Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Problem of the Human Racism

I think we all discriminate against others. Our survival depended on it and it's the reason why we are here today.

I have come to believe we are all programmed by nature and nurture to be nasty to those we don't recognise and nice to those we do. It's part of the group survival instinct that we have inherited from our ancestors. There are also sayings that come to mind: 'birds of a feather flock together', 'like seeks like' and so on. I think we are programmed to predominantly seek mates from members of the opposite sex that remind us of the archetypal parents imprinted on us. There has to be a fine balance of familiarity and difference to recognise a genetically suitable mate. So we do discriminate whether we think we are racists or not. However, this does not mean that those we don't select to be close to us are in any way inferior. They are simply not suitable for us or to our liking. There are in other words those we like and accept and then there are the 'others'.

Where we all get into trouble is when we begin to think that the 'others' are somehow inferior.

The most obvious points of difference are the colour of one's skin and their culture, both of which were brutally deployed by the apartheid government to denigrate black people and create a division within the South African population. But what is equally wrong is trying to force integration of population groups to correct that past injustice. Both will result in anger, resistance and even violence. You simply can't ignore peoples choices and make them do as you unilaterally see fit. History has shown that people will naturally integrate as they become familiar with each other.

Although I was born and raised in a racist society, I have watched my children grow up in a South Africa free of discrimination and have seen them integrate with kids of other colour and culture without any thought of being different. I meet their black friends and I have hope for future of South Africa. They are all equally well educated, well spoken, mannered and ambitious. They are the future of South Africa because they share a common culture. The 'other-ness' is no longer and issue. They are simply the same in each other's eyes and would only deem each another unsuitable for no other reason but they simply don't like them. Why they choose to not like someone could be the subject of another long discussion, but essentially it's none of anybodies business.

We mustn't lose sight of the fact that although the 'Mitochondrial Eve' was supposed to have originated from the african continent, it is the younger european humans that have introduced all the knowledge, technology and invention to the world and exported it back to africa. There was definitely a difference between those human tribes that were established between the 30º and 60º parallels in Eurasia and those who were not. Their situation provided greater opportunities but also required more inventive problem solving that that translated into a degree of sophistication that has benefitted mankind in the long run. It also created the horrors of colonialism and slavery based on the misconception that the 'others' were ignorant, inferior savages and therefore less than human. It's ironic that the oppressed were often more dignified and humane than their oppressors.

Hitler also believed in racism. He promoted the idea of a master race. That philosophy resulted in white supremacists today that are only tolerated because democratic society affords every minority it's rights too. It could be argued that the white race has brought more of the benefits to humanity than any other race, but that doesn't negate the humanity or the rights of other humans. We perhaps should consider that humans as a whole are the master race. We might all have differing skills and some may seem better suited to thrive in the data-driven world of today, but that doesn't mean we are better than someone else. I think to be a truly noble human would require that you act selflessly and for the good of all the inhabitants of planet earth. To not do so would only confirm that we are indeed little more than jumped-up animals, suitable only for extinction when we finally thoughtlessly consume our limited life-support system.

Perhaps the real issue is one of the survival of the human race after all.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Power Play

I never wanted to use my blog as a soapbox, but I despair for this country because of it's current leadership.

I once read that nobility is achieved, it is not inherited. In each generation there are individuals most suited to the social environment that exists at the time. They become the aristocracy of the generation into which they are most fortunate to have been born. Those individuals have been blessed with skill-sets, attitudes and aptitudes most suitable to thrive in their world. Because of their success we tend to look to them for examples of how to conduct ourselves in order to succeed within the society we inhabit. Because we esteem them, they become the nobility of each generation. But each generation of leaders also have to prove themselves by showing tireless wisdom, strength of character and leadership skills and in so doing win the respect and admiration of their peers and elders.

But this seems to not be the case in with the current leadership in South Africa. From where I stand, you just need to have the right cronies and connections to empower yourself and rise up in society to act and be treated like royalty. What this teaches our society is that you need not be noble, honest, dignified or successful to be given authority and power. All you need is to be obsequious, ruthless, greedy, and well-connected.

Julius Malema doesn't manifest the characteristics of a great leader such as Mandela, he does not even come close to an Mbeki or even FW De Klerk. He reminds me of a coward and a bully. I suspect that he only speaks so boldly because wherever he goes he is surrounded by state-sponsored bodyguards every minute of every day. Even so, one can't help but notice his absence in Ventersdorp after the murder and subsequent funeral of Eugene Terreblanche. The kind of decisive confident leader that he pretends to be would have been there in a heartbeat to make amends by expressing regret, offering support and doing whatever was possible to bring the perpetrators to justice. Julius was deafening in his silence. He strikes me as the sort of bully who has never had the privilege of having his stuffing rearranged in a schoolyard for being too big for his boots. He's happy to shout the odds but slow to shoulder the burden of leadership. Apart from being all bluster and little substance, what makes me worry most about Julius is that he seems to be drunk on the power that he wields.

What of those who placed him in his position? I am certain he like President Zuma, was positioned by consensus within the ruling party and not by popular vote.

What kind of leadership places such an belligerent, ignorant person in a position with such power, authority and influence? They have either taken leave of their senses or simply have no clue what a true leader is, or there is a more sinister reason for his role as a protagonist?

Perhaps this is the achilles heel in this form of government. People are in positions of authority simply because they're correctly aligned and not because they have the skills and attributes that inspire respect and admiration. Not a single intelligent soul gazing upon our political landscape could misinterpret the malice and danger of the things being said by Julius.

I think the ANC should be held wholly responsible for his misdeeds and utterances. They should be acting decisively and ruthlessly with someone who is flagrantly ignoring their directives and behaving in a manner that causes embarrassment to both the party, the state and the country. I suggest to the ANC that a quiet, unambiguous chat with the ingrate prince would be most in order. A conversation where it will be made most plain to Julius that power that is given can be taken away, and all that he is - depends on the good graces of the powers that installed him. I have to wonder why they have not done this already? Are they perhaps refusing to pull in the leash because the handlers are quite obviously, scared of the dog?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Channeling Desire

To be level headed about the matter of pornography is not easy. It is a subject that seems to spark fierce debate particularly when it comes to the possible introduction of a 24 hour porn channel on a local TV station.

I recently got involved in an online discussion about this and I must say that it seems that everybody thinks they have valid reasons for and against this introduction. One thing they all seemed to glance over was the ultimate effect it has on a society. I am not talking about whether men in general have begun to respect the ladies less or more since pornography has been introduced, or for that matter - whether violent TV shows have upped the violence on our streets. What I have a problem with is that normal, healthy appetite is being used as a device against people to create a consumer culture around explicit sexual material.

I won't venture a guess as to why women would enjoy porn, but I think we men need porn as surrogate lovers. We become captivated in our hormonally charged youth by a procession of all these seemingly available, perfect women who stare out of the pages at us in endless wanton heat. They become our comforters in the turbulent teens and translate into our steady companions throughout the rest of our lives if we need them. But this happy, uncomplicated arrangement with the immaculate image has a dark side too. It also can create false expectations and behavior. If men want to please their ladies they have to learn that in real life women are imperfect flesh and blood too. They are same fallible person every day with hearts and minds who want their men present in the bed with them, fully alive and committed to the pleasure and fulfillment of their women, not some glassy-eyed beast who is holding an artificially-enhanced image in his head whilst he hammers away on the road to release. If a couple shares and enjoys porn as a form of foreplay it somehow loses it's mystique as a hidden pleasure and becomes a useful tool in their armory of amour, and that I believe is an immensely healthy and productive thing to do. I am all for that as long as it doesn't impinge on the well-being of others.

But what of the effect the porn industry has on it's participants. The actors, crew and staff of the industry seem to adopt a brazen we're-so-together-and-all-is-well facade, but the stuff that oozes out the cracks into the media seems to suggest a different story. Google "porn star deaths" and you'll discover that drug overdose, suicide and AIDS are the most common form of death amongst them. I also remember watching an interview with a movie director (I stand under correction on this, not sure of the facts) - who was telling of how desperate he was to get into the movie business. He accepted a job as a runner on a porn set where they shot something like 3 porn movies in 5 days. The effect on his sexuality was profound. He said he was unable to get an erection for months after that. Whatever that really means is for the clever people in universities to discover, but from a lay persons perspective - it was simply too much at once. Porn is overkill. I think it should be taken hold of very lightly and held with deep respect, it has the power to destroy and hurt because it involves our natural appetites.

Something I hear a lot nowadays is that society as a whole is being dumbed down. It occurred to me that porn is a form of dumbing down as well. The overstimulation not only desensitizes our own sexual triggers - it desensitizes us to our lovers and their needs too. Pornography may make us more superficially sexual, but it also can make us less concerned about the fulfillment of the other and more focussed on our own pleasure, which reduces lovemaking to simply having it off on someone else's body. I might as well be a dog clasping a startled ladies leg in a tea garden for all the dignity that it evokes.

As a student of art, one does not have to go far to discover that erotic artistic content is common in pieces that go back to ancient times. Whether this kind of art is of the same intent as the cave paintings hoping to attract good fortune in the hunt, or simply for the naughty pleasures of having an alabaster jug with endlessly copulating figures engraved on it I can't say, but all this artwork pales into insignificance when placed next to the images currently available in the media. The term pornographic comes from greek and means literally: "Writing about prostitutes". It also has become synonymous with the idea of an overstatement and to to see today's porn is to understand why. I think the reason for this is because as time goes by people become bored with what they have already seen hundreds of times before and so want material of a more explicit or unusual nature to continue being aroused by it.

I have no idea how big the porn industry is but all indications are that it is huge. It's not too difficult to logically assume that the bottom line is the driving force behind it, and so they will pander to all and any of our needs in order to achieve the financial rewards. It is driven by shareholders and vested interests who like any big business will stop at nothing to increase profitability. What makes the debate a moral one is because of the toll it takes in people's lives. One can see advertising and decide if you want to buy a product or not, but porn seems to devour and discard it's participants and consumers alike because of it's link to our most base instinct. I suggest we act with the utmost caution when we venture into this labyrinth. It has dark twists and turns, and in there lurks an ancient, primal beast that must be fed.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Bonfire of the Vanities

The Bonfire of the vanities

On two occasions in the last few months I have come across jobs that I have been unable to do. Both were caricatures and both had to be OK'ed by the party I was caricaturing. I'm currently busy with lots of caricatures and normally I have no problem getting a passable likeness, but with these two no matter how I tried I couldn't please the subject. Both are captains of industry and leaders in their fields, which should not be surprising now that I come to think of it.

When it comes to caricatures in South Africa, what most people expect is to have their head drawn and plonked onto a small cute body. I usually try to avoid this, so I exercise my drawing and caricaturing skills by playfully drawing the subject in free hand. That usually does the trick for the initial rough sketch, but on occasions such as this the person didn't think it looked like them. Now I realize they are looking for a photographic representation of themselves rather than an artistic endeavor, so to avoid untimely delays I will simply print out the reference they have given me and trace the face on a light-box. Nine times out of ten the subject is delighted and off we go. But then there is the tenth instance. "It still looks wrong" they will complain and then ask for the chin to be made more prominent, the boobs bigger, the figure slimmer, the eyes further apart and the neck made longer and slimmer (without the double chin) and so on...

I then know I'm dealing with an ego of note. I am really the most accommodating person as a whole but if there is one thing I really can't stand is delusional self-worship. These are the insatiable maniacs that deem themselves far more beautiful, sexy and downright gorgeous than they really are. There is a saying: "You don't see things as they are, you see things as you are." If they consider themselves so subjectively beautiful it becomes a matter of trying to read their minds to capture their distorted self-image in a pleasing and engaging way. Talk about mission impossible.
Situations like this either end in a compromise when the party concerned realizes their attitude is showing or I have to give up and walk away from the project. I only wish I had some early-warning system to pick up those clots at fifty paces so I could price myself right of the job and save myself some time.

But the gem to be found in this puddle of misery is the realization that no matter how important they are, they are obviously still very vulnerable to other's opinions of themselves, and the higher they go the more their positive self-image seems to matter to them. Happily they are few and far between. I have had the pleasure of meeting people who have risen to the top and still retained their humility, and what a pleasure it is to know these people. I suspect they are the true Nobility of my generation and I relish their contributions to life. It would be fantastic if those people were politicians too. Sadly not.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Art and Passion

It's so easy for a man who is creating an illustration of his perfect woman to feel passionate about his subject matter. But as time has passed I've noticed that others only seem to truly appreciate my work when I have honestly got emotionally involved with the process of creating it.

This has nothing to do with the subject matter it seems. I could be bonking out a TV story board for yet another soap powder, but if have long enough to immerse myself in the process of drawing the situation, the boxes of product and the people in the story, something magical happens. The passion and love I am feeling for what I am creating somehow seeps through and others seem to intuitively enjoy what I have done more. Perhaps the love for what I do makes the lines stronger, assertive and more accurate. The image is refined by my desire to make it the best that I can, and my clients see that result even if they might not understand why today I have 'just got that dull boring bar of soap so perfectly right'.

The same could be said for fine art. Consider a bright red slash across a huge white canvas. Could someone create something so energetic, vibrant, visceral and arterial in a fit of absence of mind? I don't believe so.
I think it requires emotional involvement to execute the movement that ejaculates the red paint from tin to canvas.
The artist declares it art, and at their cue the critics will swoon around the piece in fits of intellectual ardor. I would once have said they were just playing complimentary roles in a complex high society farce, but I have begun to realize that because the artist so intensely loved the slash as he created it, the beautiful intent was somehow left behind in the medium. People who have trained themselves to identify and appreciate such passion (not art) sense and adore the line because of what they see in the making of the bright red slash. Add to that what the slash may say to each of us individually about our lives and we have something more than just a slop of paint.
It can transcend culture and convey meaning to anyone.
One can cite those who excrete paint onto canvas in expressions of fecal utterance. I think that a mockery of beauty and if anyone were to buy that crap they have what they deserve.

All I know is that when I am not fully emotionally present as I work, the results are almost always arbitrary. It's hard to do that all the time (especially when I am on the third or fourth round of author's corrections) but I do understand now why all artists can feel such personal rejection when people don't appreciate their work. Even commercial artists love what they do, it's an extension of their soul and to have it rejected can be painful. I think the real challenge is to always remain positive and passionate in the face of misunderstanding. Everybody might not love what you have done the way you do, but inevitably someone will feel your heart and for a brief moment in time will understand you. Isn't that what we ultimately seek?

"Of all lies, art is the least untrue." (G Flaubert)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Real Cost of Crime

I heard yesterday that someone I have worked with at an Advertising Agency was killed last week in a crime related incident. Apparently it was a botched hijacking. Phumi was one of the brightest young people I've ever had the pleasure to deal with in my years in the industry. Phumi was intelligent, well-spoken, very, very professional and so obviously going on to great things in her life. She was a credit to herself, her Agency and South Africa. Her family must be devastated and heartbroken. The saddest thing about this is that her loss is not unusual in South Africa. We hear of lives being lost every day, it's people like Phumi who I believe are National Assets that are slipping through our fingers at the hands of ruthless criminals. We are losing our future to the mob and corruption seems to cut across bows of any attempt to police our society. I wish the authorities would stop visibly harassing, intimidating and subjecting the mostly law-abiding middle-class and move against the more serious violent crime. It's easy to bully the suburbians, but the 'Broken Window' campaign seems to only really be effective in a first world urban environment. South Africa seems more like the Wild West at the moment. Because the law enforcement agencies in South Africa don't deal with violent crime ruthlessly, petty criminals act with impunity and even the man on the street feels the 'right thing to do' is a waste of time.

The natural result of this is that we will not only have anarchy from both sides of society, we will lose those quality citizens who will make South Africa that nation with a soul that the rest of the world envys. That is the real cost of violent crime and government must not lose a moment to take our society back from the criminals and syndicates if it truly intends to build a great South Africa.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

2010 is apon us...

When it was announced that South Africa would be hosting the 2010 World Cup, it occurred to me that very few of the people who love and support soccer here would be able to afford to participate in the fun and games. So I decided to create an Unofficial Mascot for the Unofficial Game that is played on the streets, parks and fields of South Africa. It's for the person who loves to kick a ball around with their mates, goes to all the local games and supports the culture of soccer in South Africa simply because it's their passion.
I dubbed the "Unoffical Game" FUTI, and created this little fellow as it's mascot. With the help of some good friends in the rag trade I managed to show a T-Shirt design to a chain store and they agreed to run a test over December of last year to see if there was any interest in the garments.
It was a huge thrill to see my little T's on the shelves, and after a few visits here and there I left town to go on holiday. When I next went to check I was amazed to see all the Tees were gone. I am hoping this means there was significant interest in my little creation.
The underlying ideal here is that the HUGE investments made by FIFA and it's sponsors are so avaricious that most of the people who made soccer the world's most popular sport will actually not be able to watch a single live game. If FUTI were to become the game the people play and support whilst boycotting big business interests, maybe it would cause a rethink in the boardrooms and they would consider keeping sport available to the amateurs.

I know it's idealistic and naive, but I have to confess I wouldn't mind making a whole lot of money if FUTI T-shirts sell like wildfire. The question is: "Would I use that money to buy tickets for less fortunates?" I doubt it. I am as greedy and ruthless as the more fortunates it seems.