Credit where it’s due (but only where it’s due)

I’m not South African, but I like to think of myself as an honorary Saffa. I do my bit for the country, I pay my taxes, I’m optimistic in a realistic sort of way and I try to buy South African goods and products as well as punting them on my blog if they’re any good.

I’ve said before that there’s no point in painting a wholly rosy picture of South Africa and ignoring the negative things that plague us. Not only is that completely misleading, but also it doesn’t bring those negative issues to the fore and therefore does nothing to sort them out. I think Jacques Rousseau made a similar point yesterday regarding the recent Kuli Roberts column debacle.

So having established that there’s no point in ignoring the negatives, please can we agree that equally, there’s no point in blindly praising everything just because it’s South African? This sort of behaviour is also completely misleading, unnecessarily raises expectations of products far too high and encourages disappointment in the real world (the world without rainbow nation-tinted specs). I’m sorry to tell you this, but there is no such thing as something being great, just because it’s South African.

Take, for example, the Kreepy-Krauly. The Kreepy-Krauly is an automated suction-side driven swimming pool cleaner: a hoover for your pool. And ask anyone round these parts for an interesting fact about the Kreepy-Krauly and they will tell you – pride oozing from every orifice – that it was invented in South Africa.

And they’d be right:

The first swimming pool vacuum cleaner was invented by Ferdinand Chauvier in South Africa

Nice work, Ferdinand. Or was it? Because in actual fact, the Kreepy-Krauly is rubbish. Rather than: “the suction provided by the pool’s pump causes the robot to move forward along the floor and walls of the pool picking up dirt and debris as it moves” as you’ll read in the brochure, something along the lines of: “the suction provided by the pool’s pump causes the robot to repeatedly get stuck in one corner of the pool, leaving the dirt and debris everywhere else” is probably more accurate. So the description of a Kreepy-Krauly as “automated” is a bit of a misnomer, since once you’ve shelled out the exorbitant cost of buying one, you will constantly have to assist it in its work by untangling it and freeing it from the step of your pool. And then cleaning up the dirt and debris yourself.
So yes, the Kreepy-Krauly is South African-invented, but that’s nothing to be proud of.

The same goes for music. I’m all for 5fm and the like having a SA music quota on their playlist, but really, some of the stuff they then end up subjecting us to is utter bilge.

Durban-based band The Arrows, for example. They recently gave us the rather watery but catchy Lovesick which made it onto said playlist. And that was “ok”, because the track was “ok” – not amazing – but “ok”. And then they release No Robots, the chorus of which sounds like the lead singer has grabbed an electric fence and is struggling to let it go. Seriously, they’ve been banned from playing it live at several venues as the local ambulance service (and sometimes the local SPCA as well) get calls from the 15 people in the crowd requesting urgent medical assistance “because something’s in pain”. And yet, because it’s South African, it gets airplay.

I’ve singled out The Arrows for a bit of criticism and that’s not fair, because there are other bands out there who are doing the same and getting away with it thanks to the apparent quota system. “We’ll endorse anything” band, The Parlotones (and I’m sure lead singer Khan Morbee won’t mind me telling you this *cough*) have been churning out rubbish from the pisspoor Stardust Galaxies album for well over a year now, but it gets played. Goldfish have somehow fooled the hipsters into thinking that they have released lots of different singles, whereas if you listen carefully, it’s just the same song on repeat. And still they get played.

Why does this happen? Is it because the music industry in SA is so small and fragile, they feel they need to give it this ill-thought support? Or is it merely a matter of national pride? Whatever, the powers that be need to think again on how they judge these things. Base your decisions on quality, not nationality, because much like endorsing the South African Kreepy-Krauly, supporting average local music devalues the good work that bands like Ashtray Electric, Zebra & Giraffe and Goodluck are doing and doesn’t contribute to raising the standard at all (not that I am suggesting that if/when they give us a duff single it should be played either). Is it really any wonder that there are so few local bands making it internationally when mediocrity is encouraged in this way?

Much as I don’t think we should be papering over the cracks as far as crime and corruption are concerned, neither do I think we should be telling people that all South African products and music are great when they patently are not.

All I’m asking for is a bit of honesty.

12 thoughts on “Credit where it’s due (but only where it’s due)

  1. I’m also a naturalised South African. But passionate about my long-adopted country. That said, not passionate enough to get caught up in those herd moments. Too oft, we accept mediocrity at best, or, at worst, allow injustice until it is being exposed in the media. Then the crowd tends to hold a mass condemnation for something with which we should all be disgusted in the first place. Are we poorly informed? Maybe. But national pride should be appropriately expressed for that which deserves it. Hell, we are a nation where Steve Hofmeyer tops the charts, and Leon Schuster breaks “bioscope” records. Perhaps we’re doomed. Uhm, I agree with you.

  2. We are years behind the rest of the world in defining our own sound of music (much like Australian bands did in the 80’s). Until recently most SA bands have merely been cheap Pearl Jammish knockoffs with makeup on (don’t get me started on Prime Circle). That said, aKing, Dirty Skirts, 340ML and Z&G are good acts with quality music and unique sounds.

    Jack Parrow and Die Antwoord are an embarrassment to all South Africans.

    Goldfish were conceptualised to market a certain Cape Town based web site 🙂

  3. You forgot Aparthate — we invented it … and we are actually the only nation who called it by name by putting it in writing …

  4. AndreW: no way, Jack Parow and Die Antwoord are exactly waht South Africans need! I have to admit I find Die Antwoord hard to stomach, but these bands are teaching South Africans to laugh at themselves, to take the piss out of themselves, to stop taking themselves so damn seriously and being so insecure. The fact that the Afrikaans culture can send themselves up is a sign of increasing self confidence.

    The South African music industry is small and fragile, so the Proudly South African concept is good to an extent, but if taken too far it means that you are exalting crap and that is just bad for the industry. So this patting on the back syndrome is hindering not helping excellence.

    I see the same in the SA writing industry, which is so small, there are so few readers and so few writers that the writers are the readers and everybody knows everybody else. It is physically impossible to criticise a South African writer without in some way damaging your own career. You will see SA reviewers writing scathing reviews of other writers, but you will never see a bad word against a South African writer. Which means the industry won’t strive towards excellence and we will worship mediocrity.

  5. Po –> Point taken on Die Antwoord with regards to the cultural aspects and the ability to play on stereotypes but I’m a purist where music is concerned and I just don’t see any musical quality (harmony, melody and tone) in that stuff.

    As for writers, you’re very polite. I’d paraphrase your sentiments as such – The local writing industry is the planets biggest circle jerk. (especially on Twitter, where the ink stained wannabee rabble worship at the feet of collective mediocrity)

  6. As a South African I see the good and the bad and still love the country. I have travelled a lot and lived in 6 different countries and each has their good and their bad points. I would rather live here though – it is home and I love it.

    And sorry if I am about to go off on a tangent. I wanted to write this on my blog but realise the people concerned read it so best I don’t do that.

    I am also irritated with people wearing “rose” coloured glasses and only see the good of one particular country. They are the peole that come here from England (yes I have specific people in mind) and do nothing but complain about everything South African. They only watch or support sport when England is playing, they only watch English Football, they decorate their houses with English flags and they only buy their grandkids T-shirts with England on them….. Hmmm, not a problem except they live in South Africa. They have lived in South Africa for over 45 years.

    If it is so bad here please go “home”!

  7. Po-> “It’s because South Africans and South Africa is the most deeply insecure nation in the world.”

    Couldn’t agree more. This is evident in how many foreign accents are used on Radio promos and adverts. It seriously drives me nuts! 5FM is the worst and one of the reasons (among many) that I can’t bear to listen to it. Are we that embarrassed of ourselves? Or does it make marketing sense because sheeple don’t pay any attention to anything unless it’s delivered in an American accent?

    Big Concerts, 5FM, Good Hope FM, any answers?

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