Now they’re saying the Mona Lisa was a MAN? I’ve always suspected it!
I’ve suspected it even more when I saw that picture — it’s a famous picture by now — on the front page of a Cape Town newspaper the other day!
It was the story — “Zille, You Can’t Touch This” — by reporter Murray Williams on the front page of the Cape Argus of January 31 that got people talking. Not only the story, but the photograph next to it. It’s a pity that the photographer was not credited, because, without any doubt, that shot of ANCYL president Julius Malema partying with sushi-loving businessman Kenny Kunene is a masterpiece of subtlety, hidden messages and rich metaphoric content.
The photograph, for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, shows Malema and Kunene, hand in hand, Kunene in some kind of fancy party suit and waving an open bottle of champagne in his hand, living it up at a late-night club in Cape Town. The caption “Zille, You Can’t Touch This”, let me hasten to add, had no erotic undertones, and did not refer to anyone actually touching anyone, not even on anybody’s studio. It was all about the new 2am by-laws introduced in Cape Town, and the determination of certain individuals to consider them above such laws. Certain individuals later claimed that they were misquoted, but the damage was already done. That pic was out in the media.
No-one who saw that photograph was unmoved by it. Even the ANC was spurred into action when, in the throes of what appeared on the surface to be a rare attack of conscience, they condemned the frivolous attitude apparent in the picture as “anti-revolutionary”. It was an image that spoke right to the heart of our nation. The fact that this whole uproar took place right in the middle the Nelson Mandela health scare episode, evoked contrasting emotional reactions that simply screamed against one another. Never before has it been so painfully obvious what a gigantic paradox the new South Africa has become.
It was inevitable that someone would soon see the connection between this photograph and another work of art that also evokes strong feelings and an inexplicable sense of paradox: the simple little portrait study of the Mona Lisa, which has intrigued art lovers for centuries. Seldom before was so much said with such a simple portrayal as these two. I smell a conspiracy.
Allow me to explain. The first thing that really links these two pictures together is the obvious fact that both images are dominated by a smile. The gentle smile, on the one hand, on the face of the Mona Lisa, and the wide grin, on the other hand, on the face of Julius Malema.
What’s in a smile? Well, let’s start with the Mona Lisa’s smile. I once read an article by a learned scholar in which he claimed that one can only see the Mona Lisa smile when one doesn’t look at her (or him, whatever the case may be) directly. Once you look at the smile, it seems to disappear. Once your eyes wander to the peripheries of the image, or if you look at the whole picture from a distance, there’s the smile again. (It’s exactly the opposite, of course, of the smile on Lewis Car¬roll’s cat in Alice in Wonderland, where everything disappears except the smile.)
Admittedly, as I said two paragraphs ago, Mona Lisa’s smile is not quite the same kind of smile as Julius Malema’s smile. Taken at face value, when you ignore the context of the rest of the photograph — the open champagne bottle, the wild party atmosphere, the general ambience of decadence created not only by the photograph itself but by the tone of the entire newspaper story built around it — Malema’s smile conveys nothing but simple boyish exuberance. One can imagine that same smile on the face of a young Huckleberry Finn when he goes fishing on a beautiful sunny morning. It is a fresh smile, a friendly smile, a smile oozing health, youth, spontaneity and a sheer hearty enjoyment of the good things in life.
I have done some thinking and some research about the context of everything written about Malema and how and why we perceive him the way we do. Those of us who like Malema, like him (among other things) because of his smile. We also like him because he is a straightforward and painfully sincere bloke, the kind of guy who means exactly what he says and isn’t scared of the consequences. An admirable, if somewhat naïve, collection of traits.
Those of us who don’t like Malema have somewhat more complicated reasons for not liking him.
Yet, if we are really brutally honest with ourselves, we have to admit that there is nothing wrong with having one hell of a party once in a while. We all do it now and then. Neither is there anything downright wrong with eating sushi off a naked girl’s body as Malema’s friend Kunene seems to be fond of doing. It may be in bad taste, it may be kitsch and a bit over-indulgent, but if the girl is willing and nobody is exploited or hurt or killed in the process, why the hell not?
The same with songs like Kill the Boer and Umshini Wami. I can understand and I believe that many people in the ANC, people who, in the course of their daily lives, harbour no ill feelings towards whites in general, have sentimental memories of songs like these. In the same way, a song like De la Rey brings tears in my eyes, even though I have no desire to re-enact the Boer War and feel uncomfortable every time people try to superimpose that song on the situation in present-day South Africa.
The devil is all in the context. When you put all of these elements together — every single element quite harmless and innocent in itself — and place these combined nuances in the context of other things happening simultaneously, that’s when a completely different picture emerges. Like the subtle smile on the face of the Mona Lisa can only be seen if you look at the whole picture all at once (this is called Gestalt), the true nature of Julius Malema’s smile emerges once you look at it in the larger context. And this is where things get a bit weird. This is where the conspiracy theory becomes a self-evident truth.
First context: Malema’s smile. Second context: wild party. Third context: very expensive champagne, sushi. Fourth context: the extreme poverty of so many ANC voters. Fifth context: the ideology of “ubuntu”. Sixth context: Mandela dying possibly at some time in the near future. Seventh context: Mandela never ate sushi off the naked bodies of women. Eighth context: the tripartite alliance leftist notions, hatred of capitalism expressed by many of their members, judgment passed on “rich whites”. Ninth context: songs like Kill the Boer. Tenth context: actual horrific farm killings taking place increasingly at the same moment while people like Malema are trying to resurrect that historical struggle song.
One can go on and on. Is the struggle over, or has it just begun? If it’s not over, who is struggling against whom? Who are the real fat cats? Does the act of eating sushi while Rome burns have political overtones? Did the album Eet Kreef have political overtones during the rebellion of Johannes Kerkorrel? What are the similarities between our situation now and the situation during the eighties?
I believe we were the victims of a National Party conspiracy in the eighties. The purpose of that conspiracy was simple: to keep political and economic power in the hands of white men. I believe we are the victims of an equally sinister conspiracy, a conspiracy just as dangerous as the National Party conspiracy, and far more subtle and more dangerous and far-reaching than the conspiracy imagined in the Da Vinci Code.
I also believe I know the true reason why the ANC has condemned the kind of activities portrayed in that photograph. It shames them. It shames them, not necessarily because they have had a sudden attack of conscience, but because it is not in their interest for this sushi-eating, wild-partying, fat-cat-lifestyle thing to be exposed in such a graphic way. This kind of exposure rankles against the basic philosophy they are trying to sell to the people of South Africa.
And what is this philosophy? Well, in a nutshell, I think they are trying to enslave the people of this country with guilt complexes. Whites are feeling guilty because they are white. Coloureds and Indians are feeling guilty because they are not Chinese. Blacks are feeling guilty because they feel they should still vote for the ANC but cannot find any real reasons in their hearts to do so. Everyone in South Africa is unhappy about something … except — or so it appears — Julius Malema.
Julius Malema is the only one still smiling brightly, who feels absolutely no tinge of guilt or remorse about anything whatsoever. There’s enough sushi to go around, there’s more than enough champagne for everyone (everyone invited to this party, that is) so what’s the problem?
I said in my previous blog entry that I believe there are experts in every field, and that one should not hesitate in consulting with such experts whenever a difficult job needs to be done. I also said that, in the follow-up blog entry, I would state what professions, in my mind, are sometimes the exceptions to this rule.
In order to get my point across, I will need to digress somewhat from the Mona Lisa conspiracy, but there’s no other way to prove this theory.
You see, it’s a bit like the difference between buying a new car and a second-hand car. When you buy a new car, you know exactly what to expect. It does not matter whether the previous owner was a rally driver or a sweet, little, old lady in an old-age home. You don’t need to get a second opinion or pay your own mechanic to take a peek under the hood. There is very little room for nuance and no need for speculation, mistrust and paranoia. That is because there are no invisible factors to take into account. When you buy a second-hand car, the invisible factor is the actual state of the engine. The average car-buyer simply cannot tell, just by looking at a second-hand car or even by driving it around the block once, what the state of the gearbox is or whether or not the clutch is going to start emitting a burning smell within two weeks after signing the paperwork.
Whereas I have the greatest respect for experts in fields of expertise that can enhance my existence by tangible means — such as dentists, doctors, handymen, firemen and architects — I tend to be suspicious of so-called experts who deal in invisible products. At the risk of generalising, I must admit that I harbour a healthy scepticism towards members of the following professions: priests and dominees (they appear to be selling real estate in the hereafter, but no-one’s ever seen their product), insurance salesmen (with the exception of OUTsurance, none of these guys have ever managed to convince me that I actually need them in my life), sociologists (I don’t even know what the word means), land surveyors (what on earth do they do?), psychologists (there’s no problem so deep that I can’t discuss with my hairdresser or my personal trainer at Virgin Active), writers (it’s just words), musicians (it’s just notes), and, of course, politicians.
The first lot of professionals are like new car salesmen. You need a car, you do your research, you make your decision, you go to a new car salesman and you buy one. The second lot are like used car salesmen. You want something, but you’re not sure what it looks like or where to find it, and then this expert who pretends to know all the answers sell you something you can’t judge at face value, at the price usually unrelated to what it’s really worth. The stuff they sell is as ephemeral and vague as spookasem. It’s like buying Mona Lisa’s smile.
I’m not saying that all ephemeral concepts are without value. You get good writers, good musicians, you get honest used car salesmen, and once in a while you come across an abstract idea so powerful that it actually makes the world a better place. Nelson Mandela has become, in his later years, the embodiment of such an idea. He is now virtually nothing but a concept. And it’s a perfectly good concept! The ideal of reconciliation he stands for may be something you can’t actually touch or see, it’s more like a currency or a trademark, but right now, that currency is just about the only thing — apart from the memory of vuvuzelas — which is still keeping this country afloat. The strings we are dangling from, the dreams and hopes that keep us from hurtling into the abyss, are pretty thin, and they can break any moment, so let’s not knock them, they’re all we’ve got right now.
The unseen qualities of peace, reconciliation and hope projected by the image of Nelson Mandela are, unfortunately, in stark contrast to the so-called inverted “values” of the present-day ANC.
The ANC base their entire value system on half-truths. The first half-truth is this (though they never say it in these exact words, this seems to be the subtext of everything they do or say): white people, and white people only, are responsible for all the racism and inequalities of the past.
What’s the catch in this? Well, I’d say white people are responsible for a pretty large segment of the inequalities of the past, true enough. But white people are also responsible for a few excellent things: schools, hospitals, hairdryers and record players, to name but a few. Without whites, Nelson Mandela wouldn’t be able to read and write, and we wouldn’t be able to sit in the sun on our back stoeps and listen to Abdullah Ibrahim playing Manenberg on the stereo system.
The second half-truth is this: only black people are Africans.
What is the real truth? The fact that I’m white and prefer hake and chips to mielie pap does not mean I’m a tourist here, it simply means I like eating different stuff than rural blacks. And, by the way, I still can’t afford sushi on a regular basis like the super-blacks.
The third half-truth is: ANC rule is an inevitable result of an inevitable revolution and anyone who does not support the ANC is resisting destiny and creating disunity.
Well, this sounds pretty Calvinistic, to say the least. What has happened to cause and effect, free will and democracy? As for unity, there’s more than enough disunity in the ANC already, it doesn’t look as if they need outside help to self-destruct, so why go on and on about this crap at all?
There are many other half-truths like these, ephemeral ideas, dangerous and damaging memes, concepts and prejudices and floating pieces of nonsense that are threatening to erode the ideals Nelson Mandela used to stand for. These half-truths are poisoning our national psyche, they hold us ransom, they shackle us to the past, and they are keeping us imprisoned in our separate cocoons of mutual mistrust.
This, in a nutshell, is what I call, for want of a better word, the Mona Lisa conspiracy. This is the hidden clause in the contract, the dark side of the revolution, the meaning we can’t penetrate, the motive we can’t fathom. This is the smile on the face of the man-eating tiger. And this is the final piece of the puzzle falling into place. We now know, without a shadow of a doubt, what the Mona Lisa was smirking about.
He/she was smirking because he/she had just had his/her first taste of sushi.