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Tarzan, DeWet du Toit

Tarzania

by Brandon Edmonds / 07.06.2011

After watching his audition, two things struck me. Where did DeWet Du Toit get a fucking elephant? And boy has this 24-year old personal-trainer (and Tarzan-wannabe) from George ever given us a golden opportunity to consider white Afrikaaner masculinity!

First off, DeWet is cool. No ill will towards him. I hope he gets to be Tarzan. He seems like a good guy. He gives conservation talks at schools. You know, for kids. He’s really straightforward. Irony to him is about as useful as a sitar made of sherbet. DeWet is totally upfront about his desire: he wants to play Tarzan in the latest attempt at a franchise slated for production by Warner Bros in 2012. He wants it so bad. DeWet’s big Boer heart is on his sleeve for all to see.

And he’s making progress. On the back of the audition tape, an LA agent has invited him to a 6 month all-inclusive much-needed training camp to prepare for getting the role. You can help finance his trip by pledging at indiegogo.

So yeah great it’s just that Tarzan is a bit iffy racially. See Edgar Rice Burroughs, the guy who wrote the original novel, which launched a franchise that’s sold around 60 million books and spawned a lucrative merchandising industry, was an avowed eugenicist. Eugenics was a turn of the century movement seeking to keep the national “germ plasm” (gene pool) pure by eliminating “lower types” through selective breeding. In the 1920s, 60 000 people were sterilized by law in the US as a result, influencing Nazi policy to come. Burroughs even kept a copy of Mein Kampf in his library, thanked his parents in a letter for giving him the “uncontaminated red blood of the Puritan and the Pioneer” and in an essay called “I See a Race” advocated a “cleansed US” in which the official religion would be “service to the race”. In a clear evocation of lynching, Tarzan, “killer of many beasts and black men”, as his creator hailed him, hangs his victims. I know, I know. Worryingly, DeWet told an interviewer he’s “fascinated” not only by Tarzan’s “strength and honour…but the values he lived by too.”

As the introduction to a new edition of Tarzan puts it: “Ironically, with its reliance on (dated) fantasies concerning racial purity, Burroughs’s masculine ideal reveals how constructed and contingent ideals of masculinity can be.” So when DeWet parades his pumped white body on behalf of that ingrained cultural configuration called Tarzan, it makes you wonder about the abiding racial fantasies of Afrikaaner masculinity. Is the audition tape, along with being very funny, an extreme expression of white male compensation strategies in a non-racial democracy?

Take a look at the list of sports DeWet enjoys on his Fitness Star Network page, here’s a sample: hiking, kayaking, squash, shooting, surfing, diving, swimming, mountain biking, rowing and running.
A daunting string of verbs taking us right inside an anxious masculinity and its Spartan strategies of overcompensation. Du Toit has been taking cold showers in the bush for over a year and rocking a high protein low fat diet on the family farm. He says: “I believe that Tarzan is the perfect specimen or example of “man”, physically and mentally, because his “yes” was his “yes” and his “no” was his “no”. You don’t get that anymore these days… the “real” man is fading away as we speak, and there isn’t any more examples for people to strive for in our time.”

DeWet du Toit

Hence DeWet’s pumped up compensatory embodiment and gratifying identification with the Tarzan ideal. It’s also clear the King of the Apes resonates for this young Afrikaaner as a sign of loss, “you don’t get that anymore these days”, and given how we’ve detailed the raced nature of that sign, the ugly background of the Tarzan imaginary, could it be a complicated wish for a time DeWet must not name, when (white) men were men?

As Melisa Steyn writes, powerfully, for local whites generally, “there is an acute sense of loss of the familiar, loss of certainty, loss of comfort, loss of privilege, loss of well-known roles; their ‘delusional home’ has collapsed.” Gore Vidal’s reading of the Tarzan books finds a “motor drive for power, for the ability to dominate one’s environment through physical strength.”

DeWet’s auditioning body is often in slow motion – in a wired global culture premised on immediacy, his endless slowness is a dead giveaway. Tarzan is a reactionary myth yet to catch up to how we live and think and work now, so who better to play him than a white Afrikaans man?

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