14th Oct2013

Woman for SA president

by admin

Sharney Nel looks at recent comments made by Minister Angie Motsheka regarding a woman president in South Africa.

sn1As a female student who strongly advocates for women in powerful and influential positions, I was rather disappointed by the recent statement made by Angie Motshekga, president of the ANC Women’s League, about the government not being ready for a woman as president. Various reports in the media have covered Motshekga’s statement indicating that the ANC (and country) is not ready for a woman president due to “traditions and processes” within the ANC that would render such a proposal “a futile battle”. This statement highlights two points, which is that Motshekga regards the traditions and processes within the ANC as more important than the progress of its women, and that she is not bold enough to propose, let alone crusade against these traditions and processes. Motshekga has therefore lost the “futile battle” without so much as attempting to challenge the status quo.

Apart from being disappointed in Motshekga as an influential women’s leader, her position as Basic Education Minister highlights further concern as the way in which women are to conquer the current patriarchal hierarchy in South African politics and business is, first and foremost, through education. One woman who has conversely attempted to challenge current issues this country faces in education is Agang SA Leader Mamphela Ramphele. City Press covered a story by Ramphele in which she highlights the poor “quality of education”, holding the post-apartheid government responsible. When questioned about the higher numbers in university graduates under the current government leadership, Ramphele’s response was: “We spend the largest proportion of government expenditure on education than any other country, with the worst outcome”. Ramphele obtained this information from “a recent report on global competitiveness” and advised that the poor quality of education explains the high unemployment rates.

The Mail and Guardian reported on a response to Ramphele’s speech by Angie Motshekga in which she accuses Ramphele of “looking for a hobby” and denies the claims about the poor quality of education. Motshekga also uses the opportunity to praise her position within the ANC government by presenting the Mail and Guardian with a “slideshow” featuring “37 new schools in the Eastern Cape”.  This is rather disturbing coming from the Basic Education Minister as the Basic Education Department have compiled reports of more than 4500 schools which have closed since 2007 due to “the decline in pupil numbers as a result of poor performance of township and rural schools”. As Minister of this department it is shocking that Motshekga seems “uneducated” or at least in denial about the reports compiled within her own department. This is clearly indicated in her denial about Ramphele’s claims regarding the poor quality of education.

It does however shed light on Angie Motshekga’s position regarding the ANC and country not being ready for a woman as president. Her own example certainly justifies her point through her questionable performance in her own department. This is arguably due to her lack of boldness in challenging the status quo of patriarchal dominance, and her denial of the poor quality of education, in a department which assembles the reports to prove it and of which she is the government minister.

As for the country, I think we are more than ready to have a woman as president and we certainly have platforms other than the ANC to look to in providing bold, competent, educated and adequate candidates.

07th Oct2013

Debt can lead to regret

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Sharney Nel looks at debt in relation to students.

Credit Card / Gold & PlatinumAt the beginning of each new varsity year, new students enter the world of Wits with ambitious goals for their future. Returning students express excitement when meeting up with their friends to share their holiday stories. An awesome atmosphere is created by the loud music heard from the library lawns. The market stalls are buzzing with students trying on new sunglasses, hats, bags and other funky items. It is easy to get lost in all this excitement and before you know it, someone has signed you up for a Foschini clothing account or a Nedbank credit card. Before any of these students have reached their goal of graduating from University, and before the majority of them are officially employed, they have already fallen in the trap of an evil lurking in South African society…Debt.

According to Debt Counselling SA “over 8 million South Africans are over-indebted” which means that they experience difficulty in making ends meet every month.  The report also indicates that over “70% of an average household income is spent on repaying debts”. An article by the Daily Maverick highlights figures in the “Consumer Credit Market Report issued by the National Credit Regulator” which indicate that debt in South Africa is increasing due to companies milking interest on credit. The Daily Maverick states that this is due to several discrepancies in the National Credit Act. Financial service providers have found sneakier ways to make interest on credit by giving people who have high-risk credit profiles extra credit cards, loans, insurance and accounts. Their tactics have recently extended to students.

One example of this is the Nedbank Dezign Student Credit Card. The card is advertised on their website as “a credit card designed especially for students to give you the opportunity to build your credit record with Nedbank” and “low credit lines to teach you how to manage your money whilst having access to credit.” The first pitch in this statement is that a credit card helps you to “build a credit record.” Hook. The second pitch is that “low credit” means you learn how to “manage your money.” Line. The third and most appealing pitch is that you have “access” to money. Sinker.

What one must be cognisant of, however, is that all three of these assumptions are exactly that, assumptions created by these financial institutions to draw creditors that will help them earn higher interest. First, there are many opportunities to build a credit record without making unnecessary debt. One way in which this is possible is when a student takes out a pre-paid cell phone contract under their name, with their parents signing surety. In this way, you still receive the network services you pay for, but you also build a credit record without making any debt. Second, low credit does not help you manage your money, financial counselling does. Why is this not a service offered to students who are still learning the ropes of managing their money? Finally, access to money is great, but the fact is that it is not your money. Instead of advising you on how to deal with your own financial matters, you are given credit, on which the bank earns interest, whilst no real value is added to your own financial wellbeing.

As students we should therefore be aware of these schemes and educate ourselves before becoming another bad debt statistic in future. There are many sources that are able to assist in this financial education such as Debt Counselling SA, talking to a responsible adult about financial matters, and making use of councillors at the CCDU who frequently run financial management talks for final year students.

 

16th Sep2013

Popular viral videos beat breaking news

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Sharney Nel looks at viral web videos.

Viral videoIn an era of digital media technologies and social media, viral online videos have become more popular than other media content such as breaking news. I intentionally use the comparison between viral videos and breaking news reports in order to frame this article. An exercise which brings me to the crux of the matter which is that framing is an important process in the production of all forms of media, especially as it is used to achieve the intentional or desired outcome by the producers of media content. According to the Citizen’s Handbook Organisation framing refers to the selection and arranging of information to construct a reality which “makes sense” to the media and audiences. It can therefore be understood as a construction of a particular view or event. One such event, which has recently been constructed through framing, is the YouTube video entitled “Worst Twerk Fail EVER – Girl Catches Fire!” The video shows a girl attempting to twerk behind a closed door, which is later opened by a friend causing the twerking girl to fall onto a table with burning candles. The girl then catches on fire.

Viral video 3The video went viral within a few weeks of being published and at the time of writing this article it had reached 12,108,903 views. The video was circulated through various online platforms and appeared on several of my Facebook’s friends’ newsfeeds. Many were shocked when it was later revealed that the video was a hoax orchestrated by talk show host Jimmy Kimmel. Kimmel announced the prank during his show a few weeks after the original video went viral and indicated that several news outlets such as Fox News, CNN Live and Global news reported on the video. He concluded with a sample video of all the media platforms that fell for the prank and the words “It’s a good thing nothing is happening in Syria right now”.

This raises several issues regarding the legitimacy of news outlets as these abovementioned news organizations did not even investigate the legitimacy of the video before reporting on it. This not only reveals the failure to uphold news values such as objectivity through investigative journalism but it also indicates how information framed in a certain way is easily accepted, without question, by audiences. It appears as if the media have taken over society to such an extent that reality is no longer something which exists in the actual world but rather whatever it is set up to be through media channels. How do we therefore re-establish trust in news organizations to ensure that important events and information are objectively reported on? The answer may be very complex but undoubtedly twofold.

Viral video 2First, media professionals and organizations need to ensure that their role as watchdog to and for society is upheld through their processes of framing. Although framing is a construction of reality, it is nonetheless necessary as not all things can be shown at all times. It is therefore crucial that news outlets select and arrange properly investigated material within the framework of a particular event or issue they are reporting on. Second, the onus is on audience members to guard their own processes of selection and interpretation of the media sources they engage with. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be entertained by the media but we need to be aware of not becoming dupes to everything presented to us by the media. We have a responsibility towards ourselves to be informed by important events happening in the world around us and also not to take anything at face value. As much as the Internet provides a multitude of entertaining materials, it also contains various sources of information, which allows for a more objective reading and interpretation of important events.

Another important thing to note is that viral videos only become viral once society engages with and circulates them on various media platforms. As much as the media frames events that are to be broadcasted or published, audiences have the power to determine what they would like within these media ‘frameworks’. We are able to use this power to allow for important information such as state corruption, drug abuse, gang violence, rape, unemployment and the need for education to reach viral status. We should therefore be cognizant in our engagement with media in order to ensure that we are being informed or entertained by the media, rather than being bamboozled into false realities. We should also beware of the media content we choose to circulate and our reasons for reinforcing the messages they contain.

09th Sep2013

Selena Gomez: Cultural appreciation or selfish appropriation?

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Sharney Nel looks at cultural appreciation/appropriation in music.

selena-gomez-mtv-movie-awards-650-430Watching the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) some time back got me thinking about cultural appreciation versus cultural appropriation. Selena Gomez’s music career has finally earned a respectable standing after winning Best Pop Video at the MTV VAMs  for her hit single “Come & get it”. The video shows Gomez singing and dancing in a flower field and the song opens with an Indian male voice singing in Punjabi, as confirmed by a Times of India article.  The article also highlights various other traditional Indian influences such as the tabla music in the background of the song and the “Indian classical dance moves”. It is obvious to anyone who is familiar with Indian culture that this music video appropriates that culture. Personally, however, when I first saw the music video I did not recognise the strong Indian influence. While I knew the concept of “the exotic other” was once again being assumed by an American artist, I actually appreciated the fact that Gomez was finally expressing her sensuality and independence.

I however started contemplating the matter after coming across an article on E! Online, which stated that aspects of the video as well as live performances of the song were controversial as it offended members of the Hindu community. The offense is mainly taken due to Gomez wearing a bindi, a traditional Hindu forehead decoration, whilst dancing sensually and therefore consequently undermining the religious meaning thereof. Various comments under the article by people of Hindu religion or Indian culture nonetheless indicate that the bindi worn by Gomez is not a traditional Hindu bindi but merely a decorative one and that those who are offended are exaggerating the matter. Others have also expressed their appreciation for the fact that Gomez’s video showcases Indian culture and places it on an international scale. This is one of the positive arguments usually adopted by individuals who are in support of cultural appropriation. It seems a fair stance to take and there is no real harm in Gomez’s performing of the song or in her appropriation of Indian culture.

The most powerful response to Gomez’s video and VMA performance is however made by Anisha Ahuja on the media platform “Feminspire”. Ahuja explains that Gomez’s appropriation of Indian culture reinforces the commodification of South Asian cultures by Western agents and her wearing of the bindi is an insult to dark skinned Indian-American women. She poses the serious question: “How unfortunate is it that my parents had to literally force me to wear beautiful parts of my culture because I was afraid of being ostracized, but Selena Gomez can take aspects of the clothing I grew up with and make money off of them?” Ahuja’s argument is justified by Gomez’s own response in an interview where she states that the song is her way of “exuding confidence” and that it has a “middle eastern feel” which is very “vibey”. This illustrates that the young artist shows no regard for the culture she appropriates as her viewpoints are misconstrued and she provides no motivation for usurping Indian culture during her interview about the hit song.

As a musician of predominantly traditional African and classical music, I agree strongly with aspects of Ahuja’s piece, especially the fact that Gomez cannot be taken seriously as an artist if she does not realise the meaning in what she communicates to her audience. However, as a pop singer and someone who is given a platform to create, appropriate or deconstruct any culture for artistic purpose, one cannot really blame Gomez for her actions. Pop singers are usually not meant to be taken seriously particularly if they are likely to achieve success out of “meaningless” music. One can also not hold the artist responsible if the world which gives her that success does not care about the deeper meanings in the music she shares. This is evident in Gomez’s case as the responses to the controversy in support of Gomez far exceed the negative impact of her cultural appropriation. The only way pop music and cultural appreciation can be forced into being an art form of greater internal connotation is if the world demands it to be that way. If audiences are happy and entertained by seemingly meaningless music and tactics then there is little that artists can do to change the situation, especially if their own selfish intentions are supported by the masses in that regard.

 

 

26th Aug2013

Social Media: Your new resume

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Sharney Nel looks at social media and its role in the job-hunting process.

Social Media ResumeSocial networking has become a global phenomenon since the proliferation of digital media and communications technologies. According to a survey by Michael Horrocks 41% of South Africans have access to the Internet with the majority of this figure falling within the age group of 15-25 years. The survey also indicates websites such as Google, Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo and LinkedIn are amongst “South Africa’s top 10 most visited websites”. There are therefore two important deductions that can be made from this survey. First, the South African youth population constitutes the majority of internet users. Second, the websites that are accessed are mostly those that include personal information and behavioural trends of users.

It is therefore no surprise that an increasing number of businesses seeking to employ candidates are accessing and screening their social media profiles. Jacquelyn Smith from Forbes indicates in an article that over 37% of “employers use social networks to screen potential job candidates” and that in most instances, information is used to determine the qualifications, character and professional capacity of candidates. This poses yet another threat to South African matriculants and graduates who are seeking employment. The majority of young people active on social networks do so within their personal capacity and many do not consider the implications of their profiles on their future careers. This could be due to the common notion that their social identities are separate from the professional world.

An example of the negative implications of Facebook behaviour on one’s career is considered in a report by Zack Whittaker. In the report it is noted that Apple fired an employee due to his “negative comments” about Apple stores on one of his social media profiles. The report thus also highlights that companies such as Apple, include strict social media rules within their company policies as their brands could be exposed to “potentially damaging posts”.

One experience that I have had recently in searching for jobs online was that various employment agencies such as Adzuna request that candidates provide a link to their social media profiles, especially Facebook and LinkedIn, so that they are able to access these profiles. Companies may therefore gain access to your media feeds through employment agencies and online application forms. Facebook’s online Help Centre also clearly states that any “information you share online – even on Facebook – always has the ability to be copied, pasted and redistributed” be it the user’s intention or not. Access to social networking sites is not only lethal to job seekers, but also those already employed. The Telegraph reported that companies investigates current employees’ Facebook profiles, disciplining them on online behaviour such as their drinking habits, making racist comments and posting indecent photographs on the social networking site.

Although many people are against linking their social media identities with their professional profiles, the digital media world is allowing the distinction to become increasingly blurred. This however does not mean one should not engage in social networking activities. As much as social networks pose a threat to individual identity and employment, it may conversely be used as a tool to promote positive values and ideals, as well as a good professional profile. Alexis Grant from US News provides ten effective ways to use social media to your advantage when seeking employment. Here are some of her helpful tips:

  • Use social networks to indicate that you are in the job market
  • Network with social media contacts to assist you in your job search
  • Limit your social media privacy settings as much as possible
  • Search employers’ social networking profiles to give you an advantage in knowing them better
  • Hyperlink your CV to social networks in order to highlight your qualifications
  • Separate your professional Facebook contact list from your “Friends” list
  • Use social media to make new professional connections in your desired field
  • Be active on sites linked with Google (eg. LinkedIn) for greater exposure to employers
  • Join in on Twitter chats specific to your industry and/or expertise
  • Use social media for job seeking advice from career experts and employers

There are therefore positive and negative implications in engaging with social media networks and if managed adequately these media platforms could serve to enhance your online image.

19th Aug2013

Wits Confessions: Sensationalist or Liberating?

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Sharney Nel looks at the Wits Confessions forum.

Facebook ConfessionsI recently started following the Wits Confessions page after some friends were discussing how explicitly, albeit anonymously, people are able to air their views on the forum. The confession that got me hooked was “I studied medicine hoping my life would be like one of the romantic, steamy, emotionally-charged episodes of Grey’s Anatomy every day, and so far it’s turned out to be the Muvhango omnibus”. Humorous posts like these are a central reason for why the page has become so popular amongst students.

The Wits Confessions page was started on May 29, 2013 and reached 10 000 views by June 2, following a viral Facebook confessions craze by Universities across South Africa. The page assures anonymity and is open to any member of the general public. Wits Confessions also contains disclaimers stating that they are in no way affiliated with Wits University.  Content in breach of the university’s code of conduct will however not be published. The page currently has a following of 13 432 readers. Followers who wish to post stories or any information on the page have to complete a confessions form which is available on the Wits Confessions Facebook page. The information is then passed to the administrator(s) who review and select posts to be featured on the page.

Many who follow the page do so for the entertainment value. One especially sees this when reviewing the comments made under posts. As one follower puts it “the best part about Wits confessions aren’t the confessions themselves but the comments.”

This illustrates the important feature of interactivity in new media social spaces. Information is not merely dictated to the audience, but rather created and managed by them. Another important factor is that students are able to not only confess certain matters, but discuss topics that are important or entertaining to them. The question is however to what extent the entertainment value reaches and whether the page is simply a sensationalist forum with no real positive impact.

Most of the posts contain humorous confessions such as one person confessing to feeding the rats on campus and another asserting that they deflated the wheels of a car in the parking lot. Other posts are however slightly more serious in nature. An example of this is a post where a male participant encouraged celibacy before marriage. Issues of sex and sexuality are popular especially amongst young adults who are faced with the choice of being sexually active or not. Many have commented on this post indicating strong views of either rejecting the reasoning behind celibacy or advocating for it. This indicates that Wits Confessions provides a platform where people of differing views are able to express themselves openly and anonymously, and as it appears in the form of social media, it is accessible to anyone at any time. One response from a male student struggling with the pressures of sexuality thanked the person for their honest and noble confession as it helped them overcome their fears of peer pressure and losing masculinity through practicing celibacy.

Another important function of the forum is for students to encourage one another. Examples of these are where students urge others to take accountability for their lives and actions and to stop blaming others for their failures and shortfalls. One person posted a special thank you note for the “angel” who consoled and motivated him/her during a suicidal breakdown in a toilet. There are also other kinds of confessions such as secret admirers and requests for relationship advice. The comments are diverse and expressive and illustrates that although the platform can be viewed as sensationalist in certain respects, it also provides a space where students are able to air their views on issues important to them, doing so in a language that is accessible and comprehendible. There are also various guidelines and information on other helpful sources such as contact details for the CCDU and Dean of students, and links to campaigns such as ‘Stop Gender Violence’ and the AIDS Foundation. Wits Confessions can therefore be viewed as a liberating platform for students and other members of the public to converse about important topics in diverse ways.

One critique of the platform is that there have been concerns of the validity of certain confessions that appear far-fetched and dishonest. This is however a risk that any platform promising anonymity will encounter and students are able to decide for themselves whether to entertain certain posts and comments or not. All things considered, the page does seem to promote diversity of viewpoints and provide helpful information and guidelines.

05th Aug2013

The Coke Marketing Campaign Joke

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Sharney Nel takes a look at at recent ad campaigns that were in the news for the wrong reasons.

CokeThe latest advert for Coke Zero has been banned by authorities due to content that is misleading to consumers. According to Itv.com the advert suggests that “burning off the 139 calories in a [regular] can of coca cola required 25 minutes of dog walking (woof!), ten minutes of dancing (whoop-whoop!), and 75 seconds of laughing out loud (LoLest!), with a plus sign between each activity”. The advert continues to state “but if today you don’t feel like doing it…Have a Coke with zero calories”. Consumers suggested that the plus signs are ambiguous (today they didn’t feel like doing it…) and it appears as if doing only one of the activities would be adequate to burn the 139 calories (Seriously, though!).

Coca Cola have retaliated by indicating that the plus sign is universally recognised and sufficient in understanding that the activities should be combined. Coca Cola have further stated that “the advert raised awareness of the calorie content of Coca Cola and the importance of active lifestyles and…” At this point I do a bit of my own 75 seconds of fat-burning “LoLing” (actually it was more like 15 seconds, who laughs continuously for over a minute anyway?). Also, the only sign which is universally recognised is the feeling of guilt when drinking coke whilst on a diet.

Coca Cola clearly felt like playing a game with their audience in the form of a grandiose spectacle of reversing the guilt from company to client. Ok, maybe that was a bit dramatic. But there are several other adverts guilty of this misleading spectacle. This of course does not apply to all companies and advertising campaigns, and one can certainly not hold Coke responsible for one’s health, especially if they are not forcing 139 calories down your throat. What can we then hold companies accountable for? It’s simple, their Brand. What is their brand? It is the ideological promise held within the experience of using their products and services. Although I may have sounded like an activist for Killer Coke, I assure you I am not. What I am is a brand enthusiast, and in this instance, Coca Cola the Brand, got it wrong.

Companies need to start thinking of their consumers, not as consumers, but as people. Very few of us want to know what your product can do, cannot do, or can do better, technically. We know Coke is not healthy, but how will it add value to my life if I have one every now and then or maybe on a really hot summer’s day? Don’t patronise me by trying to associate Coke with healthy living. There are various adverts guilty of misrepresenting facts. L’Oréal has been forced to pull adverts featuring actress Julia Roberts and supermodel Christy Turlington due to digital manipulation (aka airbrushing), which enhanced the actual effects of the make-up they were promoting. Hyundai offered to pay more than $85 million to settle a lawsuit for misrepresenting the horsepower of Hyundai and Kia motor vehicle models. New Balance  paid a settlement of $2.3 million for advertising that their sneakers are designed in a way which burn calories by simply wearing them. Once again a “look at what we can do” scenario as opposed to “this is how your life will be more valuable”.

An advert for a product designed for techno-fundi’s may very well be understood and appreciated by techno fundi’s, but changing its content to appeal to the human nature in every single person who will watch it, will be much more beneficial. There are of course various brands, which hit the nail on the head. One of these being a recent South African advert by Investec, an investment company who illustrates their value-add, such as “we credit intelligence” (showing a group of toddlers looking at exotic fish in an aquarium), “we lend ears” (with a young musician holding and playing with his trumpet), and “we grow opportunity” (illustrating young adults planting trees in the rain). The advert ends with the image of a young girl who has just graduated from university with the powerful punch line: “Money isn’t everything”. Although money, technically, IS everything for Investec, they opted to remove the limelight away from themselves, and money, and onto the experiences and value that having money renders to the lives of their clients, and that is a FACT. And there you have it Coca Cola, but thanks for the laugh, which apparently cut inches from my waistline, and I didn’t even need to drink a Coke!

29th Jul2013

In support ‘Of Good Report’

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Sharney Nel looks at the South African film Of Good Report.

Of Good ReportAny member or devotee of the arts and culture industry in South Africa will agree that the sector does not have adequate support, from audiences as well as the relevant bodies and institutions. In a highly competitive creative industry, where the Western world still commands a great amount of respect and support from South African audiences, our creative advancement is disappointingly stagnated. We, the South African audience, contribute to this stagnation when we select a British singer Adele’s music to be the highest selling album in South Africa, and when we purchase Lady Gaga concert tickets to the value of R715, when our own established artists, such as Lira, charges less than half that price. This debate is unending amongst many South Africans and there are various, often justifiable, reasons for the relative lack of support of South African creative forms.

The “powers that be” therefore have a significant role to play in ensuring that South African artists are given the necessary support and exposure. However, when important bodies, such as the Film and Publications Board (FPB) of South Africa, ban a South African film, Of Good Report, on the basis that it “contains content that carries an illegal act”, but passes a German-American film, The Reader, containing that very same illegal act, they fail miserably at their role. 

Of Good Report is a film about a male schoolteacher who obsesses over and has a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old female pupil. The Reader is a film about an older woman who has a sexual relationship with a teenaged boy. Apart from the fact that the board’s decision reeks of gender discrimination, it also exposes the discrepancies in its procedures. According TimesLive, the spokesman for the Film and Publications Board, Prince Mlimandlela Ndamase indicated that the film was banned because of a sexual scene, which constituted “child pornography”. According to the film’s producer, Mike Auret, the scene is not one that promotes sexual arousal, but one that evokes disturbing emotions towards an alarming social situation which occurs in the lives of many young South Africans.

When considering the success of Tsotsi, another film that exposed alarming social situations in South Africa, it is clear that the necessary support and exposure can place South African art on the international map. Tsotsi was drenched in illegal activity such as gangsterism, theft and murder, yet it was passed by the board and reached international acclaim by winning the 2005 Academy Award for best foreign language film. It was a proud moment for South African film and other art forms as the film showcased the talent of the director, various actors, kwaito musician Zola, and writer, Athol Fugard.

According to the Mail and Guardian, the ban on Of Good Report has however been lifted and opened for screening on July 28, the final evening of the Durban International Film Festival. The decision was a hasty one made by the Film and Publication Board’s appeal committee, but it is not final and “the board is still adamant that the film’s content is pornographic”. The possibility of international acclaim, similar to that of Tsotsi, for director, Jahmil XT Qubeka, and other contributors to Of Good Report may exist if the ban remains lifted. If not, the controversy may continue in terms of the discrepancies in the procedures of the Film and Publications Board.

13th May2013

YOU Magazine: Information Waif or Whale?

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Sharney Nel looks at the recent controversy over YOU magazine’s latest cover.

sn1A recent issue of YOU magazine featuring Kim Kardashian and Princess Kate Middleton’s respective baby-bump-bods on the cover has got many South Africans talking. However, this is not just because the topic has high popularity ratings across the globe already. It is common knowledge that celebrity baby bumps are simply new pieces of a typically old celebrity gossip fad.

But South Africans seem to have taken quite a strong stance against YOU magazine’s choice of cover and they have certainly been frank about its equally frank choice of words. An article on News24’s online section entitled women24 published a citizen’s strong concerns towards the YOU cover article. The cover is criticized for being “childish, idiotic and dangerous to girls everywhere”, with a rather sardonic (and ironic) question posed to the magazine: “Seriously, guys? WTF?” Another reader, however, in response to this critique, suggests that “it is called sensationalizing journalism and WOMAN24 applies this on a regular basis” and that women24 were simply “jealous for being beaten to a story”.

What I find amusing about these different responses to the YOU cover story (other than the inappropriate and unprofessional language of course!), is that they both advance separate arguments regarding journalistic ethics in terms of magazine publication. On the one hand, it is suggested that YOU is being disrespectful towards the pregnant female body. On the opposite end of the scale is an argument about the sensationalist value of magazines which ensures it profitability.

In light of these arguments I decided to look further into the matter as it suddenly struck me that, due to my gender as a female together with my knowledge of the media industry, I was (rather uncomfortably) sitting on the fence. This was obviously clear as I clicked the “maybe” button along with 210 other fence-sitters on the poll below the women24 article, which asked whether readers thought that the YOU cover was in bad taste. I was amongst 5% who could not decide, whereas 65% of readers agreed that the article was in bad taste, and 29% agreed that it was not.

Readers also took their disgust of the YOU cover article to the “Twitter-streets” with various responses such as “Mag cover story O_O “Kate the waif / Kim the whale” …it’s like women can’t do anything right…this is not okay” and “attacking Kim like she has control over her body when ‘pregas’. Not fair!” It was interesting to note that these responses are now nowhere in sight on the @YouMagazine Twitter feed. Feeling guilty? Is it that YOU can give the “Heat” but not take it? (See what I did there? You…Heat…haha!).

In exploring this idea, I came across several positive responses to the YOU article. One woman who commented on parent24.com indicated that seeing Kim Kardashian fashionably sporting a bigger body made her feel secure about her own baby bump. Another positive review was from blogger who did not know what the word “waif” meant, and decided to look it up and share the meaning with her own readers. Knowledge is power!

Being inspired, I followed suit in my own quest to discover to the real meaning of the term “magazine” in the hope that it will assist me in picking a side. Oregon State University Library explains that “magazines” are also known as “popular publications” compiled by journalists who “are not usually scholars” and provides incomplete information of which there are no named or secure sources. From this description it is therefore clear that YOU magazine, or any other not claiming to be a news publication, has a certain right to entertain consumers with sensationalist content in order to be profitable.

This conclusion however proves that sensationalism holds a double edged sword as consumers can either buy into the hype, or express their strong views about it, and the latter may have dire implications for any magazine. The ultimate power in matters of ethics and profitability therefore lie in the hands of the public and, due to the poll response of 65% of women24 readers who voted against the actions of YOU magazine it seems that the score is YOU – 0, Readers – 1. As for me, I now have a YOU magazine and a bad taste in my mouth….with a beanbag…on the fence. How about you?

22nd Apr2013

Positive Roleplaying of a Negatively Casted Sushi King?

by admin

Sharney Nel looks at the debate around role models in South Africa.

kunene

Kenny Kunene

The recent feud between self-pronounced “Sushi King”, Kenny Kunene, and DA spokesperson Mmusi Maimane has raised several discussions in the media regarding the lifestyle, character and actions of Kunene. The feud erupted after an opinion piece in a Sunday newspaper, by Maimane, where he criticised Kunene for failing to use his social status and “success to promote the right values”.

The main argument advanced by Maimane is that “those individuals who succeed and enter into the public limelight have a responsibility to project constructive values to the country, and especially to the country’s youth.” The responsibility is therefore placed onto individuals such as Kunene to be positive role models. The question however arises as to how exactly an individual “enters into the public limelight.” In the case of Kunene, it was through actions that were anything but “projected constructive values”.

Kenny Kunene was a name unknown to many South Africans until the controversial and highly publicized incident where he ate sushi off a half-naked woman in Zar, one of the nightclubs he owns, at his 40th birthday party. According to the City Press the party cost around R700000. The incident changed his social status overnight and he was dubbed South Africa’s “Sushi King”. Kunene, an ex-convict who was imprisoned for fraud, divorced from his wife in 2012 and has recently started a Hugh Hefner-inspired army of women aged 24 and under whom he parades around as his girlfriends and “spoils” with expensive items. South Africans learned of his army when he and a few of his girlfriends featured on an episode of local chat show 3Talk.

Despite his questionable character, Kunene remains a regular subject in a multitude of media such as newspapers, television and radio and is both accessible and active on the social media platform Twitter. He owes his arrival at fame to his controversial actions and a society who placed him there. How can we therefore expect him to act any differently when he simply exploits the very means that gave him his elevated status?

Maimane may have attempted to negate the kind of attention that has been given to Kunene by illustrating the need for renowned personas to be positive role models, but he has reinforced Kunene’s image in the media as his piece snowballed into a horde of media discussions around Kunene’s lifestyle, supressing Maimane’s aim of promoting noble values to South Africa’s youth.

The media gives society what they want and society takes what the media gives. Maimane should have opted to write a piece on another public persona, the kind of role model he aims to promote, instead of attacking Kunene and in turn providing him with even more media exposure. In light of this notion, Kunene’s response that Maimane’s article was simply a political ploy suddenly seems plausible…

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