The coronavirus pandemic has presented an opportunity for South Africans to share our unique interpretation of the world around us with people on all corners of the globe in such a way that they will engage with it.
We like to think we’re the best in the world at creating content and humour around current affairs. No, we are the best in the world! We are immediate, unforgiving and relentless, and nothing or nobody is safe. As we always say, “We’re so good at laughing at ourselves.”
The collective zeitgeist of South African popular culture never sleeps. There’s this inexplicably honest and human reaction to current affairs in South Africa that I don’t believe is found anywhere else. The immediate response to tragedy is often humour, but importantly, humour not aimed at victims (if any), but at the situation itself; and we’re fortunate that South Africans are (for the most part) good at knowing the difference.
However, what we’re usually laughing about are purely South African issues, meaning the content created around them doesn’t ‘travel well’. It’s usually loadshedding or State Capture or The Proteas or Jacob Zuma or Bafana Bafana or Helen Zille or AKA or The Guptas or a jellyfish in a filter at Eskom.
This means our uniquely South African take on (sometimes) serious issues goes unnoticed by the rest of the world, who have no idea what loadshedding is and don’t care that Bafana Bafana loses to countries we can’t even find on the map.
Read more: Laughter in the time of a pandemic
Reams of great content are created around these topics, and sometimes even cleverly weaved into marketing slogans and campaigns, but that’s as far as it goes. Our creativity bounces around one big, national echo chamber, as we all pat each other on the backs and say, “We’re so good at laughing at ourselves.” And we are so good at it! We have this flavour that can’t be explained and can’t be found anywhere else in the world. It’s a spice that burns the tongue, but still has us begging for more.
Right now, as South Africans, we find ourselves in, from what I can gather, unprecedented space. The problems we’re currently experiencing are, for the most part, internationally relatable. I say ‘for the most part’ because as much as lockdown and COVID-19 are issues with which the whole world is dealing, the socio-economic challenges of the pandemic are arguably unique to South Africa.
Briefly, a lockdown in a country where the majority of the population live in formal housing and live above the bread line is a completely different experience to a country in which a quarter of the population live in townships and informal settlements. But, as for the rest of it, globally, we’re all in the same boat.
On the radio show I produce, East Coast Drive, we spoke to Grammy Award winning artist, Jason Mraz in California, who also is not allowed to leave his house unless it is essential, and also is not allowed to surf at his favourite spot because the beaches are closed. When have we ever been able to directly relate to a Grammy Award winning artist?
We have the opportunity to share our uniquely South African creative flavour with people across the planet in such a way that they will ‘get it’. The whole world is in some sort of a lockdown. People everywhere are working from home, forced to have video meetings with colleagues who speak while muted or can’t agree on the correct link for the meeting. While nobody in the world is allowed to travel anywhere, the content we create around these issues will travel well.
We’re excellent at knowing the American way of doing things or the British way of saying things, and we are now presented with an opportunity to show the world the South African way of interpreting things.
Rory Petzer is an executive producer, comedian, content creator, copywriter and campaign strategist. Petzer currently produces the East Coast Drive show on East Coast Radio. He is one part highly organised, forward-thinking ideator and one part restless creative, and it’s when these two meet that the magic happens. Follow him @RoryPetzer
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