What part does desirability politics play in SA viral stars making it?
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When it comes to becoming a viral sensation in South Africa, 15 minutes of fame can quickly turn into a real career or elevate your career if played right.
Unlike other countries, a viral moment can go from being an internet sensation to making TV appearances, being interviewed by major news outlets, and getting bookings for events.
We’ve seen it happen multiple times from the “John Vuli Gate” girls to Mzansi bullying DJ Maphorisa to making “Phoyisa” with Qwesta Kufet – after a video of him went viral, of him rapping over a different amapiano beat.
Mostly recently, Uncle Waffles, real name Lungelihle Zwane, gained the attention of the nation during one of her DJing sets, and even gained international attention, along with a follow on Instagram from the Champagne Papi himself, Drake.
Going from being a relatively unknown figure in the DJing scene to the general public, she has been called on to play sets with established DJs, such as DBN Gogo, and landed herself a gig at Rockets Bryanston this Sunday.
However, while it’s great to see another women enter the male-dominated space of entertaining the crowds, it has become clear that part of her quick rise in popularity has to do with desirability politics, specifically when it came to comments made from cisgender heterosexual men online.
As described by author Da'Shaun Harrison, in their piece “Desirability: Do You Really Love Fat People When You Can’t Even See Us Beyond the Political”, they define desirability politics as “the methodology through which the sovereignty of those deemed (conventionally) attractive/beautiful/arousing is determined.
“Put another way, the politics of desire labels that which determine who gains and holds both social and structural power through the affairs of sensuality often predicated on anti-Blackness, anti-fatness, (trans)misogyny, cissexism, queer-antagonism, and all other structural violence,” writes Harrison.
And looking at the way people treated the Uncle Waffles’ dancing while DJing video, compared to Olwee aka Ms Party, after a video was posted amid people talking about her, it's clear that desirable has a part to play in her sudden accession.
Uncle Waffles is conventionally attractive, sitting on the lighter end of the skin colour spectrum and is thin.
“People are burning 😳” pic.twitter.com/H5JRg8sXHX— Waffles (@unclewaffffles) October 16, 2021
Now, these aren’t inherently bad things at all.
However, physical aspects, coupled with her being a woman, does give her a leg up when it comes to navigating industries, in a society where these things will not only elevate you – but open doors, too.
After all, many of the people behind these doors are cishet men, who either consciously or unconsciously make a decision based on whether or not they view that person as desirable.
Speaking about the drama around his video and people suggesting that Olwee was copying Uncle Waffles, Ms Party explained: “The whole thing is essentially about desirability because I've been DJing, I've been dancing on stage, everyone who comes to my gigs knows that ... I just felt like all of a sudden I'm being turned into someone who's copying people as a queer man.
“And, at this point, it's now people erasing the fact that I was doing it long before everyone was doing it.
“I have been DJing and dancing since the very beginning of my career, in 2011/ 2012.”
He continued: “It's just that the only documented thing I have is from 2013/2014, when I was on ’Live Amp’. And, at this point, when I went onto ’Live Amp’, you know, that was the first time people actually saw it outside of the queer community.
“So you're looking at nine years ago when I did this.
“I have absolutely no issues with what Uncle Waffles is doing. My issue was that I was now sitting in a place where I was being erased.
“And what was going to happen is that it was going to follow me for the rest of my career, that I have now copied this girl, when I've been doing this for years and I don't think she's copying me, she's vibing with the music.”
Furthermore, sharing that while he is experiencing greater success in the DJing space as of late, the reason only being that the climate around queer acceptance has changed and he can now reap the fruits of the labour.
Since, as a society, it’s okay to support queer people, Olwee has not only been able to headline gigs next to major acts such as DJ Maphorisa, but to have his song “King X Queens” produced with the likes of Lady Du.
And it is no fault of Uncle Waffles that these opportunities are coming to her after her viral moment, since many talented people's breakthrough comes from being at the right place and time. The stars were aligned for her.
However, her appearance, and how that is perceived by people, does play a part in how she is being received.
Living in a society where most industries are run by cishet men, if you do tick certain boxes that are perceived as desirable to them, such as being light-skinned, being conventionally attractive and being thin, it also plays a huge part in how the world will treat you when a moment such as hers occurs.
Entertainment isn’t the only industry where what is viewed as desirable guarantees doors will open for you.
As previously mentioned, the “John Vuli Gate” girls are another example of how desirability played a part in their 15 minutes being extended.
While they were all the City Girls of the moment the “lead” dancer gained most of the attention and, looking back, she also ticked many of those boxes mentioned about Uncle Waffles.
It is unfortunate that, when it comes to women, specifically Black women, all these factors play a part in how they can move in spaces, due to the male gaze having so much influence and power over opportunities.
Desirability politics isn’t going anywhere any time soon, but it’s good to look at how much it influences decision-making in society.