Recently a low-budget piece of cinematic schlock had a vast swath of the world’s population foaming at the mouth, simply because it represented a slight upon their religiously-based identity. Compare this with the almost blanket indifference that has greeted another small film, this one touching on a campaign of genocidal murder against another group
As far as I know the short film Plaasmoord, which means “farm murder” and which shows the aftermath and reaction by relatives to the kind of attack that has become common against Boer farmers, has not led to any South African embassies being stormed or even seriously disturbed. Why is this?
The conventional reason given by various right wingers and nationalists is that there is some kind of leftist, liberal conspiracy by government and media to suppress anything that will adversely impact the “sensitive” state of race relations that invariably develop in all multi-racial states.
No doubt this is part of the reason, but it is not the whole story. Another reason is what I call the “Sigma Signal” that is implicit in the farm murders themselves, and which this film succeeds in heightening.
Events and the cultural and political reactions to those events send out a variety of complex signals. Some of these are inspiring and galvanizing; others dispiriting and discouraging. If the signal is positive enough it will have to be suppressed by its enemies or it will triumph. However, if it has its own in-built negativity, there will be no need to suppress it. It will wither by itself.
Negativity in this case stems not just from the tragedy of an event, but also from the nature of that tragedy — how it is suffered, endured, tolerated, etc. – and the emotional, cultural, and political responses to it. If each of these aspects turns in the wrong direction, an event that can become a rallying cry — an Alpha Signal — will slide down the scale from Alpha to Omega—into negativity, apathy, amnesia, and despair. After which it will be quietly forgotten as there is a limit to the amount of negativity that the human mind can sustain.
To map this complexity I have utilized the letters of the Greek alphabet. Sigma, as the 18th letter, is a long, long way from Alpha.
Even as I write this piece, the Sigma Signal emitted by Plaasmoord is working hard against me, telling me to stop bothering and to desist from depressing people by reminding them yet again of something so dark, so disheartening, and so emotionally draining—something that they already know about. It doesn’t help that the standard images—charred bodies, faces swelled with bruises or lacerated with machetes—and the other details are extremely off-putting.
After all, that which can’t be cured must be endured. And why must it even be endured by those of us at a safe distance, when it can be left at the back of the mental cupboard.
The Sigma Signal casts its numbing, dispiriting aura over the film, and over the process of writing about it. Even the effort of reposting a link to the film on a social network to enlighten or remind friends and associates, with perhaps a caption like, “Anti-White Racism in South Africa” or “Liberal media cover up,” suddenly seems devoid of purpose—a bleak, thankless task. This is a strong Sigma Signal. It chimes in with the thoughts it has engendered: “This is all pointlessness and despair. Why even mention it? Why get a reputation for being a ‘feelbad’ friend?”
I almost weaken and give in. Why not let the genocide of White South African farmers continue in the only way that makes it bearable, as an out-of-focus grim shadow at the back of one’s mind — avoided, if not actually suppressed? Yes, reposting this video with the usual comments would be pointless and depressing…
But now I realize that I am not writing about the unpalatable heart of darkness itself. Instead, I am writing about something much more interesting and acceptable—the Sigma Signal itself. In such awareness there is something positive! The way in which the shadow of the horror creates its pall of amnesia and detachment is a lot more fascinating — and far less grueling — than the grinding, screaming, emotionally draining horror itself.
Also, the Sigma Signal is not pure essence of negativity. It is part of a continuum and only one of several possible signals, ranging from totally positive to totally negative. The most upbeat, positive, and inspiring signals are Alphas, Betas, or Gammas. More mixed and ambiguous signals are somewhere in the middle, at the Kappa, Lambda, and Mu level. Then, finally we have the most negative signals; full of weakness, willful amnesia, and outright nihilism. Sigma may not be the lowest letter on the scale, as there is a strange power in absolutes. But it is low enough and alliteratively evocative enough of sadness and surrender to serve our purpose.
Another point to bear in mind is that these signals are also refracted in different ways through different groups, cultures, and societies, and result in different reactions, such as action, reaction, stoicism, outrage, or denial. Some groups and cultures are more attuned to, or able to deal with, certain signals than others. Some can take Sigma events – or even Omega events—and turn them into positive signals, while others struggle to achieve this.
Western society—of which the Boers are still a far-flung part—now seems to be capable of only generating positive signals out of positive events, but it was not always this way.
The loss of the 300 Spartans who died at Thermopylae was obviously a great tragedy for Sparta and for Greece in general, but the way in which the Spartans accepted death sent out a huge Alpha Signal that galvanized the Greeks to defeat the great Persian invasion.
The Black Hole of Calcutta was a different case. There was little noble in the horrific way the victims died, but the reaction—full of surly outrage and ruthless lust for vengeance—created a potent signal, possibly a Gamma or Epsilon, that speeded up the inevitable triumph of British military power in Bengal.
As these two examples demonstrate, death and victimhood need not necessarily send out a negative signal; quite the reverse in fact. It depends on the wider reaction and how it is presented on the cultural level. The British responded with moral outrage—but that was in the 18th century, at the height of British confidence. In the case of the film Plaasmoord and the murders it refers to, the signal sent out is unequivocally bleak, with the movie only echoing the original negativity. The vast majority of Westerners are embarrassed at the thought of being morally outraged by White victims of Black Africans.
Just as the situation itself is extremely negative, there is nothing positive in the film and the impotent reactions it documents. Even the anger and vacuous fighting talk of the son of the murdered parents — supposedly a moment of truth — strikes a hollow note entirely in harmony with the dominant negativity.
His cry, “This is not what Mandiba promised us,” is particularly Sigma-esque. It shows the victims, even when they should be most empowered by their sorrow and anger, still clinging to the hope that the Black leadership will make good on their tactical lie and condescend to call off the racial attack dogs. Dubbing the sound of sheep entering a slaughterhouse onto the film at this point would have been slightly more uplifting.
The film has other serious weaknesses in writing and direction. While it shows dead and dying Whites, it dares not show Black actors engaged in the actual acts of violence that killed them. Partly this is because such atrocious scenes would be unpalatable and lead to distribution difficulties, but mainly it is because the film is keen to avoid “negative stereotyping.” Indeed, the film even makes a point of including a dead Black maid, softening the most important point to be made: that farm murders in South Africa are a form of genocide.
At the end of the movie it states, “This film was NOT made with any political agenda & Only to be used in crime awareness campaigns.” This effectively means that the film is echoing the position of leftist institutions, like the BBC, that see farm murders as mere crimes without any racial significance and therefore not newsworthy.
If those of us extremely sympathetic to the Boer community find it difficult or depressing to share such content, then the plight of the White farmers in South Africa will continue to be ignored and only worsen. What is needed are actions, art, protests, and propaganda that strike much higher on the scale, and send out something more galvanizing than Sigma Signals.