The National Erectionby Brandon Edmonds / 17.05.2011
The great philosopher of totalitarian eros, Milan Kundera, famously defined kitsch as the “inability to admit that shit exists”. It is the key to unlocking the local elections this week. Take a look at the ANC election video. It is kitsch because it is unable to admit that shit exists. Kitsch because it elides poverty with kwaito. (Super-connected smoothie, Arthur Mafokate, produced the ANC election CD for an undisclosed fee.) Here is party-funded imagery meant to distract us from the Real Shit – the usual suspects of structural violence: unemployment, corruption, and inequality – with singer Chomee’s (admittedly marvelous) tits. An erection video.
It’s as if the grasping cadres, the communication strategists, of Luthuli House put a live feed directly into Zuma’s limbic system, his brain’s pleasure center. The result is raw political fantasy life, the smegma of his deepest wishes: dancing girls and cleavage, blow-me lips mouthing conforming pieties of the Party: Building Better Communities; a sunny libidinous wonderland of assent, joyous townships heaving with merriment, everything exuding a positivity as relentless as the beating that killed Andries Tatane; problems digitally removed by pure ideology; in short, Kundera’s kitsch, the active denial of shit.
And these elections really do stink. They’re alarmingly excremental. Toilets are rhetorical weapons in a negative arms race, a race to the bottom, this election cycle, with the DA trading demeaning revelations with the ANC over which municipality puts poor people through the most indignity. Is it the open toilets of Makaza in Khayelitsha, the crying shame of the DA, or the open toilets of Moqhaka in the Free State, yet more slop on the towering dung heap of the ANC?
In fact, there are bucket systems spilling kak in real time all over the country where fresh-water Bathroom Bazaar style plumbing is as likely as a harvest of Playstation 3’s. Throughout the land, gogos shit al fresco in Checkers packets as you read this. Try putting that in a song, Arthur, you court serenader, you lackey. Open drains runneth over. Children leap-frog sewerage alive with water-borne diseases. Conditions in too many townships are straight up medieval. Eternal liberal gadfly, RW Johnson, feels right on this: “the heroic age of resistance is over and with it any unifying vision capable of overcoming the Hobbesian struggle of each against all.” Johnson says the ANC state is failing and every aspect of the ruling party is now increasingly criminalized. To mask the decline, Vegas tactics. Showgirls. Hoopla. An erection video where social problems dissolve into a feel good miasma of dance moves, denial and décolletage. You know, kitsch.
Zuma told us recently that open toilets have “broken” his heart. That organ might well have cracked long ago were he an honourable man capable of either insight or remorse. That rape trial, the corruption allegations. Seriously, how do you even show your face in company let alone presume to run a country? Anyway, the spurious claim of tears in the face of grinding want is pure populist sentimentalism, demagogic shtick, the go-to mode of governing kitsch. It is pitched at the same low, debasing frequency as that video. Meant to short-circuit critical distance. Meant to reel the masses in. A tear in the eye and a lump in the throat distracts from the ill-gotten bazillion bloating with compound interest in the bank. Of what mortal use are a President’s rhetorical tears, when you’re taking a shit on an open toilet in a shithole like Viljoenskroon?
That is what struggle is now. A struggle for dignity. A struggle to be seen for who you are in the fact of your circumstances. Rather than in the bogus light of State ideology – where as a poor person in a nowhere community you are immediately suspect, disposable and criminal. If you don’t join in the song and dance, the populist dream-sequence of the election video, you’re shot at, you’re lied to, you’re tabulated by NGO’s, you’re beaten, you’re patronized, undermined and ignored. Grassroots community organizations throughout the country will boycott the elections out of disgust at the corruption and dysfunction of local government.
Shit is bad and it’s only getting worse.