I’m suffering from a severe case of Manto exhaustion over here. Seldom has the media circus managed to get under my skin as much as those professional mudslingers over at the Times have been able to in recent times. For a writer, this is a horrible situation. My creativity is being jeopardised. I’ve got a Manto-inspired bout of writer’s block.
As I type this, it’s 1.37am. I’ve just woken up from a nightmare involving a bizarre threesome with Dr Wino and a one-legged midget in prison-issue orange overalls who kept on shrieking “grab the wristwatch!” (See what I mean? That last sentence is so lame and unfunny.)
But the entire furore surrounding our minister of ill health has got me thinking about something that’s always concerned me. From my position of absolute ignorance, it seems that Minister Tshabalala-Msimang is one of the least liked public figures in the land. That is, if the scribes from rags across the land are to be believed. The way things are going, the first newspaper to lead with the headline “We are fully behind Manto” would probably sell two million copies of that edition. Everybody would want to know what that’s about for sure.
For a reason I cannot fathom personally, Dr Manto just rubs people up the wrong way. And I suspect that it has precious little to do with how she conducts herself. Before you shut me down, hear me out.
Human beings have an amazing capacity to rationalise their intuitive gut feelings. Professional mindfuckers call the phenomenon cognitive dissonance. Wikipedia describes cognitive dissonance as “the filtering of information that conflicts with what you already believe, in an effort to ignore that information and reinforce your beliefs”. That’s a smarty-pants way of saying people who suffer from cognitive dissonance don’t let facts get in the way of what they already believe.
So, who suffers from this dreaded condition? Well, my humble opinion is that everybody is a victim of this disease. Let me own up and let you in on how it manifests itself within yours truly.
When I first meet people, I put them into one of two boxes. The boxes are labelled “good guys” and “arseholes”. That’s it. Even after knowing people for years, they rarely ever climb out of the box into which they get dumped in the first place. That’s the height of cognitive dissonance right there.
My retarded opinion is that I form my initial impressions about people using their facial features, such as the distance between their eyes, the shape of their noses and their ears and so forth, but most importantly; the shape of their heads. I have given this some thought and I am convinced that I have never reacted positively to anyone with a pointy head, tiny ears or eyes that are close together. It’s the same way that I react to rodents. I hate the freaking creatures.
I think most of us form our opinions on people exactly the same way and then rationalise them afterwards. I have met human rodents for the first time in my life and we had conversations that went like:
Bat-eared human rodent: Hi, my name is Paul. Pleased to meet you.
Silwane: I’d really love to smash your snorkel in with my fist.
BEHR: Er … excuse me?
Silwane: You smell of a rotting hyena carcass. I hate you.
Okay, maybe not. But you know what I mean. Admit it, you have met people and for no logical reason, hated their guts. If you’re anything like me, you’ve even played slow-motion sequences in your head, with your fist crashing into their noses and blood splattering everywhere. And all they had done was to be within two metres of you.
I think Dr Manto is one such person. Perhaps it’s her screechy voice, especially when she’s excited. Or maybe the shape of her lips. Or her wigs. But rarely have I observed people react so negatively to someone before. I’m personally breaking free of the cognitive dissonance mould. From now on, I’m starting on a clean slate with her. I’m going to form my new opinion on her based on what happens next. And I don’t want to hear anything about her record with fighting Aids (or not) or dissidents or garlic juice. That’s called changing the subject. I’m all about a fresh start here.
And I’m not breaking any ground on this one. We have names that describe this phenomenon. Charm (and the lack thereof). “Affability” (and the lack thereof). Madiba had plenty of these intangibles, Mbeki and Leon were not so well-endowed and Manto, I reckon, is on the extreme end of the scale. And there is very little that they can do to fix it. It would take a miracle, such as people breaking free of the cognitive dissonance mould en masse. Let’s agree that this as likely as Bin Laden being feted on the gardens of the White House one of these days.
In The Godfather III, the movie, Michael Corleone stands over the coffin of a slain old don and laments out loud: “You were so loved, Don Tommasino. Why was I so feared, and you so loved? What was it? I was no less honorable. I wanted to do good. What betrayed me? My mind? My heart?”
No, my Mafia friend. It was your mousy features.
I’m hoping that someone is going to tell me why my reasoning here is retarded. Shoot.
Ndumiso Ngcobo is the author of the recently released book Some of My Best Friends Are White’. (Two Dogs, ISBN 978-1-92013-718-2)