Friday, 15 February 2008

Rich, spoiled and boastful: Jo'burg's suburban Marie Antoinettes

What's with rich South African women? Really, what's with them? What's with the boasting, the preening, the strutting around? Have they (to paraphrase my late sainted granny) no modesty? Have they (to quote my favourite anti-hero, Ignatius J. Reilly) no sense of geometry and theology?

It's been a while since I've had a little rant about South Africa's glossies, but this one - a back- copy of a local lifestyle title that I picked up during my weekly raid on my local library's magazine exchange - had a feature in it that really put a wasp up my fundament.

What does one make of a feature that drools, across five pages, over a Mother's Day Brunch thrown by a handful of 'glamorous moms' and 'lifestyle professionals' in some over-decorated Johannesburg McMansion?

Well, one reaches for the sick bag.

Before I quote some of the nauseating snippets from the feature, let me come straight out and ask: do these Marie Antoinettes blush at the sight of themselves flaunting their wealth and privilege? Have they any idea how shallow, spoiled and decadent they look? Do they feel the slightest trace of shame at the knowledge that only 5 km away from their bougainvillead verandas there are homeless people lying in stinking alleys, and children going to bed on gnawing stomachs?

Yes, I'm sure they do. Anyone who has money and a heart must feel that way. To be fair, I'm sure each one of these women is a decent and well-meaning woman who gives to charity, is kind to the needy, and does her bit on the school PTA. I'm sure that each one of them pays her taxes, forbids her children to use racist words, knows all the words of the National Anthem, and thanks her lucky stars that she lives in Sandhurst and not Soweto. So why, for crying in a bucket, would she agree to participate in this sorry, boastful little circle-jerk?

Let me ask them directly: my dear sisters, do you know how you look? I'm sure you agreed to join this brunchette in a jolly good spirit, as a favour to your friend and hostess. You probably didn't know that the 'journalist' who wrote the story would make you look so ridiculous.

Am I being nasty? Damn right I am. But I have good reason.

Take this:

'The mood was relaxed, the vibe totally chilled, as XXX's guests - most of the them professionals in the lifestyle industry - took time out from their frenetic schedules and relaxed with babes in arms.'

We have, in this assemblage of sleek, hair-tossing fillies, an 'acclaimed' interior decorator, a 'caterer extraordinaire', an'ex Miss South Africa', a 'former footware and accessories buyer', and, of course, their babies. (One infant is described, sickeningly, as 'the perfect social accessory'; another, Baby D, 'practically stole the show in an outfit bought at a vintage store in Paris'.)

'Of her approach to throwing a party, [the caterer] said: 'It's very abundant, with a focus on fresh food that's decadently styled. I love to play with different ingredients and believe every event should be different from my last' (Now there's an original viewpoint).

We have a writer ejaculating over the colours (spicy saffrons and deep burnt oranges set the tone for the flowers, food and decor), the flowers ('I wanted a very warm autumn look') and the bubbly (the fruity pink Palmes D'or, 'a rich melange of strawberries and brioche', was enjoyed by all.) We are advised to 'use ribbons and blooms' in the presentation of our food, and to 'pour cocktails into in beautiful glasses' (as opposed to dog bowls).

'We're all fashionistas' trills a member of the Mommy posse. `We've learnt to manage motherhood in heels!'


This is only one example of a repellent trend in the press. 'Lifestyle' features like this infest most magazines and newspapers (The Times is the worst offender, obsessively carrying featurettes with celebrities bragging about their toys, shoes, cars and gadgets. (I don't know about you, but I don't give a thruppenny fuck about how many shoes these local starlets have in their cupboards, or the gadgets they've recently bought)

Sies, Mavis.

Look, I'm also one of the lucky ones. I live in a fantastic, comfortable house, drive a nice car, and have never experienced a moment's hunger or cold. I'm not pointing a finger at anyone who wants to boast about their toys.

Actually, that's a complete lie. I AM pointing a finger.

Stop showing off. Stop putting pictures of your infants in magazines. Quit bragging about what you have. It's... well, it's just immodest. Insensitive. Rude..

And deeply, DEEPLY boring.

POSTSCRIPT: Okay, I was feeling a bit grumpy when I wrote this. But I was heartened to read, the very next morning, a column in The Weekender by Brian Rostron, in which the words 'Marie' and 'Antoinette' pop up again, in much the same context (although Rostron's having a go at the wealthy polo-pony set of Plettenburg Bay):

"THE row over poor black people being evicted for polo ponies in Plettenberg Bay is another reminder that sometimes it seems that — polo ponies aside — we are hellbent on creating a nation fit for golf estates and a land suitable for golfers. This certainly has the sulphuric whiff of 1789, the start of the French Revolution, or even 1917 in Russia.

" A great many white South Africans still behave as if they were Marie Antoinette. Our pigmentocrats are not playing dairy maids at Versailles, as did Marie, but are occupied on those splendid, water-guzzling golf courses that are advertised on TV, designed by champions like Greg Norman and Ernie Els."

He continues:

"I was reminded of this diatribe last Sunday as I drove round some of the higher, ritzier suburbs of Cape Town overlooking the bay. New houses there are swollen and gross: super-sized. They are the Big Macs of our nouveau South African style. What on earth is the model for these vulgarians: Buckingham Palace?"

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tonypark said...

How very abundant.

I love South Africa, but I haven't seen another country (and I've seen a few) whose inhabitants' lives are so totally dedicated to and ruled by self-image and the pursuit of 'stuff'.

This lifelong quest for material goods and attainment of the perfect 'look' crosses cultural bounds, aswell.

I've seen whites with cars worth more than my Sydney flat, and blacks with no money or food, whose only possession is a Kangol cap (worn backwards, of course).

And what's with wearing makeup and high heels in the Kruger National Park?

meggie said...

I want to see the photos of them with baby puke down their dresses, & poopy bums to clean. Or do they also have Nannies?
They sound like vaccuous cows.