I met my friend S on the other side of his microphone. He was hosting a show on a “college” radio station and was interviewing me about the local music scene. In between breaks, we got to talking about ourselves and I was completely blown away by his experience of bands and his overwhelming encyclopaedic knowledge of music. He had watched a number of massive rock acts of the 80s and 90s while he lived in England. The music he put on that day was eclectic, underground, different. S belonged behind that mic; even if his talent was only know to a handful of listeners.
He recently found himself in Cape Town working as a producer for a show on a local talk radio station. He had the second most popular show. Until the media brought him down – in particular, his own media. He apparently wrote something in a tweet which his company took offence to and then proceeded to dig a deeper grave through a blog post entitled “Radio killed the, well…radio”. He should know; he works for radio. And I cannot say for sure, but I am almost certain that the boy behind the mic at the college radio station had changed considerably. He was no longer using his encyclopaedic knowledge of music or suggesting songs from the forefront of the underground scene.
He lost his job.
At University we are given so much critical and intellectual power, forced to question and probe every aspect of this world. The Bachelor degree we get at the end is not so much about that fact that we covered Foucault, or were introduced to the Constitution, or could recite the scientific names of a hundred species of insect; the degree was more about how we questioned what we were taught, how we argued against the messages we were told.
And then comes the real world and suddenly we are told to obey, to not think, to not question or express opinions. We are transformed from masters of our own minds, to cogs in the machine, dog’s bodies. We become masters of the alt c, alt v world. It makes me think, why bother? Scrape through that bachelors degree, you won’t really be expected to apply your mind in the real world. At University they should merely make you arrive at nine, do some copy pasting, and then leave at five. You’ll be better equipped for the crushing drudgery of working life.
After three months at my first job I thought that I would go mad. I was completely disillusioned by the repetition and boredom of my work, which involved sending hundreds of e-mails. I had toiled through a Master’s, suffered the stress of two years, learned the entire Land Reform system inside out, battled with game theory and wrote close to fifty thousand words in the most critical and all-absorbing way, just to send e-mails. More than anything, it made me angry. Not because I felt like I deserved more, but I resented the fact that there is no space for my own creativity, that all that hard won knowledge was slowly going down the proverbial drain. And I couldn’t question it, I couldn’t speak up.
After two years I went back to the classroom. When people ask me why, I say something like, “I wanted to change my career path,” or, “I got some inheritance so thought that I would study further.” The real truth is that I was disillusioned by working, I had come to despise the money-hungry environmental sector and I really wanted to do something where I could apply my brain. It took me a few weeks to be able to really think again but it has been therapeutic to have had this year of time-out.
I used those excuses because I feel really terrible about my cynicism, which is strengthened by stories like S’s. What happened to him is indicative of the conformity and meekness that is expected of you in the working world. His experience of music mirrors that of life; radio playlists are not experimental, critical or inspiring. Popular radio stations have “the same shit, just a different day” kind of mentality which I despise.
Which is ironic really, when one looks back on where music came from. The really good music acts came from a place where they too felt despondent, where they wanted something different from life. Ozzy Osbourne, Nirvana, Metallica, even fucking U2, wanted to say something about this world. What they were fighting against, mass conformity and mendacity, is killing the very thing that they created in the first place – great music. If you want to do something, say something or play something different (real, progressive, liberated), you have to do it at university, or at an underground station.
What do you earn when you try to do something different – nothing or barely anything. No one pays for creativity. And this is the proverbial drain of the real world.