Friday, April 30, 2010

The 3rd & Final Leaders Debate: My Take

Last night saw the 3rd and final debate in the run-up to the British polls last night between the top 3 party’s leaders, Nick Clegg for the Liberal Democrats, David Cameron of the Conservative Party and embattled incumbent, Gordon Brown for Labour. The general topic was the economy and much to my surprise I have to say I found it to be a rather entertaining and stimulating exchange.

I really had no idea what to expect when the debate started, sure I had read the articles on the first two debates which generally had found Clegg to have bested Brown and Cameron in this form of electioneering thus accounting for the reported upswing in Lib-Dem’s in recent polls. The only knowledge and experience I’d had regarding debates was (as most people have) the American model. Whilst this generally followed the ‘town-hall debate’ format of American debates, with questions being taken from the audience, where the British departed from their American counterparts was in the manner in which questions were answered. Whilst in the American debates this format is generally marked with seemingly disingenuous, ‘I feel your pain,’ plaintive answers lightly skirting over the actual issues, at least two of the debaters, Brown & Cameron took the opportunity to actually go into the nuts and bolts of their respective policies. Clegg, however, was patently out of sorts, displaying his and his party’s naivety and unpreparedness to govern.

The looming spectre of “BigotGate,” which had occurred just the day before, was, I will admit, one of the main reasons I chose to watch after ignoring the first two debates. However, any expectations for a full on attack by either Clegg or Cameron were thwarted with Clegg and Cameron choosing to take the higher ground on what essentially was a non-issue. In fact, the only blatant reference to the gaffe came from Brown himself who in his opening statement said, “There’s a lot to this job (the Prime Ministership) and as you saw yesterday I don’t get all of it right,” which I felt brought a sense of much-needed finality to the issue in an appropriately apologetic tone before swiftly moving along.

Nick Clegg, whilst he in my opinion failed in the debate, the one message which he was able to successfully put across, was how the blame for the muck and mire that the United Kingdom found itself in today could be squarely placed at the feet of both Labour & Tory, and as far as I saw, there was no response to that claim from either Cameron or Brown. Despite the fact that his main message was put across successfully, Clegg took quite a battering from both Cameron & Brown who took this opportunity to show the Lib Dem manifesto for what it is, a collection of unfeasible idealism. He was particularly hammered on Lib Dems’ call for an amnesty for illegal immigrants that had been in Britain for over ten years, with Cameron & Brown coming extremely close to outright ridiculing the proposal. Personally of all the zany policies, that Clegg put forward, the most nonsensical was his housing policy. Exactly how he expects to compel private owners and builders of blocks apartment blocks to start building family sized apartments instead of the studio apartments with the market has a demand for, I don’t know. The one positive in his housing policy which he didn’t speak on too much, choosing to instead focus on the previously mentioned malarkey was his call, which he admitted was unpopular, for more council housing. Essentially with Clegg, form for him was his strong point, he channeled the best of US political debate style, appeals to emotion and broad (read vague) statements when it came to actual policy.

Cameron was the one candidate I was probably most interested to hear. Reason being, of the three candidates and parties, his was the one I had paid the least attention to. My reasoning for not bothering to listen or read up on the Tory manifesto was supported right from the moment he answered his first question. Despite all the promises of a ‘new Conservative Party,’ he espoused the exact same liberal-economic policies that Conservatives in the UK (and their Republican counterparts in the United States) have been selling since at least the eras of Thatcher & Reagan. “Smaller government is the way to go, government has to cut the deficit as government cannot stimulate the economy etc.” In these claims one could immediately see, that there was no new Conservative Party, a point which Brown repeatedly hammered, though how effective he was in relaying that message, I’m not too sure. A rather humorous moment for me with Cameron was his blatant attempt to capture some of that Obama-magic. His policy (and Brown’s it would seem) regarding financial regulation mirrors that of President Obama’s and after explaining his policy, in case you had missed that it was a near mirror of Obama’s Cameron stated, “we agree with President Obama’s plan…”

Gordon Brown explained his party’s policies extremely well, being able to respond to the critiques and attacks of Cameron & Clegg. However, this is where the problem with Brown comes in. Unlike Cameron & Clegg, who were very good at their delivery and thus had a number of easily remembered moments with Brown, there are no such moments. There are only two quasi-exceptions to this. His opening statement which is only memorable as being the only mention of BigotGate and when I felt he scored points not through anything he said, but because he stood back and allowed Cameron & Clegg to bicker between themselves when they were answering the immigration question.

Ultimately, I am a believer in substance over form and that is why I felt that this debate went to Brown, followed by Cameron then Clegg trailing a very distant third. However, the main poll that was being circulated both on television and on Twitter after the debate, YouGov’s poll, gave the win to Cameron by 41%, followed by Clegg with 32% and Brown trailing far behind with 25%. What to make of these numbers, I truly don’t know. What to expect on election-day, again I don’t know.

However, many seem to be returning to the belief that we can expect Cameron to be Prime Minister either through aligning with Lib-Dem as Brown charged or one or some of the smaller fringe parties. My take on this possible scenario is this. Clegg is an idealist, but at the end of the day he is a liberal idealist and though he may now eschew Labour for ‘betraying’ liberal ideals as one analysis prior to the debate argued, I cannot see, how the Lib-Dems would be able to explain to their electorate, that they chose to align with the ultimate enemy, Conservative A scenario I could see playing it is a Clegg Prime-Ministership. What would occur is Brown would resign after Labour placed 3rd position in the election and the Labour leadership would go to Clegg proposing a Lib-Dem led coalition. This would scupper any chances of a Conservative led coalition government (made up of the smaller parties). Lib Dems if they failed to do this, would ultimately have to answer to their extremely liberal base as to why they failed to stop a Conservative government.

Ultimately though, I don’t have a crystal ball to look into because despite what the analysts say, having a politics degree doesn’t mean you can tell what’s going to happen. The only thing I can say for a certainty is this. Keep your eyes glued to the UK, exciting times are ahead and anything could happen.

Colour Me Unpatriotic

We as a people generally agree, Friday’s rock. Complain about Friday, never! Well that is until you read this. Friday in South Africa has now come to be known as “Football Friday.” Anyone who knows me will tell you that it’s quite obvious why this wouldn’t work for me, my aversion to football is well known. The world’s obsession with that sport, I will never get; I mean really, why should football… Wait, I’m getting sidetracked, back to “Football Friday.” On “Football Friday” (yes I will be placing it in inverted commas for this entire blog, that’s how much I dislike it) South Africans are extolled by politicians, celebrities and your average man on the street, to show their patriotism and wear the Bafana Bafana football jersey. Prior to Bafana Bafana’s win against Jamaica I would’ve put in a lovely little joke on supporting a losing team, but can’t do that anymore. Spoilsports.

The first issue I had when this whole “Football Friday” craziness started was how ugly football jerseys are. When I say ‘ugly,’ I’m not necessarily referring to their actual design, I mean, yes they do tend to fall to the, how can one put this kindly, garish side but if pushed I could forgive that. However, to quote the legendary Tim Gunn, “silhouette, proportion & fit are our friends and they will serve us well.” Citizens of South Africa, lovers of football, I’m sorry to inform you of this, but the football jersey does not fulfil any of these criteria. Don’t believe me, let’s take Tim’s sage words and break it down.

Silhouette: Now, I can’t presume to speak for anyone besides myself but I generally have an aversion to having the top half of my body look like a brick and that, my wayward countrymen is what you look like in your oh so yellow garb (yes yellow, don’t tell me it’s gold, because it’s not and that’s a fact). I may not have the world’s greatest physique but I’ve found that with the right clothes, I can look like I do, for just long enough to get them into bed, and after all that is what we all want at the end of the day isn’t it? And ladies, you all have such lovely lady lumps, in the right clothes, your shape, even I, gay as I am, am distracted by them. So on behalf of my breeder brothers; stop hiding them!

Proportion: With proportion, this again ties in with the silhouette element. With your top half looking like an ugly squat brick because you’ve decided to dress in what generally amounts to a square of fabric, what have you got left, the rest of your appendages awkwardly sticking out your now square torso. You end up looking like, and here I’ve laboured for a while trying to find the perfect simile but I can’t. You see the resulting image of your legs, head and arms sticking out of your square is so objectionable that not even I, with my near infinite well of sarcastic put-downs can come up with an appropriate one.

Fit: Now unless you have the physique of either of these two gentleman, I would imagine that your football shirt doesn’t look like that when you’re wearing it (yes technically only one has a jersey which is barely shown, but let's forget that for a while, just look and enjoy, then read on). This I’d have to say though is mainly not your fault. I’ve never looked at the sizing of these shirts (no way my hands are going to touch that) but it seems to me that these shirts start at a large (or a medium if you’re lucky enough to find the few that exist) and go upwards. The rest of the week you’re more than capable of wearing clothing that fits correctly, why, please explain to me why, in the name of this ridiculous craze, do you throw away all common-sense?

“Could it get any worse,” those are words I wish I had never uttered. When “Football Friday” came out, it was just the jerseys but like a fool I uttered those words and Murphy’s Law was fulfilled, because what happened? It got worse.

Enter stage left, The Diski Dance.

Now I like to think that I am pretty efficient with words, but trying to describe the loathsomeness that is the Diski Dance in words is the literary equivalent of a Herculean effort. In what can only be seen as a moment of prolonged insanity, Travel24 writer, Simon Williamson, a generally pretty cool guy extolled us to do the Diski in the name of patriotic pride.

There is one primary reason why you will never see me do the Diski and stems from a long held belief. In my youth, I lived through a particular period of time when the world was gripped by a lovely little ditty known as “The Macarena.” Now, not only was it a lovely song for 9yr old me to mumble along to (it was Spanish, a language I’m not too proficient in); no, as many of us will remember but pretend to forget, there was that a dance that went along, and boy could I Macarena. I Macarena-ed everywhere, school, at home, in shops, in the shower, wherever that song was played (even the Xhosa version, yes you read right, a Xhosa version) I Macarena-ed my little ass off. In fact my grandfather used to expect me to Macarena for him before any visit to him was done, and I Macarena-ed with pride to my Granddad’s mirth.

What has that got to do with the Diski Dance? Well the Diski & the Macarena are one in the same. They are offshoots of the family of dances that at the time seem like a great idea and fun to do, but you will rue the day someone pulls out those videos. A recent example that I wisely steered clear of was “Asereje” more commonly referred to as the Ketchup song. Whilst, these examples were songs, and the Diski is a dance, with no particular song to my knowledge, the underlying idea, self-embarrassment, accompanying the dances is one in the same.

Whilst tweeting about my aversion to the Diski Dance, a fellow tweeter, who’s in high school, Bernd Fischer, told me a story that has to rate right up there in high school nightmares. Apparently at his school, where I’m certain a cabal of sadists make up the administration, at the 100 days till the World Cup point, his entire school was called into the hall and instructed in the intricacies of the Diski Dance and then ordered to Diski. Now as per my recollection, high school was a time of tortured awkwardness and nervousness at embarrassing oneself as is. Add to that the thought of doing the Diski Dance, in broad-daylight, amongst your fellow students, I immediately started hyperventilating and required the restorative powers of a stiff gin & tonic.

So people in your oh so yellow squares of fabric you think of as shirts jigging away like you’re all experiencing a mass seizure I implore you, if not for me and those of us you visually molest every Friday, then for yourselves, remember, this is the World Cup. The world’s media will have its eyes trained on South Africa, those visuals of you in that ‘shirt,’ jerking away, will last forever. Some time in the future, those pictures and video of you in that wannabe-gold monstrosity will surface and you will rue the day you disregarded this warning. If that still then doesn’t dissuade you from this madness, then think of Bernd & his helpless schoolmates, forced to partake, against their will in this insanity.

Stop I plead!
Stop, if not for me, if not for you!
Stop for the children!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

For One Thing, This Fortunate Gay Man Has Had Enough

“You seem much cooler than those whores inside!” that’s what this nice looking gal slurred to my friends and me as we sat outside one of those dodgy little bars that you (well, I) find yourself at after everything else has closed but the night won’t end. I slurred right back, “Grab a seat,” how could I not after an opening line like that? As her and her boyfriend sat, more traditional greetings were given, names were exchanged and in that way the slightly inebriated will, she jumped right to the question that the sober normally dance around and asked, “you gay?” “Yes,” I replied and I thought that would be the end of it. But sadly it wasn’t because right next, she asked something that caused me to severely regret having invited her to join us. Reason being this girl, in one statement, proved to be a particular type of person fast rising up my (long) list of types I don’t like, the fagless, ‘fag-hag.’

So how do I know that this girl was a ‘fagless fag-fag?’ Simple, if the glow that lit up her face when I told I was gay wasn’t enough of a give-away, her insistence that we go to dancing at Bronx followed by her little-girl-who’d-just-lost-her-kitten look as she complained she had no gay friends were more than enough for me to mentally file her in that group.

In my opinion, the blame for the rise of these single girls out there searching for their ‘gay’ can be placed firmly at the door of that cultural watershed, Will & Grace. Since that show, this coupling between men and women has somehow become the biggest thing, making Romeo & Juliet a very distant. In fact, straight women no longer pine away for Romeo to recite sonnets to them from under their balcony’s, they now sit around and pine for a man to watch Project Runway with, take them to gay bars, and most importantly it would seem, give invaluable style advice. Something as a fortunate gay man, I am finally going to put my foot down about and say, ‘enough is enough.’

Now I know, it’s all great and good, Will & Grace broke barriers, opened up the representation of gay men in popular culture. With no Will & Grace there’d be no Captain Jack Harkness of Torchwood (though technically he’s ‘omnisexual’), no Scotty & Kevin of Brothers & Sisters or many of the other diverse representations of gay men that we can see across popular culture now. All of which is important for the advancement of gay rights and all that other good ‘human & civil rights stuff.’ But, even despite this, I just can’t keep it to myself any longer, at times I can’t help but wish a pox upon the day Will & Grace was put on air!

I long for a time when a single straight woman didn’t see me as a prospective shopping partner, as someone who’ll spoon ice-cream or pour wine down your throat as we bitch to each other about why he was such a fucking asshole for leaving you for that fat cow whom we will now refer to as ‘the big blonde one.’ And yes, I can look at your boobs and judge them with none of that pesky ‘male gaze’ stuff, and unlike your girlfriends, you won’t have to worry that I’m lying to you, because I’m jealous that yours are bigger than mine or smaller. But most importantly, I’ll know if he’s gay or not (most of the time).

I suppose it would only be correct at this point to admit that I am a sort of Will to not one, or two but rather three sort of Graces, Lee, Jane & Aithne or BFF’s 1, 2 & 3 as my Twitter people may know them as. What can I say, as a modern African man, I see no reason why I can’t have three even though this is a slight stretching of the tradition of polygamy. But lets not be a stickler for details. Despite my friendship with these three totally amazing ladies, I see no reason as to why this fact has to make so many straight woman think that I, am a prospective best friend. Some might say that I’m exaggerating a bit, but I kid you not, not once but twice have I been invited to go lingerie shopping with them by women I barely know, and that’s just the most extreme of examples.

Now you fag-less hag, I know, gay men are meant to be all sorts of fierce and fabulous. I could lie and say we’re not, but not even you would fall for that, many can be and are. But like all people we each have our own foibles, I for instance, as Aithne & Jane would attest to am a very crap best friend at times. I have and will continue to (sorry buds I can’t help it) forget the various details of this or that ex-boyfriend, or that guy from the one time who said or did this or that. You see the problem is, when I received my “Being Gay For Dummies” package, I skipped over the friendship part and went straight to the sex bit because in all honesty that seemed far more interesting.

So word of advice ladies. Just because that guy you’ve just met is gay, don’t take for granted that you and he will be bestest best friends forever. For all you know, he may just be as loutish as that boyfriend of yours, choosing to spend Sundays shouting at the TV screen as cars go round and round a track for hours on end or watch men chasing after balls (not like that) and not in the slightest bit interested in hearing about your issues or ‘going dancing’ with you. So please give him a break, don’t latch onto him like that. We are men after all, and desperation is as much of a turn-off to us, as our breeder brethren.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bastard, Don’t Touch Me On My Studio: An Open Letter To South African Media

One incorrect preposition and an ZA internet meme was born. South Africans were delighted and entertained by arguably the funniest moment in South African politics since Deputy Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene broke that chair. In a filming of eNews’ African Current Affairs programme, Africa360, Andre Visagie, Afrikaner Weerstandbeweging (AWB) Secretary General, in a fit of anger, simultaneously seemed to threaten political analyst, Lebogang Pheko and started storming out of the studio. This resulted in a rather funny, standoff between Visagie, his bodyguard, Etv staff & the true ‘star’ of this story, Chris Maroleng, who uttered the phrase which (at least for now) is the phrase de jour, 'don't touch me on my studio,’ and various variations of that. However, the message was clear, the man was not to be touched to be touched on his studio. (see the video here) Now the jokes on this have gone on & on, my favourites alluding to the vaguely sexual nature of ‘don’t touch me on my studio.’ Forgive me, I have a gutter mind.

As this is a blog on South African politics would it truly be complete without a Juju mention? I think not, so here is the Juju aspect. Today, in yet another press conference, our dear ANCYL President saw fit to refer to BBC journalist Jonah Fisher as a ‘bastard,’ ‘agent,’ & ‘little boy’ amongst other things (full tirade, word for word can be found here). In all of that, Julius then attempted to have him forcibly thrown out of the press conference. Why you ask, because Mr Fisher had the nerve to make mention of the fact that Julius himself lives in Sandton after Julius launched into one of his patented tirades, this time against Zimbabwe’s MDC referring to them as a “popcorn” party who spoke “from air-conditioned offices in Sandton.”

However, there is a slightly more serious aspect to this story. Has the South African political landscape, truly fallen to these depths or perhaps is the media focusing on certain aspects of South African politics a little too much?

We’ve been grappling with the Julius question for a long time now. So much debate has been waged in blogs, Twitter, and newspapers columns on whether Malema is as a monster that the media has created and whether the time has come for South African media to ignore Malema. And whilst there are pertinent arguments on both sides of that particular debate, I’d have to agree with the majority of South African media here, we can’t ignore Malema. He is a leader within the ANC, which is South Africa’s ruling party and will continue to be so for many more years and the prospect of him leading the ANC, as terrifying as it is, may not be that far-fetched.

That’s Julius though, but the AWB, really? In 2010, a group that by all measures is practically defunct (except their own unreleased member numbers, which they claim, grow by the thousands daily) is now getting primetime television spots and making headlines? Ever since Eugene Terre’Blanche was killed the AWB has been everywhere. I understand to get the inside story on the death of Terre’Blanche, they are the people to speak to. However, what has really irritated me is that the media has allowed the AWB now, to speak on other issues. I’m sure a freak show is always good for ratings and papers sold, but the media also has a responsibility. They may like to hide behind the general argument that, ‘if they (consumers) don’t want to hear it, we won’t report on it,’ and whilst there is an element of truth to that, there is also a slightly fallacious basis to that statement. On numerous occasions, we do see the media, ‘lecturing’ the public, with headlines & stories exhorting our fascination with the frivolities in life and directing our attention back to ‘important news.’

Let me be clear, I’m not calling for a black-out on the reporting on the views of Right-Wing Afrikaners. However, there are far more responsible and capable voices that could be allowed to represent these views. Whilst I disagree which much of what they say, the Freedom Front Plus gained my respect when they used our legal mechanisms to get “Kill The Boer’ declared as hate speech. Whilst we may complain a lot about our proportional representation system, the beauty of it is that nearly all, regardless of how much of a minority they may be, do get a voice in Parliament. For South Africa to truly become the nation it seeks to be, all need to feel that they are heard and whilst parliament has a role to play in that, so does the media. However, the media cannot allow themselves to be seduced by AR’s and sales figures into choosing the most virulent and angry of voices, the freaks, to be the news. If for no other reason, look where a democratic tradition as old and eminent as that of the United States’ has fallen thanks to the growth of partisan media.

Finally, I’d like to round this off by going back to my Std 1 (Grade 3 for you young ‘uns) teacher Mrs Hibbert (one scary woman). That year, 1995, was when South Africa was in the midst of debating and ratifying out new constitution and we, in Std 1.1. had a little booklet explaining our right as children. What I loved and has always stuck with me from that booklet was that with every right explained, there was a corresponding responsibility expected from us attached to it. So media, freedom of the press is something that no democracy can do without and I will defend vociferously, but remember, with that right, there is a responsibility, to not only ensure that all sides of a story are represented but to also ensure that such representation is done in a responsible manner.

Note: While the Internet meme is "don't touch me on my studio" what was actually said was, "touch me on my studio."