Scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning, I see a video mocking the way every Keeping Up With The Kardashians episode occurs; unnecessary drama over inconsequential events. It’s honestly hilarious, and I find myself laughing, remembering how much I used to love watching the show when I was in high school. It was a ritual I had perfected. Every day after school I would run to the kitchen to grab a snack and quickly sit down for the episode before my mom got back from work. Then I felt it, that pang, that distinct feeling we know all too well.
It was at that moment when it struck me: I constantly consume American media. Every day, I am confronted with all the aspects of American life, from the clothes they deem as fashionable, to the politics they consider outrageous. I can easily explain Trump’s 100 days in office, but can’t even begin to wrap my head around South African politics.
Social media has become an easy way for people in the global South, and South Africa in particular, to soak up American media. Yes, social media has enabled us to break down barriers that were built up by colonially-imposed borders. With just a few clicks I am able to access any part of the world, and they are able to access me. Since this is the case, I am able to talk to my sister in Guatemala as if she is in the next room, in fact, I am able to do a fellowship with The Tempest because of it.
But despite these amazing feats, social media has also allowed the rapid Americanization of the global South.
Take Buzzfeed, for example. Their entire brand is built on fast, easily-consumable media that can be accessed all over the world. Their YouTube videos garner millions of views, and I am probably responsible for at least two million alone.
After watching their video, Fast Food Burger Taste Test, and seeing all their different reactions to the burgers, I felt as if I had experienced every single one of them. Even though we only have Mcdonald’s and Burger King in South Africa, I feel as if I have significant memories of fast food outlets like Wendy’s, In-N-Out, Five Guys and Carl’s Jr. What began as innocently watching a random YouTube video, ended up in the creation of false memory.
In other words, it led to me feel nostalgic for an American culture I have no tangible connection to.
Fast Food Burger Taste Test has over six million views, many of which come from people in the global South. Although this seems harmless, there are many reasons why over-consuming American media can be bad for our mental health.
Firstly, imperialism has left an indelible mark on the South African consciousness. Many people believe that in order to be seen as ‘modern’ we need to aspire to Western standards of being, whether this is through our architecture, the way we run our companies, and even the way we dress, eat and speak. We are taught to believe that the West is pioneering advances in technology that we cannot live without, but we are forgetting about local knowledge systems that have supported our society for millennia.
Secondly, people believe that aspiring to western standards of being is also about aspiring to a particular brand of whiteness. For myself, I have had to deal with the reality that I have lost the ability to feel pride in my culture because I have been completely consumed by the idea that the darkness of my skin and the place of my ancestry are insignificant and even ‘backwards’. I have been taught to think of South Africa, my home, as an empty place; missing the finer American details that would propel us into an acceptable, whitewashed society.
It is undeniable that social media has contributed to these feelings of being ‘backwards’, insignificant and culturally dead. Being captured by so much of American media has meant that we need to find ways to reclaim our memories and reclaim our nostalgia for our own cultural practices, those beautiful little pieces of existence we buried under hours of Netflix binge-watching Mad Men till we could pronounce our words like we were born in New York.
Why don’t we instead use social media to promote our identities without shame, without explanation and translation? Let’s revel in the idea that South Africa, and the global South at large, is an imaginative landscape that belongs to us, and that we should be proud of.
Let us not covfefe our society.