Representation Of South African Television Cultural Studies Essay

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South African television broadcasting provides a representation of South Africa that serves the government's attempts to build a nation out of a separated past. In South Africa, several locally produced television programs depict a Black middle class focused on material consumption and individual gain. These portrayals, largely uncomplicated by issues of lingering racial and economic contention, serve the government's attempts to create a neoliberal post-apartheid national imaginary. Duncan argues that neoliberal policies in general have made it more difficult to transform the media, rather than solve inequalities. I do agree with Duncan and will substantiate using current South African examples to form my argument.

Neoliberalism is further than an economic theory. It is in addition a political theory. It argues that business domination of the public progresses most efficiently when there is a representative democracy. It is here that one can see why the existing commercial media system is so imperative to the neoliberal scheme, for it is singularly brilliant at producing the exact sort of bogus political culture. In the period of globalization, the nation-state, distant from becoming extraneous, has become a key player in driving the project of neoliberalism, reform and restructuring. To meet the challenges of the international economy, neo-liberal governments as well as South Africa have followed a dual tactic of both rolling back the state, while being more centralized and directive. At the second rank, state assets are reassessed in the light of their potential for self-sustenance, or even commercial profit. Public utilities, such as broadcasting, electricity and public transport are particularly susceptible to 'restructuring', 'commercialization' and 'privatization'.

South Africans are aiming to build a coherent nation, but they are doing so in the context of an exceptionally divided past, a diversity of ethnicities and languages, and the government's hopes for a globalizing future. But more than just assuming that all nations have a history that allows for the building of a nation, one must also look at the period in which South Africa allegedly became a 'new' post-apartheid state: the early to mid-1990's. These dates reflect those of the escalation of neoliberal ideologies. During apartheid, the government divided the country according to race, conflating race with nationhood, culture, and civilization. The popular media has played a vital role in creating, reflecting, and challenging these imaginations - and thus control over media becomes critical in influencing the national imaginary. During apartheid, the White minority government closely managed visual media, dictating every image that crossed the television. Influence over television programming, and thus governing spatial imaginations long remained out of reach for the majority of Indians, Blacks and Coloureds. In the post-apartheid South Africa, the government and media organizations have aimed to create a united, coherent, 'rainbow' nation that is also opened to the rest of the globe.

Programming varied significantly between the White and Black channels, each one working to bolster the image of a culturally distinct nation. While shows targeted at White audiences featured White characters performing in a 'modern globalized' world with Black characters serving as their domestic workers. Shows targeted at Black audiences featured Black characters in 'traditional' dress, living 'traditional' lives as to how black audiences wanted to be accepted in society. The national public broadcaster, the SABC is by far the most dominant force in South African television broadcasting. The SABC's three channels that are aired account for the majority of the South African audience and they try to transform the media and solve inequalities.

Right through the SABC's television shows, characters and storylines reiterate the ideas of a single nation that united. The term for unity is exemplified by the soap opera Soul City's theme song. The "heartbeat of the nation," the theme song calls for South Africans of all ethnical races and backgrounds to stand united and live as one nation. By inviting people of all backgrounds and cultures to listen to the heartbeat of the nation, the program stipulates that the nation is one unified body with one communal heartbeat. There are also Soap operas like Generations, South Africa's most admired television program, portrays a modern and urban world of the Black upper-middle class business elites. The program, with its emphasis on the up-and-coming Black middle- and upper-classes seemingly made possible by the elections of 1994, encapsulates the hope of the post-apartheid era.

Television pervades the day by day lives of the majority of South Africans, helping to build a hegemonic culture. Because television airs daily, audiences are constantly opened to the elements of its characters and images, and notions of individuality are repeatedly performed. Television in South Africa is an ideologically stimulating platform that provides a persuasive medium for articulating a new vision for the country. The SABC works toward creating an image of the 'New' South Africa, a nation freed from apartheid and united through the 'rainbow nation' ideology. Neoliberal policies, such as those dictated by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, call for countries to open up their boundaries and embrace a more global and less locally-oriented vision. These ostensible strains are trying to construct a coherent nation and yet at the same time cultivating a global vision that is becoming visible through the storylines of South African television programs.

SABC uses the notions of unity, such as 'Simunye,' to promote their products. Through this commodification of unity, the SABC merges the ostensibly opposing messages of equality through harmony and neoliberal economic growth policies. Another view to add to my argument could be that the SABC does not resolve this tension, that the unresolved tension remains a constant, if spectral presence in South Africa. Or perhaps, as Wendy Larner (2003) asserts, there is no monolithic neoliberalism, but rather multiple 'neoliberalisms.' The 'tension' underscoring popular cultural constructions in South Africa could help elucidate the ways in which neoliberal ideologies are re-imagined in the specific South African context through a national imaginary that serves to bolster the ANC's neoliberal project.

By showing already-achieved economic prosperity and racial harmony, television seemingly places the responsibility of enduring hardships on individuals. These depictions allow the government to put forth its neoliberal economic vision without appearing to disrupt the idea of a 'rainbow' nation. The millions of South Africa ns living in squatter camps and facing continuing racial discrimination, rampant disease and extreme poverty find their lives nearly as invisible as they did during apartheid. South African television, therefore, provides an important forum for visually grappling with (or ignoring) the issues attendant in constructing and contesting a neoliberal national imaginary.