Nonhle and the Veil of Brandingby Brandon Edmonds / 24.02.2011
An entity you may remember from the Crusades keeps appearing in the ever-lengthening media trail of Nonhle Thema (whose lackluster new reality show Nonhle Goes to Hollywood debuted recently on Vuzu): let’s call the entity ‘God’. The ambitious 28-year old ex-Channel O vee-jay and international face of Dark & Lovely body butter (“it’s all about moisture ladies!”) is the daughter of our first ebony Miss Universe contestant, and the chance possessor of the kind of wholesomely fuckable, airbrush-smooth, post-racial perkiness even gender dinosaurs like FHM can get behind. But Nonhle just can’t shut up about Him. To the point where you wonder why she even bothered hiring Brand Ambassadors, a top-tier PR shit-slinging outfit, to handle the media for her. Wouldn’t He be a better point-man? He’s already proven to be the kind of hands-on, results-driven super(natural) agent more faithless stars can only dream of. Here’s Nonhle on the Big Guy’s outstanding impact on her career.
“When I lost a major pageant (she walked in her mother’s beauty queen heels for a spell), I started my new relationship with God. I totally surrendered to Him at the age of 21 and said ‘Lord you are my Master and Creator. Only you know what my Destiny and Purpose on earth are. I allow You to take over me and show me the way in order for me to find peace and fulfillment.’ And after that, boy did He answer me! He started bringing me all sorts of work and my relationship with Him keeps getting deeper and deeper. He has proven that He has chosen me as His child. Jobs like Global Ambassador for the number one hair care brand in the world is Him. He understands me and I understand what He wants me to do.”
What’s fascinating here is the complete absence of any trace of what remains Jesus’ most lingeringly resonant gesture (next to the whole dying for us all thing, of course) in this undemocratic era of privatized profit and public risk. Matthew 21:12 – “And Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple and turned the tables of the money changers… He said to them, It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you make it a den of robbers.” He even fashioned a whip. At no other point on record does He get this het up on earth. “Do not make my father’s house into a house of merchandise.”
But Nonhle happily equates faith with material gain. It’s as if the Cleansing of the Temple never happened. God acts as a kind of brand facilitator. A brand maximiser. Pulling metaphysical strings behind the scenes, landing her big contracts, and getting Nonhle’s name out there. This is late capitalist faith 2.0. Self-serving and deaf to history. A shadow of what it was. No longer moving mountains but leveraging brand exposure. Or as Nietzsche’s straight-talking Jesus-upgrade, Zarathustra, says: “You still want to be paid, you virtuous! Want to have reward for virtue and heaven for earth, and eternity for your today.” Zing!
Now consider 1 Corinthians 6:19: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” The price of Jesus’ supposed crucifixion. But look what we’ve done: if the body is a temple and Jesus banished avarice from the temple, isn’t it distinctly ungodly to become a brand?
Being both a believer and a brand is, in strict Biblical terms, an impasse, a contradiction, a big fucking no no. But the veil of branding appears bullet-proof. Parading herself for FHM “is a real honour. Especially since it’s a predominantly white magazine. It makes me proud to think I have crossed over and I’m appealing to whites and blacks. I want everyone to like me and relate to me. It’s a blessing (being voted 17th Sexiest Woman in the World out of 100) because I’m God’s child.” Faith acts as a kind of deflecting mist of self-affirmation, neutralizing self-doubt, and making whatever advances the exposure of Brand Nonhle permissable.
Her venality, given full reign, is palpable: “I want to have a million in my account by the end of the year – I’m close to that dream. I hope to have my own Cosmetics and Hair range, write a book and have lots of success. I’m working on building an empire. Nonhle Thema is going to be a name that will be around for a very long time. Think Oprah, Tyra Banks, Madonna. All those successful, smart business ladies.”
Thema’s conveniently career-boosting God – a malleable father-figure in her corner no matter what – Thema’s parents divorced when she was young – is really the laughable final embers of a process sociologist Max Weber has described in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: “the intensity of the search for the Kingdom of God commenced gradually to pass over into sober economic virtue; the religious roots died out slowly, giving way to utilitarian worldliness.” This is the pragmatic air Thema lives and breathes. Part of a fluent and traveled new generation laden with opportunities their parents never had.
To her credit, though, Nonhle is not unaware of the spiritual hazards of self-promotion. She compensates for the Godless instinct of acquisition via the rhetoric of a Calling. “It’s my destiny. I’m not taking it for granted. God gave me this for a reason.” Faith is here a way to fast-track achievement, supplying all the internal assurances necessary to make it out there. As Thema puts it with breathtaking brio: “The more I climb the career ladder…the closer I get to God.” He wants me to be rich so I can help others. It’s His plan for me. “I’m not just in it for the money,” she says, “but for a deeper meaning.” She has an outreach program called Nonhle’s Angels, mentoring young women on careerism and personal hygiene. “When I do talks to young girls all over, I start by using my life as a vehicle of inspiration and encouragement that anything is possible. If me as a girl from Soweto can do it, why can’t you?”
Where better for Nonhle, than Hollywood?