For the young, by the dumb, courtesy of the clueless

02 September 2013 - 02:50 By Darrel Bristow-Bovey
Trying to prove you're young by talking to young people using terms that you think they'll understand, and getting it wrong - that's about as old-farty as you get
Trying to prove you're young by talking to young people using terms that you think they'll understand, and getting it wrong - that's about as old-farty as you get

You would think ANN7 had enough enemies. All this week its staff have attracted so much abuse you'd almost start to feel sorry for them if they weren't so shit.

They're the least popular Ann since Anne Hathaway, unless you count anthrax. It's hard to imagine how they could be more unwelcome in South African living rooms without actually donning balaclavas and jimmying the window.

It's so much fun to dislike them, they're almost becoming a kind of reverse-Oscar. Just as all decent quips and epigrams are sooner or later attributed to Oscar Wilde, so any linguistic atrocity or stammering item of verbal self-violence will eventually be laid at the unhappily shuffling double-left feet of the ANN7 newsreaders. One of them couldn't really have referred to Roger de Sa as "Roger de South Africa", could she? It's only a matter of time before someone claims that they heard a sports reporter pronouncing "Rio" as "ten rand".

You might expect ANN7 to lie low and wait for the hate to go away, but instead they're picking on old people. It's as though they're the survivors of some terrible shipwreck, adrift in an ocean of enemies with only a raft of cash to keep them afloat; there are sharks and a scorching sun and raft-wrecking oil tankers all around, and what do they do? They find the nearest sea turtle and poke a finger in its eye.

Of all the pressure groups in South Africa, ANN7 might have had the least beef with the gang who can't hear them as well as they used to, but they found a way around that. Earlier this week, a group somewhat cutely called the South African Older Persons' Forum lodged a complaint with the ASA and the Human Rights Commission, claiming that an ANN7 billboard impugns the dignity of the elderly.

Far be it from me to get in the way of anyone's democratic right to get cranky and demand an apology, but I think the old-timers might have the wrong end of the Zimmer frame on this one. I doubt ANN7 is trying to insult the aged; I think they're just trying to pretend they're not grown-ups.

Consider the rather pitiful billboard copy: "We're not old farts," it David Brentishly declares, "Nah, not even our newsreaders." That's the kind of language old farts use in the hope of persuading young people that they're not old farts. It's the equivalent of a bunch of paunchy fellows in back-to-front baseball caps carrying skateboards, making awkward hand gestures and saying: "Yo! What up, fellow youngsters?"

One of the endlessly recycling promos that make up the Sisyphean bulk of ANN7's programming declares: "It's time to talk to the youth. It's time to take the pulse of Generation X", which conjures distressing images of a middle-aged man holding a youth by the wrist, murmuring, "Relax, this won't hurt, I'm just taking your pulse".

But the thing is, these kids are not Generation X. Generation X was born in the 1970s and early-1980s. I'm Generation X, for God's sake, and I'm not even young enough to be the leader of the ANC Youth League any more. Trying to prove you're young by talking to young people using terms that you think they'll understand, and getting it wrong - that's about as old-farty as you get.

Actually, the youthifying of the news would explain a few of the mysteries of ANN7.

For hours I've puzzled over the odd halting, affectless delivery of their presenters, the complete inability to pronounce syllables, as though they've been raised in sensory-deprivation chambers and have never before heard human speech. At the weekend I had a nightmare that the end of the world was upon us and ANN7 had the scoop but none of us got the message because they kept saying, "The alopecia is coming. I mean, the apopleptics . sorry, the alpaca lips ."

At first I thought they were dolts, but perhaps it's simply that all the teleprompters are written in that weird teenaged text-language with all the vowels missing, so that it's just a long sequence of consonants. No wonder that poor sweet girl pronounced "irregularities" five different ways last night. So would you if you were faced with the word "rrglrts".

You can understand what ANN7 is trying to do. Commercially and politically the youth is like a vast reservoir of shale gas - plentiful, malodorous, and whoever gets their fracking drill tips into them first will make buckets of money. They're just trying to figure out how. They're using the "we're also inexperienced, inept and here's some hot girls" approach, but they might need more than that. How long before each bulletin is delivered in bites of 140 characters or less? How long till we see Jimmy Manyi twerking?