is no better way to describe the way in which the cosmic wheel has fallen loose in the world (because in all reality, though South Africa is a world leader in the field of women abuse, the reality applies in most places), and has been so for longer than most can remember. Sometimes it is tempting to believe it has always been this way, to turn the page and prepare for tomorrow’s horror story. But where has this stupidity and craziness come from, how did will become stupidity, and imagination – craziness? And more worryingly, where is it going? Will this just keep happening?

Can you imagine, for one moment, that once upon a time in Africa (yes, in Africa…) there was a warrior queen, Nzingha, who fought fiercely and led shrewdly to keep her people free, and a pharaoh, Akhenaten, who was portrayed as (ahem…) “ample” in royal artwork – can you imagine for a moment, that men were nurturers, and women were warriors?

I have spent much of the past few weeks wondering why women aren’t out in the streets; losing their shit, demanding something. Why is feminism in South Africa stuck somewhere between the ANC-Women’s League circa 1950 (you too Hellen Zille…) and Sex and the City (yes, you too Hellen Zille…)?

But then, why aren’t men nurturing it?

What would have happened if Anene Boysen and Reva Steenkamp (and others, everyday) had known that as women, they were warriors, or had their killers known that they were nurturing turmoil to come? Don’t know, it might need a bit more imagination. And will.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Black Face

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You have to hand it to Die Antwoord, they really do know how to cause a scene. Like a jittery skinny kid on too much sugar (and god knows what else), the hip hop group has over turned the dustbin of South African music, and in turn the broader culture, and started banging the empty vessel to the dancey/squirmy/sexy beat of urban nightmares, social disaffection and tribal… whatever, and also to the excitement and consternation of many.

Firstly let me say (initially at least), South Africa needed it. With their music and styling (or should that be styling, then music?), Die Antwoord touched a raw place in the South African psyche that, though it is often alluded to, is rarely explored to its fullest extent. This nerve somewhere in the mind of South Africa is generally one of its tensest areas, where influence and inspiration have mixed feverishly and guiltily far longer and with more fluency than most would care to admit in a context where everything is supposed to have its place, especially historically.

Though the band often hype themselves as originators (a dubious claim considering their influences, that ‘Ninja’ is the last in a line of Waddy Jones alter-egos and he isn’t Afrikaans, and that if you replace the word ‘zef’ with ‘nigga’ and slow the beat down in their songs, it’s pretty banal gansta rap), many other artists and thinkers have done and continue to mine this nervous energy with greater creative range and integrity, like Spoek Mathambo, who was once at the sharp edge of the group’s sentiment for reasons I am not aware. But the scale and sheer, petulant, sometimes-genius-sometimes-doos audacity of their arrival and international success a couple years ago has, at the very least, lit a fire under the ass of an often hopelessly uninspired music industry, and worried the living shit out of anyone in South Africa who likes things static with much, and admirable, aplomb. Exercising their artistic right to offend with their fistful of cross-cultural references and a determined sense of mischief, they have stood out as an emphatic 'fuck you!' to a cultural code so bound by the fear of its own humanity. Yet, in marrying craft so perfectly with viral-marketing in the mire where quick creativity and big money meet, the mire from which Die Antwoord itself launched much like the prawn in their new video, it becomes important to question the (ahem…) muddying of the lines between intent and meaning, especially when this process is exploited so heavily for cash in a society where misappropriation is so much of the problem (e.g. the record companies are STILL stealing Brenda Fassie’s royalties). The reality of the situation is stark; the act, which is essentially the brain child of a middle class english speaking white man, who mines 'the bleks and kullids' for much of the iconography of his content, serving it up with a good sprinkling of 'lower-class Afrikaner Zefness (pty ltd)', is not entirely original, let alone honest - which all gets a bit worrying when they refer to what they do as "An African thing."

For some time now, black people in general have been justifiably incensed by “black face”; which traditionally is white performers ‘blacking-up’ as an offensive caricature of the “stupid-nigger” variation. Why any race would imitate the perceived shortcomings of another as a display of their own supposed superiority is still one of life’s great mysteries, though the mechanism has been used ironically and critically to varied results for a while already, my favourite example being at the end of the “Tiger in Africa” skit in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. So it is to a somewhat mixed response that the world’s favourite rock-spiders go ‘full-black’; the media prematurely “oh, my, gawd!”-ing all over itself, while people are jaded in a year where black face has already been so ruthlessly defanged by a black Swede in a cake (the hipsters sure do love their irony…), and truthfully, two skinny white people doing the jig in black body paint to gain relevance just isn’t the craziest shit that has happened this year – and that’s actually not a bad thing. Besides, “black face” lost all it’s meaning in South Africa when Hellen Zille started toyi-toying. It is also important to note, as someone else noted in response to the oh-so-orchestrated overreaction, that some black tribes use ‘white face’ for various reasons, and that we should just, quite reasonably, get over it. It is however also important to remember that the use of white face paint preceded the ‘arrival of whitey’, and therefore has no real racial inference, which cannot be said for black face.  That said, there is also white face in the video. But I digress.

To be fair it is a dope beat, and the video’s tongue-in-cheek reference to that far off African-neverland to which they quite rightfully crown Lady Gaga the queen is expertly handled by all involved – the year is almost done and South Africans need something to dance to and talk about. But the question begs itself; if Die Antwoord, like Lady Gaga, push sensitive cultural buttons for crass commercial gain (as they often state quite blatantly in their lyrics); do they not also belong to the same neverland?

Let me guess… its part of the joke.