The UKZN Griot: Of Idiots and Roboticisation
Keyan G Tomaselli*
My writing of regular columns for UKZNdaba, Wits Review and some other publications, started as a way of attracting readers to the back pages of these mags, competing as they are for ever-shortening attention spans, in an environment of information overload, in a contemporary world where madness seems to prevail on scales rarely before experienced.
I suspect that those who lived through the First and Second World Wars must have thought that the end was nigh. Those who lived through the Hundred Year War in the 14th Century must have thought that war was the norm. As terrifying as the conditions were, these folks did not have to deal with rapid climate change, or the roboticisation of our individual behaviour and atomisation of our inter-personal socialisation caused by smart phones, social media and electronic insomnia.
They would not have had CNN with its endless images of Paris, Brussels, and The Don, who is a caricature of himself, terrifying the rest of the world, not to mention the bewildered Republican Party itself, which is usually pretty scary in its own right. Then there is the idiotisation enabled by Twitter as enraged individuals dash off stupid remarks ahead of their ability to think judiciously. In the case of Dianne (Kohler-Barnard) she-the-messenger who took the hit for he-the-twit.
Then there was that expatriate non-entity, Penny, who sparrowed forth on Facebook, dripping dark droppings all over our carefully crafted rainbow nation. Her post was pure drivel, but her rabid revealing ravings got more play than does any current well-composed columnist. Her silly rantings created a national moral panic.
The Human Rights Commission is being kept very busy trying to adjudicate on “hate speech”, and when and if freedom of speech is subject to censorship. Why do people waste their time responding to such nonsense, when there are far more important issues facing us? - refugees on massive scales, wars, terrorism, poverty, environmental destruction and new religions that know only how to kill, maim and rape.
As a columnist I am indebted to all these incidents and nutcases as they write my scripts for me. Just as did the apartheid era parliament for Pieter-Dirk Uys. Leon Schuster gets his scripts from the public, and the state was captured by Guptanomics, a form of familial Mafioso corruption that makes that other new word, tenderpreneurs, look like the scuzzy bottom-feeding scavengers they really are.
Mondli Makhanya once wrote about the relationship between scavengers-in-chief and the ‘Indians’ who sustained them. Where once the great romantic relationships of convenience occurred between boys and girls, men and women (like Romeo and Juliet, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Michael Jackson and Lisa Presley and all those incestuous kings and queens of Europe), now it’s largely an all-male club – Zuma and Shaik; Zuma and head-spinner, Mac; Zuma and the Three Guptas (Zuptas); and Zuma and Zuma’s ex-wife, now vying for the first family dynasty in the South African Presidency. Man-oh-wo/man! Is zexit a possibility now that the 3Gs have already zexited?
And so, we now have a whole new politico-economics lexicon: gupterisation, with corporate and/or state capture, edging out zanufication, while ho-ho, he he, Me-pay, Me-free shower-head-me wallows in Zuptanomics (about which a whole book has been written). Much work for the linguists, comedians, cartoonists and political economists here. And, as novelist Imraan Coovadia told us at the launch of the Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences a month ago: ‘We have our own Indians, why do we need the Guptas?’
And the beat goes on. A very reflective Blade (Nzimande), who spoke at the Institute, was concerned about its institutionalisation beyond his ministerial tenure. Very sensibly so in the current context of fallism.
Never before have so many paintings, sculptures, monuments and buildings, and photographs been defaced, moved, destroyed and hacked, by so many different groups, all at once, some smearing excrement ,with others imposing their ghastly nakedness upon us in vandalising a UCT photographic exhibition. Even struggle icons were targeted, hammered by the folks so riled up by twitterings about things that must fall. This kind of stimulous-response behaviour that also typified social media gives new meaning to the significance of Pavlov’s Dog. Unthinking stimulous-response salivation, even when bottom-up, is the key to electronic mob rule in the digital age. Economics, sociology, media and psychology textbooks need to be rewritten.
Satire and the absurd have long been known to literary scholars and dramatists, but irony cannot be encoded in 140 characters or easily find a home on Facebook. And, these frames of analysis are unacceptable in positivist, hard-nosed science that takes a God’s-eye-view of things. But in our world riven with religious conflicts which, whose, and what kind of God are we talking about?
Given the ways in which my columns are used, recirculated, cited in august meetings, and responded to by all and sundry, I must be doing something right. But management simply marches on as if managerialism is God.
This corporate God is all-knowing, even as I process MA proposals on stakeholder communication, PR, and communication management, all of which argue for bottom-up, rather than top-down management styles. But the Gods of these democratic approaches lack presence.
Now, back to fiddling with my smartphone while Rome burns, or is it Zandspruit, a campus here or there, a few buses, municipal buildings and the like?
· Keyan G Tomaselli knows a few Guptas, but not the anointed ones who now have zooted (to Dubai). He now hangs out at the University of Johannesburg where the fire hydrants are in top condition.Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the author’s own.