My colleagues and I often care for patients suffering from hallucinations, prophesying, and claiming to speak with God, among other symptoms—in mental health care, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell apart religious belief from mental illness…. Our conclusions frequently stem from the behaviors we see before us. Take an example of a man who walks into an emergency department, mumbling incoherently. He says he’s hearing voices in his head, but insists there’s nothing wrong with him. He hasn’t used any drugs or alcohol. If he were to be evaluated by mental health professionals, there’s a good chance he might be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. But what if that same man were deeply religious? What if his incomprehensible language was speaking in tongues?
Lights! Cameron! Action!
An open letter to Judge Edwin Cameron from Spud Milton
Dear Justice Cameron
I have never written to a judge before and I must admit that I am rather nervous about doing so, especially to one as decorated and widely respected as you. Wombat, my grandmother, forbade me to respond to your open letter to Ross Garland and the subsequent newspaper reports because she said if I made a cock-up or any silly spelling mistakes you could get me hanged. (I think it’s now only Wombat left who thinks the death penalty is still in operation here.)
Unfortunately, I then saw the headline of the Daily News: “Spud endangers gays – Judge”
The article was faxed to me by a triumphant Boggo eight seconds after it was published. Boggo clearly hadn’t followed what you were saying in your letter because he squawked down the phone, “Hah! Always knew you were gay, Spuddy!”
When I tried to inform the idiot that there was a vast gulf between homophobia and homosexuality he sniggered and hung up. I don’t think he’ll ever get it.
Anyway, after numerous false starts to this letter I decided to consult Reverend Bishop, who grew instantly pale and told me that responding to you in writing would be akin to David taking on Goliath. Unfortunately, I’ve never been one to throw stones and since Mad Dog was expelled, I don’t even have access to a decent slingshot. So if these sentences strike you as lacking in intellectual rigour or as the mere ramblings of an inconsequential young lad, please cast them aside and think no further on them nor me. Better still, you could pretend that I am not even real and that I only exist in the imaginations of deranged people.
Let me first begin with a sincere apology on behalf of The Guv for his insensitive treatment of lesbians and gays in his English class. I agree that the term “rogering lesbians” was totally uncalled for and that our English teacher deserved finger tongs (or worse) for his poor form and obvious intolerance. (There’s probably a good chance that The Guv was drunk at the time and he was most probably showing off like he always does with his bizarre references and shocking opinions.) Remember he’s a cranky guy and often strange sentences pour out of his mouth. He frequently uses the word “rogering” like in first year when I was a still a spud and he advised me to “Roger the entire chorus line before the end of the month.” I don’t like his occasional bigotry, or his heavy drinking, but he has still changed the way that I look at the world around me. It’s tempting to saythat I shouldn’t have written that offensive statement down in my diary and then it never would have reached the screenplay and now the papers. I could have simply replaced it with a line as tame as a sleepy orange house cat. But that would not have been my true account.
Like you, I also enjoyed the film but had one major reservation that also kept me awake at night. It wasn’t the homophobia, or the sexism, or the racism, or the scene when I had my balls polished. It wasn’t even the examples of statutory rape which Eve repeatedly deals out to Rambo (this despite Rambo greatly enjoying them). Nor was it when The Guv made me drink alcohol at age 13 and filled my head with the notion that life is absurd and insane and that we are all poor players in some never-ending Kafkaesque farce. What really drove me bonkers was that the character of myself was played by a blue-eyed Australian! I mean, if that isn’t a low blow, what is? Not that I’m xenophobic, mind you; it’s just that ever since Shane Warne, I just don’t like Australians that much.
I guess the point I’m making is that it would probably be impossible to read any of my diaries or watch Mr Garland’s film without being slightly offended by something or other if you feel really strongly about that particular cause or standpoint. Seeing other people laughing at something personal and serious to oneself is difficult, like when people repeatedly mocked my late development and its nasty repercussions. My limited experience of life is that many people say offensive things, like Rambo, who deliberately tries to antagonise people with his verbal abuse and ultra cool demeanour. You mentioned the word “faggotism”. I guarantee that you won’t find that word in any dictionary because Rambo made it up to look cool and have power over us because the word was his. I don’t like the word either and would never have thought to use it myself, but I still wrote it down because he said it and I was there and the moment happened before my very eyes. I don’t think Rambo accused Vern of “fagottism” by lazy accident. He said that word specifically to demean and humiliate Vern for stealing everybody’s underpants. For that in my experience is the way that boys humiliate each other.
The third and final incident of lazy homophobia that you identified in the film was around Mr Lilly the art teacher. Fatty’s sage comment made whilst leaning against the wall of the tuck shop was, “What’s so terrible about portraying a flamboyant art teacher who tries his luck at organic rugby coaching?” What offends you, makes others lurch, makes some people laugh, makes a few debate and the odd person walk out. Still, it’s good to have debates about these things and perhaps I need to see the film again, this time with a pen and pad.
I do apologise if this letter seems in any way immature or insincere or if it offends or irritates you further. That is not my intention. I also apologise for the offence that my words caused and I don’t argue that you have the right to voice your offence about the Spud movie. I once read that honesty trumps guile every time, and if I’m being honest, then I’m really sorry that you didn’t invite Mr Garland, whom you know to be an intelligent, generous and talented man, around for a fragrant coffee and discuss this issue with him face to face. If that bastard Sparerib hadn’t caught me running to dinner yesterday and given me a month’s detention, I would have loved to have been there, too, for what I would imagine could have been an excellent discussion.
Thank you again for your time and I hope to meet you someday – just not in
Friday 14 January 2011
Penguin Books salutes our author John van de Ruit, whose bestselling book Spud has changed the landscape of fiction publishing in South Africa and, most importantly, has drawn hundreds of thousands of young South Africans to books and reading. Over half a million of them, in fact.
We salute producer Ross Garland for having the vision and the determination to bring the characters in Spud to life on the big screen in Spud – the Movie and to make audiences delight in the depth of energy and skills so evident in the SA film industry.
Alongside Van de Ruit and Garland, Penguin supports freedom of expression and open minded, robust and informed debate.
See Spud – the Movie.
And make up your own mind.
CEO, Penguin Books South Africa