Call-out culture or “cancel” culture is a social media phenomenon that is slowly beginning to influence the editorial choices of traditional media in South Africa, if at a far slower rate than in larger economies.
Perhaps my two-week break from what is considered mainstream news has given me an opportunity to examine what brings these two worlds together.
Despite a small proportion of SA’s population being active on social media, what I enjoy about this growing capacity for social media users to drive certain narratives on traditional media is that it forces SA’s notoriously conservative media audiences to consider the views of the progressive, young and woke South Africans, who scream into the social media void about their demands to be sexually, spiritually, racially and economically liberated.
It also has the effect of making people take what would normally be considered bubble gum entertainment news and turn it into a major political statement, worthy of academic analysis.
When SA twitter users made an Instagram Live broadcast of what appeared to show musician Babes Wodumo being assaulted by her manager and boyfriend Mampintsha go viral, it sparked a national conversation about not only gender-based violence in general, but its disturbingly ubiquitous presence in SA’s music and entertainment industry.
More recently, two public figures made unbelievably homophobic throwaway statements berating gay people and gay men in particular.
Television and radio presenter Phat Joe told his audience gay men needed to understand that they made people uncomfortable and that he was disgusted by gay men who propositioned him romantically.
The social media backlash over these comments was hot on the heels of exotic dancer Zodwa Wabantu’s televised rant on cable channel Moja Love, during which she insinuated that gay men were ungrateful to women who “accommodated” them by constantly fighting with women in the entertainment industry.
She also remarked that gay men were convinced that they “have vaginas, while they have penises”. I lost several brain cells writing that sentence.
Wabantu appeared to be attempting to address an issue I have seen explained far more articulately without the homophobic undertones (can gay men be called out for being misogynistic and problematic to women?).
Black South Africans have traditionally trivialised and even lampooned the struggles of the LGBTI community, long after South Africans became citizens of a democracy. The interesting case in point was the difference between the reactions of two different broadcasters to statements which were deemed homophobic. Moja Love received backlash for the fact that the statements made by Zodwa were part of a pre-recorded and edited show.
The SABC, which has in recent years been far more progressive in its treatment and representation of marginalised communities, immediately took Phat Joe off his Radio 2000 show following the backlash about his comments.
The power of a hashtag is increasingly flexing its muscle.