Opinion Piece

Marelise van der Merwe: The Other News Round-Up: ‘Cash me ousside’

In a weekly column, Daily Maverick takes a look at some of the stranger happenings in South Africa and further afield. This week: We don’t even know where to start.

“I possess a device in my pocket that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get into arguments with strangers.” - Unknown poster, Reddit

I read recently that Danielle Bregoli, better known as the “Cash me ousside” girl – who for a literally incomprehensible reason rocketed to fame after her appearance on the Dr Phil show – was set to be a millionaire by the end of the year. She’s made her share of tabloid appearances already: Maxim described her as a “professional brat” and The Sun somewhat more kindly as a “viral sensation” (depending on how you interpret that). More recently she was spotted taking a walk with an ice cream and a bodyguard, which struck me as an unusually fitting symbolic representation of her.

Bregoli, in case you missed it – and you will face absolutely zero judgement from me if you did – is famous for uttering six nearly incomprehensible words on daytime television. Her taunt to the unimpressed audience: “Cash me ousside, how bou dah?” quickly went viral, and 13-year-old Bregoli, who was on the show in the first place for bar brawls, stealing cars and other, similar hobbies, now rakes in a whopping $40,000 for appearances at private parties. You know, in case your friends aren’t brawling by themselves and need a little help getting started.

Bregoli featured in Celebrity Net Worth, and if you’re balking at the idea of calling her a celebrity, pour yourself a stiff one. She has several million followers on various social media, appeared in a music video, and is doing product placements for brands such as Fit Tea and Postmates (her Fit Tea video has been viewed several million times and delivered a cool few million into her bank account). “Celebrities who have Bregoli's following on Instagram can easily make up to $100,000 a month on product ads, and as much as $50,000 on a single post,” the feature argues. Oh, and she’s also signed a reality show deal. On this trajectory, she could be in the top 0.5% of the US’s wealthiest before her 16th birthday.

For a quick reminder of what she is famous for:

Watch:

I point this out not to demonise or deify her. Her story makes me uncomfortable, and only partly because I think she’s famous for the wrong reasons. I’m also uncomfortable because she’s making a living off people who are – at least partly – laughing at her. Does she know that? Is someone protecting her from it? I doubt it.

Memes draw a fine line between worship and mockery, and a lot of people are flip-flopping all over it. I hope that someone, somewhere, is able to tell Bregoli that however much she’s making, she’s more than a car thief, more than six mumbled words.

The problem here is not Bregoli. She’s just a kid. A difficult kid, but a kid, and I doubt putting her on television – and the snowballing fame/infamy that followed – is helpful to whatever she is going through. By all accounts she’s had a rough childhood and her equally brawl-happy mother and absent father couldn’t have been very helpful. My criticism here falls squarely with the community around her, including every last person buying Fit Tea after she endorsed it winking, “How bou dah?”

Call me old-fashioned. I want her to be everything she can be, even if she’s rewarded for being less.

Bregoli isn’t alone in this strange wilderness; the peculiar, enabling environment we live in. Bell Pottinger would put her to shame in 30 seconds flat. And it is, after all, the same week in which Kendall Jenner showed us Rosa Parks could have ended racism much sooner if she’d just wiped off her lipstick and given the cops a Pepsi.

Public interest comes cheap and pays well. Just today I was reading the news and the suggested headline that popped up was “Selena Gomez wore this surprising nail colour for 13 reasons”. Which, if you consider that Google’s targeted adverts have previously offered me mail order brides and cosmetic surgery, was only slightly insulting. Gomez is famous for slightly more than Bregoli is – Wikipedia informs me that not only did she wear the same dress as Hilary Scott once and appear in three episodes of Hannah Montana, she also starred in Barney the Dinosaur and something called Wizards of Waverley Place. So it’s completely understandable that in these troubling times – where her president, for example, tells the truth approximately 4% of the time and has failed to fill nearly 90% of the vacant executive branch jobs – if she wore shade of nail varnish that could further destabilise the nation, it would need to be well thought out.

All this got me thinking about the world we have created, where the weight of things is measured in clicks and shares, a perilous task where engagement can be good, bad, or ambiguous. It could be based on how surprising we find something. How ridiculous. How funny. Or simply how easy it is to engage with. One really doesn’t know. But, if it’s the latter, we’re in trouble: often, the most important topics are very difficult to engage with. Instant gratification is not for problem solvers.

We’ve made a world of quick jokes, easy lies and one-dimensional solutions, where swimming upstream is that much harder. It is very easy to drown out other voices, if you’re willing to do what it takes. Just ask paid Twitter.

It’s a paradox. Because as much as anything we say is now indelible, technically, it is also that much easier to make words, thoughts and ideas disappear in the deluge of information. We’ve made a world in which noise flows so thick and fast that mass gaslighting is actually a feasible strategy. (Integrity commission, top six: I’m looking at you.)

And so, as we try to recover from a bleak, broken week in South Africa, where a momentary show of strength so quickly dissolved again, I'm trying to imagine a reality in which a nail colour would register surprise from anyone, and 13 well thought-out reasons would be required to justify it. This, my friends, is the world that voted for the leaders we have today.

This is the dawning of the age of enablers, and I have six words for all of it. Cash me ousside, how bou dah? DM

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