/ 13 December 2015

The image of the post-colonial ‘man’ is stereotypical humbug

Past: Mayihlome Tshwete is plastered on the Rémy Martin billboard
Past: Mayihlome Tshwete is plastered on the Rémy Martin billboard

Mayihlome Tshwete is the face of Rémy Martin. It is plastered arrogantly on a billboard in Rosebank, Johannesburg (you can’t miss it when you drive down Bolton Road).

The kind of masculinity advertised by the campaign – “You only get one life. Live them” – features young men like Tshwete as the “product” of the slash generation. This is “a multidimensional existence, which is no longer a life path but a lifestyle … these individuals live a life between slashes – work / play /hobby / desires”.

The choice of Tshwete shouldn’t surprise us given his position as the spokesperson for Malusi Gigaba’s home affairs ministry, as well as being the son of ANC stalwart Steve Tshwete. He is the new ANC generation – the face of the future.

The “One life / Live them” campaign was first launched in the United States in October with Jeremy Renner (actor/musician/producer/renovator) as the face of the brand. In South Africa the campaign features young black men.

There’s nothing original about this – men are the main subject and target of the campaign. The gendered nature of advertising alcohol has always puzzled me because of the way masculinity is positioned and femininity is almost invisible because women couldn’t possibly be cognac drinkers. The industry would have us believe that drinking cognac is a man’s domain.

And not any kind of man: he is educated, middle class, well spoken, articulate, good-looking, wealthy or climbing the white slopes of success in the hallowed halls of the corporate industry. The cognac-drinking man is heterosexual, suit-wearing and often has a beautiful woman at his side, confirming his success.

They discuss politics, socialism and activism while drinking cognac that costs what some households can only dream of earning in a month. For young poor people who are accosted by these images in an economic and political climate that renders their own aspirations void, success seems to be only for the few who are well educated and well connected.

This image is not limited to South Africa; it can be seen in pop culture. Jidenna’s song Classic Man is an iteration of another image of what success looks like for young black men. The song was followed by #classicman on Twitter as well as classicmanlook.com, a grooming service for men based in the United Kingdom.

Tshwete would have us believe “he considers himself an idealist and activist for change” but his activity has us believe otherwise. Posing as a Rémy Martin man plays on the image of the post-colonial man, which mimics the earlier image of success – the English gentleman.

The post-colonial society is imaginatively bankrupt. In the South African context, this campaign feeds the “black diamond” obsession that focuses on the success of a few black people at the expense of the poor and unemployed.

Athambile Masola is a teacher in Johannesburg. This edited post was published on thoughtleader.co.za