Closed community. Image: Supplied
The new SABC The Estate series is part of a rich pop culture tradition of stories about elite enclaves trying to keep crime out, only to find savagery within their high walls.
This story was first published on New framework.
In the first episode of The domain, a new SABC 3 telenovela, viewers get a glimpse into everyday life behind the “iron gates” of the gated community of Echelon.
Ambitious entrepreneur Solumuzi Phakathwayo (played by Sdumo Mtshali) wakes up in his lavish family home and goes for a jog through the immaculately tended streets of a high-tech oasis of wealth and tranquility. But this romance is interrupted by an awkward encounter with the elder Shadrack Mokobane (played by Don Mlangeni Nawa), one of the ground staff from the neighboring township of Thembalethu. A decade earlier, Phakathwayo organized an agreement which resulted in the construction of the estate on land owned by the community of Mokobane.
The guard on the ground is suspicious and resentful of the young man, staring at him as he shouts a salute as he walks past. This brief interaction highlights the class tensions that underlie elitist and secure spaces like Echelon. Using the soap opera format of family dramas and terrible secrets, The domain directly explores sensitive issues such as land dispossession.
The opening scenes show protesters being abused by security personnel, such as the infamous Red Ants, employees of a private South African security and deportation service company who often use force and excessive violence to remove impoverished people from land or buildings. The protest concerns the removal of the graves. It alludes to an actual incident in Dainfern, one of the most exclusive gated communities in the country. As noted by urban researcher Renugan Raidoo in his contribution to Johannesburg anxious, Dainfern unearthed more than 300 graves and dumped the bodies in flooded mass graves.
Fantasies and closed realities
Closed estates are important in South Africa. A general fear of crime and violence, which often follows entrenched race and class lines, means that fortress architecture is common across the country, from buildings with controlled access to road closures in the suburbs.
But the so-called lifestyle areas are specifically marketed to the wealthy. The perception that public spaces are too dangerous has been fueled by rhetoric from politicians and moral panics from the media about crime and disorder. This makes the idea of a 24/7 armed guard suburban life very appealing to those who can afford it. These closed domains are marketed not only on fear, but also on the desire for a planned and controlled life. The “eco-domains” are presented as a return to bucolic nature, while the golf courses are portrayed as havens of leisure. They are promoted through glossy ads, Instagram influencers, and lifestyle TV shows, which offer indirect looks at the “fabulous homes of the rich”.
As a global phenomenon, fortified enclaves are isolated but still dependent on society at large, as evidenced by the way their maintenance relies on an impoverished workforce of security guards and domestic workers. A movie like The Zona (2007), located in a closed enclave in Mexico City, shows how the security architecture, constant surveillance and strict barriers between the haves and have-nots are of global concern.
These spaces breed fear, elitism and hostility towards foreigners. As Executive Director of UN-Habitat, Joan Clos mentionned in 2014, instead of enhancing security, they intensify racial and class disparities and fuel social distancing. “The result is that the urban model becomes more segregated, more differentiated. It is not socially admirable or economically productive… The ideal city is not one with gated communities, security cameras, a futuristic scene of Blade runner, dark and dramatic, with deep unhappiness… We must at least build a city where happiness is possible and where public space is really for everyone, ”he said.
Closed domains also reveal a gap between airbrushed fantasies of PR marketers and a more chaotic tummy. Despite their solid reputation, estates can also be places of crime and mayhem. A video of a street brawl in Joburg’s Kyalami estate became a viral sensation in 2020. Meanwhile, there has been many case houses in the KwaZulu-Natal estates being used to manufacture and distribute heroin and Mandrax.
Former athlete Oscar Pistorius killed Reeva Steenkamp in the Silver Woods Country Estate in 2013. Henri van Breda murdered his parents and brother in the De Zalze Golf Estate in 2015. These perpetrators both claimed that intruders were involved, using fear of crime to judge legitimize their brutal acts of violence. They also hinted that these imaginary abusers were black men, in particular. It shows how South African racial and segregationist fears and psychopathologies overlap with the security paranoia of fortified communities.
The enclosed estates are marketed as dreamlike pleasure domes, which allow residents to live in a utopian present of constant comfort and security. In a 2018 Top of the poster functionality On the 250 million rand home of developer Douw Steyn and his wife Carolyn, the centerpiece of the Steyn City estate, the viewer is whisked inside their gigantic villa, whose kitschy style rivals one of the Saddam Hussein’s palaces. While recluse Douw does not appear on camera, Carolyn explains how this vast estate encourages a sense of community while being interviewed on a golf course that is completely devoid of people. The voiceover describes how “every room in the villa is like a movie set”, with the owners as the protagonists.
Lifestyle magazine Top of the poster presented this grandiose egocentricity as a goal to aspire to. In contrast, filmmakers and writers have long pondered the dark side of life in security enclaves.
Since the 1970s, there has been a marked trend towards the construction of landlocked spaces, from shopping centers to corporate office parks. Like historian Steve Macek said, a growing cultural fear of urban spaces encouraged him. Conservative politicians and the mass media have stoked moral panic over street crime and general disorder, portraying walled suburbs as the only refuge from murderous urban centers.
Hollywood films have played a major role in building this perception. Vigilance films such as the Death wish The series (1974-1994) showed cities as lawless wasteland full of street punks and savage killers. In the 1980s, a new kind of “yuppie horror” film, like that of Martin Scorsese After hours (1985), focused on white collar workers having to flee towns invaded by the “dangerous working classes”.
For righties such as science fiction writers Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, closed spaces were a way for gifted elites to thrive. Their book Loyalty oath (1981) is about the creation of a neo-feudal development called Todos Santos, built in a future Los Angeles plagued by crime. The authors, who would later become advisers to the Ronald Reagan militarist administration, expressed the right-wing’s dream to fall back on “”armed country clubs», Fortified against people perceived as their social inferiors.
More subversive creators have questioned the social cost of retreating to the enclaves. At David Cronenberg Thrill (1975), a chic Canadian apartment building becomes the scene of twisted science experiments and disturbing group behaviors. In the work of the English novelist JG Ballard high rise, published the same year, an experimental enclave outside London sinks into open warfare between different floors.
Ballard continued his exploration of the enclaves in a series of books: Run wild (1988), Cocaine nights (1996) and Super Cannes (2000). H20 Productions announced in 2008 a film adaptation that had been canceled for Run wild, with Samuel L Jackson, which was to be shot in the Western Cape. In these works, the inhabitants of the safe cities become more and more detached from reality and begin to experience transgressive violence and fascist politics. For Ballard, the real cost of living in complete safety is the loss of social cohesion and a paranoid and deadly destructive hatred of strangers.
In his 2003 novel Oryx and Crake, Canadian novelist Magaret Atwood projected the logic of the enclave into the near future. In the book, the rich – and those whose talents are valued by capitalism – crowd into closed spaces as society crumbles and burns around them. From the safety of their cyber-feudal castles, locals develop a voyeuristic attitude towards the world around them, playing video games that revel in war and human suffering.
But other works, like the teen drama from the 2000s CO (2003-2007), presented a less dystopian version of life inside closed communities. While reveling in the opulence of its rich Californian setting, CO also poked fun at the superficiality, snobbery and underhanded business tactics of the rich. The show inspired a wave of reality TV shows, like the Real Housewives of Orange County (2006-present), which promised to lift the curtains on life behind high walls. But they lacked the ironic class commentary of CO, instead glorifying consumerism and extreme law.
Director George A Romero envisioned a closed realm of the post-apocalyptic future in Land of the dead (2005), in which the elite Fiddler’s Green community is set up to survive a zombie epidemic that has destroyed civilization. The name Fiddler’s Green refers to the folklore of a land of endless joy. In the film, the greed and myopia of the rich lead to the downfall of the enclave. As film historian Jamie Russell written, rather than being the salvation of capitalism, the fortified bunker becomes its tomb.
In recent years, reports have emerged of the ultra-wealthy building real post-apocalyptic bunkers. Meanwhile, the super-yacht market as massive personal ships flourished during the Covid-19 era, suggesting the eagerness of the wealthy to protect themselves from the rest of society.
As the inequalities and disparities of capitalism increase, it seems that reality is catching up with the dark and satirical visions of Ballard, Atwood and Romero. The closed domain is a space that symbolizes these contradictions, because the privileged remain terrified of the outside world. DM / ML
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This notice was published: 2021-06-21 18:15:25