by Chris McEvoy Email · Print
Like most writers, I’m in two minds about reader feedback. On the one hand, I’m always interested to know what readers think of my work, and on the other, I want to find out where they live, knock on their door, and shoot them in the face.
joburg Joburg skyline. Note all the guns pointing skywards.
Now don’t take that the wrong way. My favourite section of any newspaper is the letters pages, and I believe one of the great advantages of the internet is its limitless potential for reply. But nothing challenges my commitment to defending our constitutional right to freedom of expression quite like the opinion of other South Africans.
I confess, it’s often a perverse attraction. Letters pages and comments boards grip me with all the morbid fascination of a road accident. What will the crazy, faceless people come up with this time? I ask myself excitedly as I scroll down to the comments. It’s like rubber-necking the aftermath of a head-on collision between Christopher Reeve and Stephen Hawking – sad and awful, but in a totally hilarious sort of way.
And it’s especially amusing when they get angry, as British motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson found out after writing a Sunday Times column on his latest visit to Johannesburg. SAfricans from all over the world were quick to tell Jeremy that he was obviously drunk or high on Durban Poison the whole time he was visiting, and that an ignorant idiot like him should shut his stupid mouth stick to writing about cars. Nasty!
Now you might be wondering what Clarkson could have said to raise the wrath of so many citizens. Did he say that Jozi was an ugly, smelly city, full of shallow, materialistic yuppies who judge each other by their collection of status symbols? Did he complain about the nouveau riche aesthetic, the vacuous shopping mall culture, the overpriced drugs or the fact that everything not covered in concrete is brown? Because if it were me, that’s totally what I would have written.
But no. Clarkson said none of these things. Actually, he seems to think it’s a great place to be. He writes: “I wanted to ring up those idiots who compile surveys of the best and worst places to live and say: “Why do you keep banging on about Vancouver, you idiots? Jo’burg’s way better.”
Clarkson steps over the mark when he comments on the one sensitive topic that’s guaranteed to get us South Africans fired up enough to murder anyone who happens to hold a contrary opinion: The Crime. And he says the most insulting thing imaginable. He says the crime isn’t nearly as bad as we pretend it is.
“Johannesburg is Milton Keynes with thunderstorms,” he writes. “You go out. You have a lovely ostrich. You drink some delicious wine and you walk back to your hotel, all warm and comfy. It’s the least frightening place on earth.”
To many South Africans, this is verbal abuse.
“Is Clarkson out of touch with reality, or is he being paid to lie?” writes one reader. “Jeremy, you ignoramus, you are desperately misinformed,” writes another.
This must be the only country in the world where we take offence when visitors say nice things about us.
Do we as a nation have such a low self esteem that we can’t accept a compliment when it’s thrown our way? Why do we feel compelled to act like an insecure fat girl crying in the bathroom on prom night, tearfully insisting everyone admits she’s as ugly as she thinks she is? These responses say far more about our psyche than our statistics and frankly, it’s a little embarrassing.
Confidence and a bit of pride will serve us well in 2010, so it might be a good idea to start cultivating that now. Oh, and when replying to people from English speaking countries, be sure to use a spell check. It’s only polite.