As I type, Riaan Cruywagen is one of the top ten trending topics on Twitter in South Africa. He’s climbing fast, and will probably soon overtake Gareth Cliff, #BlackParentsQuotes and #SteveBiko (Twitterville isn’t completely shallow you know). It’s all because he stars in this ad for this weekend’s Loerie Awards*, conceptualised by Loeries CEO Andrew Human and produced by Draft FCB.
It’s hard to imagine South Africans getting this excited about seeing anyone else in a — well, you’ll have to watch the ad to see for yourself. Clearly, Cruywagen still occupies a unique place in South African culture. His faintly creepy resistance to the ravages of time is a major source of our fascination with him. He is a constant in a world of constant change. Compare the world in which he read the news back in the 70s with the world on which he reports now. The changes are astonishing, and yet we take them for granted.
The Loeries date from a similar era: they were established in 1978, soon after ads were allowed on TV. The idea was that awards would encourage a better standard of advertising. Cruywagen is the era of Felix Swart, the boy with nine lives, and the OMO woman who nearly died; but he’s also around for Kulula and Trevor Noah the Cell C CEO.
Similarities have been drawn between Cruywagen and actors like Chuck Norris or David Hasselhoff who were big in the 80s: stars who are so uncool that they’re cool. Chuck Norris Facts was the defining meme of the 2000s and he’s still going strong, no pun intended. Norris and The Hoff — funny, it’s almost always actors, never actresses — have outgrown the confines of their own relatively limited careers to become cultural icons. They simply are. We love them not because they are brilliant and gifted, but because their perceived awfulness — dramatic irony always plays a big role in our relationships with these types of public figures — contains within it a certain innocence, an element of lovability. We feel superior, and therefore better about ourselves as we crawl to work in our Polos and pick through our salads in the corporate canteen. These stars are survivors, too: compare Hasselhoff to Airwolf’s Jan-Michael Vincent.
In this sense, Cruywagen is slightly different, because he is actually very good at what he does; clearly he has a sense of humour about himself and he is happy to play along. I love the Loeries ad, heaving as it is with joyfully memetic artifice: the in-jokes (the reference to the Old Spice campaign, the boom in shot); the fantastically self-indulgent self-referential quality; the appeal to Gen X nostalgia. The attention to detail is superb; if I were at varsity again I’d write an essay on it and quote Baudrillard. I grew up with Cruywagen reading the news and he’s the only one left. Michael de Morgan, Dorianne Berry, Karl Kikillus: they’ve all vanished, either to the great studio in the sky or … who knows. Pierre Knoesen went off to open a B&B in France, so they could be anywhere.
Watch the ad. If you didn’t have a huge amount of respect for Cruywagen before seeing it, you will now.
(And yes, apparently he wore his own suit.)