There’s nothing cool about behaving like an idiot

I had hardly recovered from Julius Malema’s latest missive – apparently it is the ­responsibility of the youth to party – when an escapist walk at a mall jerked my mind back to worrying about our country and the world’s youth.

I wondered whether this Malema character had heard of young people, such as Muziwakhe Anton Lembede – the ANC Youth League’s founding president – who at the time of his ­untimely death aged 32 had provided a structure to the concept of African Nationalism.

Lembede, a teacher and a lawyer, died while pursuing a ­doctorate.

Surely Malema must have heard of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko, who also died before his 35th birthday but had, like Lembede ­before him, confounded many by the aphorism: “youth is wasted on the young”.

As I continued with my walk I ­began to understand why some young people end up thinking like Malema. We have a pop-and-the-youth culture that creates an ­impression that there are only two options – materialistic debauchery or a bohemian existence.

Fashion label Diesel is running a campaign titled “Be Stupid”. ­

Apparently it is now a fashionable thing to “Be Stupid”.

Being older than 35 (which does not necessarily mean being a style philistine), I entered the store to ask what they meant by “Be Stupid”.

The assistants giggled nonchalantly, saying it was “just a campaign”.

It may be “just a campaign” from Diesel’s point of view. But even they ought to know how impressionable the market they serve can be. To make stupidity an element of being socially acceptable scares me.

It reminds me of the satirical 2006 movie Idiocracy. The film is about two ordinary men who ­undergo a top-secret military ­hibernation ­experiment that goes wrong.

When the two return to life 500 years later they discover the world has degenerated into a false ­utopia, where advertising, commercialism and cultural anti-intellectualism are rampant and the perpetuation of ­defective genes has resulted in a uniformly stupid human society, devoid of individual responsibility or consequences.

I saw life imitating art as I looked at the poster through the shop window.

There is already a creeping ­anti-intellectualism that found a crescendo in Polokwane in 2007, when former president Thabo Mbeki fell – one of his sins being that he was “an intellectual”.

This is not new. Pink Floyd achieved great acclaim in the 1970s when they sang: “We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control”.

Can such projects be defended because it is “just a campaign”, or youngsters simply having fun?

I accept that Diesel is no one’s mother, and should therefore not be held responsible for the bad choices of their consumers.

If corporations don’t care about what effect they leave after they have sold a pair of jeans, then they must be held responsible.

If cigarette firms can been stopped from distributing free cigarettes to the youth at parties because of the dangers of smoking, we must be even more guarded with their minds.

In the same way modern societies have rejected campaigns that force young girls to starve themselves to death just so they may look “pretty”, Diesel should not be allowed to ask our nation’s youth to “Be Stupid”.

It cannot be right to make a generation believe there is anything cool with being an idiot.

I am not asking Diesel to run a campaign asking youngsters to read books or save whales. But o ask them to “Be Stupid” is no different to the “liberation now, education later” campaign of the 1980s.

I don’t know of any society that chose to be a dystopia (fictional ­society) and went on to achieve anything of note. If anything, such societies are always a slip away from barbarity.

Societies that have achieved things of value are those that have placed intellectual progress and order ahead of being “cool”.

The Afrikaners pulled themselves up by the boot straps, tightened belts and sunk heads into books (and yes they brutally oppressed the majority in the process) to become a middle- and ­upper-class people in less than two decades with military capability that made SA a bad neighbour.

Accepting that I am onto territory fraught with all sorts of political interpretations, a New York Times article published in January this year said Jews made up 0.2% of the world’s population.

Yet they made 54% of the world’s chess champions, 27% of the Nobel physics laureates and 31% of the medicine laureates.

Jews make up 2% of the US’s population, but 21% of the Ivy League student bodies, 37% of the Academy Award-winning ­directors, 38% of those on a recent Business Week list of leading ­philanthropists, and 51% of the Pulitzer Prize winners for non-fiction.

Steven L. Pease, author of The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement, attributed this record of achievement to the Jewish faith ­encouraging a belief in progress and personal accountability and that it was learning-based, not rite-based.

If by “Be Stupid” Diesel meant “be daring”, not slaves to convention or fearing failure, then they should say so. Which is in any case not “stupid”. As it stands, Diesel’s message has no place in a society that values progress.

We already have Malema, we can do without Diesel polluting the minds of our young.

» Ntsikelelo-Moya is the editor of The Witness

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