What is intriguing is that her act is not mind blowing for its artistry. She merely lifts her leg in a Michael Jackson-like motion. She squats and stands and shakes her derriere. All the time, you know that she is not wearing any under clothes because she already told you. Talk about the power of suggestion. The imagination is a wilderness of its own.
Zodwa now charges for her appearances and MC duties. It will cost you between R10 000 and R15 000 per gig to book her in South Africa. She is what the French would call a provocateur, a pop culture phenomenon which perhaps has its roots in the 60s when characters such as Elvis Presley scandalised the prim and proper folk, with his outrageous hip shake whilst performing on stage and British rock bands such as the Rolling Stones led publicly chronicled drug fuelled lifetsyle.
Kim Kardashian Clone?
But who is Zodwa? Born Zodwa Rebecca Libram in Soweto some 32 years ago before shifting to Durban four years ago, the former debt collector appears to have struck a rich vein: monetizing notoriety. And she is slated to visit Bulawayo’s Club Connect. “Zodwa is coming as a guest and not an entertainer but her popularity makes it sound otherwise. She will obviously dance and have her favourite drinks and even choose the woman who she feels would have done a great deal of copying her style‚” said Zandile Moyo the manager of Club Connect as quoted by the Sowetan.
Zodwa is coming possibly because she is currently trending on social media. She also upped the ante when she appeared dressed in a very ‘dangerous’ dress (of course without panties) at the famous Durban July horse race which is a much vaunted South African celebrity calendar event. “The inspiration behind it is that I wanted to be sexy and bold,” Zodwa elaborated. “I wanted to show I don’t really wear a panty. In the photos my cellulite is clearly visible; I wanted to show women we don’t have to hide what we are.”
Fifteen minutes of fame
It is Andy Warhol, in February 1968 who when he exhibited his first international retrospective exhibition at the Moderna Museet gallery in Stockholm had the exhibition catalogue contain a line “In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes.” These words are now famously attributed to the late U.S. artist who was himself interested in personal branding and perhaps is most famous for being part of the Bohemian scene in New York of the 60s, 70s and the 80s. His other most famous pop culture contribution is his portrait of the late beauty and actress Marilyn Monroe (incidentally, she was a paramour of the assasinated Kennedy brothers John and Robert as well Mafia boss Sam Giancana).
By Warhol or not
Warhol’s words about the fleeting nature of fame may not have been actually his. Some reports attribute the words to photographer Nate Finkelstein who is reported as claiming to have uttered them in response to Warhol’s remark about his observation that “everyone wants to be famous”. But as reported by art critic Blake Gopnik in the Marketplace magazine: “We’ve decided it’s by Warhol, whether he likes it or not, we’ve created and continue to create the Warhol brand for ourselves.”
If it is the ordained lot of artists to mirror society, and then Warhol was indeed a keen observor of soicety. If indeed he observed that “everyone wants to be famous”, then he could not have been more prescient in that observation. Take Facebook for instance. The runaway success of the platform with over a billion users across the globe is but ample evidence of this ‘self-addiction’. Too often, wanna be celebrities will flaunt their latest material possessions or even hairstyles on their Facebook pages. Soon enough, and depending on the number of ‘friends’ one has, the media spreads like wild fire as links to it are shared and so and so on. Virtual reality is the new reality and some have found a way to monetize their following in cyberspace.
Fame for fame’s sake
Ours is the age of the Kim Kardashians, the Pokello Nares, the Beverly Sibandas and lately the Zodwa waBantus. These ladies found a way to parlay their female bodies for fame and financial gain. But I see a thread harking all the way back to Marilyn Monroe. She may have been a talented actress but the pundits were not really interested in that talent. She was commoditised into a sex symbol- a symbol of men’s insatiable lust for beauty and voluptousness.
Kim Kardashian, perhaps not the air head that some initially made her out to be, produced a sex tape that made her into instant celebrity when it was released on to the internet. The scandal ensuing, or rather the notoriety she gained from it, merely fed into the publicity juggeraut she was to become and the tabloids’ hunger for the gutter was merely whetted. Kim Kardashian is neither a singer nor an actress nor a ballerina. But over 150 million times, the sex tape which was legally aired by Vivid Entertainment in 2007 has been watched and has made a reported $100 million for the company. Kim is reported to have received $5 million from the tape! Six months after the publication of the tape, E! offered her a reality show Keeping up with the Kardashians in tandem with trending television format of reality shows.
Scandal ain’t what it used to be!
Borrowing Kardashian’s script, Pokello also attained her fame through similar means i.e. a sex tape in which she starred with her then boyfriend musician Desmond ‘Stunner’ Chideme. Pokello Nare (now married), is probably Zimbabwe’s own version of Kim Kardashian. To Nare’s credit is the fact that whereas she is a university graduate, Kim never graduated from high school. It is interesting to note that before the now famous sex tape which was also leaked on line and blurred the lines on acceptable public conduct, very few people outside of her circle knew about Pokello Nare. Latterly, she was to successfully apply to be part of the Big Brother Africa reality television show. Her fame grew as it seemed that tabloids could not get enough of her. Somehow, there are people…throngs of lusty men who will part with good money to be titillated by the sight of a female body. It is a timeless and primal urge that knows no boundary.
New media revolution
But the proliferation of ideas and diffusion of innovations across cultures has largely been aided and abetted by the mass media and attendant technologies. Initially, radio, television and film were the mediums via which the stories of notable persons in society could parlayed for fame and in some instances fortune. More recently, the World Wide Web has become the most dominant medium of communication. Along with its rise to popularity, innovations such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and You Tube to name but a few have become mass communication staples. Whilst observing popular culture and culture in general, it may not be farfetched to conclude that whatever becomes a ‘hit’, is in itself an indicator of the prevailing value system of society at the given time. Thus it is even now. It is also very notable how that in the past artists generally tended to influence public discourses and contibute to the thought culture of societies.
Everyone wants to be famous
Not only notable persons are being depicted in these platforms. Even the unknowns are grabbing a slice of the cake. Notoriety is the new popular. Inexorably, we seem to be moving into a cultural morass, a dystopian nightmare that is bereft of absolutes. Values of decency or what is considered tasteful is increasingly becoming relative to the situation and to individual circumstances. The rise of the likes of Zodwa, Pokello and Kim Kardashian may therefore be viewed in the context of this new celebrity culture of fame for fame’s sake. Some say it’s a vacuous show, a bonfire of vanities. But this is show business and there is none like it for salaciousness. What the baying masses want, they get and canny club managers with ears to the ground and noses sniffing on the winds are smelling blood. It is ancient Rome all over again.