Collision 98: July, 2024

‘Drumming up jungle jumble’ (SCOPE, 13 August 1976: 98-99).

Jungle Fever in 1970s South African Softest Porn

Stella Viljoen

It is so difficult to write about race in South Africa, as in contemporary South African media lives are so raced that it feels impossible to exaggerate racial identity in media analysis even more than the apartheid state did. Homi Bhabha, following on from Frantz Fanon, speaks of the “generic duality” (2004: 13) that spans colonial societies where racial compartmentalization inevitably lingers long after the political system that initiated legal inequality has displaced legal racialization. This idea is applicable to the South African media at the end of apartheid and extends into the democracy that followed it, because it was racializing sexual fantasy even as it was trying to live up to a norm of liberalism or individualism. Fanon’s (1961: 40) call for “moral reparation” was focused on equitable development through policy, the redistribution of resources and wealth, and the politics of recognition. But it is also important to ask how equity impacts our fantasies and dreamscapes. What did equality look like when we dreamt it in the run up to democracy, for instance?

SCOPE was an English-language men’s magazine that started in 1966 and was published by Republican Press. It gained a reputation for controversial content because it was banned several times due to the so-called morality laws implemented by the National Party. The readers were mostly white, English, and middle class. By 1976 the readership had tripled from when the magazine started a decade earlier. One reason for this success seems to be that in the seventies the magazine included about 30% more saucy photographs of women. It thus seems important to ask how the magazine constructed sex and gender, and how it represented race at a time when censorship laws prevented it from publishing multiracial scenes.

There is much to be said about the complexity involved in publishing soft porn in a country governed by a notoriously prudish government like the apartheid oligarchy. A broad survey of the genre of soft porn or a publication like SCOPE is thus valuable, but it is also meaningful to zoom in and focus on just one, seemingly inconsequential and random shoot, the way a visitor to a gallery might pause at one painting after passing by countless others.

In the jungle

“Drumming up jungle jumble” is a photographic shoot written by Marilynne Holloway and photographed by Graham Hughes that was published in the 13 August 1976 issue of SCOPE. The teaser beneath the title reads: “You may not often get the urge to hack your way through steamy jungles but when you do, make sure you look the part: helpless!” (1976: 98). The brief article explains that once readers have gotten “the old body satin smooth and gleaming with lotions” there is no point in exposing it to “every passing thorn… It is much better to follow the example of the South Sea islanders with their sarongs or the simple villagers of tropical Thailand or Burma with their simple wraps” (1976: 100).

There are three models photographed in four tableaus. These are vaguely derivative of Paul Gauguin’s Tahitian scenes but with the mock seriousness of most kitsch. The first has the three models (all with crimped hair!), posed in a river apparently doing the washing whilst wearing elaborately draped and pinned fabric. The caption explains: “Three washing machines: efficient, easy to handle and sleek, slim lines” (1976: 98). The washing rituals form the narrative glue between the different scenes, and are drawn from a Primitivist iconography that here playfully enters white, middle-class fantasy through the language of cultural appropriation. The women are supposedly washing, meaning that they are embracing what Anne McClintock scathingly calls the “civilizing mission” (McClintock 1995: 208) of western culture – in other words, the hope of being cleansed and purified, or Christianised and baptized.

The second tableau vivant shows women poised, arms akimbo and breasts pushed forward in the middle of a river. The model on the left looks directly at the camera wearing ethnic-print pants whilst the one on the far right is unnaturally bent forwards but looking sideways, away from the others. The awkwardness of this posture is repeated in the third and fourth scenes to great effect. In the third photograph, one woman is uncomfortably arranged, on her back, over a large boulder while another woman leans down towards her. The caption explains: “[i]t’s either murder or she’s washing her hair” (1976: 101). Beneath this the three models are enacting a different scene. This time there is one in the foreground weirdly bent over to touch her shins, another some way away stretching into the air with a palm frond and a third who is crouching topless (and turned slightly away). What is one to make of these elaborate recreations of Orientalist fantasy? In the feminist imaginary, women are not disembodied, but neither are they only bodies, a tension elided in the “womannature” trope that is so evident, and so ridiculous, in the “jungle jumble” tableaus. But importantly, the erasure of a realistic sexuality is also complicated by an amnesia about race.

First, the feature employs a racial erasure. The article refers to the South Sea islands, Thailand and Burma, real socio-geographical places. However, the artificiality of the scenes is clear from the unspoken but unequivocal and incongruous whiteness of the models, which feels almost hyperbolically strange. Surely, this is all wrong? Within Orientalist cultural frameworks, Edward Said reminds us, geopolitical assumptions become forms of aesthetic distinction with the intention to “control, manipulate, even to incorporate, what is a manifestly different (or alternative and novel) world” (Said 1978: 20). Roger Benjamin (1997: 7) uses the concept of the Oriental mirage as a metaphor for the ‘travelling’ artist who has an “unstable view of their subject”. It is taken from the phrase used by the French army during the Napoleonic era to describe the mirroring of an illusory sheet of water in the Egyptian desert where they were marching. Like a mirage, the Orient stands as an enticement, an escape from the tedium and the alienation of modern, industrialized, western life.

Benjamin (1997) and Said (1978) both think of the Orient as the place where the western erotic imagination found an expression and freedom it was not afforded at home. The question then is whether the sexual subjugation found in the art of Eugene Delacroix, Jean-August-Dominique Ingres and Jean-Léon Gérôme, for instance, can be read as a metaphor for political subjugation? As a representation, the “jungle jumble” feature is a surface that has a certain political authority, however unlikely this may seem. The text is made to speak, but what it says is not particularly rich or deep, as it is a kind of empty appearance of knowledge, and this is pleasurable precisely because of its simplification, because it reduces something complex to a caricature and thus flaunts (and invites the reader to share) the power of reduction. The communities hinted at are caught in the anaesthetising look (or male gaze) of the viewer who racializes the subjects they are staring at. All nuance is lost in a reductive racial binary where womannature is simply (but unconvincingly) rendered black… even though this is achieved by means of skins that are white. Of course, there are a “multiplicity of ‘blacknesses’ and ‘whitenesses’ … [that form] part of the polyvalent ‘fabric’ of South African life” (West and Schmidt 2010: 12), but the whiteness in the shoot feels predictable, omniscient, and aesthetically normative. The feature, in other words, whitewashes to the extent that it even erases black and brown lives from other geographic locations.

I think it’s important to mention that a May 1972 issue of SCOPE was banned because it included a photograph of a black man embracing a white woman in New York City. One could argue that through this embargo SCOPE learnt a valuable lesson about what was permissible in a country where the state is captured by an ideological agenda of racial exclusion. The Publications Control Board banned over 10 000 publications in the decade prior to 1974, but according to Du Toit (in Boonzaier 2014: 40), “there [was] a generally mistaken assumption that publications control in South Africa [was] mainly aimed at combating pornography.” Sonderling (1989: 67; 1990: 42; Boonzaier 2014: 40) asserts that a mere three percent of the publications that were banned were pornographic in nature, compared to almost 50% percent which were political, which in practice often meant a banning of content that was multiracial. Sonderling (1989:67; 1990:42) notes that pornography was used to “distract (...) attention from the true aim [of censorship,] which [was] political control” (Boonzaier 2014: 40). The control exercised by the apartheid government was a kind of slow, everyday violence that must not only be studied from the top down but also from the grassroots up, including through populist media.

Even a brief analysis of one issue of SCOPE from 1976 illustrates how racial difference was made manifest through a kind of thematic silence about or omission of black lives and experiences. The violence of this silence is quotidian, ubiquitous and personal. A discussion of womanhood in the context of SCOPE in the seventies, therefore, occupies a troubled terrain because of the more fundamental violence of racial erasure, an elite pact that invisiblised.

Not only does the feature employ a form of racial erasure, but second, the shoot prevents racial accountability and reciprocity. In writing about the “oppositional gaze” of black spectators, bell hooks (1999) argues that looking can be an act of resistance. hooks (1999: 95) explains that prior to racial integration in the United States, viewers like her learnt about white people from Hollywood films. But it was also here that they learnt about “cinematic racism”: “Even when representations of black women were present in film, our bodies and being were there to serve – to enhance and maintain white womanhood as object of the phallocentric gaze.” Hooks, however, describes the collective sense of disdain and hilarity they felt as they watched the stereotypes on screen with something like a subversive glee. Theirs was an oppositional gaze, what she terms “critical, interrogating black looks” (1992: 118). The Thai and Burmese women that are alluded to in the “jungle jumble” feature indeed enhance white phallocentrism, but more importantly, they are refused the possibility of returning the viewer’s gaze. In an essay about “melancholy whiteness”, Kate Manne (2018) argues that those with historical advantage, seek “barriers to mutual visibility” to protect them from the gaze of those with whom they have a shameful history. They want to be able to ‘look’ without being looked at. The fact that the models in “jungle jumble” are white may mean that they themselves become the barrier used to protect white readers from “mutual visibility”. As it stands, the encounter is ‘merely’ metaphorical. And yet, as Manne (2018: 237) argues, “our sense of self is liable to be disrupted instantly, and radically, if temporarily, by an awareness of what we must look like to other people.” As Manne comments, privileged readers are given a place to “hide and look”. Manne (2018: 236) says such a false security leads privileged readers to think they will not need to answer for their privilege: “Their feet will not be held to the fire; and their cheeks will not be left burning. For their faces are cloaked in shadows; and the other’s eyes are not upon them.”


When speaking to white men and women in their sixties and seventies today, there is an amused recollection of SCOPE that seems altogether paradoxical and difficult to relate to from the vantage point of the more progressive democratic South Africa. SCOPE, after its demise, is imagined fondly as a space that epitomises a simpler and more straight-forward gender order. But it also, more significantly, holds a place in the collective conscience as a symbol of micro-resistance. It did not offer a critique of apartheid in any direct way, as this would probably not have been possible, but it represented a humble effort to stretch the boundaries of conservatism just a tad and for this it has earned a lasting place in the memories of its readers, who believed in the cause of small subversions. Thus, even if the espousal of sexual and racial difference in SCOPE has to some extent been sublimated, nostalgia for the gender representation in SCOPE is not necessarily an apologetics for apartheid. It is perhaps possible to consider this recollection via a recognition that the past is a tangled affair, a bit of this and a bit of that, an intermingling of desire and disgust.

The “jungle jumble” photo shoot adds to this complicated narrative by showing how SCOPE, in addition to all the other things it did, also perpetuated the optical regimes of division upon which apartheid rested. It reveals how humour was used to entertain but also, crucially, empower a white audience. To say that popular media forms such as SCOPE sexualised women and continued a deeply racist gaze, even while offering a form of sexual subversion and liberalism, is not a novel sentiment, but the pervasiveness of these occurrences makes it a sentiment that bears repeating.

If the “Drumming up jungle jumble” feature reveals anything as a historical snapshot, it is the publication’s basic inability to imagine a different future. Perhaps it was difficult in a time of Orwellian censorship to do something truly democratic, but it is nevertheless startling, with the benefit of hindsight, to see another example of racial and sexual degradation justified as a prank.

Sources Cited

  • Benjamin, Roger. 1997. The Oriental Mirage. In: Orientalism: Delacroix to Klee. Edited by Roger Benjamin. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 7-31.
  • Bhabha, Homi K. 2004. Foreword. In: The Wretched of the Earth by Fanon, F. 2017 (1961). Translated by Richard Philcox. Cape Town: Kwela Books.
  • Boonzaier, Christiaan N. 2014. Flashing boobies and naughty no-no’s: a media-historiographical overview of the pornographic magazine in South Africa, 1939 to 1989. Unpublished MA thesis. University of Stellenbosch.
  • Fanon, Frantz. 2017 (1961). The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Richard Philcox. Cape Town: Kwela Books.
  • hooks, bell. 1992. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press.
  • hooks, bell. 1999. The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators. In: Feminist Film Theory: A Reader. Edited by Sue Thornham. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press: 307-20.
  • Manne, Kate. 2018. Melancholy Whiteness (or, Shame-Faced in Shadows). Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. XCVI(1): January: 233 – 242.
  • McClintock, Anne. 1995. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York: Routledge.
  • Said, Edward W. 1978. Orientalism. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.
  • Sonderling, Stefan. 1989. The Functions of Pornography in Society: A Survey of Some Alternative Intellectual Views. Communicatio, 15(2): 57-69.
  • Sonderling, Stefan. 1990. New and Old Voices from the Ship of Fools: The South African Pornography Debate. Communicatio, 16(2): 40-47.
  • West, Mary and Schmidt, Jennifer M. 2010. Preface: Whiteness Studies in South Africa: A South African Perspective. English in Africa. 37(1): 9-13.