the year of living dangerously, redux.
April 12, 2010
My favorite movie is The Year of Living Dangerously. It is based on the book by Australian author C.J. Koch and stars Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver, and Linda Hunt won an Academy Award for playing Billy Kwan, the first (maybe still only?) time that a woman won an Oscar for playing a man. It is about an Australian journalist who arrives in Sukarno-era Jakarta as his first foreign assignment and his attempts to make a name for himself as the country inevitably slides towards chaos. In the early- and mid-1960s, Indonesia was the world hot-spot that Vietnam would become just a few years later, and Peter Weir (same guy who directed Gallipoli) really does an amazing job of recreating the hectic nature of the time. I saw the movie for the first time when I was 15. After watching it, I wanted to become a journalist, go on some dangerous and fantastic foreign assignment, become famous and well-respected for my news dispatches from the heart of the violence, and basically be a modern-day version of Guy Hamilton, ABS news. If I could have Guy’s awesome Australian accent too, well… all the better.
But that world doesn’t exist anymore. Nowadays the global hot-spots aren’t in the sultry Far East, they’re in the hot, dry not nearly as exotic Middle East. Newspapers and wire services don’t bother to pay for foreign correspondents, they rely on the AP. Even if the idea of a foreign correspondent did still exist, it wouldn’t matter, because newspapers are disappearing on a daily basis. The dream I have had since I was 15 years old not only can never happen, it could never happen – journalism was dying before I even began to dream about becoming a foreign correspondent, and by the time I got to college journalism was like a degenerate gambler with a Russian mob contract out on his head – it wasn’t a question of if, just when it was going to be discovered face down, two holes in the back of its head.
Recently, the news coming out of South Africa has been extremely disturbing – the murder of (previously mentioned) Eugene Terre’Blanche, the seemingly un-checked rise of Julius Malema (as a brief aside – how is it possible that Malema has risen so quickly and without anyone, not even his own boss, standing up to him? Please, if you can find a news article that praises this man, send it to me. I have yet to read anything that suggests he is anything but bad for South Africa. How is it possible that not one person likes this man but he is still such a public figure?), the fascination that he and Jacob Zuma appear to have with Zimbabwe (a failed country, no matter what lens one uses to examine it), all of these things suggest that the social situation in South Africa is worsening, not getting better. These things have caused me to question my decision to move there on several occasions.
I’ve flip-flopped once already – even if the crime and violence within the country is not as bad as it’s made out to be, it certainly is an issue. Even if I never encounter anyone suffering from HIV or AIDS, one in eight South Africans is infected. All of these things played on my fears and caused me to change my mind. I decided to go to Scotland, instead – safe, healthy (relatively, I suppose), far from the murders and muggings and AIDS and racism (from all sides, as figures like Terre’Blanche and Malema so appropriately illustrate) of South Africa. It was only after months of reflection, and the realization that I would never have forgiven myself for letting fear control my life, that I changed my mind, again, and committed to South Africa.
That was four months ago. It is only today that I realize why I feel so attracted to South Africa, why I am willing to run the risks that living as a white person in present-day South Africa presents.
I am moving to South Africa because I need to have my own year of living dangerously. My dream was impossible from the moment I dreamt it. Or so I thought.
I would be lying if I said that I’m not a little apprehensive about what could happen in South Africa. But I wouldn’t be telling the whole truth if I didn’t admit that, at least to some degree, it is that feeling of apprehension that attracts me to the place.