Author Archives: David Fleminger

South Africa – How Fucked Are We?

Scared-FaceYassis, I’m depressed about the state of our nation. And that worries me. I’ve always been the one who is upbeat about South Africa (you know the one). I love my country deeply. It is part of my identity, part of my self. I just can’t imagine living anywhere else. And yet…

The events of the last few days have shaken me. I’m unsettled, anxious. My usual confident bluster is faltering. And I don’t like it.

So, I thought I would try to write out my conflicting thoughts and emotions; try to make sense of recent events as they relate to my (and our collective) future.

But first, as we must, a quick recap: Zuma’s State of the Nation address was a catastrophe. It began with a mysterious cellphone signal blackout (which is now officially described as a ‘technical glitch’ and definitely not ordered by anyone). Journalists protested and opposition MPs refused to continue until the signal was restored (which it was, even more mysteriously). Even though the ruling party has promised it will never happen again, it’s an ominous indication of the government’s desire to control the flow of information.

Then came the double whammy of the EFF’s stubbornly disruptive (but procedurally defensible) highjacking of JZ’s speech, followed by the heavy-handed and well-rehearsed removal of all EFF members from the house. I can’t say this part of proceedings came as a surprise. The EFF clearly announced their intentions well in advance, and the Speaker of the House was literally reading from a prepared script. But the physical violence of the armed guards’ response was genuinely shocking.

Perhaps more pertinently, the official parliamentary TV feed refused to show us the scuffle. Instead, it remained locked on the unsmiling faces of the petulant Speaker and brooding NCOP Chairperson. We only saw this fracas thanks to people in the gallery who filmed it on their cell phones). That’s another blow to the freedom of information (especially if you believe rumours that the SABC’s head of news was in the OB van calling the shots).

Finally, we have the issue of the security guards themselves. Who were they: police, army, parliamentary? This is an important question, as raised by Musi Maimane of the DA, because the police and army answer to the Executive (i.e. the president). The parliamentary security force, on the other hand, answers to parliament itself. This separation is essential for democracy and not just semantics (as the Speaker implied when she said she can’t point out who is police and who is from parliament).

So, put it all together and what do you get? Well, you get a ruling party who was prepared to restrict the flow of information and interfere with the autonomy of parliament for their own ends. OK, they were probably only thinking short term (how do we protect Zuma from embarrassment?). But a quick glance through history will show that many dictatorships began with little more than a jammed signal and troops in parliament.

Now, I don’t think we are seriously at risk of JZ becoming a Mugabe. Our democracy is too strong for that. But the spectre of sad, decaying Zimbabwe looms directly over our heads, and the parallels are hard to avoid. Especially when Zuma chuckles ‘heh-heh-heh’.

I regret that this is the case. I hate to trot out the hoary, old trope of ‘failed African state’. But let’s go down that road and see what sticks.

By all accounts, Zuma is intent on putting his mates and/or loyalists in all the top positions, regardless of their experience or ability. Such a system of patronage is, to mis-quote the beloved Pieter-Dirk Uys, the Vaseline of political intercourse in many countries. But one can’t help but wonder if this inter-dependent cabal is going to simply walk away from power when Zuma’s time is up.

Then there’s our infrastructure. After driving to Malawi over December, I can accurately say that maintenance is one of the biggest challenges facing our continent. Without expertise and money applied in the correct places, things fall apart – simple as that. It’s happening with our power grid (the big talk is that our water supply is next). And, petty as it may sound, you just need to look at the state of our rainwater drains, brittle roads, overgrown verges, broken traffic lights to see that the government just isn’t that good at keeping things in shape.

The ‘failed state’ scenario can be taken further. There’s proposed new land legislation that will stop foreigners from owning agricultural land, and limit individuals from owning too much. Not an outrageous proposition (many other countries have similar restrictions) but a policy with lots of potential for abuse. There’s new mining legislation that seeks to give the minister control over pricing. There’s a broad malaise of corruption seeping into every aspect of the bureaucracy, where getting a piece of the action becomes more important than getting things done. And let’s not forget an alarming rise in racial rhetoric that is finally starting to make me feel a little bit unwelcome.

Perhaps worst of all, there is neither progress nor consequence. South Africa is simply not making any headway against the challenges we face such as education, service delivery, economic growth, unemployment, and so on. Sure, these are large, sprawling issues with many complexities, but all too often the people in charge seem either inexperienced, inefficient, insubstantial or downright dishonest.

Because whatever happens, nothing happens. Scandals come and go but no one gets fired. Blunder after blunder, and no one is found responsible. Even when the Public Protector (blessed be her name) makes an official finding, she is ignored and the transgressors get off scot-free. Without accountability, we are helpless.

OK, that’s some of the shit we’re having to deal with at the moment. But what does this all mean for the future? Are we really on course to become yet another failed African state?

Well, first let’s look at some realities that we have to face right now.

Number One: Zuma is not going anywhere for another three years. Barring a pretty-much unthinkable backlash from within the ANC, Zuma is going to be president until the next elections when our constitutionally mandated two-term limit will force him to step down.

Number Two: our erratic electricity supply is going to remain erratic for at least three years. Despite all the interventions in the pipeline, for the next three years we are going to struggle to produce enough power to keep up with consumption.

Number Three: The opposition is weak and will probably remain so. The DA just cannot shift the perception that it is a ‘whites-only party’. And the EFF is radical, fractious and, while often correct, somehow untrustworthy.

So, more of the same for the foreseeable future. What, then, do we do?

Honestly? Fucked if I know…

Those of us who can, could obviously investigate emigration. It’s not an easy process (unless you are very rich – and I don’t shed tears for the rich). Uprooting everything and starting over from scratch is extremely painful. However, maybe now is the time? If you honestly cannot see any hope for South Africa over the next ten years, then you’d be foolish to hang around waiting for it to get worse.

But what if, like me, your optimism is battered but not broken. Do you do a pre-emptive evacuation, to be on the safe side, or do you stay and watch the winds, waiting for the final straw to land on your back? I realise that this very South African middle class tendency to keep one foot on the plane (however subconsciously) isn’t particularly helpful. But it’s there – nagging away in the back of my brain.

The big question that usually hushes my doubt is: where do you go? What with terrorism, climate change, political uncertainty, economic depression and everything else, the whole world is in upheaval. For me, the answer is probably Canada: I have family there and nothing ever happens. But the weather is terrible. And it’s Canada. The UK, America, Australia, New Zealand – they all have their drawbacks. So, I have to ask myself, is my lack of faith in South Africa really worth the price of relocation?

In my heart, I don’t think it is. So, the only other option is to just grin and bear it. After all, it’s not so bad here on the tip of Africa. We live in a beautiful country with beautiful people and beautiful weather. We also have a history of defying dire expectations. And, while we are all living in the looming shadow of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, we’re still a long way away.

And perhaps this is the best way to approach the events of last week – to consider them an early warning; a canary in the mine alerting us to the presence of poisonous gasses that could overwhelm us if we don’t take notice. That’s why, after a few days reflection, I’ve decided that the SONA debacle was a good thing – lucky, even. At least it gives us a chance to correct our course before we really run aground.

Finally, to wrap things up, let’s return to the original question: how fucked are we? Right after SONA, I would have given us a HFAW score of 8. Now, the government seems to have realised that they overstepped the mark and are backtracking on many fronts. No one will be held accountable, of course, but just maybe the fallout has given some people pause for thought – whether it’s politicians who need to re-assess their priorities or members of the public who need to re-assess their vote.

Either way, my little flame of hope is flickering back into life. It’s not as robust as it once was. After all, a mirror was held up to our democracy, and I didn’t like what I saw. But the passage of time (even a few days) soothes everything and I am no longer tormenting myself with ‘should I stay or should I go?’. I’m staying. I’m here. This is my country as much as anyone else’s, and nothing’s going to chase me off my birth right. At least for now…

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Sandringham ‘Township’ is a misnomer

Recently, I saw an alarmist post making the rounds on social media and email. It reads, in part: “I am not sure if you are all in the Glenhazel/ Sandringham, Fairmount area – but if you do have any connection there, then please get involved in the proposed development of a mixed-use Township which is planned for the area surrounding the Sandringham police station.”

There is more than one type of 'Township'

There is more than one type of ‘Township’

Clearly, this is a cause for concern – except that it isn’t.

You see, the emotive word in this call-to-arms is ‘Township’. However, when you read the actual tender document, it becomes clear that the word in being used in its original sense – as an innocuous urban planning term that means the same as ‘suburb’. It has nothing to do with our uniquely South African concept of township as an urban slum, such as Alexandra.

If you want proof, just have a look at your monthly account from the City of Johannesburg and you’ll see the heading ‘Township’ followed by the specific name of your nice, pretty residential suburb. Yes, whether you live in Houghton or Highlands North, you too are living in a Township!

So, let’s put aside our knee-jerk reactions and take a closer look at the proposed project in order to formulate an informed opinion. The proposal, as described in the CoJ’s tender document, is to develop the 17 000ha plot of vacant land roughly bounded by Modderfontein Road, the Sandringham Dip and the M3 highway. This would include the construction of residential units for low to middle income families along with educational, recreational, retail and corporate spaces.

Now that doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Yes, the housing is going to be relatively high-density (probably including a couple of thousand apartments) and yes, the development is intended for lower-income earners. But that doesn’t mean the land is going to be given over to shacks and spaza shops. Instead, the city is trying to create ‘gap housing’ for people of limited means but with upward mobility. After all, we’re never going to clean up genuine slums if we don’t give people a viable alternative.

Obviously, the relative pros and cons of the development can only be determined once official drawings and plans have been submitted. And there’s a long way to go before that happens. In the meantime, rest assured that there’s still plenty to get worked up about.

The real cause for concern (as outlined in Marian Laserson’s excellent report) is that there seems to be a lack of proper paperwork behind the company that won the tender, which was originally issued in 2011. According to Laserson, the winning bidder is a new company that was registered just a few years ago, with little practical experience in the field and few financial statements to back up its ambitious plans. There is also confusion about the status of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) – a legal requirement that must be completed by the developers and approved by the authorities before any construction can begin.

OK, now that you have a more factual grounding on which you can legitimately base your reactions – get busy! For more information, you can read the relevant documents for yourself (attached below) or get in touch with an appropriate authority. No doubt, special interest groups and public participation meetings will also be set up in the near future.

So, by all means, make your voice heard. Everyone living in the surrounding area should definitely engage with this process so that we may all benefit from the long-overdue development of this valuable land. It is a very interesting space with historical, environmental, social and economic implications. And I fully believe that we should all work together to improve our urban environment.

Just imagine what could be achieved if this development is handled responsibly: a rehabilitated river bank along which to picnic, some rare Bankenveld grasslands with a nature trail, restored sites of historical interest, neat rows of houses and apartment blocks, new shops and schools, smart offices, tarred roads, proper services…

The potential is indeed enormous – as long as we reign in our natural tendency towards hysteria (especially when it is based on a misunderstood word). That isn’t to say that we should turn a blind eye and allow the developers to flout the law. We just have to be cautious without being dismissive. IMHO.

Environmental Scoping Process – Notice

Linksfield BID_10 Oct 2013

Environmental Scoping Process – Notice

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Dave Tripping – New York City

I am now midway through a family vacation to Canada and it’s been great to see everyone again. Paradoxically, it feels like it was only yesterday that we all got together and yet we instinctively know that it’s years rather than miles which separate us. But it’s all good.

And what with all the reunion-ing, I haven’t had much time to update my blog. But fear not, faithful reader, I had a spare day at my cousins’ house in Dundaszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, so here’s the first exciting instalment of my travel journal. And it features a photo gallery of my quick three day stop-over in New York City, en route to Canada (there still isn’t a direct flight from the beloved country to the great white north).

Even though this is only my third or fourth time in NYC, it’s already starting to feel familiar. Yes, it’s over-whelming, thrilling, surreal, gruelling, delightful; but I am nevertheless embracing my informal citizenship of New York  by virtue of the generations of movie-makers, writers and artists who have made every aspect of life in the Big Apple part of the planet’s shared mythology.

One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the humidity – it was stinking hot, like a Durban in February. Still, it was a  real treat to pound the street, sweating freely, and making the most of my time in the city.

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How do you solve a problem like Malema? Part Three – At least we don’t live in North America

For Part One, click here.

For Part Two, click here.

Of course, Malema isn’t a uniquely South African problem, or even an African problem. Every country in the world has its Malemas; those hate-filled zealots who fervently believe that what they are right and everyone else is wrong. In a way, it’s something to be admired. Such strong beliefs are usually a sign that people are invested in the issue – they have a lot at stake. Why else would they care so much?

The Republican Party in America, for example, is a currently being dominated by a bunch of Malemas. Honestly, those guys scare the crap out of me. It’s a genuine cause for alarm that the government of the most powerful nation on Earth (as they keep telling us) is riddled with extreme religious fundamentalists; narrow reactionary ideologues who ridicule science, demonise their critics and peddle hypocrisy. OK, the last two are true of any politician. But you get my point. Fanatical Republicans are dangerous precisely because they care SO much about their God-blessed America.

It was the same with the Voortrekkers. Throughout history, extreme patriotism has been used as a justification for terrible acts of aggression and even genocide. After all, passion is only a hair’s breadth away from crazy.

Not that passion isn’t important. We all need to be passionate about something in our lives. Whether it’s work, family, country or Super Mario Brothers, something’s got to be at stake to make things matter. Just think about issues such as personal safety, political stability, social justice, economic health – if any of these things are at risk in your country, you better believe that you are going to give a shit.

Apathy, then, is the product of contentment.

Case in point: Canada – sanity capital of the world. Everything in Canada is sorted. The politics is mild to the point of irrelevance. Everything functions smoothly. There is no crime. The streets are clean. The economy seems to be holding up well enough. There’s ice-hockey on TV and hot coffee on every corner. OK, the climate sucks balls, but you can’t have everything.

Still, you can’t visit Canada without feeling that there’s something’s missing; a frisson of uncertainty, a lack of dire consequences. In other words, in Canada, nothing seems to matter. And that’s probably a good thing – a state towards which all the nations on Earth should be aspiring. It’s just so dull.

FYI, I’m about to embark on a family trip to New York and Toronto, and I’ll be writing as I go. So, I’ll reserve the right to shamelessly contradict myself about Canada in subsequent blog posts – or I might just keep on trolling. But for the moment let me return to the ostensible subject at hand by saying that I both revile and celebrate Julius Malema, and all the dictators for which he stands. Juju is a constant reminder that I care deeply about the country of my birth – it’s where I have placed my stake. And for that provocation I am truly grateful.

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How do solve a problem like Malema? Part Two – Julius and Stalin

For Part One, click here.

Here’s the rub about Julius Malema: he is a troll that feeds off attention. But we can’t stop reporting on him because he is a very dangerous troll who needs to be tracked at all times. And that’s why I’m breaking my self-imposed vow to stop writing about Malema, lest I make him stronger. Recent events have forced a re-think in the way we handle this little sociopath. He can’t simply be ignored anymore. He needs to be stopped.

I was chatting the other day with someone who said that if Malema ever came into power he would be worse than Stalin. At first, I thought it was an obvious exaggeration for comic effect. Now, I’m not so sure. Malema, like Stalin, is a zealot and a revolutionary. They are also both dictators – leaders utterly convinced of their infallibility and utterly devoted to personal power; men who think that the rules don’t apply to them by virtue of their ‘noble’ goals. Both are capable of colossal self-delusion and hypocrisy. And both believe, like Napoleon the pig, that all animals are equal but some are more equal than others.

Bearing this in mind, would a militarised Malema really order the murder of millions if they dared oppose him? Hard to say. Sociopath to psychopath is a leap. But it doesn’t jar with the overall pattern.

Wait, hang on. I’m getting carried away. Let’s ease off the hysteria pedal for a moment. I certainly don’t think that Malema is going to come within a mile of executive power. Our democracy is too mature for that, and his behaviour is simply too reckless. But stranger things have happened – put an opportunistic man in the right place at an unfortunate time, and you get the Holocaust.

Tenuous Nazi analogy aside, there’s another aspect to this Malema dilemma that’s even more worrying. Sometimes, Julius is correct. Let’s be clear:  I deplore his hijacking of the Marikana tragedy for political gain. I condemn his general air of entitlement. I reject his call for blanket nationalisation, partly because government is notoriously unable to manage large corporations and partly because I am suspicious that Malema is just using it as a Mugabe-style excuse so that state assets will  be easier to plunder ‘when he takes control’. But Juju does occasionally articulate some legitimate concerns.

For example, mine workers should get a minimum wage of R12 000 per month. Why not? It’s a reasonable request. Speaking in the long term, if we don’t start paying people a living wage, how are we going to build a sizeable middle class? And without a sizeable middle class, how are we going to build a sustainable nation? If that means corporate profits take a temporary knock, so what? It’s a moral, social and political imperative to dramatically increase salaries for the rank and file. Our future depends on it.

More to the point, Malema is only exploiting what is already there. He is not a cause. He is a symptom of some very deep seated problems in our country – a canary warning us that poisonous gas is about to overwhelm South Africa. In other words, we need to stop Malema by fixing the morass that spawned him. Maybe then his insatiable appetite for fame will guide him towards something more innocuous, like a TV game show.

You can read Part Three here.

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How do you solve a problem like Malema? Part One – Don’t feed the trolls

OK, seriously, you guys. Julius Malema is a troll, and we have to stop feeding him. To be clear, I’m not talking about the mythical beast of Norse legend. I’m talking about the modern kind of troll – strange denizens of the web who prowl internet comments boards and social media sites, grabbing attention with provocative statements and then drinking in the affirmation or vitriol – makes no difference.

In the dark ages, pre-web, attention trolls weren’t very widespread. After all, access to an audience used to be restricted to those with means or talent. But then Tim Berners-Lee came along and suddenly everyone had equal access to a platform from which they could try to attract attention, like a desperate street prophet at a market.

Luckily, internet trolls can be controlled. Just learn to spot when you’re being trolled and ignore them. Don’t reply, don’t correct, don’t engage at all. Every comment, every like, every share is another drop of mother’s milk, sucked directly from your teat. Oh, the troll makes it tempting – spewing out nonsense specifically formulated to make you frothy. Even I can’t resist the odd bit of troll baiting, when I see or hear something particularly egregious that can’t stand unchallenged. But as soon as you catch yourself being lured into a troll trap, you must remove the teat immediately! If enough people do this, the troll with wither away and stop bothering you. Starving them of attention is the only way to kill a troll.

And I should know because [dramatic pause] I am a troll. Well, occasionally. I mean, I sometimes say controversial or outrageous things – in real life and on-line – because I find them funny, or think they’re good for a rise. Most often, people don’t notice. But I did write this one article, published a day after the death of Michael Jackson, in which I was…shall we say uncomplimentary?

I got more comments on that post than on anything else I had ever written – not much by Kardashian standards but enough to know that people were reading it. And they didn’t like what I had to say. But that didn’t matter, the attention was intoxicating – especially in a world where fame is the ultimate achievement.

Then I got pulled up short by a single comment. It simply said ‘You are a c*nt’.

Now, I stand by just about every word of that flippant article – I even wrote a defence of it, here. But I gradually realised that the comment was right. I was being a c*nt. So, I tried to stop. It isn’t easy. I still have the odd slip every now and then – a bit of c*untish behaviour here and there. But, on the whole, I think I keep my nose clean. Nevertheless, thanks to my experience, I know a troll when I see a troll.

And Malema is a troll – no doubt about it. He knows that as long as he is in the news, he is alive. So he makes sure he stays in the news by saying things that either appeal to people or make their blood boil – often at the same time. And the newspapers lovingly repeat every word. Why do they oblige such an obvious tactic? Because, in South Africa, nothing draws eyeballs like Julius Malema – apart from Zuma’s penis.

For Part Two, click here.

For Part Three, click here.

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Name That Theme Song – the kiddies edition

Here’s a special kiddies edition of the Theme Song Quiz – featuring 10 title tracks from cartoons and kids shows. With one or two long-running exceptions, these shows were wildly popular back in the day (along with LPs, cassettes and other analogue gadgets that are all but unknown to anyone born after 1985). So enjoy the blast back into your halcyon past and please let me know what you think…

TV Theme Song Quiz – the kiddies edition

For the answers, click here.

If you want to try your hand at the other editions, just click on the Quiz tab in the menu above.

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Pop Pilgrims visit the real-life locations behind famous movie scenes

One of my favourite features on the excellent AV Club website is the Pop Pilgrims series – a fascinating look at real-life locations that were featured in memorable movies scenes. From the Texas Chainsaw Massacre house, to the Exorcist steps, to the Night of the Living Dead cemetery – the Pop Pilgrims team travels around the states to check out these immortal sites and see how they look in the banal, quotidian light of the 21st century.

Each short episode also features interviews with people involved in the film and/or pedantic pop culture geeks who break down the location for your viewing pleasure. It’s a brilliant concept and highly recommended for all those nostalgic movie buffs out there (you know who you are).

So, for your viewing pleasure, I’ve embedded a selection of the best episodes below – just click and enjoy!

Visiting the Night Of The Living Dead cemetery

Austin: The Texas Chain Saw… family restaurant?

DC: The Exorcist stairs

Seattle: The diner from Twin Peaks, Twede’s Cafe

Los Angeles: The Graduate church

Die Hard‘s Nakatomi Plaza

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Peter O’Toole – always the bridesmaid…

From Wikipedia

Peter O’Toole as Lawrence of Arabia

The great actor, Peter O’Toole has announced his retirement from acting. Now aged 80, this idiosyncratic thespian said it was time to ‘chuck in the sponge’ and that he bids the profession ‘a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell’.

It’s a great loss because he was truly one of a kind; a powerful presence wrapped in a fragile beauty that captivated both stage and screen. In his youth, the Irish-born O’Toole was known as a hell-raising, hard-drinking iconoclast who played by his own rules. And even in his dotage, he projected a devil-may-care insouciance that was irresistible. He was always one of my favourites.

The real tragedy of this news, however, is that it means the towering O’Toole will never win his Oscar. True, he’s won BAFTAs, Golden Globes and an Emmy – and he even won an honorary Academy Award for his body of work (a poor consolation, somewhat akin to getting the Miss Personality prize at a beauty pageant). But he’s never won a proper acting Oscar, despite being nominated a record 8 times.

His last nomination was for Venus, in 2006, and I clearly remember his face when they announced Forest Whitaker as the winner for ‘The Last King of Scotland’. It was a brittle mask of civility that barely concealed an ocean of disappointment, frustration and resignation. I was gutted on his behalf.

And it is somewhat incomprehensible that this towering figure has never received the Oscar. From his breakthrough role as Lawrence of Arabia in David Lean’s masterpiece, to his show-stopping performance as Henry II in ‘The Lion in Winter’, to ‘The Ruling Class’, to ‘The Stunt Man’, to the ‘The Last Emperor’, to ‘My Favourite Year’, to ‘King Ralph’ – Peter O’Toole always transcended the material (whether good, bad or indifferent) to deliver an engaging performance every time.

Yet the old pro could never crack the Oscars and ruefully accepted his fate to be ever the bridesmaid, never the bride (hence his ‘dry-eyed’ comment above, IMHO).

Then again, why am I surprised at the 50 years of Academy snubbery? The Oscars are, after all, a pretty unreliable indicator of quality – especially in the glaring light of hindsight. Alfred Hitchcock never won an Academy Award from his 5 nominations. Charlie Chaplin never won an Oscar (with only one real nomination). Stanley Kubrick (4 nominations), Robert Altman (5 nominations), Cecil B. DeMille (1 nomination), Orson Welles (1 nomination), Sam Peckinpah (no nominations) – none of these historically important directors ever got their hands on the golden statuette (apart from a couple who received an honorary ‘Miss Personality’ award, which don’t count).

The record’s no better when it comes to actors. Richard Burton (7 noms), Cary Grant (2 noms), Glenn Close (6 noms), Kirk Douglas (3 noms), Albert Finney (5 noms), Greta Garbo (4 noms), Deborah Kerr (6 noms), Peter Sellers (2 noms), Errol Flynn, Edward G. Robinson, Donald Sutherland, Fred Astaire and dozens of other significant figures never got the nod from the voters in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And yet Hilary Swank’s won two! It’s enough to make you choke on your popcorn.

And don’t even get me started on the winners for Best Picture…

So, with such a spotty track record, why are the Oscars still considered the gold standard for film excellence? Truthfully, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because AMPAS has the most recognisable statuette, with the best nickname. Or maybe it’s the expensive awards show. Or maybe their press agents are just really good. Or maybe it’s just a matter of heritage – the one thing in Hollywood that can’t be bought.

What I can tell you is that the membership of AMPAS (i.e. the people who vote) is neither diverse nor adventurous. Although the exact details are shrouded in secrecy, the LA Times has done some digging and come up with the following stats about the people who ultimately decide to whom the Oscar goes. And it’s no shock to discover that it all comes down to old, rich, white men.

In fact, out of the roughly 6000 members of AMPAS (lifetime membership by invitation only, BTW) 94% are white, 77% are male and 64% have never even received so much as an Oscar nomination – in fact only 50% have appeared onscreen in the last two years, and ‘hundreds’ haven’t worked on a film in decades. Furthermore, the average age of the Oscar voter is 62, with people under 50 comprising just 14% of the organisation.

Not that any of this matters, in the greater scheme of things. The Oscars will continue to peddle its particular blend of hype and hyperbole, and Peter O’Toole will go down in history as one of the greats – with or without an Academy Award on the mantle. I can only wish him a pleasant retirement and hope that he may still be coaxed out for the occasional role (he’d make a killer King Lear).

In conclusion, allow me to quote one of the most chilling and revealing discussions about war I’ve ever heard, from Lawrence of Arabia – delivered to perfection by the peerless Peter:

I killed two people. One was… yesterday? He was just a boy and I led him into quicksand. The other was… well, before Aqaba. I had to execute him with my pistol, and there was something about it that I didn’t like.

General Allenby:
That’s to be expected.

No, something else.

General Allenby:
Well, then let it be a lesson.

No… something else.

General Allenby:
What then?

I enjoyed it.


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Name That Theme Song – the 16mm edition

OK, so this is how old I am… I remember the days before television. That’s right. When I was born, there was no TV. But I’m not yet 40 (almost, but not yet, dammit) so how is this possible? Well, it’s all because I was lucky enough to be born a South African.

You see, under the benighted apartheid regime, those lovable Nationalists believed that television was the ‘devil’s own box’; a means for ‘disseminating communism and immorality’ – like so many baked beans spewing out over Ann-Margaret in ‘Tommy’. Thus, they banned the medium entirely; refusing this filthy tool of dissolution access to our nice, clean, white homes. Bless ’em.

We even missed the moon landing (which was probably seen as a  blasphemy anyway). But despite being dismissed as a backward pariah nation by the rest of the world – for a whole bunch of reasons – the government held fast. According to Wikipedia, Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd compared television with atom bombs and poison gas, claiming that ‘they are modern things, but that does not mean they are desirable. The government has to watch for any dangers to the people, both spiritual and physical.’ What a mensch!

Even worse, Dr Albert Hertzog, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, said that TV would come to South Africa ‘over [his] dead body,’ denouncing it as ‘a miniature bioscope over which parents would have no control.’ But his biggest fear was that, with the advent of television, ‘South Africa would have to import films showing race mixing; and advertising would make [non-white] Africans dissatisfied with their lot.’ Ah, the good old days!

But for all the King Canutes trying to order back the tide, the power of television cannot be stopped and finally, in 1976, the verkramptes relented. The first television station was duly launched by the government-run South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and we have been playing catch up ever since.

So, what did we do for fun before the Devil’s Box came to town? Well, we just sat down in the lounge, put up a screen and consumed our media from the teat of a large, noisy 16mm projector. It was a fantastic ritual: first, we’d rent movies and episodes of dated American TV shows from the local film exchange. Then, we’d thread the supple celluloid through the projector’s marvelous concantenation of cogs and wheels. Finally, we’d flip the switch and feel the heat of the lamp as the header counted us down.

I can still remember watching, enthralled, as the reel spooled out at 24 frames per second – struggling to hear the dialogue over the sprokety rat-a-tat of the projector. Then, the screen would go white and you heard the slap-slap-slap of the film strip hitting the back of the projector. That was your cue to jump up and change the reel. It was an exhilaratingly mechanical process. And it’s the way I fell in love with movies.

To honour those long lost days of my youth, I have put together another Theme Song Quiz featuring TV shows that I first watched on 16mm. Some of them are pretty old, so you’ll have to put on your granny pants – but see how many you can get. And if you have no idea what 16mm is, forget about it!

TV Theme Songs 4

For the answers, click here


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