Friday, December 16, 2011

Party rockers and revolutions

My abiding memory of the year 2011 is trying to party a bit less, on the understanding that this wasn’t 2010, which will surely go down as our fair and awesome nation’s most exciting year ever.
            As it turned out, I partied a bit more. We seem to have set a kind of jolling pace which will tolerate no slacking, and thus our habits remained no less embarrassing, and our liver no less the size of a scatter cushion.
            In between the partying, or actually the excuse for the partying was some magnificent sporting activities. There was a two-test Australian cricket tour that so should have been five tests. But because the depraved SA cricket board value money and politics above fan satisfaction, we got two. Perish the thought that our cricketers come home early from the IPL Champions League and risk the ire of our Indian cricketing gimpmasters.
            So we got some fun ODIs, two thrilling tests, a drawn series and the worst sense of coitus interruptus since Bonnie Henna left Backstage. This in a year when the Proteas have played precious little crickie to begin with. The boys had just had ten months off from international cricket, for fuck’s sack. Then you bring them back and give us a half-baked series that decides nothing. And then a longer one against Sri Lanka! WTF!
            We did at least get to drink in the sun at the Wanderers for an entire day, but not as often as we’d have liked.
            On the rugby front, the Springboks inevitable handing back of the William Webb Ellis trophy indeed came to pass, although in a more closely contested manner than we anticipated. After our narrow quarterfinal loss to Australia, we were left with a semi-convincing case for refereeing incompetence. But valid or not, crying “Robbed!” is never a good look. We want the Boks to be dynamic masters of their own fate, not passive mugging victims who need to be protected by Bryce Lawrence when we sob, “It’s not fair! His knee was on the ground when he stole the ball off us the eleventh time.”
            The Springboks need to take their medicine, put the old ballies out to pasture and select a visionary, insightful coach who inspires respect and admiration, not ridicule.
            Ridicule was also a regular companion of the national football team, which became so convinced of the acceptability of mediocrity they thought a series of draws and losses would be good enough to qualify for a continental championship.
That no South African among the 50 million of us could bring ourselves to read the Afcon rules and do some sums says more about the state of our economic preparedness than anything else. Let some other loser study maths and then work out the permutations, we seem to think. We’re here to claim the glory. Except that when nobody does the math, we end up dancing before the world, assuming we’ve qualified, when in fact we haven’t. Dancing naked, blatantly bust for the idiots we are!
A couple of months later, the SA under-23 football team replicated the achievements of their big brothers with a miserable failure at the CAF under-23 championship. The 2012 Olympics will thus not feature South Africa in the football events. Dare we say it, but they’ll be richer for it.
Luckily sport was not the only spectator event happening this year. The gradual unfolding of what came to be called the Arab Spring was certainly the most gripping television of the year.
Even I, who can barely turn on the television without simultaneously pulling a case of Heinekens from the cellar, found myself spellbound, dry-mouthed and sober as I watched the Egyptians march for their freedom.
The occupation of Tahrir Square in February this year and the ensuing stand-off between the citizenry and Hosni Mubarak’s security forces progressed through street marches, camel charges, a people’s encampment, running battles and urban combat to a televised capitulation by the discredited dictatorship.
Western governments sheepishly accepted the resignation of Tunisian dictator Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and made bemused statements about the will of the people, meanwhile it was they – Europe and the USA – who had aided and abetted these dictators for decades, in the name of region stability. And to hell with the will of the people. The subtext was always, “These people can’t handle democracy. They lack the political maturity of us evolved endomorphs, with our two-party systems and our lobbyists and our filibusters and our rapier wit.”
So, caught utterly flat-footed by the popular uprising in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen, the international community finally got its hypocritical arse into gear and actively intervened in Libya.
With his people in revolt, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi set about bombing them into the same state of meek submission they’d been in for the past 40 years. Heroically, on 19 March, in a rare show of decisiveness, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973. The resolution demanded an immediate ceasefire in the Libyan civil war, and authorised the international community to enforce a no-fly zone.
What ensued was six months of carnage. The initial stalemate was eventually broken when the Allied jets upgraded their intervention from stopping Gaddafi forces from flying to actively bombing the fuck out of them.
We all witnessed the climax of the war, when Gaddafi – his forces already defeated – was dragged from a drain outside Sirte, beaten bloody and then executed. That the same thing had happened to thousands of Gaddafi’s countrymen made this a rather apt culmination of the events. War, whether just or gratuitous, is a bloody, confused mess of brutality and senseless slaughter. Gaddafi’s pixelated clubbing encapsulated the world’s fairly unanimous goals with this escapade and summed up the nature of war pretty accurately too.
“Fairly unanimous”, because South Africa’s voice was distinguished during the Libyan conflict for its lone and dissenting nature. We blocked the release of Gaddafi assets for humanitarian use, and opposed the allied intervention – probably because of past loyalties when he supported the anti-apartheid struggle.
That is principled in a rather twisted way. We stood up for our old sponsor, the mad dictator who supported our struggle for democracy. But we ignored Gaddafi’s suppression of democratic movements in Libya.
So we opposed supporting democratic forces because the dictator they opposed supported our democratic fight against our dictator. Ultimately we got our timing wrong, failed to swop sides in time and now it’ll be #thatawkwardmoment when we need to build diplomatic relations with the new Libyan government.
The true skill of diplomacy appears not to be integrity, but timing your hypocrisy right.
Another notable Arab departure was American nemesis Osama Bin Laden, dispatched in a daring raid/planned assassination in Abbott Abad, Pakistan. What I found most notable about the killing was how it failed to prevent US President Obama’s slide in the esteem of the American public. He cuts a fairly forlorn figure these days, largely because the US economy has been on its way down the toilet for three years now.
One can’t blame the Americans for being pissed off. The sub-prime mortgage instruments shamelessly peddled by the investment banks and hedge funds saw them encouraged to take out adjustable rate mortgages in the earlier 2000s. When the housing bubble burst in 2006, citizens found their houses worth less than they owed on them. People began foreclosing and losing their only source of wealth. The government gave the financial firms free rein, and then failed to prosecute them when their reckless schemes collapsed.
Killing Osama shortly after the presidential roast didn’t change the fact that people had no jobs, and therefore didn’t boost Barack’s popularity much. That most of the problem stemmed from market-worshipping, small-government, banker-fellating George Bush policies doesn’t matter. America’s fall from grace is deemed Barack Obama’s fault by the recently poor swing voters and come next year’s American election, they may very well vote him out in favour of a Republican who’s either a bigot or a conman.
The Occupy Wall Street movement, which took Zuccotti Park on September 17 was also symptomatic of popular anger at greed, government-finance collusion and economic inequality.
It also mirrored the people-power protests that shook cyberspace when Anonymous launched website attacks against Sony for breaches of privacy in the PlayStation network. And fellow hacker group Lulzsec’s attacks on News Corporation websites to protest that media group’s involvement in phone hacking.
            As the year wound down, world affairs receded in relevance and came to occupy its traditional place in popular culture, somewhere between cricket and Katy Perry in terms of importance.
            This was good for me, as TV came to require less thinking, and I was able to resume my subscription to the Rosendal winery.
            The prominent Ms Perry continued to flood the earlobes with number-one hits from her Teenage Dream album. That they are entirely free of any trace of melodic nuance makes them mind-numbing and at the same time perfect pop music. Last Friday Night is both the worst and the best pop song you ever heard. As are Firework, California Gurls – and Teenage Dream its marvelous self.
            All form part of the ongoing slow death of rock music as a social force and a youth favourite. The first time a rock band topped the US pop singles chart this year was in September, when Maroon 5 spent a few weeks there. I know.
            Besides that, it was all Born This Way, a bit of Black & Yellow, and a moer of a lot of Rolling In The Deep and Party Rocking. Things are as they are for these reasons: pop music has never been this good; rock music has never been this kak.
            Even the most cynical metalhead at some point in 2011 muttered, “Party rockers in the house toniiiiite” to himself, if not, “I’m sexy and I know it.”
            Fighting the rock fight this year were the frankly tragic likes of Coldplay, Foo Fighters, Kings Of Leon, Nickelback and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Less embarrassing were Chevelle and Black Keys, but no wonder our earlobes wander.
            They wander to the likes of dubstep, which manifested in all kinds of TV ads, soundtracks and web vids, no to mention actual nightclubs, dance – ably led by recent visitor deadmau5 – hip-hop and metal.
            The charts, of course, are meaningless, because we all operate to our own soundtrack of downloaded, burnt, bought, collected, donated and found music – entirely independent of whatever Grant and Anele are forced to play.
            Today the real fun – and money – in music is in live performance, which is why no star is so big they don’t need to tour. SA alone saw the likes of U2, Kings Of Leon, Lil’ Wayne, Drake, Coldplay, deadmau5, Rammstein, Neil Diamond, The Script, James Blunt and Josh Groban coming to entertain us in person. That, you’ll remember, is the origin of music.
            And this year people still went out to witness the playing of live original music, be it at FNB, the Bohemian, Town Hall, The Wave House, Detroit Rock Spirit, the Zula Bar or some lady’s back yard in Midrand. Nowhere, though, did live music embarrass itself as much as during the Springbok rugby team’s televised send-off, where Ard Matthews of Just Jinger delivered the most tragic attempt at the national anthem  since I overdid the brandy before the Durban Tri-Nations test.
            Supersport, like Silvio Berlusconi, is unlikely to enshrine 2011 as the Year Of Joy. A couple of their presenters racked up k-bomb and indecent exposure accusations, while Silvio was nudged aside to help save the Eurozone – another casualty of the subprime mortgage crisis.
            Ultimately, 2011 was a year of many chickens coming home to roost. For greed, for Gaddafi, for all-powerful media groups, for kak rugby coaches, for Julius Malema and for my drinking-and-driving habits. I joined the Good Fellas chauffeur service in May and I’ve never looked back.
            So forward to people’s power, forward to financial revolution, forward to better TV on Comedy Central, forward to Usher at Orlando Stadium, forward to better cricket administrators, forward to corporations that respect us, forward to crispy food that’s good for you, forward to an Armageddon that’s not as bad as anticipated and forward, y’all, to a 2012 that’s just as epic as 2011. Forward!

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