My modern family

2014-07-04 10:00

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I had always imagined the moment we would be told that Mandela had died, in the same way children sometimes have the peculiar tendency to imagine the death of their parents.

I could never fully picture the scene because guilt and fear would gag my efforts. The moment before his death was officially announced, I was alone in my apartment waiting for the drama to unfold on Twitter.

I didn’t have a TV, but a more important concern was that I would be alone if that moment was to happen. I needed to be with other people.

Dressed in my pyjamas, I left my apartment to go to my neighbour, only to find other neighbours who didn’t have a TV congregated on her couch, a bottle of whiskey already weeping into their glasses.

On that historic day, we wept and sat in the silence that grief can bring, together. Living in this environment gives me the feeling of belonging that I lacked in my individualised, urban existence.

The rise of the uberindividual in the past decade has been aided by the explosion of the “me” in social media.

This, and the ubiquity of Hollywood culture and reality TV, has resulted in the monetisation of personality, where individuals are celebrated for standing out from the group, for their bodies, style and dysfunctional antics. These self-centred personalities become vehicles for self-serving Capital.

Granted, this is a simplistic prognosis of the state we find ourselves in. We are being immersed in an environment saturated with rugged individualism and capitalism, where advertisers seek to populate all available clean space with this rhetoric?–?and it is a new sociological trend.

Normcore, a growing movement introduced by New York trend company K-Hole this year, is humanity pushing back against a deluge of extreme individualism.

While it may have been hijacked by fashion, the trend is part of a counternarrative that’s been developing over the past few years?–?we’ve all been trying so hard to be different, we’ve come full circle and are going back to blank. Belonging to the group is better than going it alone. Community is warmer than singularity.

Interestingly, our superficial connectedness through social media has allowed us to see that the things we share are more significant than the things we don’t share.

Our similarities have more value than our differences. Humans want love, peace, security, comfort and a place to belong.

While a large portion of the younger generation is being starved of the physicality of community with their participation in virtual communities, the other side of the coin suggests an exasperation with the disconnected, relentless, material-hungry individual.

The rise in organic-food production, the advent of the locavore, who eats food produced within a radius of a certain number of kilometres, the growth of the artisan economy and the growing indifference to branded luxury fashion, can also be attributed to this shift.

Do you remember how important wearing branded jeans used to be?

People need people more than they need things. My geyser burst and our building caretaker, who is like an uncle to me, organised for the plumbers to come and install a new one.

The water had leaked into my neighbour’s living room and upon noticing that my water was shut off, she offered the use of her shower.

After showering at her place, I noticed that her live-in nanny wasn’t looking after my neighbour’s three-year-old but a younger baby. There’s another working mum who lives on the first floor.

I didn’t know that my neighbour’s nanny, who earns an extra income as a result of this, looks after the woman’s children. It suits my neighbour because her little boy gets to have a little sister and an older brother in the other woman’s children.

I met the woman’s older child at a lunch organised by a neighbour on the second floor, a UK man who had cooked tripe and dumplings for about a dozen people.

The little boy wasn’t allowed to eat and didn’t seem perturbed by it.

When I enquired why, another neighbour told me he was only allowed to eat supper made at home.

And I remembered my 10-year-old self being subjected to the same rule and feeling right at home in my indifference to it.

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