Athambile Masola
Athambile Masola

The problem with the Rémy Martin man

Mayihlome Tshwete is the face of Rémy Martin. The billboard is plastered arrogantly in Rosebank (you can’t miss it if you’re driving down Bolton Road). The kind of masculinity advertised by the campaign — “You only get one life. Live them” — features young men such as Tshwete as the “product” of the slash generation. This is “a multi-dimensional existence, which is no longer a life path but a lifestyle … these individuals live a life between slashes – work / play / hobby / desires”. The choice of Tshwete shouldn’t surprise us given his position as the spokesperson for Malusi Gigaba’s home affairs ministry as well as being the son of ANC stalwart Steve Tshwete. He is the new ANC generation: the face of the future.

The “One life/Live them” campaign was first launched in the US in October with Jeremy Renner (actor/musician/producer/renovator) as the face of the brand. In South Africa the campaign features young, black men with Tshwete being the most prominent. There’s nothing original about this, men are the main subject and the target of the campaign. The gendered nature of advertising alcohol has always puzzled me because of the way masculinity is positioned and femininity is virtually invisible because women couldn’t possibly be cognac drinkers. The industry would have us believe that drinking cognac is a man’s domain. And not any kind of man: he is educated, middle-class, well-spoken, articulate, good-looking, wealthy or climbing the white slopes of success in the hallowed halls of the corporate industry. The cognac-drinking man is heterosexual, suit-wearing and often has a beautiful woman at his side confirming his success.

They discuss politics, socialism and activism while drinking cognac which costs what some households can only dream of earning in a month. This advertising gimmick uses the desires of young, black men and positions success as consumerism. The image of successful black men is being curated by the advertising industry, which is largely owned and controlled by white people. There is something hollow about this image. For young, poor people who are accosted with these images in an economic and political climate that renders their own aspirations void, success seems to be only for the few who are well-educated and well-connected.

This image is not isolated to South Africa, it can be seen in pop culture. Jidenna’s song “Classic man” is an iteration of another image of what success looks like for young, black men. The song was followed by #classicman on Twitter as well as classicmanlook.com: a grooming service for men based in the UK. This renewed focus on the image of young men and their performance of masculinity is not new. We’ve had James Bond, the Marlboro man, Jude Law as the face of Johnny Walker and now there’s the Rémy Martin man.

It’s a pity Tshwete would have us believe “he considers himself an idealist and activist for change” because his activity would have us believe otherwise. Posing as a Rémy Martin man plays on the caricature of the postcolonial man in a suit mimicking the image of “success” as a result of colonialism: the English gentleman. Instead of imagining an alternative masculinity the postcolonial society is bankrupt of an imagination and takes on the single narrative of masculinity. In the South African context this campaign feeds the “black diamond” obsession that focuses on the success of a few black people at the expense of the poor and unemployed.

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