Party Politics and The Cult of Cool - Bubblegum Club

Party Politics and The Cult of Cool 

For some reason, every time I think of party politics, I can’t help but think of the politics of parties. Like actual, booked a nightclub, streamers attached to the ceiling, drinks passed around kind of party. I  mean, if we’re being real, most of my peers don’t seem to GAF about the DA or the ANC. Sure they’re all concerned to a degree about the state of the country. They’ll complain about load-shedding and joke about how it’s not worth it to pay tax, but at the end of the day, they all tell me they don’t care enough to vote. I don’t blame them. We’ve had a single-party majority for 29+ years, and ever since Tata Madiba left us things have been a little bit weird.

Watching the actual politicians is like watching The Bold and the Beautiful. They’re doing their damned thing, warring over white papers, acting like a group of artless, media-hungry fools. Seeing John Steenhuisen in his blue shirt with his preppy fucking face, and Cyril just being Cyril (a little bit useless but strangely loveable), I can’t help but think that this whole thing is just one big semiotic war, an overzealous media campaign with no real, grounded hope for change. And the content that comes out of it — my god. I still chuckle when I think about how the DA recreated ANC imagery in the style of GTA posters. And I cringe when I think about how the SA government’s website looks. The fucking government couldn’t afford a better UX designer.

On the one hand, you have the blues. They promise they’ll make everywhere look just as good as Cape Town (at the expense of homeless people, of course). On the other side, you have the legacy freedom fighters in the yellow, green and black. They think the struggle can excuse every failing municipality. Sure, I get that, but what about tender fraud? Both sides are somewhat corrupt, and they each want a piece of the pie. But they still, for the life of them, don’t seem to know how to mobilise anybody below the age of 30. Except for the EFF. They actually have some hype, probably because Malema is still down to clown as a DJ now and then at the rallies (which look a helluva lot like raves sometimes if you ask me).

So instead of getting involved, most of us ‘youth’ will just sit back and watch them battle it out over some passive-aggressive tweets (X’s?), and then we’ll chuck our phones aside and say “I just hope that the lesser of the two evils will win.”

The 2024 elections are on their way, but hey, who cares? Who’s registering to vote when there’s work to get done, people to see, actual parties to attend? I get it. We’ve got voter apathy. We don’t feel politically empowered. The decisions we make and the votes we cast don’t seem to have any real elevation in our society. We’ve been alienated from state decisions and the only illusion of power we maintain is over our social lives (our professional lives are equally disenchanting — have you seen the state of the job market?).

So while the politicians keep pandering to the fogies and the cronies, the kids will busy themselves with better things. Hip-shaking, ground-breaking, money-making parties. Because it’s easier to insert yourself into a social scene than it is to exist in a mass public, fragmented by the very limited colour palette of Yellow, Blue and Red. In the mass public, there’s no tolerance for diversity, for the grey area. You have to pick a side, bracket your differences, and come together under whatever ‘unified narrative’ seems PC. But people my age? We’re not so good at that.

We embrace the grey area. We look for the niche. We thrive in their cottage-core, gorp-core, fairy-core, and core-core cults of cool. And the old guard look at us like we’re fucking weird. They call us queers and make jokes about being ‘woke’ every time they see a young girl with a shaved head or a boy with black nail polish. But what they don’t really get is that there’s something borderline ideological about this kind of gathering too. Sure, it’s superficial on the surface, a bunch of kids dressed up, trying to escape whatever existential gloom their algorithms fed them that day. But having spent enough time frequenting these crowds I can tell you that there’s a strange philosophy underpinning these parties.

Listen, I’m not trying to glorify rave culture. I’m not saying that a couple of great parties are going to save a nation desperate for transparent governance, parliamentary oversight, better law enforcement and improved policy frameworks. But there is something about this cult of cool that is fundamentally important in our time. And we’ve seen it in the past too. Disco music began as a safe haven for homosexuals and blacks in New York and Chicago.

Later, its roots would lay the foundations for house music’s escape, and eventually, the beats would ramp up to techno’s industrial complex, something that could reflect the economic destitution of post-Motown Detroit. Then its acid house offshoots would find fruit in London, the second Summer of Love,  where people would pop ecstasy pills in a rhythmic rebellion against Thatcher’s rightwing neoliberal order.

A similar thing happens here too. In every major city, you’ll find a different collective, with its own unique call to temple. In Durban, residents let go at the hands of gqom, that strange splintering shake that reminds me of the Golden Mile after 6 pm Sunday, complete with tinny taxi sound systems and ganja. In Cape Town, one needs only drive into the valley to find an outpost of barefoot hippies saluting Gaia with organica and psytrance, sending Peace Love and Light your way. In Johannesburg, any xenofeminist will tell you that you’ll find sanctuary from the sneakerheads at the Pussy Party club nights, where only queer huns and femme-identifying babes are welcome to enjoy the delicious hybrids of electronic music.

At first glance, this might stir some moral panic. Drugs, debauchery, hedonism. Sure, it’s a bit of a cesspool. Everybody’s polyamorous and they’re making out and it’s all just bodies bodies bodies bodies bodies pulsating next to each other. It’s escapist and it’s anti. But isn’t that just the delicious point of it all? Cut to the smoking section and you’ll hear some of the most astute political conversations of your life. The xenofeminists are spurting sex literacy the way you wish you heard it in L.O., and they’re doing it while strapped up in a harness wearing some nipple stickers.

The gqom and house kids are behind the DJ booth talking about land redistribution and racism, and how that politician’s kid really had a stick up his ass at the last Broke Klubhouse event. Meanwhile, the eco-warriors are swimming off the ketamine daze in a river somewhere discussing net zero carbon emissions, permaculture, and their absolute intentions to leave the valley looking as pristine as it did before they doof-doofed. Here amongst the crowd are unlikely activists who just needed to blow off some steam. And despite what you might think, they’ve got an opinion on the state of our nation. They just happen to express it differently.

And while a part of me sometimes wishes that we could put aside the materiality, the excess and the ego for the sake of a deeper conversation, the other part of me has come to accept that this is how gather. In our strange little sects, away from the frightening factions of our mass public sphere, we take refuge at these underground parties with the hope of rejuvenating a sense of common culture, a unified beat, and a bit of fun. Instead of coming to the table that forces us to provide a rational, critical reason to the white male debate, we choose to preoccupy ourselves with the poetics of a good party.

Because here, far from the maddening crowd, we have a little bit more voice, a little bit more agency to choose. The music guides us and the glittering fashion draws us in. Our eyes sparkle in the glimmer of the strobe, and we find comfort in the rituals of dance. Hey, it’s not that far off from the ideals of Toyi-toyi. Perhaps that is just our politics, the politics of parties, the cult of cool, the call to song and dance. Either way, at least we’re organising.

Let’s just hope some of that enthusiasm will lead us to the voting stations in 2024.

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