Turning the world upside down

2011-11-30 00:00

MY 11–year-old son pointed to the plastic globe representing the Earth. “That’s South Africa,” he said, placing his finger on the Cape peninsula. “That’s where we live.”

“Correct,” I said, glowing with pride. Then I pointed at the continent of Europe, on the other side of the globe, to the north. “And that is …?”

To my surprise, he replied: “That must be North Africa.”

I explained to him that that was indeed another continent, and not part of Africa. “But,” I could not resist adding as an afterthought, “I suppose you could call them North Africa if you wish. For these days they are as deeply in debt as Africa, racism is as rife as it used to be over here, and at the present rate it seems as if they might have a media tribunal even before we get one. Well, in England, at least.”

“What?” He had no idea what I was going on about.

“I’m just thinking out loud,” I said. “But I don’t mind if you call the whole world Africa. Because, right now, Africa has become the world.”

As I walked away, I saw him point gleefully to the United States. “West Africa,” he said.

I didn’t stick around for him to identify East Africa (China), South East Africa (Australia), or South America (South West Africa). An idea for a column was taking shape in my head, and I simply had to get to my computer.

What is happening to the world today?

Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Were the Mayans right or not? Are all the clichés we have ever held dear coming home to roost?

Is this the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?

For a couple of days now, we have been subjected, on Sky News, to the Leveson Inquiry taking place at the Royal Courts of Justice. It has been compelling viewing, impossible to ignore. Celebrity after celebrity has taken to the stand to argue for something which we had never dreamt would become a reality in the so-called free world: control of the media. In South Africa that’s the sort of thing the ANC wants, and most of us know, or suspect strongly, that its reasons are highly suspect. In London, the same argument — if not an even stronger one — is put forward, with irresistible eloquence, by highly respected, undoubtedly intelligent darlings of the media such as Hugh Grant and J. K. Rowling.

We all like these guys. We adore people like them. They gave us Four Weddings and a Funeral. They gave us Harry Potter. They would not lead us down the garden path towards a totalitarian world state, would they? At least not knowingly.

And, of course, to a large extent, these celebrities’ grievances are valid. Of course, it sucks when you try to sunbathe on a supposedly private beach only to see yourself in a bathing suit, on the front page of the next day’s newspaper. It would certainly upset me. I look terrible in my swimming trunks.

Then again, I just can’t help wondering whether the trade-off is worth it: losing the freedom of the press in exchange for the right of celebrities not to be photographed in their bathing suits? After all, is being photographed in your bathing suit really all that bad? I recall a really gorgeous pic of Barack Obama swimming in Hawaii, printed by newspapers all over the world shortly before his election. I still believe that the publication of that picture at that point in time was the main reason he got elected, if not the only one.

As I walked back into the room where my son was gazing at the globe, I noticed that he had turned it upside down, so that South Africa was now on top.

“Now, that’s just given me an idea for another column,” I thought.

Fortunately, I ran out of space. — News 24.com

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