It’s a strong word. Meaty in its meaning. Tidy in its appearance.
I am using the word here with its definition of expressing complete disapproval, rather than its other meaning of sentencing someone to death, or a worse punishment. Like being chained to a computer screen where twerking GIFs set to Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines trigger your epileptic gag reflexes.
Governments around the world love this word. Opposition parties have rammed it into many press conferences shined up with the lofty spin of self-righteousness and rebuke.
Some easy examples to think of. The South African government condemns the xenophobic attacks. The Obama administration strongly condemns the chemical warfare in Syria. The DA roundly condemns 2% milk in its morning cappuccinos. The power of your condemnation is linked to the helpful adjective you attach to it.
It is not that condemning these things is bad. I don’t drink milk, but I can imagine 98% lacking would be pretty grim and worthy of condemnation.
But the point is that merely using that strong, tidy word is never going to be enough. It almost feels like a political blanket being used to put out a raging veld fire. Wholly inadequate and if observed from a distance, pretty ridiculous.
No right thinking person is going to believe that our government wants foreigners burnt in the streets. No person who has cultivated a mindful sense of this world will think that chemical warfare is acceptable. We know these things to be heinous. Decreeing them so in a rote manner for the sake of politically expedient commentary is offensive and ineffective.
Merely condemning an act – and this is perhaps a much better metaphor in my head – is a bit like jumping into a comfortable bathing pool filled with lukewarm apathy, where those in power can splash around feeling moderately cleaned from responsibility.
The “appropriate” things to say in situations are often meaningless. Think about the “I’m so sorry line” as a response to news of the death of a person’s loved one. It is meaningless to the hearer. It is self-serving and cathartic to the speaker. It is at best a thoughtless line heard enough times to fill the silence and walk away disconnected from the pressing reality.
So the next time you hear a suited politician shimmering with that public relations veneer, offering a strong condemnation of something as heinous as xenophobia, corrupt coppers, chemical warfare, or the DA’s disregard for watered down bovine juice, ask what the benefit of their fancy words are.
Press them, some how, to put the words away and lead the action. Make the changes.
Like I’m sure you know by now, some Ruskies have the international community a little flustered with all their fussing over who puts what where. The face of athletics (and ungroovy quips about interesting sleeping arrangements) dished some smack to LGBT folk the world over. Some rural cut and paste nonsense she probably picked up in Sunday school. ‘Boys don’t sleep over at boy’s’, or some such drivel.
Cue a few days after and it seems like we have what I feel could be the most touching bit of protest imagery I’ve seen in a while. Yes touching.
The Kremlin’s new law is a strange one, homosexuality remains legal, but any upbeat mentioning of it isn’t. SO you can be gay, but quietly gay. Fuck that big brother nonsense.These really are entry level obstacles. It’s embarrassing to see powerful people with such a limited grasp of their world.
Vitaly Mutko, the Russian minister of sport and fascist sexual musings, said the law is there to protect Russian children. He then mentioned drugs and alcohol abuse in the same vein.
“We want to protect our chidren whose minds have not yet been shaped by propaganda over drug abuse, alcoholism and non-traditional sexual relationships.” -Vitaly Mutko
There’s something irritating about the structure of that list.
A modern civilization without drugs, alcohol or sodomy? We might as well turf the wheel while we’re at it.
The idea that homosexuality has taken an evangelical turn is ludicrous. Besides, sexual disposition isn’t the pressing issue here, what matters is that people get off at all. A phenomenon this law puts a lot of pressure on. For the simple fact that nobody wants to shag a bigot.
I don’t get this ridiculous allergy, Ivan the Terrible, the Prince of Moscow himself, was thought gay. Good enough for the Tsar, good enough for the proles.
Vine videos can cause existential despair and self-improvement is masturbation.
There might be something noble, in a sadly myopic sense, in the second statement. The pop culture masses will recognise it as a scathing insight from Tyler Durden in Fight Club. You remember the scene. They’re on a bus looking at an advert of a male underwear model. Ripped and packaged in muscles and a hundred percent cotton.
Edward Norton’s character is lamenting the gym mentality of being crammed under fluorescent lights on sweaty equipment just to look good in your undies. Within this paradigm self-improvement does seem a bit narcissistic and defeating. The irony is that Tyler Durden was more cut than any model you can recall, but let’s blame the director rather than Chuck for this intended oversight.
But increasingly it seems that any notion of improvement, a deep profound improvement of who we are as people, is marred from the start. We live in a world where rather than try to become better at things, we create situations and fixes that make our mediocrity and shortcomings easier to deal with. We talk about being better. But this just means we move faster towards temporary satiation at a cheaper rate.
This melancholic realisation today, my cadres of the forlorn, comes from Vine videos.
Twitter’s six second video service, far from being a tool we should all clutch at for commercial gain as we have been told we should do by those in the know, is indicative of a much greater crutch in our lives.
Six seconds of video. Admittedly some of these clips are funny. It forces the maker to tell a story in a tenth of a minute, which is not easy. Well not if you want it done well at least.
The point is not the maker, but the watcher. The consumption of six seconds of video is considered ideal, because no one has the attention span to deal with anything longer – seven seconds and more.
We must change the technology, the delivery, the style because people can’t focus on anything anymore.
Doesn’t that seem like a bad solution? It’s the wrong way around.
It’s like dealing with people’s increasing levels of unfitness by placing a human conveyor belt between your lounge, kitchen and toilet.
It’s like increasing the production of diabetes medication rather than avoiding that bag of fizzers and mini chocolate bars.
It seems, and one feels that there should be a “hell yeah” in this crescendo, that rather than continue to placate the paucity in attention, we should reject it. Burn the crutch. Fight the good, long fight.
We should read a book that we struggle to understand. That we cannot read at 11pm lying in bed, but instead need the fresh mind of the morning to grapple with it. We should watch a documentary that ends with us in tears of profundity, but only if we could last the 60 minutes to that beautiful moment before the closing credits. We should listen to an album from the first track to the last and marvel in its composition and order in which it was intended to be experienced. We should try writing a poem for someone we love and spend enough time on it to realise the power of our thoughts as well as our emotions.
We need to train ourselves to be better. To focus longer. To challenge our feelings and opinions over a longer period. We need to avoid saying well that’s the way it is, so just deal with it.
Self- improvement is masturbation. But maybe that’s true only if you have a puritanical interpretation of masturbation. Maybe with a little love and attention with a desire to increase your longevity, far from being a bad thing, your wanking might take you all the way to an intellectual awakening.
I remember speaking to a well established comic about creative direction, his words cut crisply, “fuck your agenda, just have a stage and a microphone and see what happens.” What grand advice. Though it’s proved impossible to keep the equation agenda free, antagonising the sentiment has proved liberating. Yet it remains difficult, agendas are lubricated and camouflaged and deliberate things. Yet not nearly as tricksy as their defining characteristic, god honest sexiness.
There are many drums that need banging. From social justice to neo-liberal egos to spaced out spiritual tripe. An entire wiki of ‘isms with ballsy adherents pitching and molding and coercing. It’s part of the fun I suppose. Wading through the muck of human plans. We have too many of those. Plans.
It’s in that spirit that I hesitate to pen a manifesto. The hoarding spirit of middle class materialism has an ideological counter point, it has to, people get off on different things after all. There’s no denying that manifestos can be little more than a primer for aesthetic fascism.
People are always talking about how, “if money wasn’t a factor”, they’d do this or that. It’s a healthy question. If money wasn’t a factor what would you be doing with your time? This serves as a kind of carrot on a stick to fuck through two or three decades of hamster wheeling. Once the vaults are full, then maybe, freedom could be realised. What a load of wank.
Yet money talks, and why shouldn’t it, especially when the lefty elite are all balls deep in disjointed hedonistic excess. It’s rare that freedom from economic necessity leads to anything other than freedom to fuck it up, all day, every day. Make no bones darlings, bohemia is in peril.
The thing is that maxim works both ways. ‘If money wasn’t a factor’ also applies if we question the fundamental values of modern society. Here…
“Reject the basic assumptions of civilization, especially the importance of material possessions.”- Chuck Palahniuk
Social wealth and higher pleasures, but what a silly suggestion. Who would dare promote such a thing?
I recently went to a dinner with mates, you know one of those nights where half of the table you know, the other half you don’t. Nights like this fill me with fear, what if they’re cocks, what if they’re not cool people, what if they’re boring?
I got the worst of all … what if they uber liberal white kids who don’t realise they’re racist?
There was some random in the corner who’d spent the entire night chatting about Syria, Turkey (add other troubled country here) He had all the answers. Proudly chatted about how we need to do more to make change. How men need to be men again, and stop other men thinking women are pieces of meat.
Ok so far you’re wanky, but I agree with most of what you’ve said, maybe it’s the wine making you sound like a dick.
Until … The Waitress (who is black) walked back to the table. She was wearing a “Stop Racism” T-shirt. This is when the real side of liberal trust fund kids came out.
“Hey sweetie (not so open to women’s right’s suddenly)”
“You know what would make that shirt better?”
My racist Spidey sense started tingling
“If it said “you k@f*er” underneath”
And my head exploded.
Hey (name redacted) um, what the fuck did you just say?”
His response? “Oh calm down, it’s time we reclaimed that word, like they did in the States”
Firstly, it’s been over 150 years of time and healing in the States, and it’s still not cool, it took a very long time for black people in the states to reclaim that word. We’ve barely had 15 years.
Secondly, you white bread, suburban 25 year old, you’ve never experienced that hate, that racism, you grew up in the burbs and got an advertising diploma cause your folks had the cash to let you “find yourself” so you have no right to be the person who decides when that word is ready to be reclaimed.
And lastly, you’re WHITE, you dumb fuck, it’s not your word to reclaim, even if you do listen to NWA.
Now do us all a favour and go test your theory at Mzolis
Woke up and faced West. Red eyed I wandered, cow-like into a mirror. Faced myself under faint neon wash. Then I knew. I must find it. The god-monster at the end of the world. Sometime after cereal, the bitch would be mine.
Shaving, I was afraid. Foam, blood and hair in the basin. Hold on, I mouthed, just hold on. The terrors passed as steam came, chasing the shadows forming under my nose.
There were eggs. Unblinking, they stared me down as I looked on. Toasty soldiers tasted of butter. Fat salt, really. I walked on by. I liked the brown bittersweet in the mug, and it liked me, mom, so we kissed. Outside, people were going everywhere. I wanted to go with them, they just drove on by. In the rich car, words were leaping out of vents in the dashboard. That’s not your real accent, fella, which is the flaw in radio. I see through you.
I came across two roads. One man sold blow-up hammers, another trafficking the blind to the motorized. See what I did there. It was red, but Jesus built my hotrod. And I was gone.
There were meetings along the way. Rooms crowded for thought, deadlines and new meetings, lists, also awkward jokes. Words hit walls like brains in hip film, slid down them all the same. Everyone in the office danced, I liked how safe it felt for two minutes, but the battery flickered just under the veneer – this world is in a condom all the time, even when it pisses.
“You need to be crazy to work here…” thought of taking a wank in the corner. But round here, it’s the dead man’s hand, is prescription spunk. Didn’t. Muttered to the water machine: You know how hard it is for me to shake the disease? It was real.
I am no George Michael, see. Then I see not my boss, he’s a strange animal, soft and feared – once a tiger cub maybe, a celestial baby dragon, but too long in the circus and he has come undone. Now threatening his lings with bared gums. What a sad little film he has written himself into and can’t act his way out of.
If I were such a thing as a king, he would be first against the wall. A small mercy, not a real killing. And then I see Nike on a billboard and I wonder if a model killer makes a model prisoner? Bullet in the chamber indeed – aimed at the whoosh now that he has no girls in range.
I am feeling the psychoactive noise of the coffee like a gentle, electric balaclava and standing fleetingly enfeebles me.
The blackout will not come if I think furiously, just like at the bottom of the sea, on the way to the sharks’ church, when the terrors come amongst the bubbles of those below me.
There is breakfast, a late fade, and a lady at the next table berates a child. She is angry at the child, but not really – she is yelling at a mirror.
He was in love with someone, someone she shouldn’t have fallen in love with. Then the child came and she’s been mean ever since. Her face is cracked, it may be erosion from tears. and she’s fat, which doesn’t help.
I saw a girl sitting alone and built a story for her. I’m not for everyone, and soon I brought the curtain down on this idea. After the whores and all those bathrooms and the ink that just missed my veins, my insides are not apparent. Sure.
Forty sneaks up, just behind thirty, and then it grabs your neck and presses down.
Forty is a pirouette in the seesaw’s middle. The last pivot, the marker of how short half is… …the strong half.
Perhaps I’m just another motherfucker in a motorcade.
Settled the debt, melted out and into the sun.
We had been to visit the small township that clings to the crag above the monied guts of Hout Bay. Afrika is a tour guide who walks conscious tourists through this matrix of elemental and exposed souls. Reconfigured billboards are cold comfort compared to the promises they make on their faded skins. This notwithstanding, the life that flows through the maze-like veins of the place is bright as oxygenated blood. Children run. People smile. Every now and then, Afrika begs forgiveness as he “boils” — history rises in his throat. After a pause, he contains himself and continues, a gentleman to the end of the tour.
We are in the living room of a home cobbled together from the detritus of respectable people. There is dignity between these tenuous walls, the faith here mocks any in the gilded pigsties of pious men.
The Zimbabwean tenant patiently waits in the next available space as our guide expounds on the influx of foreigners. We hear that the previous owner painted it white, inspired by George Bush. Afrika rails against the ignorance of his fellows embracing the evil of America’s former number one.
Around a twisted corner, while Henry embraces Gerry, I am pulled into a room of dark strangers, offered a swig from a bottle and the company of Malawians determined to survive in these intestines.
Gerry is wild-eyed and shakes, whatever part of his mind not gnawed at by HIV is in thrall to ARVs — he is hanging by his fingernails onto this life. Someone asks me if I want to take his sister, I decline politely, blushing at the closeness of the cheerful and round-faced girl. There are no bones about these people.
“We have Malawis, Zimbabwes, Nigerians — even the Chinese are coming here more and more.” Our incredulity prompts a detour. Minutes away, we are in a counterfeit supermarket. The silent storekeepers stand grimly, their beds tucked under counters of stacked vinyl shoes.
We swap promises and split. Afrika waves in the rain.
Coffee, heater and a phone call. The skin on the milk the thickness by which worlds are apart round here. We have a meeting with the Commandant. We will meet him at his home in the “coloured area”. Our driver, a former operative, mumbles that we are in a “bad place”. Truth is a brazen whore sometimes.
We are met by a softly-spoken older man, the fierce resolve in photographs of his arrest now refracted under the scar tissue of enforced solitude. He points to one of the paintings that plaster his walls — “I like this — it shows a black person as I have never seen in a painting — see, he is writing in a journal — he is not a labourer, he is not dancing — he is reflective”, it’s the artist’s new luminosity that grabs him, not the subject. Things they are a-changing.
Out his kitchen-sink window, a magnificent view. Waves burst themselves on the rocks at the mountain’s base, white spray rises up in outrage across the bay.
“Do you see that tiny cove across there? My last wife’s ashes are scattered there. I couldn’t look out of this window for quite some time … but I’ve started again recently.” Denis has earned the wisdom to know that we need to withstand the view, unsure if we’ll ever gain the ground. There is a heartbreaking loneliness to his warmth.
An engineer, he was their bombmaker. This was a dark business for humanitarians, but fuses grew short then. Few people could ever rebuke Madiba, young boxer or old god, but the Jew had it in him and the guts to stand firm.
“We expected to be hanged. That was the only possible outcome. When the judge pronounced sentence, my mother was nearby, but didn’t hear clearly. She asked, ‘What did he say?’ — I smiled and said, ‘life — life is wonderful!’ ”
I mumbled that he was pretty much the only man who could make that joke … later and coffee has melted into dinner. Denis asks for a slice of my pizza, and a question falls from my mouth: “After everything, are you happy with the result?”
Henry leans in. Denis chews thoughtfully on twenty two years of pain … there are pip squeaks aplenty who leak opinions on this topic, few who have given a hand or heart to forge it.
Finally,”Yes,” we breath out,”we could have done more … but we have come an awfully long way”.
The first time I see Henry, he’s tired. He’s carrying a camera case and looks punished. He’s just spent a day in the townships outside Cape Town. His bag is heavy, and he doesn’t want help. This is a theme I’ll get familiar with over the next week.
Once a son of the LA Punk scene, he’s matured into a cool uncle of culture consciousness, a perceptive sentinel. His weapon: disarming honesty – filtered through the library behind his relentless gaze. He’s quick to tell you what’s cooking in the fearsome engine between his ears.
There is a military air about him, which suits his plan to document the world. Step by step. A light traveller and voracious reader, he shows me the WalMart earplugs that save his hearing from passive overload on long-haul flights. There’s a four-dollar stopwatch that tells him where he is in the show.
He assures me that his simple backstage rider is not all necessary, “I need a knife and some string, man — that’s it.” He doesn’t want complications; there isn’t time — after answering every email himself, signing every shirt, book, CD and chest shoved in his face after the gigs, he needs a bed — simple. There are no fancy dinners, no schmoozing — just recharging. He is mechanical and soulful — and reminds me of Wall-E, a self-aware and furious optimist searching for signs of life in a desolate species.
“It’s all manual for me, I don’t just pitch up and get a crowd — I’ve got to grind through the interviews, phoners, TV spots, the mailers — I have three to answer on my laptop in the room right now.” You’d think he looks forward to a break, but time off is poison, reads his mantra — it breeds laziness.
We eat veggie burgers and shoot the breeze: Bill Hicks and George Carlin. We share a view on Nickelback and Lady Gaga. He sums up eloquently: “They are extremely not good.” His energy level lifts as he talks about the book he clutches — an expose of Blackwater, the private security company that bills the US people billions to ensure that hell remains firmly on earth. Henry picks his battles. He knows when to bank the effort and when to burn it.
By the end of the next day, we’ve put him through too much press, only a couple of the journos knew anything about him — one cocksure Cape breakfast radio jock has no idea what he’s got himself into. Having badly underestimated Henry at first, we watch the hapless guy squirm as he searches for some substance of his own, as Henry’s shines through … it’s no good, he flops around like a doomed fish on deck. Henry walks resolutely to the car and thanks me for putting him in the ring with “intellectually tepid” people. It’s a joke through gritted teeth.
He reminds me that he is an angry man, but not with anyone specific, I breathe out.
Later we wander through the Greenpoint flea market, finding meaning amongst curios. We step over muddy puddles and talk about big stuff.
“Imagine you worked your whole life and all you had to show for it was a pile of money. What an awful, hollow place to be.” Amen, Captain America.
He’s hard on himself because the alternative is a “spreading ass and a shopping mall … ” if he’s afraid of anything, it’s becoming a hypnotised suburban blob like everyone else.
Henry is a voice of reason in an age of unprecedented oppression, a lone gunman against corrupt logic and lousy ethics. He’s out there taking fire because we can’t be bothered to leave the couch and our carbohydrates and take an interest.
We don’t want to know that our fashionable takkies are made by brutalised children, it will put us off our fried chicken nuggets. Cafe society can’t be evil, because it is civilised. We can’t be perpetuating the issues we decry over lattes, can we?
Henry is the guy that’s dedicated himself to documenting the events we’ve swept under the rug. Our inactivity is what fuels him on. Is “critical mass” the weight at which we become most judgmental?
Now we’re pre-show. Backstage, the American accelerates, pacing back and forth, playing music and isolating himself layer by layer. He’s loading a three-hour marathon into his head, checking his sights and arming himself with pages and pages of carefully chosen words. It strikes me how iconic his tattoos are to so many people.
A great performer constantly asks something of the witness, a “ping” so they can reorientate themselves in each new moment. What is a hostage-taker without demands? Henry doesn’t disappoint. He moves quickly through his stories, cramming in as much as he can, flying off on tangents. It’s like watching the last show on earth and he doesn’t want you to miss a thing.
He’s a compelling distillation of anger, intelligence and wit. A graffito spraying lucid questions on the walls of authority. There is no sarcasm or irony. It’s wall-to-wall substance from the time he strolls out on stage in black pants, T-shirt with blue sneakers, plugs his mic into the cable, plants his feet and says “hello”.
The script is self-portraiture. Spartan simplicity. Nothing extraneous. The humour is surgical satire. He’s pulling photos from the album of his life and I don’t feel driven to kick a puppy, as I usually am when my neighbours show me their snaps from Easter in Plett.
On the way to catch our respective flights home, he tells me he left the stopwatch on stage in JHB. I tell him we’ve already sent it to meet him in LA. He insists that I take postage money from him — I resist and he makes a humble request that I humour him. He leaves us 21 grams lighter.
A week later and the vapour trail has gone cold, life moves on. I get an email from someone who saw the show: “After seeing Henry, I feel like I’ve wasted so much time doing nothing …”
See Henry Rollins at least once in your life.
Sulking, A White Ape
Reflects On His Hollow Skin
And Talking Colon
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