Cultural hegemony

2011-08-01 00:00

I NEED to start by stating categorically that I am not a Rastafarian. I am stating this because I want for a moment to extol the virtues of Rastafarianism. I respect Rastafarianism in that it is the only religion in my view that has been able to reject the values that have come to be accepted as normal universal values. Rastafarianism has been able particularly, to reject materialism, which has become one disturbing value in today's society.

It has become a norm in this country and elsewhere in the world that success and growth are measured in material terms. This is a disturbing phenomenon in a country that is, as measured by the Gini coefficient, the most unequal society in the world. This problem speaks to our values as a society. It is also equally disconcerting that the poor and the working class among us have internalised and espouse the values of the dominant class.

You can go to every shack and every village in the country, the dream of many poor people is not to have enough to live on, but it is to have enough to show off. These are the kind of values that are perpetuated by ideological apparatuses like media, and have been accepted as normal even by the poor.

This is what Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist, was talking about when he spoke of cultural hegemony. Capitalism, Gramsci argued, maintained control not just through violence, political and economic coercion, but also ideologically, through hegemonic culture in which the values of the bourgeoisie became the common sense values for all. This is a disturbing situation where the consensus culture develops in which the working class identified their own good with the good of the dominant class, thus assisting in maintaining the status quo. According to Gramsci, the working class needs to develop a culture of its own, which would undermine the notion that bourgeoisie values represented the natural and normal values of society.

Daily soapies like Generations, Isidingo and other local magazine programmes like Top Billing, Passela and many others on our television screens, perpetuate this kind of materialistic culture that our people, especially the poor, need to reject. I guess this is what the producers of the television soapie Muvhango were trying to do — to try through mass media to display another form of success by projecting the notion of simple people living extraordinary lives.

As a result of this cultural hegemony, we now live in a country with fewer young people aspiring to get PhDs, to write books, and become conduits of social transformation. The thinking in today's society is, "if it is not going to make me rich it is not worth the trouble".

Mzala Nxumalo died at the age of 35 having written a number of academic and political papers including his famous book Gatsha Buthelezi: a Chief with a Double Agenda. Steve Biko died at the age of 30 as a world renowned activist and intellectual with a number of academic papers and books under his name. In today's South Africa cultural hegemony, it is unthinkable for people as young as Nxumalo and Biko to contribute so much to political and social discourse as well as social justice. These individuals died not driving flashy cars nor were they staying in expensive golf estates, but their contribution to the development of our people and this country cannot be measured in monetary terms.

It was Antonio Gramsci again who said, "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their social being, on the contrary it is men's social being that determines their consciousness". If one looks at our current social state, as influenced and informed by our "common" and "normal" values through cultural hegemony, it is worrying to think what kind of consciousness our young people especially, are going to develop.

Given that culture is ancillary to both political and economic objectives, poor people need to create and fight for their own cultural space where current values of materialism and greed would be undermined. Values of ubuntu, patriotism, hard work, intellectualism and academic excellence, need to be values we all aspire to.

These values would help produce working class organic intellectuals who come from within the working class ranks and whose sole mission would be to affect the status quo in favour of the working class agenda.

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