Recently, Die Antwoord has clarified that they are still together as a hip-hop/rap group after rumours of a split erupted last weekend. I have to say, I am very disappointed to hear that it was just a myth.
I get the fuss and I understand why they make headlines. They are strange, they are edgy, they push boundaries. I know that is what modern art does; as Banksy said, “art comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comforted”. I wholly support musicians who make their performances outrageous in order to prove points and make changes. Die Antwoord is not making valuable points; they are problematic.
Before I explain why, I have to put out a disclaimer. I have a tremendous pride for the musicians South Africa produces. I believe we have an international level of legitimate talent that deserves exposure. But very few musicians actually get to make it big. Lady Gaga may have claimed that they have not produced any hits, but Die Antwoord is big enough to cameo Jack Black, Cara Delevigne, Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dita van Teese and other big celebrities in their music video Ugly Boy. I may be highly biased here, but it just does not seem just.
More so, the representation of South Africa in media is incredibly limited. I cringe at the possibility that people from around the world could use Die Antwoord as an idea of what South Africans and our arts are like. We have genuine and insightful talent to offer, not just shock factor. We have a responsibility to make sure foreigners understand that.
Die Antwoord consists of Watkins Tudor James (aka “Ninja”) and Yolandi Visser (aka “¥o-landi Vi$$er”), who were both in a band called MaxNormal. Justin de Nobrega (aka “DJ Hi-Tek”) is not frequently associated with Die Antwoord’s image, but he is still very much involved in the music production. The concept of Die Antwoord is that they hail from the suburb Parow in Cape Town and represent its zef side – a culture defined by its pride in being trendy but trashy. ‘Ninja’ has claimed that the band is just an exaggerated performance of this culture.
The communities of Parow are quite vulnerable, and Die Antwoord is criticised for cultural appropriation of its coloured community. The music video for Cookie Thumper is a particularly potent example of how the worst of coloured stereotypes are unapologetically paraded. In the music video, a coloured gangster has just gotten out of jail and is pursuing a somewhat ‘innocent’ young white girl. People overseas get to gasp or laugh at what they see, Die Antwoord gets more money and exposure –but its your average coloured man that bears the burden of that portrayal.
Now that we have gotten the topic of cultural appropriation out of the way, let’s talk about the racist blackface that occurred in the atrocious Fatty Boom Boom video. I obviously do not have to explain why blackface is incredibly offensive. The cherry on the cake was, instead of publicly apologising and taking responsibility for their actions, they dismissed it as “an African thing” and that they “don’t even know what blackface is”. An African thing? I did not realise it was ‘African’ to further fuel racism perpetuating harmful black stereotypes.
And though Yolandi Visser’s unapologetic approach to her sexuality has cast her as an antihero in some feminist circles, her role in the Cookie Thumper music video is extremely regressive. Her role indulges in pedophilia and rape culture. Her schoolgirl outfit, her voice, her childlike demeanor adds an extra level of disgusting to the deliberately perverse angles of the camera.
Seeing her in that crocheted underwear is incredibly uncomfortable. Her insinuating dancing makes me want to find Jesus. Not only does this video depict coloured men in an incredibly harmful way, but the depiction of the relationship between her and an older jail-bait validates pedophilic behaviours. The sexual hunger of an older man appears to be permitted by how willing – even eager – she seems to be. Only in the final scene does she appear terrified and even traumatised, but nothing about the ending suggests that she was a victim of a predator.
‘Ninja’ may not have intended on Die Antwoord becoming the phenomenon it has, but he has not done much to take responsibility for his project’s repercussions. Whether they are praised for their outlandish artistic risks or being shamed for their cultural appropriation, they keep getting talked about. The least he can do is stop giving us a reason to talk about them.
[Source of featured image: metalsucks.net]