Let me start with the mandatory “I don’t like Gareth Cliff and I don’t listen to his show” disclaimer. But despite this, I was secretly looking forward to reading his first book Gareth Cliff on Everything. In a fragmented, siloed society such as ours, books are a small mirror into sections of society you only get invited to when everyone is on their best behaviour. The Gareth Cliff brand promise, on the other hand, is unadulterated honesty. In a society of political correctness, Cliff prides himself on being the bearer of dissenting opinion.
Gareth Cliff on Everything is a cacophony of short opinion pieces meant to “engage, enrage and derange” the reader. Cliff tackles a number of topics, from President Jacob Zuma to the British Empire, traditional customs to religion, in easily digestible chunks to accommodate those South Africans prone to bouts of ADD. The book starts off well enough; there’s a rather cheesy cover, four and a half contents pages, and some acknowledgements; and then it’s almost all downhill from there.
I struggled to be engaged by opinions that I have heard on countless occasions before, from within social media to the News24 comments section. Formulating shallow badly thought-out opinion is South Africa’s favourite pastime, and so I unwittingly expected Cliff to apply his mind more than he does on his radio show. Instead, Cliff elected himself the Mascot of Nonsense, repacking middle-class conversations with condescending sprinkles of matric syllabus trivia (in case you’ve forgotten how mitochondria works and all that) then calls it an opinion. I was quite impressed by his ability to store many bits of useless information for regurgitation at a later date, but then I remembered Google.
I’ve been more enraged by a Will Smith rap than by this book. He almost had me when he describes traditions and customs as backward, and uncivilised, but that turned out to be the highlight of the book. In the few times Cliff speaks to white South Africans in a “critical” voice, it appears as ticking off an equal representation box rather than engaging them on any real issue. As for his “lists”, they are as relevant and useful as a disco ball in a cemetery, and the book could have done without them.
What did enrage me was how poorly everyone involved applied themselves to the project. Even his editors approached the book the way good-looking people approach sex. It’s as though fans should be grateful Cliff penned his infinite wisdom, and no further effort is required. The book is drenched in clichés, and the word “stupid” appears more times on some pages than should be allowed in any book.
If I appear overly critical, it’s only because I genuinely expected more from a man many argue is very intelligent. If I really want to subject myself to such, I’ll stand in the middle of Sandton City and listen. I certainly won’t pay anyone for that.