S.Africa President - J. Zuma
In English writing we seldom speak of tradition, though we occasionally apply its name in deploring its absence. – TS Eliot
If we deplore the absence of tradition, then the sensible response should be to hold it dear – to preserve and honor it at every opportunity. However, the age of mass media implores us to cast aside our idiosyncrasies and adopt the ready-made mold designed in the likeness of our television idols. The American dream has shifted from the geographical constraints of North America and it has become a ubiquitous entity, which overpowers our urge to retain tradition. Tradition and culture have become money-making pantomimes, illustrative of our bygone backwardness.
What Eliot overlooked was the pervasive effect that globalization would have on culture, identity and aesthetics. The impact of air travel, and later the internet, would result in a cultural amalgamation that left most people uncertain of their identity.
Through mimicry – that annoying child habit, even worse in adults – we reshaped our identities and played our new roles to perfection. We abandoned the past and adopted the hedonistic philosophy of the fashion industry, which told us that beauty was limited to fads and moments.
In following our television tutors, we dropped our leopard skins and rushed to Gucci, Prada and – for those of less-refined taste – Burberry. But within a few short years we would rush back to our leopard skins, because there was a buck to be caught – and it was greener and more important than cultural authenticity.
When air travel became cheaper, droves of tourists left their air-conditioned comforts to visit the furthest reaches of the world. They expected to see Africa, Asia and South America with the glamorized charm represented in books and TV shows. What they found instead was westernized dress sense, poverty and desperation.
It didn’t take long for the locals of these tourist destinations to realize that what their esteemed visitors actually wanted was traditional dress, traditional dance and traditional food. The leopard skins were dusted off and the tourist industry quickly became a major job provider.
So, next time you see a Zulu dancer, Thai snake charmer or poison dart-blower remember that they don their facades to entertain and that they don’t actually live like that!