10th Apr2017

Cheers to the Finer Things In Life

by admin

Following recent occurrences in South Africa, I think it is safe to say that our nation is in a state of turmoil. In times like these it is easy to forget what a beautiful country we actually live in because we get so caught up in the negativity of the situation. In times of crisis we often isolate ourselves from others, under false pretenses that others will not understand the complexity of the problems we are facing. Although the state of the economy is causing considerable strain on everyone, the truth of the matter is that we cannot spend every waking hour fighting for a cause. It is also important for us to take a breather and appreciate our many blessings. We need to take time to laugh with each other, kiss the ones we love and chat to our best friends over a glass of wine, rather than wasting all of our free time in isolation staring at and tapping on screens.

white wine

As far as I am concerned, eating a meal with my family and friends is one of the greatest joys of life. What more could you ask for but to spend Sunday afternoons gathered around a table with the ones you love, eating delicious food that just melts in your mouth? When I think of the many Sundays I have sent with my family and friends, one in particular comes to mind. I thought I would share this memory with you today and perhaps it will inspire you to reflect on your own memories. Maybe you also have one memory (of time spent with the ones you love) that stands out over all the others.

 

The day that I remember so clearly, started off at eight o’clock on a Sunday morning when my family and I made our way to the market. Whenever people refer to retail therapy, the farmer’s market is what comes to my mind. It is a place where you can find all of the lovely things that you never even knew you needed. The first stand we stopped at was that of the “Pasta Man”, as we called him. On your arrival you can specify which type of pasta you would like to purchase and he will quickly filter it through his pasta machine for you. Besides the freshest pasta in Johannesburg; on that particular morning, he also had freshly picked wild mushrooms on offer. We passed stalls selling fresh bread, beautifully sweet preserves, aromatic spices and every kind of tea you could ever imagine. Dare I say, the baked goods at the patisserie stand were the cherry on top—excuse the pun! They did look really inviting.

 

Two hours later we left the market with a great selection of delicious goods and excitement brewing in the pits of our stomachs. Once at home, the family chefs started preparing a feast. The smell that hung in the air was simply irresistible. It is no surprise that the rest of the family and our guests were sitting around the kitchen table, all ready to eat an entire hour before the food was even ready.

 

Whilst they sat there in anticipation, playing board games and discussing sport, at the kitchen counter, we made ourselves busy by preparing a baked camembert with rosemary and garlic, along with figs wrapped in Parma ham and baked in a homemade blue cheese sauce. This we later ate with very thinly sliced toast, which we used to scrape up every last little bit of the sauce that remained on our plates. The combination of flavours and textures was like a rainbow in my mouth. The crunchiness of the toast with the oozing texture of the camembert cheese were all part of the sensual experience. When I popped one of those little figs in my mouth an explosion of flavours occurred. The sweetness of the fig contrasted beautifully with the saltiness of the Parma ham. The meal was finished off with a pleasant taste of blue cheese that lingered on the tongue and went down very well with a glass of white wine. Needless to say, after all of that, we were one big, fat, and very happy family surrounded by our dearest friends.

cheese wine and figs

Often I have to wonder why life cannot be like that every day. After all, isn’t that what life is about: Sitting around a big table with people you love, enjoying the finer things in life? I don’t know about you, but often memories like that linger far longer than the memory of the last twenty photos I double tapped on Instagram…

melted camembert

20th Mar2017

Do You Catch My Thrift…?

by admin

Disclaimer: I write this as a lay person. I am a stray observer of the amorphic microcosm that is Braamfontein, wherein it is possible to see someone wearing a dashiki or Eileen Fisher kaftan, and someone else wearing a suit, all on the same street. I do not pretend to be privy to the mandate of those who adhere to particular aesthetics as part of a movement or trend (seeing as how my own dress sense resembles that of a particularly unstylish 12-year old). I do not pretend to understand the dynamics of these exclusive and kyriarchal communities, but give only evaluations and opinions.

What was once shopping out of necessity, largely due to the cost of purchasing clothing items at mainstream retail stores has morphed over the years into a noteworthy cultural phenomenon. Historically, religious and charity organisations such as the Salvation Army and Hospice Wits created thrift shops for individuals and families who could not afford to shop at up-market retail establishments. The proceeds of these sales were directed towards raising funds to help the needy, and the needy would generally be the people purchasing these clothes. In this way, thrift shops served as a unique means of recycling, and facilitating a relationship between the needy in their respective communities, allowing people to help one another without even needing to know each other. It seems to me that this cultural dynamic saw longevity through having what we can call a market for these second-hand goods; because, as long as people found themselves in dire and precarious socioeconomic positions, there would be a need to shop at thrift stores. Furthermore, with people being inherently consumeristic and holding ownership over clothing items and the like, there would be a need to dispose of them. Thrift shops allowed people to get rid of their possessions, knowing that they would no longer be hoarding, that these items would be sold at reasonable prices, and that the proceeds would go towards helping people in difficult situations.

The nature of thrifting, however, has evolved immensely. People now show a preference towards thrifting for the aesthetic value of the garments they might purchase. Thrifting has now been reclaimed as a means of counterculture and being alternative, and finds many parallels (and contradictions) with other aesthetic and taste-making movements such as Hipsterism.

Economics

Historically, thrifting found itself developing out of a need for people to find decent clothing at reasonable prices. This clothing happened to take the form of second-hand items donated to religious and charity groups for the sole purpose of helping those in need. I think it is safe to contend that this is no longer the biggest influence (if any) for individuals to opt for thrift shopping. The economics play on a marginal part of this, in that many students are looking for affordable clothing that is not only in good condition, but is aesthetically pleasing and vastly different from anything owned by anyone else. While thrifting, for the most part, harbours these economic considerations; one is also highly likely to find students with considerable buying power opting for thrifting. Their reason for thrifting differs in that they thrift because they can. Equally, thrift shops seem to have also done away with a business model that requires them to donate their profits to the needy. There is no longer an inclination towards this social justice and responsibility. This can further be attributed to the fact that organisations such as the Salvation Army and Hospice Wits no longer claim monopoly or ownership over this means of retail. This speaks to the current atypical culture attributed to thrifting. Further, is the irony behind complaints that I’ve heard that thrift stores are not necessarily as reasonable as they ought to be. This is largely because they have become fully-fledged businesses, boutiques that use the idea of thrifting as a selling point because it speaks to economics and buying power, culture and the aesthetic value of clothing, as well as the status one derives from simply looking different. It needs to be noted that for all intents and purposes, these establishments are businesses with expenses and overheads (however low), and a profit motive.

Counterculture

Traditionally, people would not want to be caught dead in someone’s hand-me-downs, either because they belonged to someone else before, or because they didn’t look new. Thrifting as counterculture has gone as far as reversing this, with a certain status and value being imbued to the aesthetic quality of certain clothing. This largely derives from the seemingly repetitive nature of media and fashion. This could be Bruno Mars channelling 90s R&B, to clothing that would have been worn by our parents as youths. This return to vintage fashion is not a new thing, and thrifting seems to be a by-product of that. Counterculture is essentially about opposing what mainstream producers of media deem to be the acceptable standards of anything. The irony rears its ugly head when we have to note just how mainstream even vintage fashion has become. Retailers that shouldn’t have this fashion in this utopian idea of counterculture in society are also selling and profiting from these trends and clothes. The counterculture and opposition to aesthetic hegemony also hits a brick wall when there are levels of kyriarchy displayed within counterculture. Kyriarchy generally concerns the othering and rejection of certain people within an alternative community that also finds itself being othered and kept in liminality. There is a degree of shaming even within these communities because for them to exist and thrive, there must be a mainstream or hegemony to oppose, even within their own ranks.

Thrift shops have been showing up more and more, but it could be argued that their existence also finds difficulty, particularly when a retail giant can mimic the aesthetic quality of their clothing, and making more of it because of their inherently greater capabilities, whereas thrift shops must rely on alternatives means of acquiring this clothing.

It seems then that innovation is essentially if one seeks to stay and thrive in this sort of business. I recently came across a particularly interesting case across Wits University’s East Campus. A small thrift shop run and managed by for youths named Amos, Teboho, Gila and Sello, called the Thrift Vintage Shop (T V Shop). I consider it prime real estate due to its adjacency to two educational institutions with students who possess an interest in thrifting.

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Their business finds its survival in selling not only clothes but a variety of snacks as well. Amos argues that this is to afford peace of mind to the individuals who choose to frequent the shop. They also have a loyal and attentive market of regular customers who patronise the establishment often and have a relationship with the managers of the store. The owners of the store also play an array of music, with a preference towards classical music. Their case is noteworthy because it works. In the short space of time between my visits, their stock seems to have expanded, both the clothing and the food. At one point they even lowered the prices of some of their snack to appease their customers. Amos states that starting the business required raising an amount of capital, and a degree of courage, opting to start their own enterprise, as opposed to working for someone else. Their business also finds survival through the fact that they are passionate about thrifting as a culture and only see it growing more, and that their clothing-snack variety sets them apart from everyone else in the same business.

Thrifting is not what it once was, and it shows no signs of turning back. It has abandoned its roots as being solely for charity, and has served as a means for people to group themselves aesthetically, and now allows youths to generate an income for themselves.

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09th Mar2012

Topics in Media and Cultural Studies Roundtable: 14 March 2012

by admin

The Department of Media Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand invites you to its second roundtable this semester in the Topics in Media and Cultural Studies series. Please join us Wednesday 14 March 2012 from 2-4pm in the Committee Room, Faculty of Humanities, South-West Engineering Building, Wits East Campus. Full details on the speakers are below.

 

24th May2011

“Welcome to the world of Red Bull”

by admin

“Welcome to the world of Red Bull”. This has become somewhat their new mantra. Red Bull is now telling you to come into their world rather than them coming into yours. Will you enter? Red Bull was just an energy drink, right? Well that is what it was before. Now it is much more than that; it is a lifestyle. Red Bull has taken the world by storm. South Africa included, with the introduction of Red Bull mobile, Red Bull magazine and according to the Red Bull Media House website, there is also Red Bull TV and Red Bull Music.

I was never interested in Red Bull though I would drink it now and again to get through a few tiring days. Now I am being bombarded with the latest Red Bull campaigning of it being a “lifestyle”. It seems like quite a big marketing campaign just to sell a drink.  With Red Bull virtually hitting every spectre of the media – bombarding those who like music, TV, magazines, and everything – it has made me wonder about these corporations that sell a lifestyle.

It is very profitable for companies to brand themselves as a lifestyle product suitable for the market they wish to sell to but how does it affect us little guys? How much of our lifestyle is actually our own or have we bought into the lifestyle of a product that we like. I would like to think of myself as a relatively autonomous individual but I cannot deny that I have been impacted by the lifestyles I see in the media. Our culture, our ideas, our needs are shaped by these corporations whose products claim to give us the lifestyle we desire. It is hard to not buy into the lush lifestyles we see in the media and those we aspire to have.

But how much of it represents us as South Africans? How much of ourselves are we losing because of the current consumer culture? We always have some agency to act for or against something and it is true in these instances as well. Let’s not get lost in the lifestyles of famous brands but rather create a lifestyle of our own. Welcome to your world.

Alyssa Saber is a third year BA student in Media Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand.

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