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The Me in Meme

The Me in Meme

by Andy Davis / 18.04.2013

The internet is a strange and wonderful thing. Our story starts with a Sunday evening, a man and his laptop. He’s creating memes of a socio-political bent. As one does, these days, as a kind of creative activism when you’re bored on the internet and have an issue you want to address. His name is Damian Stephens and he’s quite famous for the label he started called Pioneer Records that specialises in finding and promoting conscious, vernac hip hop – drawn mainly from the ghettoes that surround Cape Town. The divide between white privilege and black poverty is a pretty central theme to his position. A foot in both worlds, as it were. This fine evening on Facebook he releases a photograph, pilfered from the internet, featuring 2Oceansvibe’s Seth Rotherham at the Polo, flanked by two girls, ‘babes’ one would say in the 2OV parlance, and overlaid with some pretty incisive political commentary about white privilege. I ‘liked’ when I saw them on Facebook, as you do, and wondered what Seth had done to incur the wrath of Damian. Another internet bitch fight brewing. Grist for the Mahala mill. White creative Cape Town is a small place filled with bitchy, vindictive neighbours. So I hit him up:

“Damian howzit? Let’s do a piece on these Seth memes you’re creating.”

“Haha. What kind of piece? Who is Seth?” Damian typed back immediately.

“The dude in those pics, he’s the head of 2Oceansvibe.” I typed.

“Oh. that’s perfect then.” He answered.

“So why did you produce these? What’s the reasoning?”

“The underlying reason is obviously the issue of white privilege in South Africa. Been reading some Tim Wise recently. But I saw the White Entrepreneurial Guy Detroit Meme and copied it.”

“Why did you choose that pic of Seth?” I ask.

“This is the funny part. I googled ‘white Capetonian’ and that was there.”

“Ha ha. Wow. Read this.” I replied.

“Amazing! Looks like I unwittingly picked the perfect poster boy for my campaign.”

But then I googled “white Capetonian” and couldn’t find the pic of Seth and the girls. Maybe it had been removed, or maybe Damian did this far more calculatingly. Maybe he knows exactly who Seth Rotherham is. It’s hard, in the SA internet scene, to think he doesnt. The Gentrification meme seems like a particularly pointed barb. If so, why the subterfuge? Is Damian telling the truth, or am I being roped into a hatchet job? These kinds of memes are fast becoming the internet’s version of street justice.

The next day. My Facebook pings:

“So apparently the woman on the right of the photo is ‘devastated’ to have her image ‘dragged through the mud’. ‘So immature and unnecessary’. I also made it on to 2OV. I’m famous! You got a shout out too.”

And indeed I had received a shout out for my impromptu liking of said memes. (Shot Seth). And kudos to the ‘editor in chief’ for re-publishing them on his enormous, uh, blog. Surely a believer in the “all publicity” maxim, but I’m wondering if he fully understands the poignancy? Unwittingly or not, Damian just made Seth the poster boy for privileged whiteys who fail to appreciate just how privileged they are. Let us call this ‘the bubble’, where many of us, black and white, all privileged, choose to live, because hey, life’s just easier in here. Who wants to deal with death and suffering when I can choose, Facebook, Game of Thrones, The Kooks, sushi and craft beer?

And then, just hold that thought, Seth updated his meme story with a big plug for his ‘initiatives’ in Gugulethu through the Name Your Hood (NYH) campaign, the obvious suggestion being that Damian’s memes are way off the mark because Seth is really a trailblazer at overhauling the old apartheid legacy. And that’s when I started to think that maybe there’s a story here. The comment thread beneath the 2OV story just confirmed that this was a subject that needed tackling.

“Also, here is a cool article from San Francisco, highlighting our efforts to fight the legacy of apartheid.” Trumpeted Seth linking to an article on GOOD, written by NYH founder Bruce Good, in the third person, that actually quotes Bruce Good. “Wow.” Said Andy Davis. “That feels weird.”

The real question one needs to ask is does a neighbourhood rebranding campaign acually redress the legacy of apartheid, as both Bruce and Seth claim it does? And how exactly does it achieve this in a ‘hood’ typified by poverty and dire need? Sure it does something on a psychological level, if the names actually manage to catch on. But I’ve yet to hear people refer to bits of the CBD as ‘The Loop’, ‘Union Kloof’ or ‘Little Camissa’. And surely that Vodacom moolah would be better spent building schools, clinics and roads? Providing electricity, running water and sewage lines? What about some educational support for the country that comes second last in the world in maths and science education? Planting trees? Establishing parks? Some basic skills training, perhaps?

And why invest in name changing, sorry ‘rebranding’, when the city and the government, at both great expense and public controversy, are busy doing it for you? In my humble opinion, saying that Name Your Hood is ‘fighting the legacy of apartheid’ is like claiming that you can cure cancer with a new t-shirt. In fact it’s exactly this kind of misguided ‘goodvertising’, bolstered by the 2Oceansvibe ethos of ‘living the holiday’, larging it up in luxury hotels, driving fancy cars and celebrating ‘exclusive’ access to the good life publically on a widely read blog, internet radio station etc. that indeed makes Seth the perfect poster boy for the seemingly impenetrable bubble of white privilege. Hopefully one day soon, we’ll be able to detach the racial dimension, because Kenny Kunene (who 2OV loves to hate) is reading from the same script: promoting the same smug entitlement and love of power, wealth, status, conspicuous consumption and ultimately, bullshit.

*Epilogue*

Ping goes the Facebook. It’s Damian.

“I have just got an email from one of the women in the photo telling me I’m damaging her BEE business, and that she doesn’t come from privilege and worked really hard to get where she is.”

And in a very South African twist, the women flanking Seth at the Polo, the silent co-accusees tarnished in these memes, are simply collateral damage in our pissing match. Sorry about that.

17   6
RESPONSES (30)
  1. thehoverhand.com/ says:

    The funniest part about this is Seth’s hover-hand.

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  2. Zoe says:

    Haha, I’m with Damian. I had no idea who the guy in the photo was when I shared it. I’ve been to enough polo matches at Val de Vie to know that you don’t end up there unless you come from a privileged background. And if you’re a white woman with your own BEE company, you’re more privileged than most, hard work or otherwise. Sorry honey.

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  3. Hused Whut says:

    Smoking piece of shoot from the hip journalism. I dig it, it asks plenty of proper questions and I would rather have a spanner in the works then a thorn in the side coz a prang beats a prick every time. I guess what I’m saying is keep it up. While 2OV is groovy enough and seemingly harmless in all of its Hippie-ster existence there are serious questions to be asked about the laid-back lifestyle promoted through excessive and expensive upper-class activities that perpetuate entrenched white privilege. I’m white and I think there is plenty of work to be done addressing the existence of an inherent sense of superiority developed through decades of domination and exploitation, especially in Africa. I don’t feel responsible for the past, and I won’t be blamed for the actions of my ancestors, but I won’t run away from the responsibility of playing my part in redressing their devastating actions.

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  4. thehoverhand.com/ says:

    It was cut out but I’m pretty sure that this is how it went down

    http://static.rateyourmusic.com/lk/l/w/a59fe0e7ca996ea7b015de218b5b1c3e/3475760.jpg

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  5. Sigh says:

    Oh christ, just when I thought Mahala couldn’t clamber further up it’s own arse. Really, Andy? So just to recap: someone you know produced an undergraduate-level non-meme (don’t they have to be, you know, well known before they become memes?) about a nonentity like Seth R, which inspired you to write a non-article about a pointless conversation with your unoriginal buddy…and you thought we’d be interested? And this challenges white privilege how, exactly?

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  6. so bored says:

    Let me get this straight. Some DJ takes a random guys picture. Turns out it’s some internet guy. Internet guy doesn’t freak out and posts it on his site for a laugh. Then DJ and the Mahala Lentils start attacking him for being privileged. Then internet guy is forced to mention some initiative he is doing in the townships. Turns out this isn’;t good enough so Mahala Lentils post it here. WTF guys? Are you joking? Seriously. Get a job.

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  7. confused says:

    A question for whoever wrote this. Would it be better if seth had nothing to do with gughuletu whatsoever? would it be better if they didn’t change the street names from names like Native Yard? Looks to me like this guy can’t win with you lot. I think he can only win if he sells all his possessions and starts growing vegetables and living on the streets.

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  8. cnut says:

    Oh Douch-bag Davis… you really have no clue do you… you’re one big walking irony-o-saurus!

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  9. Andy says:

    The Cape Town city are busy changing the names from NY, not Seth. And the point i made is that Vodacom’s money could be better spent on addressing the actual needs of the community not some random branding exercise.

    And no cnut you have no clue, from there in Australia, it’s easy to think you got a handle, but it’s just your prejudice talking.

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  10. James says:

    Point of order: Name Your Hood have won the tender from the City of CT for the street renaming process in Gugulethu.

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  11. Dplanet says:

    “Looks to me like this guy can’t win with you lot. I think he can only win if he sells all his possessions and starts growing vegetables and living on the streets.”

    ————————————————

    White people are shamelessly embarrassing so often it’s ridiculous. I know guilt can be a powerful force in denial but this is ridiculous.

    Is it so hard to understand the concept of white privilege that we keep coming up with pathetic arguments to justify and excuse the inexcusable? Who has ever asked anyone to give up their possessions and ‘live on the streets’? “Grow vegetables”?! What the fuck are you talking about? Can we please use our humanity, rather than reductive logic, to look at social and historic situations in this country?

    Ask your friends in Gugs if they want a privileged white South African (backed by a white-owner business) to come and ‘save’ them from decades of white supremacist rule with a ‘New York style’ naming system to overcome their ‘lack of community’ and the legacy of Apartheid (which got them into the position of privilege in the first place).

    Instead of feeling ‘oppressed’ and ‘attacked’, try to educate yourselves. Try to stop feeling superior. Try to stop thinking that you know better. Familiarise yourself with the concept of paternalism. Maybe even try socialising with the people you want to ‘help’ – even if that means making an effort to move outside of your current social circles. Stop denying the past. Stop pretending that everything is forgotten now and it’s ‘time to move on’.

    Is it that hard?

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  12. Anonymous says:

    Says the white boy who has been living with his family in his parents house in Kommetjie for the past 15 years, skipping rent and any real rsponsabilities as a ‘man’ to sponsor his glorified BLOG. Still desperatly begging for MTN dollars to sponsor his sentionalist dribble.

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  13. confused says:

    i think the elderly are a very important group to look after and it is disgusting if anyone is not spending at least 10 hours a week helping the elderly or raising funds for them. andy and dplanet are you spending time in old age homes? because that’s important to me. And rhino poaching. what are you doing to stop rhino poaching? that’s what this whole thing looks like guys. it looks ridiculous. everyone is aware of different groups and who and what needs help but who are you to say what everyone should be doing? just do whatever you feel passionate about and do it quietly. get the job done. stop bitching and moaning at everyone else you are behaving like a bunch of naive idiots.

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  14. confused says:

    andy i assume you have at least 5 kids from the township staying with you and your folks on weekends? if not i don’t feel you’re sufficiently addressing the white privilege issue that dplanet is talking about. dplanet have you done a check that andy is doing enough to satisfy your gripe?

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  15. Cde Tjatjarag says:

    James, that’s interesting. It also bolsters the Kenny Kunene comparison.

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  16. Whale Meat Again says:

    @confused. Rhino poaching? Are you kidding? Think the embattled people of Gugs give a shit about the rhino (who, btw, are still replacing themselves faster than they’re being shot, for now anyway, so thank-you for caring)? If I was a shack dweller who happened to be on hand to see the vast amount of money and resources and time and “concern” being poured into the loony effort to return those 20 pilot whales to the ocean after they beached at Noordhoek recently, I would have gone and robbed a bunch of whitey houses. Then burned them down.

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  17. Whale Meat Again says:

    @confused. Rhino poaching? Are you kidding? Think the embattled people of Gugs give a shit about the rhino (who, btw, are still replacing themselves faster than they’re being shot, for now anyway, so thank-you for caring)? If I was a shack dweller who happened to be on hand to see the vast amount of money and resources and time and “concern” being poured into the loony effort to return those 20 pilot whales to the ocean after they beached at Noordhoek recently, I would have gone and burned your mountain down. Just for some perspective, you see …

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  18. Sarah says:

    Love it. Keep on challenging the bullshit Andy.

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  19. Sarah Claire Picton says:

    sushi. the kooks. craft beer. HAHAH. perfect!! sailor city. meme generation

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  20. Calvin the Kif says:

    I’d have me a threesome with Maximum Davis and Sarah Claire Picton while Seth watches on eating sushi and Bruce Good gets me a craft beer from my SMEG fridge. Yeah bitches!

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  21. Sarah Claire Picton says:

    hahaha!!! only if it’s filmed in HD.

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  22. Mav-Botee says:

    Very entertaining to read this article mahn!… Responses are awesome,The only way white folks can redress the ills of what was done to black folks in the past is if black folks get compensated just like Jewish people got compensated for what Hitler did to them,holocaust only lasted for a couple decades and black enslavement/emancipation !? 400 years!… And FUCK your handouts given out by charities/businessmen tryna boost their image!,that shit doesn’t help …its way beyond that shit#JustMyOpinion

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  23. your mom says:

    @Mav-Botee, you just earned a cupcake for proving Godwin’s Law once again! Nice. Comparing the slaughter of millions of people to apartheid.
    The rest of your little racist rant is not worthy of intelligent debate or any further comment, other than you should seriously quite toking so much.

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  24. Dplanet says:

    @your mom.

    Why can’t you make comparisons between Apartheid and The Holocaust? They were both gross human rights abuses weren’t they?How do we even go about quantifying the suffering and damage that white supremacist ideology has caused? There are still millions of people TODAY living in Apartheid slums.

    Maybe check out, ‘The Holocaust and Apartheid: A Comparison of Human Rights Abuses’…
    http://www.davidkrutpublishing.com/968/the-holocaust

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  25. ag probably just another boor says:

    dear dplanet, that is such a pertinent question: “how do we go about quantifying the suffering and damage of white supremacist ideology…?” but, it seems to me you and andy are already off to a running start. because, first things first, we need to create an absolute hierarchy of social causes- a golden list of sorts….for the purpose of legitimization… thereby…uhh… prioritizing the ills of the south african socio-political landscape and, naturally… putting the ones that we feel are in need of most immediate rectification at the top….and kaking on anyone who fiddles with the order of our priorities.

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  26. Anonymous says:

    what about black kids born into money
    surly thy same as white kids born into money

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  27. thehoverhand.com/ says:

    The hoverhand ignores race.
    http://i3.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/newsfeed/000/119/740/hoverhand.jpg

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  28. Dplanet says:

    @Anonymous

    This article might be able to answer your question in a way more eloquent way than I could hope to:
    http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2012-01-10-blackness-whiteness-and-the-vexed-race-debate-that-plagues-south-africa

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