It doesn’t all need to be doom and gloom

by Sarah-Leah Pimentel

“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” Oscar Wilde made this statement in an 1899 essay. This assertation gives us insight into Wilde’s desire to recreate reality and permeate it with greater beauty than we might otherwise encounter in our everyday realities. It perhaps points to an idealism of a bygone age.

Just over 100 years later, I suspect, we’ve become far more cynical. We’d much rather state that art imitates life. Much of what we see in paintings, sculpture, film, and literature today, points to the disillusion of our age. A case in point is Collision, a new South African film that recently dropped on Netflix.

Without giving away the story, it paints a grim picture of Johannesburg, where all of the key characters are hustling to make things better for themselves and their families. Whether it’s running a spaza shop or gunning for the CEO position of a large corporation, none of the characters — barring the mandatory bad guy of the story — start out with an evil intent. Unfortunately, human weakness gets in the way. One character blames BEE as the reason for not getting a top job. Another blames foreigners for his troubles. A third character ignores an inner feeling of unease on the promise of making an extra buck.

In the end, these stories all conflate, and the characters embark on a collision-course finale in the streets of Braamfontein in which there are no winners. Everyone loses. It’s a pretty hopeless and depressing ending.

But if art indeed imitates life, then the filmmakers’ vision of the South African reality can be summarized under these key themes: corruption, racism, xenophobia, violent crime. Everyone is in it for themselves and there is no redemption.

Reflecting on the film, it occurred to me that as South Africans, we’re more likely to see our hopelessness than the many examples we have seen over the last year when citizens from all walks of life filled the leadership void and come together to help one another – in the aftermath of last year’s July riots, the recent floods in Kwazulu-Natal, community support for feeding schemes to help those hardest hit by the COVID-19 lockdowns and still suffering its effects.

How can we change our national narrative and attitudes? Especially when we feel we have plunged into a darkness from which we cannot emerge?

As a media analyst, I’m always struck by how each generation speaks about its present troubles with an “end of days” fatalism. Even the Old Testament prophets awaited anxiously for the Messiah, because surely, their situation could not get any worse. In the last 2,000 years of history there has been social upheaval, war, sickness, famine. And it continues in every age.

That does not mean that we should succumb to despair. Inside the heart of every person there is an eternal hope that there is something better on the horizon. Isaiah encouraged the Israelites: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God”. (41.10)

Recently, the Church celebrated Corpus Christi. It is a reminder that the Body of Christ is among us. It was broken once and for all on the Cross. But, Jesus did not remain in the grave. God raised him from the dead, showing the way for all who believe in him. That is our salvation, our ultimate hope — Christ is here. In the fullness of time, the troubles of our present age have already been overcome. We have already reached the promised land.

This is the hope that we are called to share in the world. In a world of hopelessness, where art depicts a dismal reality, what new reality can we share with others? As citizens from all walks of life, we have the creative power to find the solutions to put into motion a new narrative that can change the collision course along which we seem to be headed.

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