IN HIS book Living In The End Times, the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek analyses the state of Western ideology, for purposes of excoriating it, and posits that ideology is not the abstract propositions themselves, but rather it is the texture of the life-world which "schematises" propositions, making them liveable.
He makes the example of military ideology: it only becomes liveable against a background of unwritten rules and rituals, such as marching chants, fragging, and sexual innuendo that comes with it.
Žižek then concludes that an ideological experience happens at its most purest when we adopt an attitude of ironic distance. When we laugh at the follies we are prepared to believe in, ideology takes its strongest hold on us.
"This is also why, if one wants to observe contemporary ideology at work, all one need do is watch a few of Michael Palin’s travel programmes on the BBC: their underlying attitude of adopting a benevolent ironic distance towards different customs, taking pleasure in observing local peculiarities while filtering out the really traumatic data, amounts to postmodern racism at its most essential," Žižek wrote.
While he was describing what Jean Jacques Rousseau said was the "philosopher who loves the Tartar in order to be dispensed from loving his neighbours", Žižek’s analysis applies to South Africa’s struggles for a multiracial society. We have grown familiar with arguments against modern racism, which argues that races or ethnicities are unequal – it is the argument that the apartheid state was built on, and to counter it, liberation and resistance movements cultivated a progressive counter-argument based on disproving these racist claims.
Academics say that postmodern racism has begun to assert itself in places like Europe. This particular kind doesn’t argue that races or ethnicities are superior or inferior, merely different in ways that make the establishment of common ground impossible.
Even if it comes wrapped in the kind of warm condescension that television documentaries specialise in, regarding other cultures as mere sites for extraction is essentially racist. Especially if that condescending gaze is complicit in the oppression of the other and refuses to acknowledge this.
This brings me rather nicely to a snippet of information that I came across on the social web over the weekend: for just R850, you can enjoy your own stay in a "shanty town", located inside a game reserve in Bloemfontein. Located on Emoya Estate, it has underfloor heating, donkey geysers (I have no idea either), "long-drop effect" toilets, braai facilities and a bathroom with a shower.
If you don’t believe that this is deliberate and calculated, this is from the website: "Millions of people are living in informal settlements across South Africa. These settlements consist of thousands of houses also referred to as shacks, shantys or makhukhus. A shanty usually consists of old corrugated iron sheets or any other waterproof material which is constructed in such a way to form a small "house" or shelter where they make a normal living. A paraffin lamp, candles, a battery-operated radio, an outside toilet (also referred to as a long drop) and a drum where they make fire for cooking is normally part of this lifestyle."
And now you too can experience this, for R850 a night!
This, incidentally, is more than most South Africans living in informal settlements see in an entire month. According to the latest census data, only about 15% of black South Africans are considered middle and upper class. The large majority do not make more than R1,400 a month. A whopping 61% of black people live on less than R515 a month. About 87% of white South Africans are considered middle class or above. There is some improvement, but it is at snail’s pace — the reason why the problem is so entrenched is apartheid.
But instead of critical self-examination that might lead many people to accept their own complicity in the oppression of their fellow citizens, this is what we have. Reducing the pain of poverty to an experience, that you can dip in and out of for more money than those poor shack dwellers have in a month.
In 2011, the American website Jezebel alerted us to something similar that happened in Mpumalanga — a couple had a colonial-themed wedding, complete with an all-black cast of servants.
One could say that they were merely "following their own" culture or tradition, but it is one steeped in blood. It was a callous move. This place in Bloemfontein made the same mistake.
In case it isn’t clear: don’t give your expensive game reserve a "shanty town look", because it’s not a look. Don’t have colonial-themed weddings. Read a bloody book and educate yourself about how your less fortunate South Africans really live.