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Culture, Reality
Brandon Edmonds, Alastair Laird

Hacklandia

by Brandon Edmonds / Illustration by Alastair Laird / 03.11.2011

I’m sinking into the sand at the Grand near the V&A in Granger Bay. “They shipped the sand in and have created a private beach with a beautiful blue sea horizon. The sea is often filled with boats adding to the composition of the image which will stay in your mind long after you have left and may well be a stage for some pleasant dreams one night.” The creator of that bland, inoculated prose (‘the composition of the image’/’pleasant dreams’) is Dax of the emphatically unremarkable food blog, Relax with Dax. He’s sitting across from me at an al fresco dining table, in a bright red Castle windbreaker, expertly liberated from the SAB functionaries behind this promotional dinner with Cooked chef Justin Bonello. It’s the Cape Town leg of a 5-day Castle Homegrown tour during which a suspiciously representative clutch of lucky customers have been shown “the best the country has to offer”. They’ve been to Kimberly, done the Moses Mabhida bungee, met Siphiwe Tshabalala and will have Johnny Clegg play for them exclusively on the closing night of a punishing itinerary drenched in beer.

Dax looks like a character actor. A short, round nebbish-y step-father figure who always seems to be in the vicinity when his teenaged step-daughter steps out of the shower. I imagine him ultimately going postal. He has the coddled skin of a guy who still calls his mother religiously and masturbates, come the Witching hour, to rote Marc Dorcel Euro porn. I’m terrified of becoming him, terrified I already have. See Dax is a palpitating mollusk on the pampered hide of the Cape’s desultory social scene. He writes shit like this: “The other day someone asked me if I thought the Grand on the Beach is the place of the season and after thinking about it I said yes. So it’s important for me to get this review out to you.” I love how he thinks about it. I love how he can write a phrase like ‘place of the season’ without irony. By love I mean loathe of course. It’s important for me to clarify that for you.

Castle Lager

Anyway Dax is the epitome of a hack from Hacklandia. BMW promo at Montecasino? I’m there. Champagne lunch with Investec? What time! That’s Dax in line at the perfume launch, the nightclub opening, flashing a peace sign in a flash mob bankrolled by Wimpy. He has Coldplay on replay all day. Again, I’m being vicious because Dax is my destiny. Let’s face it. The Census lady came round recently and I discovered, filling out the form, my annual salary is the bottom rung. The rock bottom rung. I don’t have medical aid. I haven’t seen a dentist since the Mbeki regime. What’s stopping me from crossing the border into Hacklandia? Integrity? Please. Marxist posturing? Possibly. I think it’s pride basically. I pride myself on being contrary. That Groucho quote is scripture to me: “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.” But things change.

Imagine the fruits of Hacklandia! Arm-wrestling industrialists after a lunch of Iberico ham and truffle fritters in Barcelona. Afternoons sipping Mouton Rothschild on crisp white sheets in Peru. Evenings soulfully penetrating the contemporary equivalent of Raquel Welch in her prime. All the seductions of Capital. An estate with servants educated at the Sorbonne. My own helicopter. A place on a lake. So at ease with myself that George Clooney wants to be me. Have me Hacklandia. My keyboard is yours.

Yet living there would mean refusing to see what I see. I’d be Dax in the mirror each morning. Willfully placing an ankle in a bear trap. Another brand ambassador passive-aggressively shoveling mendacity. Take this dinner thing. What’s the fucking point? The beer put regular South Africans up at the Mount Nelson. They hired luxury coaches. They’ve flown everyone first class. They’ve plied them, for days, with beer and proteins. Why? “Get the brand out there,” an organizer says. “Great word of mouth. These are real South Africans discovering their country.” If anything sells itself it’s sex, crack and beer. It’s always-already got great word of mouth. This feels like marketing for the sake of marketing. Because the budget’s there. SAB tossing baubles at the public. A retail giant so secure in its monopoly, so assured of monstrous annual turnover, it can pluck citizens from their lives on a whim.

A couple from Pretoria saw Soweto for the first time. They got to travel in a mini-bus taxi. “It was noisy,” they said. Another couple, who work in a pie factory in KZN, have flown for the first time. Which is cool. I notice how wasted the husband is. He’s wearing his Castle cap hip hop askew like the Fresh Prince. “He makes sausage rolls,” his wife says. It’s clearly an arcane diss since he winces. They’ve dined, thanks to the prize, in the kind of high end restaurants Hollywood douches on cost-cutting location shoots take for granted. “We could never afford to do this,” some winners tell me. They all seem exhausted. Overfed. Overindulged. Glassy-eyed and torpid. Stuffed ticks.

Castle Lager Homegrown

SAB apparently issued little medical bags “with every pill you can imagine” to keep participants standing. I ask one of their brand dudes what the company has to say about beer as a destructive force, ruining lives and families, making cars pile up on freeways? “We have educational outreach programs,” he says. “We want people to drink responsibly.” Yeah and I want a locked underground facility with just me, Ecstasy and a bevy of naked Miss Teen USA contestants. Could happen.

The Grand itself is pretty. The roped off sliver of beach gives me Cannes vibes and there’s a bar out here made of beige graphite with muted back-lighting. All they have is Castle. Not even bottled water. Brand Nazism. Farty chillwave scatter-hop plays as divers emerge from the shoreline. It’s had shitty reviews, the Grand. Only good for sundowners is the chi chi consensus. They have a seafood pizza for R500. It feeds three allegedly. For tourists really, which is precisely what Castle has turned these good people into.

I feel the warm breeze of Hacklandia on my cheeks. This could be my life. In Country Road slip-ons and a Woolworths suit. Covering corporate events. Generating copy fluff for soccer moms, for trans-Atlantic flyers, for industry insiders and market leaders. I could buy a little place in Vredehoek on the back of it. I could hand-signal on a Vespa and follow trends and “make something of myself”. Oh you are good, Hacklandia! Nice try.

Finally, a moment with the star himself. Justin Bonello, the leading man of a pair of occasionally beguiling cooking shows on BBC Food, where he and other white 30-somethings eased around the country (and southern Africa) prepping on fold-out tables, heaping salads into bowls and baking in dustbins, is professionally adept at spilling the existential beans. To seem real. Within minutes of meeting him he’s offering up his dark place. “I was destitute,” he says. “Just a few years ago I had nothing.” And all I wanted to know was what’s in the array of potjies standing like blown up devil thorns over the coals! Peppered lamb neck is the answer. Deeply tender and redundantly accompanied by gummy gnocchi (Bonello’s MO as a cook is the unanticipated – hence the Wors Cannelloni and Thom Yum Goon Risotto in his admittedly lovely cookbook “Cooked in Africa”).

We’ll enjoy chilli mussels and delicious steamed bread for starters and a platter of roasted butternut and beetroot with pine nuts. Bonello is as approachable a cook as he is in person. He could push the boat out a little more (accessibility becomes too-easy very quickly) but that wouldn’t be him. And he’s one of us. He’s suffered. Seems the Platinum Group (Jenni Button, Hilton Wiener, Aca Joe) fucked him over. “They left me with R500k worth of merchandise.” But he, you know, bounced back. And here we are with Castles in our hands.

Later I watch Bonello sign copies of his book for the competition winners. None of them know who he is. The drunk sausage roll guy makes him sign his T-shirt. Everyone laughs. Then Dax sits for his book-signing. They hang arms over each other’s shoulders. They grin for the camera. I am deep in the heart of Hacklandia. An assistant asks me if I want my copy signed? This is it. Enter the circle of promotion or keep my distance, looking on? Let’s just say I’ll be re-gifting the book come December. It’s pages free of magic marker.

Castle Lager Homegrown

*Illustration © Alastair Laird.

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RESPONSES (33)
  1. Missy Gouws says:

    Edmonds on top form again, I see. Nice

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  2. lisa2president says:

    You are SO cool….

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  3. Anonymous says:

    jesus dont ever sell out dude. i love your writing. takes balls the size of coconuts to tell shit like it is.

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  4. youaskedmeifimabear says:

    Fokken amazing Brendon! You are the best

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  5. youaskedmeifimabear says:

    can we take some of these beers home?

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  6. danni says:

    incredible. x

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  7. Captain Lombard says:

    You’re funny!

    “soulfully penetrating” – haha!

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  8. Jissus says:

    Why is this article attracting comments from such idiots?

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  9. Donmeh Blue says:

    What I can’t figure out is how Brandon ended up there in the first place. I’m glad he did, but the means by which he secured entry to Hacklandia…

    Also.. I think someone’s underestimating how hard it is to get into Hacklandia. The sheer amount of dick that has to be sucked and ass that has to be licked can only be achieved by burnt out pornstars, B List celebrity wannabees in the arts, readers of 10 Habits of Highly Effective People and the rung-pullers on the corporate ladder.

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  10. Roger Young says:

    @Donmeh Blue

    They invited Andy Davis, he passed it on to me and I “convinced” Edmonds to go, against his better judgement.

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  11. Capitech says:

    Adolescents in Amish communities go through a ritual known as Rumspringa. During this phase they are allowed to go into the outside world and to overindulge in its “evils” as much as they desire before deciding whether they will commit to the rigidity of their community’s life for the rest of their lives. In most cases the culture shock and the tendency towards immediate over gratification is enough to propel youth of such limited life experience back into the protective folds of Amish life.

    Well, this piece smells a lot like a middle-aged equivalent of an impoverished hardcore Marxist’s Rumspringa. It comes across as a bit too deliberate and contrived in its execution to serve as anything more than self-justified aversion therapy. Edmonds gets to assign himself to the most obvious and lavish celebration of brand hype, thereby reinforcing his cushy yet tentatively maintained assumption that all forms of capitalism are universally evil. Life seems simpler and more bearable afterwards, doesn’t it?

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  12. brandon says:

    Ha ha rumspringa brilliant.

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  13. danni says:

    theres a cool band called rumspringa too

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  14. Roger Young says:

    According to the excellent documentary on Rumspringa, Devil’s Playground (2002) Lucy Walker, the numbers of those who return has tipped toward the non-returning.

    The problem with Rumspringa in this day and age is that you have your whole life to come back and repent for your sins. And, in some cases, the Amish have actually shielded wanted criminals (most notably pedophiles) from the police because they had “repented”.

    In the documentary there is excellent footage of about 200 Amish kids, in full dress, raving in a field, stobes, bad house music, you name it. It’s really is quite mind boggling.

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  15. YsterHart says:

    Hmmmm. Selling out your skills rarely results in entry into Hacklandia, mostly it just means having a job, paying rent and eating food on a regular basis.

    The trust fund must be strong with you if you actually have a choice not to do commercial work, and if so, I envy you.

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  16. Fake Max says:

    More like the TEFL savings account.

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  17. creepy steve says:

    viva sausage roll guy viva

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  18. Roger Jorgensen says:

    I can see, Brandon, you are having a go at being a smart-arse, but maybe missed out on the ‘smart’. Your article is not improved with personal and rude inuendo: it does you no credit, and is offensive, puerile. Some advice (from your Gran): if you do not have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

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  19. Donmeh Blue says:

    Yes Brandon, listen to Roger Jorgenson and try some Baltic-style etiqutee. Don’t ever say anything that isn’t nice. Then, after years of repressing all your negative urges:
    a) start a black metal band, burn down a church, kill your drummer and eat him
    b) pick up a gat from your local army depot and try kill everyone
    c) get some square frame bifocals and go on sex tours of 3rd world African countries to blow off some steam

    But just be nice. Okay? Now pour me an Aquavit.

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  20. beherenow says:

    oh dear, Roder J is feeling old and jaded and not only drinks castle but loves brands, buys into the whole fucking lie.
    Go and live with your gran rodg.

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  21. sakkie says:

    Ha, ha, good stuff. Even the comments.

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  22. Roger Jorgensen says:

    My Gran died, beherenow.

    Tried a Castle once, only once! It is not for me. Handcrafted is the only way, and I am probably less bought into those lies than you think, kid.

    You can pour me an Aquavit too – I make it

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  23. Luke says:

    Beer @ The Grand….. how horribly South African

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  24. Herman Lategan says:

    Excellent piece. More. More writing like this in boring media land.

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  25. Anonymous says:

    Edmonds is the type of big balls behind a keyboard type that I will gladly kick to death while I hum the tune to Vivaldi’s La Primavera. What a cunt.

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  26. Darren says:

    It’s well written – but you are attacking someone on a deeply personal level based on looks, his job and your perverse assumption.

    Surely Edmonds as someone who can write, you can find better and more meaningful things to hit.

    I want to meet you one day.

    Because you are a cunt, albeit with talent. But I will hit you fucking hard.

    D

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  27. brandon says:

    Physical threats at last! I’ve arrived…

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  28. Anonymous says:

    “Dax looks like a character actor. A short, round nebbish-y step-father figure who always seems to be in the vicinity when his teenaged step-daughter steps out of the shower”.

    This implies that whenever the teenage daughter gets out the shower, and her step father is there with a smirk – Brandon is right behind him keeping tabs.

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  29. Anonymous says:

    Be careful Brandon. You could just find yourself flat on your arse with a broken jaw at the next event you attend.

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  30. Margot says:

    Why do you have to say “Teen” USA contestants? Gross, Brandon.

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  31. ThatAwkwardMoment says:

    Nice

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  32. Liz says:

    Fine. But at least Dax is a decent guy. Shitting on other people just makes you a bully. Pat yourself on the back, dude.

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  33. Anonymous says:

    You obviously have nothing better to do with your time than slate other people who you interact with. My feeling is that you are a little envious of poor Dax, as why else would you spend half of your article writing about him if he didn’t “get to you?” Shows you what type of person you are, and that you certainly need to do some growing up, and fast.

    Shame, probably better to spend your days doing something a litle more productive with your time – (have you even thought of getting a real job) or are you that bored that writing scathing accounts like this seem the best way to while away your days? Makes sense that you would be one of the bottom tier earners in society then, I wouldn’t pay you to work for me.

    If you have ever taken the time or effort to get to know SAB, Justin Bonello or Dax, I assure you you’d get off your little high horse and be brought swiftly back down to reality very fast.

    You must be a very short man with a lot of “little” problems.

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