Friday, October 19, 2007

'The Gods are Still Crazy'

Do you remember the apartheid era film "The Gods must Be Crazy"?

It attained cult status among white audiences in the US during the early 1980s.

In the movie a Khoisan man, Xi, is fascinated by a Coke bottle that is thrown from an airplane flying over the Kalahari desert in southern Africa.

Xi is shown to be confused by the bottle. He spends much of the film trying to 'solve' the mystery of an empty Coke bottle while bumping into whites, and their modernity.

Throughout the film Xi is found to be absolutely befuddled by his 'out of darkness' experiences in the world of whiteness.

He thinks the Coke bottle is a gift from the Gods. And the scenes that develop around the bottle suggests that the white characters embody apects of Gods, if even in a "crazy" way that supposedly deconstructs this assumption.

As the plot unfolds Xi comes to view the bottle as an evil thing and he travels to the end of the earth, a waterfall, to throw the bottle away.

Jamie Uys, the white South African who wrote and directed the film, depicts Xi and the Khoisan as secluded from the real world. The Khoisan end up being no more than uncivilized artifacts of the white imagination.

The historical relevance of the Khoisan in southern Africa is erased and their humanity is manipulated into the reductive pre-modern Other.

The white herrenvolk (people of the heavens) imagery is a prominent, and driving, sub-plot of the story line.

You would think that since Mandela 'freed' us from white domination in 1994, we would be unburdened from the racist nonsense that this film represents.

Think again.

Vodacom, a cell phone company, has revived the racist storyline in an advert that is a nod to South Africa's love of rugby at a time when the Rugby World Cup is being held in France.

Incidentally, the Springboks play against England on Sunday for the championship at the Stade de France in Paris.

You can watch the Vodacom advert below:

You will note in the advert that a rugby ball is accidentally thrown from a plane carrying members of the Springboks who are flying over a remote desert somewhere.

Two Khoisan men find the ball and they are so happy that they throw away the food they have gathered in the hot desert (an ostrich egg), and start playing rugby with intense zeal.

The rugby ball, like the Coke bottle, is a symbolic fetishism that situates the contrived centrality of whiteness in relation to the unsophisticated Other.

The background music is also taken from a very popular Afrikaans song known to conjure up images of the mythology of Afrikaner (whites of northwestern European ancestry) culture and their "trek" history.

The advert ends with a 'sane' voice-over by a white South African. The white voice reasserts the hegemonic rationality of whiteness against the barren and undeveloped childishness of the Khoisan!

Why are we still here? Who are the idiots who re-hashed this racist crap? And why does our national broadcaster, the SABC, not know better than to allow Vodacom to stand on the dignity of the Khoisan.

We will not be free anywhere until whiteness is broken so that it cannot degrade our bodies and our dignity anymore.

See more prtotests over the advert here.

It is important to note that Xi was played by a Namibian brother named N!xau (1944-2003), and that he spent the last decade of his life contesting the demeaning imagery that the "The Gods Must Be Crazy" afforded the white imagination and its attachments.

Geez, tonight is one of those nights when a rightly aimed cap in the ass of whiteness will do me just fine.



Erica C. said...

I remember seeing that movie years years ago. To be honest I really didn't get it but thanks for breaking it down alittle! "Rightly aimed cap in the ass of whiteness"? LOL


Ridwan said...

Hi Erica!

The movie made millions for the white director and N!xau died a poor man.

N!xau did however come to detest the manner that he was essentialized. I need to do some more research on him too.

From time to time I end my posts with the "cap" statement.

I see whiteness not as white individuals but a history, a politics, and a moral system that profits off of Black life ... while needing to degrade it no-less.

I trust you are well.


Cero said...

I never saw the movie at the time because it sounded so racist colonialist and so on. I should perhaps see it now to teach it, discuss it, unpack it.

Meanwhile I need your help in this comments thread, I think. I am too p.o.'d. I cannot stand liberals because they are so guilt-driven. Now I have one saying I am mean to the memory of the slaves who were innocent prisoners because I point out that LSP-Angola is on an old plantation and still works like one. This is disrespectful to the slaves because the people now incarcerated there are criminals. Also some of them are white, so apparently progress has been made (or something like that). Anyway here it is:

Nicole said...


I remember seeing this movie when I was younger and enjoying it. It's interesting that as children, we had become so accustomed to seeing "racist" images that we easily just brush all negative images to the side. I grew up pretty much in private, Catholic, all white schools, up until my sophomore year of high school, and I remember that this "uncivilized" image was something that people viewed was how "bush/African" people really lived, so they saw nothing wrong with this movie.

And its funny because after reading your post, and truly thinking about it, I realized that when I was younger I had become a product of my "white washed" environment. We NEVER learned about S. Africa, or the turmoil that occurred because of apartheid, so the idea of this movie being the creation of a apartheid white man, never crossed my mind.

It makes me feel light weight ashamed to have once enjoyed this movie, but now after learning 'our' culture more in depth over the years, and better understanding the apartheid in S. Africa, I feel that it is my responsibility to help change people's view.

If this would have been a movie filmed here in America, with a 'coon-like' character, Blacks would be enraged, but the fact that we are so disconnected with our African counterparts, is so depressing.

I can now say, that this movie has been removed from my 'vault' of liked films.

Keep doing what you're doing, because believe me, I am learning more and more each day.


Ridwan said...

Hey Nicole. Thanks for looking in here.

This movie was a big hit in the US because like you say it was a version of 'cooning' for whiteness.

But it was also different in the sense that the Xi character was coopted by Uys, the director.

Coopted to appear as if all Khoisan people could be so described, a version of playing "whiteface" without the paint.

Still, look online and you will find folks who will tell you the movie was not racist.

The same is true for the advert.

Some whites are blinded by the history of race and racism. And many will say that the actors were paid.

In fact, Vodacom, has a signed statement from the actors saying that they were paid and did this voluntarily.

That is not the point.

Their image was used to operationalize a greater and far reaching racist depiction of the Khoisan.

And that is only one level of the racism present.

Another movie that has disturbed me is "The Power of One" with Morgan Freeman.

Now there is some racist crap that will make you angry fo' sure.

Anyway, I am glad you removed it from your "vault" :0)

It took me years to see these aspects myself ... I just saw a play called "The Ghosts of Celilo" and I did all I could not to scream at the stage.

And the play is supposedly about the dam built at Celilo Falls and the mistreatment of Indians.

Will tell you later.

Peace and dat,

Ridwan said...

Hello Cero. I think you should see it now (there are subsequent versions and even two made in Hong Kong!).

Anyway it would be a great way to press students to see how a 'comedy' can be used to underwrite racism and dehumanization.

Like I said to Nicole, see "The Power of One" with Morgan Freeman too.

I have never understood how he could consent to that movie ... then I read his views on race and race relations.

And the light in my head went on ... now I understand. Mr. Bootstraps in denial is what he represents.

And he is going to play Mandela in an upcoming movie!

I am not surprised. Like Whoopi played a character in Sarafina.

All part of it I guess.

Peace and struggle,

ps. I agree that liberals are tiring and passive aggressive ... condescending too!

Cero said...

Liberals, passive aggressive and also condescending, *yes*.

Thanks for your comment at my site!

I'll see the movie and its versions -
this sounds like great stuff for class ... !!! :-)

Anonymous said...

> Geez, tonight is one of those
> nights when a rightly aimed cap in
> the ass of whiteness will do me
> just fine.

Wow, a professorship, a blog, writing proper English ... and you still have the simple impulses of a street thug. Nice.

Ridwan said...

Yeah bigot. And my name and identity is hardly hidden behind the base racism that you represent.

Whiteness is not a person by the way. It is an ideology, a history, a politics, etc.

There is complexity in this post that you obviously can't reach.

But why would you take on the argument in this post or the "Race and Biology" one, for that matter?

It is easier for you to hide behind anonymity. Typical and telling of your limitations.

It is a sad reality that cowardly racists like you still exist in 2007!


Anonymous said...

You may say that "Whiteness is not a person" but when you also add "pop a cap in the ass of whiteness" you forget that not everyone is as evolved as you claim to be. Maybe I'm just a "scared little white girl" who's lived in the big city too long, but I'm well aware of the violence between the races, and comments like this don't serve to calm the waters.

And, speaking of "The Gods Must Be Crazy" (as well as other movies where actors were exploited by directors & producers), my take on it was not one of racism, but one of innocence (where everything you needed could be found in the land), versus capitalism (where everything you needed must be bought at the expense of innocence).

I'm signing as "anonymous" because your form doesn't allow me to enter my yahoo or hotmail identity, I don't have a URL to post, and I don't want to create a google identity. You can call me a coward if it makes you feel superior to do so.