Per­haps it’s time to start talk­ing about ‘cul­ture’

Saturday Star - - OPINION - KEVIN RITCHIE @Ritchkev

IN 21st cen­tury South Africa, who can speak about cul­ture? Do you have to be­long to that cul­ture? Or can any­one have an opin­ion? Must all cul­ture be re­spected in terms of in­clu­siv­ity even when prac­tised harm­fully? What is cul­ture even?

Some­times cul­ture re­minds me of the old sub ju­dice ex­cuse that jour­nal­ists have come up against ever since Guten­berg in­vented mov­able type.

What sub ju­dice ac­tu­ally means is “un­der con­sid­er­a­tion”. It was a mech­a­nism to pre­vent the court of pub­lic opin­ion (in those days the tra­di­tional me­dia) sway­ing the court of law (specif­i­cally the ju­ries and some­times the pre­sid­ing of­fi­cers) where only ev­i­dence per­tain­ing to the case could be heard, weighed and judged.

The aban­don with which the phrase was used by ev­ery­one, from brand new po­lice con­sta­bles to Stein­hoff-es­que chief ex­ec­u­tives as a cop-out to avoid com­ment­ing in any form, made a to­tal mock­ery of it. Then so­cial me­dia drove a bus through the en­tire con­cept of in­no­cent un­til proven guilty by a prop­erly con­sti­tuted court of law with the Os­car Pis­to­rius trial.

Cul­ture has be­come a lit­tle bit like that.

We’ve seen an an­i­mal slaugh­tered on a beach in a cleans­ing rite, only for cul­tural ex­perts to con­demn it as op­por­tunis­tic show­man­ship for so­cial me­dia. Then we’ve had a whole clam­our about an­i­mal rights – by meat-eaters.

Fire­works are sim­i­lar: There are those who de­cry their use to cel­e­brate Di­wali, but set off their own to see in New Year. Oth­ers want a ban to pro­tect their pets but throw long and loud par­ties when it suits them.

Then there’s the ubiq­ui­tous high­veld thun­der­storm that’s far more ter­ri­fy­ing than a cou­ple of hours of fire­works once or twice a year – par­tic­u­larly for your pets.

There’s a lot of sub­jec­tiv­ity in cul­ture and even more se­lec­tiv­ity of sen­si­tiv­ity and out­rage. Ev­ery­one jumps on the band­wagon to sig­nal virtue over the low-hanging fruit, but very few say any­thing when the is­sues get se­ri­ous.

We are not just the poorer for that and the lack of proper, hon­est de­bate, we’re spin­ning even fur­ther away from be­ing an in­clu­sive so­ci­ety.

We have a se­ri­ous is­sue right at the mo­ment – the num­ber of ini­ti­ates who have died and the many oth­ers maimed dur­ing the cur­rent cir­cum­ci­sion sea­son.

The is­sue is not about ini­ti­a­tion – or the crit­i­cally im­por­tant role it plays in cul­tur­ally pre­par­ing young men to be re­spon­si­ble adults in so­ci­ety – but about the as­so­ci­ated tragedy be­cause of the con­tin­ued use of non-ster­ile knives and un­qual­i­fied tra­di­tional sur­geons.

No one needs to die and no one needs to be maimed for the rest of their lives. This cul­tural prac­tice doesn’t have to be dis­re­spected in any way to achieve this. But not enough peo­ple are speak­ing out. There’s cer­tainly nowhere near the level of out­rage that there is for other is­sues, all the easy ones. Just like there’s no real out­rage for gen­der-based vi­o­lence.

Maybe that should be our res­o­lu­tion for 2019 – to stop us­ing the sub ju­dice rule on cul­ture.

Ritchie is a me­dia con­sul­tant. He is a for­mer jour­nal­ist and news­pa­per ed­i­tor.

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