73. Watch your words.

I was supposed to write about human sacrifice today. As one does. But something else has been playing at the corners of my mind. Lessons. For all of us who write, in any shape or form.


I try to avoid the darker side of South Africa on my blog. And our dark side is pretty damn dark. But this little patch of darkness is fundamental to the points I want to make, so here goes.

South Africa is not a nice place to be a lesbian, particularly not a poor, black lesbian. I don’t think being gay is an easy thing anywhere. There’s a lot of prejudice out there. But South Africa has its own particularly nasty take on the issue. It’s called “corrective rape”. And it is very ugly indeed.

Ostensibly, the point of corrective rape is to turn a lesbian woman straight by gang-raping her. This is not only a phenomenally stupid concept, it’s also just an outright lie. These young women are often killed at the same time. No-one is trying to “fix” anything. This is just pure hate.

A young woman called Duduzile Zozo was killed like this a few weeks ago. I won’t go into the details, but they were horrific.

Enter the stars of the post. Their names don’t really matter. What matters is that one fine, upstanding young man put a status update on his Facebook page. “I propose”, he said, “correctional rape and sterilization for any white person who twerks.” Nice. Twerking, by the way, is apparently the correct term for booty shaking.

Yes. It has a name now.

Yes. It has a name now.

This is not a very good joke. It is callous, insensitive and juvenile. But it’s not at all unusual. The internet is full of this kind of stuff. Something about the perceived anonymity and the immediate reaction generated by stuff like this turns otherwise (I’m sure) perfectly pleasant and presentable people into flaming assholes.

Our flaming asshole was not alone. Enter flaming asshole #2.  “I think,” he replied, “rape can be quite fun if executed in a romantic manner. Like saying ‘I love you’ before you slip a roofie in her Earl Grey tea.”

Like I say, the internet is full of this stuff. But this case was special. These were no ordinary flaming assholes. These flaming assholes were writers for FHM magazine.

I think it's about fabric allergies.

I think it’s about fabric allergies.

FHM, if you don’t have it in your own country, is one of “those” magazines. It’s a men’s magazine. It’s not Playboy. There’s no actual nudity or anything. But there are plenty of photo shoots of women with their yayas out. These women are asked enlightening questions like “If you had to have sex with another woman, which of your fellow models would it be”. The guys at FHM are not gender activists, is what I’m saying.

When the story broke, the flaming assholes were immediately identified as FHM writers. And that meant that FHM had to respond. A magazine that specialises in asking young women about their sex-lives before asking them to get their yayas out simply cannot afford to sit by when they find themselves at the centre of a gender rights storm. The flaming assholes were suspended.

A man with not one, but two flaming assholes. Thank you, internet!

A man with not one, but two flaming assholes. Thank you, internet!

So there’s lesson number one. Just because no-one is paying you, or even reading you, doesn’t mean you haven’t been published. You have. If it’s on Facebook, or Twitter, or Tumblr, or pretty much anywhere, really, it’s out there. And you can’t take it back. If there’s a piper to be paid, you can’t get out of it by claiming it was just for you and your friends. You’re a published writer now. You stopped owning your words the moment you sent them out into the ether, and they started owning you. Choose them a little more wisely than these flaming assholes did.

The instant public outcry must have scared the hell out of them. As must their suspension. And so, our fiery pair did the only thing they could do. They apologised. Unreservedly.

“Dear South Africa” they said. “We apologize sincerely for our distasteful and insensitive comments and would especially like to extend our apologies to anyone who has ever gone through the horror of rape. There is little excuse for our words and the careless manner in which they were delivered. We do not condone any form of violence against women, or against anyone for that matter.”

So far, so good.

So far, so good.

They went on for a bit in the same vein, but that was it. They were sorry. Done. South Africa shook its head, mumbled “flaming assholes” and turned to go off in search of the next big issue.

But then, as South Africa reached out to open the door, there was a loud “Ahem”.

South Africa turned slowly around. And there, with their hands on their hips and their lips pursed, stood the flaming assholes. Oops. Maybe I jumped the gun on that “unreservedly”  thing. They raised a finger in the air and started to wag it.

Now it's your turn to be sorry.

Now it’s your turn to be sorry.

“The media madness that was unleashed over the posting of our private – and do keep in mind that it was private, with all Facebook privacy settings set to ‘friends only’ – conversation was surreal in the sense that it received a lot more attention, social media reach and established media buzz than actual cases of rape. We struggle to recall quite as much of a public outcry over the Zozo case itself – Twitter didn’t rage and Gareth Cliff (a popular and controversial DJ) hardly made wisecracks about it. And that is an issue we cannot help but raise.”

They went on. For ages. You can read the rest here. It was one of the most breathtakingly stupid things I’d ever seen. By the time they were done, you would have sworn they were misunderstood gender activists themselves, and we were all personally responsible for the scourge of corrective rape.

The arrogance of it was simply astounding. Which leads me to lesson number two. Words are powerful things. For people who write well (and these guys must write well. FHM might not be the darling of the women’s liberation movement, but it is well written and upmarket.) it’s easy to be misled by that power.

People listen to what they say. They follow their advice. They feel the way they want them to feel. And do the things they want them to do. To watch a good spin doctor at work (and we have some doozies out here) is to watch a master magician at work. They can turn a perpetrator into a victim, a thief into Robin Hood, and they must feel like gods.

This next house I want to show you is very cheap to heat and is completely free of pests!

This next house I want to show you is very cheap to heat and is completely free of pests!

But here’s the thing. You can start a war with words. And you can finish one, too. But in between, there’s a patch where no-one can hear you because of all the shooting. Spin doctors can do amazing things, but they cannot perform miracles. Your words can only take you so far.

And besides, looking at the mawkishness and self-importance of their “apology”, our flaming assholes weren’t nearly as good with words as they thought they were.

And that mawkishness and self-importance lead me to the final lesson I learnt from these flaming assholes. It sounds like a stupid one. A joke. It’s not. It is a deep and profound. It can change your life and the lives of those around you. It makes the world a better place.

Don’t, the lesson goes, be a dick.

Those flaming assholes know that now. They don’t have jobs any more.

43 thoughts on “73. Watch your words.

  1. reocochran says:

    I am glad you are helping us to be more aware. I am saddened to see magazines, along with a lot of varieties of media still stuck in some time warp. Gay people are people, it is not right to think they deserve any less than anyone else. I just wrote on “40 is the new 13” blog that until all people are treated equally, there is no civilization. I am sure this is someone else’s thoughts too, but I am appalled at the lack of love towards each other, the lack of humanity is sickening in this story you mentioned.

  2. mariekeates says:

    Interesting just what rampant, unfettered bigotry can lead to! And there was me thinking all the political correctness here was madness!

  3. Lyn says:

    Those FAH’s are one of the reasons Facebook has such a bad reputation for not policing illegal or reprehensible behaviour. They (Facebook) are just as culpable as those foul minded, low-life scum.

    • 23thorns says:

      I don’t know. In South Africa, behaviour like this tends to be self regulating. These two morons are now unemployed and have been publicly vilified. And others have seen the outcome. Hopefully, a lesson has been learned. ’til next time.

  4. ksbeth says:

    great post – sad story on many levels

  5. pfstare says:

    Wow, well said indeed.

  6. Jocelyn Hers says:

    Thank you. The other scary, scary, thing is that those doubledyed pieces of cameldung have not actually changed their views at all. They will just be more careful about where they air them.

  7. Arkenaten says:

    Maybe its the wrong attitude to have but this is why I gave up reading all newspapers and watching the news.
    South Africa has some of the wold’s Prime Arseholes and reading of their exploits, be they these particular dickheads or, Zuma, or Ju Ju eventually wears one down.

    I really have no answer for this type of attitude from people like this.
    They are beyond reprehensible.

    • 23thorns says:

      I listen to 702, but every few weeks I have to turn it off for a week or two. It all just gets to be too much.

      • Arkenaten says:

        I know what you mean!When I worked in a shop in Jo’berg my business partner and I used to listen to John Robie. After half an hour we would be snapping off the heads of our customers!
        Eventually we realised what it was doing to our mental state and decided to ditch the radio and get a CD player!

  8. albertine says:

    Thank you Mr 23thorns, for your passion, but also for the wise words about what ‘publication’ is, and means.

  9. Your flaming dicks sound like close personal friends of our local flaming dick here in Australia, Kyle Sandilands. Same shit different day I’m sad to say but he’s a radio jock. Again, words have power, incredible power in this world of globalisation and instant publishing. At least before the internet things had to be run past an editor.

    • Lyn says:

      Someone should eviscerate and castrate Mr. Sandilands with a very large, very blunt knife. He is the lowest of the low. Why the heck they’d want him to be part of “Australia’s Got Talent” is beyond me. It wouldn’t matter who else was a judge on the show, the fact that he is there is enough for me never to watch the show again.

    • 23thorns says:

      I’m curious. Your Mr Sandilands got himself a bit of a reaction. I’ll have to go and check him out.

  10. rod says:

    I left a long reply, was told to log on, did so, and my reply disappeared. Just so you know.

  11. rod says:

    First class post.

    It seems to me that ‘correctional rape’ is just an excuse for rape.
    As is the so-called belief that having sex with a virgin can cure a man of aids.

    As for words, I have lost count of the number of people who have apologized unreservedly. If the apology is meant, then the original words were not. But they were.

    I have also lost count of the number of people who claim that what they said or wrote was ‘taken out of context’. What they said or wrote was usually a statement complete in itself, which had a meaning regardless of context.

    • 23thorns says:

      Yup, the “out of context” thing is very popular round here. It’s just shorthand for “No. No I won’t be taking any responsibility for that today.”

  12. narf77 says:

    1. Does Mrs 23Thorns know what you are reading while she is away?
    2. Assholes fester away in packs in the back rooms of hack magazines, bolstering each others sick endeavours whilst photoshopping the ya-ya’s out of womens perception of themselves.
    3. There are good sides and bad sides to everything. Facebook, twitter etc. allow the world to see what you are putting out there. If you put it out there…someone will see and they just might not like it.
    4. It doesn’t take much to get society to forget its moral foundations when they are fast being eroded by a steady diet of garbage flowing through us all via social media and the media in general. I wonder how fast Hitler would have been able to stir up the masses if he had everything that we have available to us these days…
    5. Nature and Insurance companies hedge their bets against dicks.
    Thus endeth the sermon.

    • 23thorns says:

      People have always done stupid and imprudent things. The internet has just given them the opportunity to do so on a truly grand scale.

      • narf77 says:

        And it has given us the opportunity to hunt them down, isolate them and give them the derision (and the sack) like they deserve.

  13. sisteranan says:

    May i put a bid in on the self-heating house? It looks remarkably easy to clean.

  14. Hank. says:

    I so enjoy getting a sense of one family’s South Africa through your blog and I’m delighted you’re writing every day. I hope posting has become a firmly entrenched habit by Day 100–sort of like an old, familiar bunion–and you keep going with it!

    Another good post. It’s interesting how seldom one hears a simple apology, a true acknowledgement of fault. Here in the U.S. we’re brilliant at non-apologies, a faint “sorry” if absolutely and positively required, followed immediately by a string of reasons why the perpetrator is actually the victim. It’s the Twinkie Defense for everyday use. Trayvon Martin’s death in Florida is a manifestation of this “stand your ground” mentality. Martin’s killer shares a mindset common to all of us at one time or another, personified most by the very young who do something wrong and get caught: such children know they’ve done wrong but are angered by the discovery of their misdeeds, the circumstances of their crime, and the blame they get for it. There’s little chance for self-reflection or personal impact in shame channeled outward into anger.

    Change seems so difficult for us: I’ve found that deep, heartfelt apology goes more towards shaping a person’s fiber and soul than any other experience and this may be why we avoid it so assiduously.

    Or maybe I’m wrong. But it’s certainly not my fault! I wasn’t breastfed as an infant.

    • 23thorns says:

      Somehow, the official “media sorry” has become a thing. If a famous person screws up, they need to put on their game faces, get themselves out there and be very publically sorry.
      For myself, I always thought of being sorry as something that you felt, not that you said.

  15. Buzzwordz says:

    Bravo! That was so great I am awarding you a new thorn! Henceforth you shall be known as ’24 Thorns’.

  16. OK I have to ask. Why give your attention to the “flaming assholes” or any publication that doesn’t support you?

  17. Ashana M says:

    Great advice. Thanks.

  18. chowanyau says:

    It is extremely disturbing that rape and sexual abuse of girls and women is so rampant in S. Africa and particularly that those two flaming dicks thought their ‘joke’ was acceptable. I’m sure if they were ganged raped they wouldn’t find it so amusing.

    Thank you for using the power of words to highlight these issues. You say you try to avoid writing about the dark side of your country but I would love to learn more. I guess Aids is still a huge problem. Africa is a beautiful continent it is a tragedy it is so blighted by conflict and abuse of human rights.

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