The Pinkshirts and the Redshirts

David Bullard on life in the two utopias of Barbieland and Jujuland


I almost went to see ‘Oppenheimer’ last week. I thought a good movie about the possibility of global destruction would cheer me up immensely and take my mind off the appalling winter weather we have been getting in the Western Cape of late. I can’t remember a winter like it in the ten years I’ve been living here. Day after day of rain, grey skies and cold weather. The outside temperature, as measured on the car, was 7 degrees centigrade one morning which, admittedly, is not as cold as Joburg at this time of year but is still far too chilly, particularly when load shedding means you can’t use any heating. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

So I thought a movie might be a good idea but was rather put off the idea of Oppenheimer when I read reviews that said the soundtrack was deafening and drowned out much of the dialogue. You might think that the director would have noticed that in the post editing/pre release stage of the movie but maybe he didn’t think much of the dialogue anyway and thought that the soundtrack was doing a good job drowning it out. No wonder the script writers are on strike with that sort of attitude.

The other reservation I had is that Oppenheimer is three hours long and I’m not sure my bladder in winter can cope with such a challenge. This is why I now book an aisle seat at the movies so I can slip out without climbing over fellow cinema goers should the need arise. But then I was struck with the thought that my call of nature might occur during a crucial dramatic point in the action. In which case I may never know why the atomic bomb had been developed in the first place or why dropping it on a couple of unsuspecting Japanese cities was so newsworthy.

So I decided to go and see ‘Barbie’ instead and was quite happy to endure the inevitable mockery that would follow.

The last movie I saw at a cinema complex was probably back in 2017/18 and it was ‘Blade Runner 2049’ which was the sequel to the original 1982 ‘Blade Runner’, one of my all time favourite movies directed by Ridley Scott. For my money the original is miles better if only for the Vangelis soundtrack and the final Rutger Hauer ‘time to die’ scene on the roof in the pouring rain.

However, the link between the last movie I saw about six years ago and the latest movie is that Ryan Gosling was the lead man in both.

Just in case you’re all about to rush off to see ‘Barbie’ I won’t spoil it by giving away the complex plot other than to tell you that it is set in two locations. The one is ‘Barbieland’ where everything is perfect and there’s no patriarchy, toxic masculinity, sexism, racism or any other sort of ‘ism’ and the other is the ‘real world’ where there’s plenty of all that sort of stuff, plus some. The Barbie doll character played by the gorgeous Margot Robbie suddenly starts experiencing human like feelings such as anxiety and has to leave the perfect Barbieland to visit the real world to sort the problem out.

The perfect male doll Ken, who only exists because of Barbie, stows away and comes along with her only to discover the joys of the patriarchy in the real world which he then brings back to Barbieland in an attempt to tip the power balance from the Barbies to the Kens. That’s quite enough spoilers for now.

Watching news reports of the EFF’s 10th birthday celebrations this past weekend I couldn’t help being struck by the similarity between the FNB stadium and Barbieland. Admittedly the colour scheme was slightly different but the overall (no pun intended) effect of all those red onesie clad figures at the stadium wasn’t much different from the overwhelming pinkness of Barbieland. And Juju is the perfect political Barbie if you think about it, albeit a tad more thuggish.

In JujuLand everything is perfect. Nobody really needs to work unless they want to because everything will be free and available in abundance. Rather like Barbieland, the Jujus will live in dream homes, drive beautiful cars, have plenty of food and drink and there will be no crime. Every day will be sunny and the beaches will always be welcoming, even if they do contain a smattering of former DA voting Kens.

The problem with JujuLand though, as with Barbieland, is that it does not and cannot possibly exist.

Juju’s promise of land expropriation without compensation and the nationalisation of mines, banks and other strategic sectors of the economy must sound very tempting to the economically ignorant residents of JujuLand but the real world always bursts through the door and shatters these fantasies, as it does in Barbieland. In the real world there is nothing for free, the magic money tree doesn’t exist and economies need other country’s economies to survive in a globally competitive world. Governments are generally useless at running anything (as we have learnt to our cost in SA) so nationalising strategic sectors of the economy is merely a cover for cadre enrichment.

Which is presumably why the idea is so attractive to Juju.

The real world does nasty things, such as report that the South African Police Service’s Crime Intelligence second in command was seen schmoozing at the EFF gala celebrations in JujuLand with self confessed tobacco smuggler Adriano Mazzoti (a generous sponsor of JujuLand). In the words of Public Interest South Africa chair, Tebogo Khaas

"In light of [a] recent ruling by the SCA confirming financial ties between Julius Malema, leader of the EFF, and the corruption at the now-defunct VBS bank, this association is a painful reminder for the victims of VBS corruption of the unbridled impunity of powerful politicians, businessmen, BEE askaris and tenderpreneurs,"

The South African Revenue Service has also taken a lot of interest in the financial affairs of Juju but that’s about as far as things have gone. The unexplained sudden wealth of this “son of the soil” and his millionaire lifestyle remains an enigma. In JujuLand, as in Barbieland, there are obviously questions that you don’t even ask if you know what’s good for you.

I have previously expressed the view that it seems extraordinary that a political party with so many questions of probity hanging over it should be allowed to field members of parliament and feed itself from the public purse. But that’s a real world issue and in JujuLand none of this matters. Whether that will still be the case after the 2024 elections remains to be seen. But rather like Barbieland, the allure of JujuLand cannot be denied to voters and that ought to give us all sleepless nights.


While I’m on the subject of movies a few observations. In the US, according to a recent newspaper report, the number of people going to movie houses has halved in the past ten years. This is hardly surprising. My ticket for ‘Barbie’ cost almost the same amount as an entire month's subscription to Netflix. If I am in a cinema I can’t drink or smoke or talk but if I’m in front of my Samsung flat screen TV I can do all of those things. Plus I can pause the movie if I need a break.

There are very few movies that really need a big screen and, like many people I suspect, I am more than happy to watch a movie on a decent sized TV screen. So running a chain of movie houses is a mug’s game these days.

The screenwriters and actors strike in Hollywood also seems a bit pointless, although it must be worrying a few studios. If you can replicate Margot Robbie using artificial intelligence (AI) I’m probably not going to even notice. If you can do it in 3D then so much the better. The reality is that AI can almost certainly replace script writers and actors so the strike is going to prove futile. In fact, it may even tempt studios to go ahead and produce movies with stolen images and stolen voices but are the audience really going to care? Looking on the bright side though it would cost a lot less to cast a movie with an AI computer generated Tom Cruise or any of the Hollywood glitterati. Plus we could do away with the pretentious Oscar awards and the price of property would plummet in Los Angeles. What’s not to like?