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Khaya Sibeko

Football.Bookworm.Cinematic Music. "The greatest contribution from Africans will be to give the world a more human face" Bantu S. Biko,

Alcohol and Manhood

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So, finally someone heard our ‘cries’ and decided to grant us a ‘Men’s Day’. And we didn’t even need to deliver petitions against Pass Laws at the Union Buildings like our grandmothers did in 1956 to warrant such a day. Our heart ‘felt’ thanks must be directed Carling Black Label’s way because it’s through their ‘tireless’ efforts that we have April 24 as ‘Men’s Day’. A day for the man to do ‘real’ men deeds: braai, watch his favourate sports channel(s) and lastly and certainly not least drink his reward at the end of the day.

Sadly, that’s the image of a ‘real’ man in South Africa, if not the world, or at least that’s what a plethora of alcohol advertisements would have us believe. The marketers’ ability to create ads that toe the line on what will (or not) constitute or form part of the defining of a ‘real’ man taps into the politics of masculinity and macho-ness and how it’s asserted in many male circles. Because we live in a patriarchal structured society, there are unwritten ‘rules’ that ‘regulate’ how a man should conduct himself and one of them is that it’s expected that he must drink alcohol, have a feminine option at his disposal and possibly be a sports fanatic. Any conduct that doesn’t resonate or resemble the said patriarchal expectations is usually deemed to be unmanly, in other words lacking manhood. Since no person revels in being a pariah, some men crack under the pressure of societal expectation and ‘end up’ drinking just so they can fit. This occurs when alcohol consumption is used as means of socialization.

Those who don’t drink are frequently quizzed about their ‘normality’ because when you are in the company of those who drink and you don’t participate it threatens the ‘normality’ of the group’s conduct and make them ask uncomfortable questions about themselves and especially if they drink for the sake of the associate. Darkness is recognized through light. Former Sunday Times columnist, Dr Mohau Pheko, said the following of alcohol ads:”They choose gorgeous African men with muscles, preferably without shirts. Sweat pours down their chests, working class men hard at work. Then the picture changes to the end of the day when these hard-working men get a crate of beer.” Carling Black Label, which was voted the country’s loved beer in the Sunday Times’ Top Brands of 2009, has been the protagonist in this particular instance. There’s another interesting recent development, it’s the one that seems to associate and equate sophistication with a green coloured bottle. If you drink Heineken, Amstel, Peroni or Castle Light then you’re somewhat better than those brown bottle persuasions. These identities, and the conquest for the consumer to identify with them, are all well designed creations of marketers who know all too well how manipulate the insecurities of the male consumer.

Anyone who has seen Castle Milk Stout ads will no doubt have seen their approach to their market: African traditions. They always have these where a man who is able to marry the demands of tradition with those of modernity and that displays ‘true’ greatness which is conveniently complimented with a cold Stout. Where are the relevant links between a university graduate reciting (ancestral linage) izibhongo and the consuming of beer? In Hansa Pilsner’s latest advertisement we have a “Vuyo”, a ‘typical’ black man whose entrepreneurial undertakings make him a mogul overnight. He becomes so rich that even goes to the moon – a luxury afforded by few people. What’s to be made of this particular ad, that a Hansa can take you places? Dr Pheko further says, “Beer brands and advertising are influencing and creating distorted identities of what success looks like and how Africans in particular can experience upward mobility.”

It’s of grave importance that from a young age boys are taught how to conduct themselves in fashions that are appropriate for the understanding of themselves as men of the future. We live in a society of double standards are plentiful. In the event of marriage the woman is given advice, at times in a manner that reduces them to tears, on how to carry themselves in their marriage but we don’t see the same being done to man. Perhaps that’s where initiation schools come. But what about those who don’t subscribe to that particular practice, are they to be taught to be a ‘real’ man by Carling Black Label? Parents, particularly fathers ought to adopt a refreshed approach one that has little aggression in raising their boys. If your son wishes to be a dancer instead of being the next Lionel Messi, Bryn Habana or even Floyd Mayweather, support him. Fatherly approval or acknowledgment goes a long way in imbuing a son with self belief, reliance and acceptance and these are the necessary means, amongst many, with which to define a meaning of a man.

If we have young men who know how to care for themselves then we have better chance at being better fathers and husbands in future households. As ‘noble’ as Carling Black Label’s ‘Men’s Day’ may be, we must reject it out-rightly. There are more appropriate campaigns such as Brothers For Life and Metro’s Take A Boy To Work – which was held last month – that can be given the needed support and that will help raise better men for this country. The hangovers of society are too costly to the many people at the receiving end of alcohol consumption gone bad. Bright mind are swallowed by cemeteries too soon and others reduced to mere skeletons all because deadly disease preventing products remained unused in bedrooms after a heavy night of men who rewarded themselves at the end of the day. American emcee, Talib Kweli put it best when he said: “I raise my son well with no vindication of manhood necessary.” The unravelling of the labyrinth of manhood’s complexities can’t be left to the devices of alcohol advertisements. If that’s allowed to happen, then we will grow up forever thinking that ‘real’ men are the ones who April 24 is ‘reserved’ for.

felt too in the beginning, now you see the need to have a permanent column?

Looking forward to your comments and questions!

….To be continued

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