Butcheredby Linda Stupart / 28.02.2012
An unpowered vehicle towed by an/other, in particular. (my emphasis)
Advertise (a movie or program) in advance by broadcasting excerpts or details.
When the news broke that Die Antwoord’s trailer for their new album had been pulled due to copyright issues regarding Jane Alexander’s Butcher Boys (1985/6) the popular response was instantaneous and damning. This response came both from South Africans and ‘the overseas’ and it was almost singularly critical of Alexander’s choice to claim back her work, to extract it from Die Antwoord’s visual lexicon and their particular identity non-politics. Alexander was accused in this commentary of a range of evils – from being greedy and trying to make money off the backs of Die Antwoord’s success to having an unacceptable desire to close down the meaning of her piece by keeping it out of the public sphere. The worst attack that was thrown at her, however, was merely that she was being old fashioned, that she should get over it (what ‘it’ is in this context is rarely apparent) and herself, and just, you know, relax.
I had not then seen the video as it had already been taken down from most sites, but reading all of this made me feel physically sick. Bile rising up my throat in a bodily need to expel something, to rid myself of the elements of my own identity – the young whiteness, South Africanness, artness, postmodernness, hipness, ‘whateverness’ so apparent in all of these bloggers’ responses and in Die Antwoord themselves. On my blog I diagnosed my disgust as a reaction to a “culture of forgetting” in South Africa. Later, I realized that it was rather a compulsive revulsion that typifies my response to something bigger, and undeniably pervasive internationally (particularly, it seems, in England). This ‘thing’ is ‘post-political-correctness’, and I think it’s a problem.
To begin with, the appropriation argument: Once it is in the real world the author has no claim to her own work. Everything is a remix. To nominate is to create. To read is to write. Notions of originality (being at the origin of) and even of creation (making something from nothing) are slowly blurred in this new cultural landscape marked by the twin figures of the DJ and the programmer, both of whom have the task of selecting cultural objects and inserting them into new contexts.
Yes, in principal, in theory, I agree (I am also not going to bother referencing any of the above, but that’s totally conceptually appropriate. Right?)
That said, the day someone remade one of my works as unreferenced ‘satire’ I was both angry and upset. Sure I didn’t do anything about it, mostly because I didn’t want to further my already violated position by being a ‘spoilsport’, old fashioned, lacking in humour etc. (accusations identical to those thrown at Alexander here). So before damning the artist’s decision, it might be worth positing some kind of potential empathetic considerations of her position as artist.
It might also be useful to remember how unquestioningly outraged South African artists were when BMW ‘appropriated’ Gerhard Marx’s work in an advertisement. Where (quite rightly) the media and the public supported Marx in claiming ownership of his creative property, we cheered when he eventually won. While I am not ignorant of the differences between BMW and Die Antwoord as producers of both culture and capitalism, Die Antwoord’s trailer functions as an advertisement for the new album. And for themselves. And here, perhaps, we find the crux of the matter; in what self(s) Die Antwoord is peddling. Perhaps this is why Alexander has chosen to break her well-known and respected silence about The Butcher Boys and its multitudes of appropriations – a particular corporeal distrust (/disgust) of Die Antwoords’ un-identity non-politics.
And here, a note for Americans:
DIE ANTWOORD ARE NOT REAL. THEY ARE NOT POOR. WADDY (OR ‘NINJA’) IS NOT AFRIKAANS. THEY DO NOT HAVE THOSE ACCENTS. THEY COULD AFFORD MUCH BETTER TATTOOS IF THEY WERE SO INCLINED. THEY DO NOT DRESS LIKE THAT NORMALLY. THEY DO NOT LIVE IN THAT BACK GARDEN THEY FILMED THAT GODDAM ‘INTERVIEW’ IN. THEY HAVE NEVER BEEN TO PRISON. THEY ARE NOT EVIL OR STUPID. THEY ARE NOT ZEF. ZEF IS NOT A THING THE WAY YOU THINK IT IS. THEIR DAUGHTER DOES NOT WALK ABOUT WITH A SNAKE AROUND HER NECK. ETCETERA.
Ok, but we’ve been through this: There is no such thing as an authentic subject, as ‘realness’. In the face of hybridity, postmodernity, virtuality, globalisation, elective affinities etc. this very idea is naïve and boring. In other words, so they’re not real, but who is? Perhaps the question should rather be posed in relation to Die Antwoord’s indiscriminate masquerading as Other, wrenching out elements of existing cultures and extinct subcultures in what becomes a caricature of identities, which functions to parody otherness, to freakify difference.
And the context of this masquerade is the South African Post Apartheid landscape, its backdrop, post-political-correctness.
According to Wikipedia:
Political correctness (adjectivally, politically correct; both forms commonly abbreviated to PC) is a term which denotes language, ideas, policies, and behavior seen as seeking to minimize social and institutional offense in occupational, gender, racial, cultural, sexual orientation, certain other religions, beliefs or ideologies, disability, and age-related contexts, and, as purported by the term, doing so to an excessive extent. In current usage, the term is primarily pejorative (my emphasis).
I am sympathetic to arguments against political correctness, which can act as a kind of moral police, a benevolent racism, a victimizing of minorities, a way of closing discourse, gagging people and so on. However, I wonder whether the rejection of not-offending is also a rejection of not-causing-harm. Sexist memes, rape jokes, casual racism are all symptoms of being allowed to ‘do what we want’. of a society that is permissive at all human costs. The assumption is that ‘we’ all agree with this okayness and that anyone who disagrees is alone, particular, alien and cast out in their old fashioned sensitivity. This implicit ‘whatever-ness’ is particularly worrying when applied to atrocities of the recent past in South Africa, where ‘we’ are assumed to be ‘over’ Apartheid – viewing the past from a privileged cool-kid distance.
Because, to quote ‘Yolandi’ in an American interview ‘[Apartheid is] like a back in the day thing, it’s old fashioned…
The thing is, not only did Apartheid only just end, many would argue that it still exists. If not legislatively, there is still an undeniable racial disparity economically, socially, and in education in South Africa. Once before I, fairly callously asked how many white people you know living in townships, and how many black South Africans are at art school? Despite its crudeness, I revive this example, because it proves as an indisputable visual marker of difference in the population.
To continue, two more statements that are controversial in a kind of vapid throwaway shock value post-politically-correct way that has become Die Antwoord’s staple:
God made a mistake with me. I’m actually black, trapped in a white body.
I’m a white kaffir (I untyped and retyped this word repeatedly, eventually leaving it visible in the hope that it might at least arouse some kind of bodily response in South African readers).
So, I continue:
You are not a black person trapped in a white body.
That is, to be black is largely defined as to be visibly marked as black, i.e. to be inside a black body. That is not to say that I know anything whatsoever about black experience. What I do know, however, is that much of the culture and history of race, racism, sexism and other Othering has to do with the fact that to be black is to be marked as such, to be visibly not-white, to be visible.
Waddy (/Ninja) was born in 1974, four years after non-white political representation was completely abolished and black people were deprived of their citizenship in South Africa. So, as a South African, Waddy, what exactly does it mean to inhabit a white, English body and yet ‘be’ black – does it mean you would have failed the pencil test? Does it mean that your parents could not vote? That they carried passes? That you could not be schooled except in trade? Does this mean that until only 18 years ago (when you were already an adult), that you were considered a non-citizen, a not-South African, not-human. And where do you live today (and I mean before you ‘got rich’ off of Die Antwoord) exactly? Does your lifestyle reflect that of the majority of the black population in South Africa? Do you suffer from the institutionalized racism, classism etc?
Now with this question we do know the answer.
Jane Alexander’s Butcher Boys is a pivotal work in the history of resistance art and of Apartheid. While it functions as any artwork in the public realm it is also more than that – a cultural artifact, an historical testament, an affecting reminder of the dehumanizing horrors of apartheid. The work is of this particular time and space, and Die Antwoord’s kitschification of The Butcher Boys is endemic of the callousness of their production in the South African context, of the harm caused by the post-politically-correct.
I have watched the video a few times now. It is engrossing. For a while I considered the idea that in their appropriation of The Butcher Boys Die Antwoord were being critical of their own identity construction. I dismissed this argument for two reasons: Firstly because Die Antwoord’s massive fanbase outside of South Africa are unlikely to even notice the reference. Secondly due to Die Antwoord’s ‘apology’, which refers to the sculpture as “beautiful” and names their trailer as “just a cute little short piece we made for fun”, showing a complete disregard for the artist, for The Butcher Boys’ context, and for South African specificity – the real, historical and contemporary political fact of Apartheid in South Africa.
In summary, I see Die Antwoord’s lightweight lifting of Alexander’s work as a symptom, an open wound, of the uncaringness associated with post-political-correctness. Though I remain the last person in the world to say that artists should be making work that reflects Politics, that artists should do anything, this instance – which I am far more ambivalent about than the statements detailed above – is yet another in a string of ‘whatever-ness’ that stands in the way of any kind of real engagement with the South African socio-political landscape. Here, I imagine a bunch of really fresh, cool-looking racehorses wearing blinkers: happy, but tightly controlled precisely through the invisibility of their periphery – ridden hard and fast on a circular track.