The Scribblers

Just another Read this… now weblog
Posted: August 31st, 2011 | By Siphiliselwe Makhanya

I asked an awkward question in a packed lecture theatre at university once.  Our Media studies advertising course had a guest lecturer, a creative type from an advertising agency who had spent years in the industry and had won lots of awards and been all over the world stoking his creative light and generally spinning words into gold for a hideous number of international brands. 

The lecture itself was fascinating – I still reference his witty and cynical take on product differentiation to this day – and I remember I was so engrossed in what he had to say that it seemed like mere moments before he was done with the presentation and it was question time. 

Several people asked the usual – how to get into the industry, whether he had ever used drugs, how did he feel about advertising from a moral point of view. Then I raised my hand, opened my mouth and said something horribly, horribly vulgar – “How much can we expect to earn?”  Everyone stared.

He moved from one leg to the other nervously twiddling his chalk and told me that, well, most people didn’t go into advertising to get rich but because they had a passion for the job and that if that was the kind of way we wanted to approach the industry than we probably wouldn’t get very far.  But, to answer the question, it might begin as low as R2000 and we would have to slowly work our way to the top.  I sat there mortified and outraged.

Mortified, because of the, oh, hundreds of minds simultaneously churning around me – “…howrudehowrudehowrudehowrudehowrudehowrude…

Outraged because I was trapped in a room with those same minds to which it had never occurred to interrogate this language of so-called passion because they had never been in the position to test whether passion actually pays the bills.

There is something which we were not taught in school, our generation.  The more people I meet, the more I lament this. Paradigms. 

The consciousness that we each possess a world-view that is not necessarily universally true just because it is true to us. 

The knowledge that others do not live as we live or think as we think. 

The understanding that what we hold to be sacrosanct is not equally divine to others because they may have other things to worry about.

From all the people I have met in what I call the third sphere of society, the middle classes, I have seldom met anyone who ventures out of their cosy middle-class world-view long enough to realise that some people are too poor to afford to be passionate.

Strange. But true.  See, the unspoken assumption of our gentleman lecturer was that everyone in that lecture theatre came from homes where the only people they owed anything to were themselves.  He assumed that everyone in that lecture theatre had homes.  He assumed that we all were just embarking on the great unfettered adventures of our lives as he had been at our age.

All from homes not too rich and not too poor, with no dependents, no 12-member families relying on us to dredge them from poverty.  No twisting emptiness in our stomachs because we hadn’t eaten that day.  No 2-hour walks home alone in the dark because we didn’t have the R3.50 to take the skidonky bhopopo bus.  No pressing realisation that, before some of us could even begin to consider those things they call “dreams” and this thing they call “passion”, we would first have to come to grips with that thing they call “staying alive”.

Some people are too poor and too poorly schooled to speak of passion.

Passion is a terribly cruel and terribly powerful figment of mass bourgeois imagination. Passion is a tyrant. 

When you apply for funding, when you go for a job interview, when you enter a competition, your words, your actions mean nothing to most people unless you mention that secret password, “passion”. 

You must say, I am passionate about this idea, I am passionate about your company, I am passionate about selling massive amounts of useless junk to people who don’t really have the means to buy it by telling them that it will make them better mothers, or manlier men, or cooler youths, or simply better human beings.

I have middle-class friends.  They may find this offensive because, well, they can’t be blamed for the fact that they were born into privilege and they can’t be expected to apologise for the fact that their parents worked hard to send them to decent schools, and, sorry, but they really resent what I am saying, they disagree because – no, because, no, I really must let them finish, LET THEM FINISH, right, thank you.  What they were saying is, is that I, I do not understand what I am talking about, I do not know what I am talking about in fact let’s just leave it, let’s just stop this conversation here right now…

Don’t get me wrong.  All of my middle-class friends are fine, noble and up-standing people from whom I have learnt much.  Conscious people, who read Biko and pay their taxes and register to vote on time. And give to charity and join civil organizations and admire advocates of human rights.  They worry about global warming and tweet about politics and learn several languages and broaden their minds through travel whenever they can.  My middle-class friends want to make South Africa great, they want to change the world, want to spark the revolution, be the revolution, televise the revolution, tweet the revolution, look back at the revolution and wonder if it was worth the revolution. 

I have a suspicion though. A terrible, horrible, no-good suspicion, that it takes more than just going to school to secure your future because you need to have an education which is the key to success to actually succeed.  Oh no.  I profoundly suspect that it takes much more than that.

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