Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “celebs”

The Winnie phenomenon

When I heard the news that Winnie Mandela had died, I was sad. She made a significant contribution to the struggle against apartheid, but I didn’t intend to blog about it because I didn’t know her well enough, and thought I could leave that to people who knew he and could tell her story.

But what has struck me since then is not Winnie Madikizela-Mandela the person, but rather the Winnie phenomenon. And the phenomenon indicates to me that something has changed in our society and our culture, and the change does not seem to be a good one.

The first thing that struck me was that after her death most of the people who had anything to say about he either had nothing good to say about her, or they had nothing bad to say about her. And the few public commentators who did mention both the good and the bad were attacked by the other two groups, heach of which lu8mped them with the other.

There was a kind of polarization there that, it seems to me, had not been there before. For one group, anything written about Winnie had to be hagiographical or it was worthless. And for the other, nothing good that she had ever done could outweigh the evil, whether real or imagined, or planted by the SB.

The second thing that struck me about it was the personality cult.

Nelson Mandela was sometimes praised for many things, but he always shrugged off personal responsibility for them. He would say that if he said anything good he was speaking on behalf of an organisation, the ANC, and that he was simply enunciating policy decisions of the ANC. It was not anything good on his part, but rather he was part of an organisation that was trying to make a better life for all.

And there was a time, in the 1990s, when that really did seem to be true.

I do think that the ANC made some bad decisions in that time, among the worst of them was the abandonment of the RDP, which Nelson Mandela himself had said, right after the 1994 election, was not negotiable. But that too was a collective decision. It wasn’t just Nelson Mandela arbitrarily changing his mind.

The media helped to develop a personality cult mentality.

Day after day, week after week, they presented politicians as celebs. They reported who was in and who was out, who was favoured and who was disfavoured, and the merits of the policies they espoused were not reported on. One didn’t even know what policies they espoused until much later.

So the Winnie phenomenon that has emerged after her death seems to be all about polarisation and personality cult; whether her persona is regarded as good or evil. Those who are not for Winnie are against her, and those who are not against her must be for her.



Forget Chuck Norris — Steve is our man

Some years ago we were driving to Johannesburg along the N1 (when it was still a freeway, not a tollway) and I saw an advertising hoarding (billboard) announcing that Chuck Norris drives a …. (some brand of car).

I commented on this on LiveJournal, and wondered who Chuck Norris was, and discovered that he appeared in a TV series called Walker, Texas Ranger and that there were a lot of sayings about his exploits.

Someone else responded with this:

To Hell with Chuck, Steve is our man

  • Steve Hofmeyer once sakkied with 10 boere Poppies at once
  • Steve Hofmeyer drives a Tata
  • Steve Hofmeyer braais with his fingers
  • Steve Hofmeyer doesn’t support the Bulls, the Bulls support Steve Hofmeyer
  • Steve Hofmeyer doesn’t have a good voice, the microphone is scared of the Hofmeyer and makes his voice perfect
  • When Steve Hofmeyer stares at raw meat it turns to biltong
  • Bles Bridges didn’t die in a car crash Steve Hofmeyer beat him to death with a red rose
  • Steve Hofmeyer doesn’t keep a comb in his sock
  • Morkels gives Steve Hofmeyer any guarantee he wants
  • Steve Hofmeyer repossesses Bob Mugabe’s Farms…
  • Not even Chuck Norris gets as many fathers day cards as Steve Hofmeyer
Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris

Eventually that l;ist disappeared, along with the blog it was posted in, but I thought it was worth preserving as a snapshot of one aspect of South African (and world) culture about 10 years ago.

I don’t really do celebs, or brands, which puts me pretty much out of touch with current pop culture, in which, it appears, celebs and brands are the most important things. So all I really know about Steve Hofmeyer is the list of items above. I know he sings since the microphone is afraid of him. I don’t know whether Chuck Norris sings, and I can’t even remember what brand of car he drives.

Steve Hofmeyer

Steve Hofmeyer

We were reminded of it when we were chatting with a friend over coffee, and reminded of it again when Val got a speeding ticket from Bloemhof, saying that the offence took place at the Bles Bridges monument. We didn’t even know that there was a Bles Bridges monument.

I do know that Bles Bridges was a singer, because of a joke that did the rounds some years ago when Bles Bridges and Allan Boesak got divorced. It was something about an Elna and a Singer and a naaimasjien, but don’t ask me to tell it now, I’ll get it wrong. I heard it from Willem Saayman, of blessed memory (bles my bridges…) but he was sowing rather than sewing. I must end now because I’ve run out of puns.


A tale of two women

When the Roman Pope visited the USA last week, two women made the headlines, and were all over the social media. One was a celeb, the other a saint.

Guess which one got more attention?

Kim Davis

Kim Davis

Kim Davis, a minor celeb, met Pope Francis briefly at a function, and dominated Facebook for the next three days.

I’m not exactly sure what her claim to fame is, but clearly it was sufficiently well known to many people in the USA that it needed minimal explanation, though it seems that the Vatican was moved to give a great deal of explanation, to judge by all the clarifications and denials and explanations and whatever.

And these things were plastered all over Facebook in great profusion. I don’t know about anyone else, but they certainly dominated my newsfeed.

And it was apparent that this was related to the current obsession with sex — in the media, in many Christian denominations, and in many other places.

And it was also apparent that all the fuss over Kim David drew attention away from the other woman, whom Pope Francis had held up as an example to the American government and people — Dorothy Day.

Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day

Dorothy who? asked the mainstream media, and many on social media as well.

Unlike Kim Davis she wasn’t a celeb, and nobody knew much about her.

If you’re reading this, and don’t know who Dorothy Day was, read here, and follow the links Love is the measure: Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker | Khanya. I think she deserves more attention than Kim Davis, and I’m pretty sure Pope Francis thinks so too.

As I said, I don’t know much about Kim Davis and her claim to fame. It seems that a lot of people know enough, or think they do, to make judgements about whether she is a good person or a bad person, and think that that is sufficiently important to say so. I’m not saying anything about Kim Davis, and whether she is good or bad, or has done good or bad things. What does concern me, though, is that a lot of people seem to think it is worth making a mountain out of a molehill, stirring up a storm in a tea cup.

And this provides a marvellous distraction from the elephant in the room.

Dorothy Day was no saint, yet she is being considered for sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church. To understand why, you would need to read her biography Goodreads | All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day by Jim Forest:

Dorothy Day (1897-1980), founder of the Catholic Worker movement, and one of the most prophetic voices in the American Catholic church, has recently been proposed as a candidate for canonization. In this lavishly illustrated biography, Jim Forest provides a compelling portrait of her heroic efforts to live out the radical message of the gospel for our time.

Out of touch with pop culture

In an online discussion the other day, people mentioned Martha Stewart. I thought I’d heard of her — there was a bit of a stir in the media because she went to jail, and so if you asked me, “What do you know about Martha Stewart?” I would say, “She went to jail.” I mean, that’s what she’s famous for, isn’t it?

But it turns out that I was wrong.

It seems she was famous before she went to jail, and that was why the media made a fuss about her going to jail. They just assumed that everyone knew who she was and what she was famous for, and that that would make them interested in reading about her going to jail.

So now I need to look up Martha Stewart, to discover her main claim to fame, apart from going to jail.

But it seems I’m not the only one. Someone else thought Martha Stewart was Martha Graham. I can’t say I’ve heard of Martha Graham either, but I don’t think I read about her going to jail.

Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart

A quick Google search tells me that Martha Stewart is an American businesswoman, writer, convicted felon, television personality, and former fashion model. So I’m not quite as out of touch as I thought I was. “Convicted felon” is up there with the rest of the stuff, it was just the only bit I knew about. And Martha Graham was an American modern dancer and choreographer whose influence on dance has been compared with the influence Picasso had on the modern visual arts, Stravinsky had on music, or Frank Lloyd Wright had on architecture. It seems that she was not a convicted felon, so perhaps that was why I hadn’t heard of her.

But that’s my problem. I just don’t do celebs, so I’m out of touch with pop culture.

That was rubbed in this week when I saw the name of Mark Driscoll all over the social media. There were Tweets about him, for and against him. There were numerous posts on Facebook, and numerous blog posts devoted to Mark Driscoll, and everybody seemed to know who he was. He seemed to be as famous as Roman Pope Francis, in all sorts of circles. Perhaps he was the Protestant Pope.

Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Churcfh

Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Churcfh

But it turns out that Mark A. Driscoll is an evangelical Christian pastor, author, and preaching pastor of Mars Hill Church, a megachurch in Seattle, Washington. Well, it seems that Mars Hill Church is a bit more than a big church in Seattle. It seems to be a new denomination that extends over 5 states in the US. Someone told me that he was well-known in neo-Calvinist circles. All I can say is that there must be an awful lot of crypto-neo-Calvinists among my Facebook friends, and people I follow on Twitter, and on my blogroll, because people who live half a world away from Seattle have been talking about him. Even some Orthodox Christians have mentioned is name in posts.

So, OK, he’s a celebrity pastor, and because I don’t do celebs, I’m surprised when people all over the world are talking about him, in a way that they have not, for example, talking about Fred Modise, whose church seems to have more followers than that of Mark Driscoll.

So, being so out of touch with pop culture, is there any hope of getting back in touch, and rectifying the deficiency?

Cultural catch-up films: Fantastic Mr Fox

Cultural catch-up films: Fantastic Mr Fox

And it seems yes, there is hope for people like me, who had a deprived childhood and youth. The answer lies here: The 55 Essential Movies Your Child Must See (Before Turning 13) | PopWatch |

This isn’t a list of the 55 “best” kids movies, nor a compendium of hidden gems. Rather, it’s a survival-guide syllabus of films that we all need to know to be able to speak the same pop-cultural language, listed in order by when they might be best introduced. It starts with a film that is a perfect introduction to the cinematic universe and ends with one that is an ideal capper before graduating into the world of PG-13 and R movies—and the age when kids begin to make their own theater decisions.

It I watch one of those films every week, in a little over a year I should have caught up.


Our democracy at risk?

I pass on another message from Avaaz, with my own comments at the end.

South Africa’s democracy is at risk — a draconian and unconstitutional new secrecy Bill is in Parliament and a Media Tribunal could be endorsed by the ANC Council this week, muzzling the media and letting the security agencies operate without accountability.

The secrecy measures in the “Protection of Information Bill” and the proposed “Media Appeals Tribunal” threaten press freedom enshrined in the Constitution and will hamper public scrutiny of the government and security agencies, blocking the media from exposing corruption and abuse of power. Hundreds of prominent South Africans, business executives, civic leaders and journalists have condemned the measures and submitted amendments on the Bill to Parliament, but so far the ANC is defending both proposals. Only massive pressure from citizens across South Africa can wake them up and preserve hard-won freedoms!

We have just 3 days to be heard at the ANC Council. Let’s raise an irresistible outcry — join the call for the ANC to listen to the people, respect the Constitution and promote accountable and transparent government! Click to sign the urgent petition, then forward this message to everyone – it will be delivered at the ANC Council:

43% of South Africans survive on no more than R16 a day and half of our youth are unemployed, while Transparency International claims “corruption is increasing at an enormous rate and it impacts severely on the poor. Revenue destined for the poor is misappropriated”. These new proposals would obstruct the media’s bold efforts to expose bribery, corruption and fraud and would lead this proud democracy towards autocratic control.

The proposed Protection of Information Bill would allow any national or local government department or agency to classify and make secret any information that they consider against the ‘national interest’ and would punish whistle blowers or journalists with up to 25 years in jail if they leak or publish information that was classified, even if it was in the public interest. This violates Section 32 of the Constitution — which protects the citizens right of access to any information held by the State.

The Media Tribunal would replace the Press Ombudsman with a state agency accountable only to the ruling party, tightly regulating reporting, and imposing penalties on journalists who publish unapproved content.

Just like when citizens came together to call for effective treatment for HIV and AIDS in 2007, if we rally now we could change the course of these repressive policies and efforts to silence the media can be stopped.

The ANC Council meeting is the decisive moment — if we lose this chance, the ANC’s 60% majority in Parliament will most likely push these proposals through unchanged. Inside the ANC Council COSATU delegates and others are strongly against the gag law — if we raise a massive citizens’ outcry this week, we could support their efforts on the inside to overwhelm an elite who attempt to railroad through these undemocratic proposals.

Sign the petition and forward this message to everyone:

Many fought, and died, for these freedoms. Now, if citizens stand up together to protect South Africa’s democracy, our outcry will be too loud to ignore — and we will beat those who want to protect their power and privilege by curbing constitutional liberties.

I’m in two minds about this.

On the one hand I don’t want our hard-won freedoms taken away by a bunch of self-serving politicians.

On the other hand, I suspect that the equally self-serving media are crying “wolf” once too often.

So my response tends to be “A plague on both your houses” and to concentrate on something else, and think that if our constitutional liberties are being threatened by this as much as they say, then let the Constitutional Court deal with it and toss it out.

The media, no less than the politicians, are in it for the money.

So when they cry “wolf”, I tend to get very cynical.

No, I wouldn’t like to go back to the muzzled press of the apartheid era. But I do believe that the media abuse their freedom by hyping certain issues and ignoring others. And one of the things they have done is to turn politicians into celebrities, and to gossip about them as the gossip columnists gossip about film stars. They’ve certainly turned Julius Malema into a celeb, and he’s played them along for all he’s worth. Eat your heart out, Brenda!

And perhaps the ANC is reacting to that too.

Not that it’s a good reaction, but when I read about it in the newspapers, my eyes tend to glaze over and think “Well, look who’s talking.”

Oh, I’ll sign the Avaaz petition, all right. But I still think I’ll leave it to the Constitutional Court, which can look at it, I hope, without all the media hype.

If the government try to muzzle the Constitutional Court — then I’ll get worked up about it. That would mean that they had sold out completely.

Celebrity cults

About twenty-five years ago we were driving through the Northern Transvaal (now Limpopo Province), and had just crossed, or were just about the cross the Tropic of Capricorn (where we stopped so our American visitors could take a photo) when we saw a large handpainted sign on an old bed sheet, advertising a concert by Brenda and the Big Dudes at a community hall in some village off the main road.

That was the first time I ever heard of Brenda Fassie.

Over the years I was to hear a lot more of her, and about eight years ago, as we drove over the humps in Tsamaya Avenue, on our way to church in Mamelodi East, there was scarcely a Sunday when the Sunday newspaper placards, tied to every lamppost, did not have a headline about Brenda. If it wasn’t Brenda, it was Chico (her boyfriend). And you can bet your bottom Euro that not one of the stories that these headlines referred to had anything to do with her music.

When she died five years ago we thought that we’d see headlines about some of the other topics that sell Sunday newspapers (like “Zombie ate my soap”), but no, Brenda dominated the headlines for the next two years at least. Brenda had ceased being a musician and had become a celeb, and sex, soccer and celebs is what sells Sunday newspapers.

Then when I joined Technorati there used to be a page that showed the top tags in blogs, and the top tags searched for (they no longer have that, so I won’t give a link). I found it fascinating that usually at least half of them related to things I had never heard of or had no significance for me. Curiosity made me look some of them up (that was how I discovered Twitter). One that puzzled me was Paris Hilton. Why on earth were so many people blogging about a hotel? Then I discovered that Paris Hilton was a person. That raised a new question — why would parents name their child after a hotel, even if they did own the hotel? I mean, has anyone ever named their child Tshwane Sheraton? And why would people blog about her? The answer is that she is a celeb. But she wasn’t even a musician like Brenda. What makes a hotel owner’s daughter a celebrity? The media, that’s what.

Over the last few years I’ve also seen newspaper placards saying that Barbie is doing this or said this or is going to do this and is going on trial. Barbie this, Barbie that, everything about Barbie, as if everyone knows who Barbie is. Barbie? But Barbie’s dead. Barbie did indeed enjoy celebrity for a time, but it wasn’t fame, it was infamy. I mean, everyone knows about the Barbie trial, don’t they? Apparently not the readers of the Pretoria News. Because when the Pretoria News writes about Barbie, they are referring to some lawyer, whose name isn’t even Barbie. But they’ve turned her into a minor celeb, or tried to, because celebs sell newspapers.

So it was refreshing to read the following article, hat-tip to St. Aidan to Abbey Manor: ‘A sickening misuse of the gift of life’.

Stop the sick, degrading culture of celebrity | Times Online:

Celebrity culture spreads like a stain. It engulfs even those whose fame is rooted in real achievement or real responsibility. As the empty are valued, so the valuable are emptied. They are treated as if they were as vacuous as pop idols. Scientists, artists and politicians become defined in the collective consciousness not by the serious, complex matters that they deal with or by their real achievements but, increasingly, by their sex lives, their personal traumas, their peccadillos.

If you go into religious bookshops, you can find books that warn about the dangers of “cults”, but if you read the books you find they are not actually about cults at all, but just about other religious groups whose theology differs from that of the author of the book. But celebrity cults are far closer to actual cults in the sense of what the word “cult” actually means. And the high priests of the celebrity cults are journalists, and the archbishops, or artmages, or whatever you want to call them, are the accountants of the newspapers that publish the stories. But they don’t actually worship at the altars of the celebrities themselves, they just lurk in the back rooms and rake in the cash. Turn the page of your newspaper, and you’ll probably find a story about some religious leader who rakes in the cash. Shame!

Celebrity deaths and the media

Many people have commented that the media obsession with the deaths of celebrities like Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett (what happened to the “Majors”?) over the last couple of days was way over the top, and some, including me, attributed it to declining standards of journalism.

But it seems we were wrong, and the media have always been like that. Hat-tip to Santos Woodcarving Popsicles: No person is lost in the crowd for pointing me to this example: Irenic Thoughts: Titanic Mistake:

The Titanic sank, in April of 1912. The next day, the headline of a famous newspaper was devoted entirely and exclusively to the death of the multimillionaire, John Jacob Astor. At the end of the article, the newspaper almost casually mentioned the other 1800 people who died. The other 1800 were not that important. Such is the attitude of the world and many public media, but not God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord is concerned about every single person and no person is lost in the crowd, however unimportant that person may be in the eyes of the world.

—William Barclay

The media will say, of course, that they are just giving the (paying) public what they want, and that is quite true. Apparently the celeb followers’ tweets jammed up Twitter so much that protesters in Iran, for whom Twitter was almost the last line of communication, were cut off from the rest of the world.

Sex, soccer and celebs

Last Sunday I wrote in my South African blog:

Most Sundays the placards advertising the tabloid newspapers provide some amusement. They are mostly about sex, soccer and celebs, though since Brenda Fassie died, they seem to have struggled a bit.

Today I listened to the media programme on SAFM, and they were talking about the tabloids, and one of the studio guests was Deon someone or other, the big cheese of the Sun, and a few other journalistic types, who accused the tabloids of being sexist and xenophobic, encouraging feeling against Somali shopkeepers in Port Elizabeth for example. This Deon bloke replies that he’s just a fish in the water, selling the fish what they want.

I don’t buy tabloids very often, but today I bought the Sunday World just to see what all the fuss was about. And it was boring, borning, boring. I quite enjoy some of the stories, the more improbable ones, like “Tokoloshe ate my lover’s knickers”. But there wasn’t even stuff like that today. Just some singer who lost a contract because her lover was in the loo.

I agree with the fundis — the tabloids are going downhill. Come back Brenda, we need you!

Actually my son said his all-time favourite tabloid headline was “Zombie ate my soap”.

But the tabloid formula of sex, soccer and celebs is probably the one way to sell newspapers today, for those who can’t afford the Internet, where, if you look at any week’s Technorati tags, you can see much the same kind of thing. And of course sex is only interesting if it is done by celebs. If it’s ordinary people, then there has to be a tokoloshe or at least a zombie involved if people are going to but the paper. And soccer, well, what are soccer players other than celebs if they’re any good. And being good on the soccer field is not enough. Being good in bed is better.

So what is a celeb? Well, Tony Grist meditates on this in Eroticdream battle:celebrity.

I think he comes to some quite interesting conclusions. And, as Marshal McLuhan didn’t quite say, the media is the massage (parlour).

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