Pop Culture finds its nook in Botswana
by Keletso Thobega
It’s a Friday evening and I am feeling bored. I have reached a depressing chapter in the book I am currently reading - Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Half of a yellow Sun’.
I cannot digest the turmoil and dramatics of the 1960s Biafra war in Nigeria of the Yoruba government massacring the Igbo that is narrated vividly by the strikingly exceptional writer.
I need to zone off so I shuffle to the living room and I’m met by the blaring television which is playing a thumping song with an infectious beat. The video depicts young women clad in skimpy clothes gyrating wildly.
The young men are walking around with bottles of liquor, showing off flashy cars and rapping about money, success and fun living. My son is “busy” gyrating to the beat, a stern expression on his face. He glides this way and that, holds his crotch with one hand and quickly moves the other up and down, pointing three podgy fingers.
I recognize the hip-hop moves. I am used to this four year old’s imitation of all the dance moves and his singing along to all the songs that show on television.
It suddenly strikes me how different young people of today are. They are impressionable and adapt quickly to the trends reflected in the music videos, television shows and movies they engage with ferocious interest. It is difficult to pull them away from media platforms and with globalization, a young person in Botswana isn’t very different from one in America because the culture they are exposed to is quite similar. The advent of pop culture cannot be ignored.
Pop culture is often defined as a people’s social culture, interactions and how they engage with the rest of the world. This culture dominates a society, and involves most if not all aspects of social life that actively include members of the public. These range from the music commonly listened to, dress styles, foods eaten, literature and of course mass media.
All these influence our lives in profound ways. When I think of pop culture, I immediately think of global giant Coca Cola, CNN, fashion labels and American movies/celebrities.
Pop culture often dominates among young people, compared to the older age groups, yet there are drabs of the influence on all facets of society. It is manifested around the world through movies, television shows, music, newspapers/magazines, fast food and clothing. Even now, open any newspaper and magazine, and you will see snippets of celebrity gossip. These are all forms of media, showing just how powerful a social too the media is.
Among the three effects of globalization on culture, the growth of global “pop culture” tends to get the most attention, and to strike people on a visceral level. Many complain that this form of globalization is actually ‘Americanization’, because the United States is by far the biggest producer of popular culture goods.
Viewed from the perspective of other countries, the dominance of the United States movie/television industry across the world has been a rapidly and recently growing concern. Whether through a movie or news, those who watch get an American perspective on issues.
Even our local television boasts an array of American programming, with a small percentage of local products being shown onscreen. However, when any sector of a nation’s industry is threatened by foreign imports, voluminous concerns are raised.
Globalization enables foreign companies to distribute American cultural products, including music and books. The spread of American restaurant chains and consumer products worldwide (for example MacDonald’s, Wal-Mart) is accompanied by the spread of American popular culture. In recent years, American movies, music, and TV shows have consistently gained more and more audiences worldwide. It is interesting to note that foreign media groups contribute to the spread of American popular culture as well. Foreign corporations earn profits by selling U.S. products, and U.S. products become more accessible worldwide.
A small country like Botswana has little resources to ward off or be on par with external influences of pop culture. Besides, America and Botswana are “buddy states” and the connections go much further than just political and economic liaisons. Some Batswana view America as the land of ‘milk and honey’. They not only aspire to move and live there, but consume the products and culture with passionate abandon.
One such young person is Katso Mokgweetsi ,26, who unapologetically worships the West, particularly the United States of America. “I love first world countries as they are more developed. America is a true epitome of development, success and
progress. I studied in the US for five years on government scholarship and there were times I felt like staying there forever!”
Is everything as smooth sailing as he presents it to be?
“Of course not! However, there are more opportunities there,” he says. “America opens doors for you and even unlocks your mind. It is not only about the money and success but social environment. I tend to find Batswana a bit backward and not up to scratch with trends.”
I notice that Katso is also a hip hop follower, what is commonly called ‘lekhete’ in Botswana. Is this the other reason he glorifies America - his love of hip hop?
“Many of us love hip hop; even you Keletso are an attuned hip hop listener. When we were growing up, hip hop spoke to us as we could relate or be inspired. I think music; especially hip hop is a global force. When I was in the States, I would listen to guys rapping on streets corners or attend live sessions. It is a way of life as it gives people a means of expression and grapple with the sometimes confusing developments of the world. The influence has filtrated here. When you love hip hop, you appreciate the whole culture.”
Katso wears labels; baggy pants and expensive sneakers. I am interested in the sagging pants.
From my research, I have come across two theories. The first is that in America, men wore their pants down below their buttocks in prisons, to show that they were available for anal sexual intercourse, without raising suspicion among prison warders. The second is that during the Slavery days, black young men depended on hand me downs from their fathers and uncles, and that is why the clothes were baggy.
Katso hastily agrees with the latter. “Hip hop was derived from the times of slavery. It’s sort of a remembrance of where our people come from. At least that is my personal belief. These clothes are significantly representative. Nowadays we can afford expensive clothes and that is the great thing about it - it epitomizes the journey from drab to fab.”
Pop culture represents something to different people, whether through the fashion they follow, the movies they watch, literature they peruse to the food they eat and language they opt for. There numerous conspiracies of how pop culture negatively influences the real world, political and personal. They erode a nation’s identity. The crime films allegedly contribute to increased murder cases and instill a culture of violence among people, especially youth, who are impressionable.
There is also the element of being detached from reality, because truth is that while television and movies are just entertainment, they may be perceived as reality, which breeds illusions and false impressions in some people, hell bent on achieving that idealistic status. Negative lyrics in music are often criticized, as are celebrities who seem to endorse promiscuity, drug and alcohol abuse etc.
This doesn’t seem to faze some people like Lerato, a 25-year-old graduate. She looks up to celebrities and believes in the whole fanfare of fame, money and bling. I am struck by her long Brazilian fake hair, caramel tan, fake eyelashes, red rogue lips and the fashionable skimpy threads that hang perfectly on her slim frame. Beside her, I feel like a beach-whale and the pan-African ideas of ‘proudly African’ I carry with passionate stance almost go out of the window.
“I like a model appearance and look up to celebrities to inspire my appearance and the way I carry myself. I believe in looking “phly” and having a ‘global look’. I don’t care if some people say I look plastic or want to look white; I feel good! I wear labels and am always top when it comes to trends. When Rihanna did that Mohawk style, I was among the first to do it in Botswana! I believe looking like American girls will open doors for me because I also want to live the lavish lifestyles I see on television…” she gushes.
One sure thing is that behind these social elements whether food, music, media or fashion, there is a lot of money being made, so yes, multinational companies depend on human gullibility and passion to generate millions. The only thing being sustained is brands, or rather, what they are perceived to represent.
This was summed accurately by Theda Skocpol, an American sociologist and political scientist, who was quoted as saying: “In an era of global capitalism, cultural distinctiveness can become more important, not less important. Because it’s sort of what people have left.”