Our (im)Per­fect Wed­ding

Last week’s episode of the pop­u­lar re­al­ity TV show mir­rored the It ques­tions our val­ues and those of Mzansi Magic

CityPress - - Voices - Makhosazana Zwane-Siguqa voices@city­press.co.za

If you ever thought a show that is meant to cel­e­brate love and wed­dings could leave such a vile taste in most peo­ple’s mouths, then you’re one up on me. Since the very first episode, Our Per­fect Wed­ding on the Mzansi Magic TV chan­nel hit the right note. It went on, sea­son af­ter sea­son, to achieve an al­most iconic sta­tus with its au­di­ence. And now the show, be­cause it so per­fectly re­flects the emo­tional roller coaster ride that black South Africans ex­pe­ri­ence just be­fore their wed­ding day, has be­come an in­sti­tu­tion we as­sem­ble to feast on re­li­giously ev­ery Sun­day.

We love the out­ra­geously ex­pen­sive wed­dings and feel sorry for the brides­maids when the bride is a Bridezilla.

We com­ment on the out­fits, the food, the rel­a­tives, the speeches. We are fully in­vested in the show. The cou­ple might just as well be part of our fam­ily.

But this week’s episode fell from grace, with the show’s pro­duc­ers and the chan­nel feel­ing the full might of the au­di­ence’s anger. Thanks to so­cial me­dia, the out­rage spread like wild­fire.

As an ar­dent ad­vo­cate for au­then­tic lo­cal TV con­tent, I’ve al­ways de­fended the pro­gramme against crit­ics who say it pro­motes a “voyeuris­tic agenda” or “crass ma­te­ri­al­ism”.

I be­lieve this view is sim­plis­tic be­cause it as­sumes that the par­tic­i­pants are mind­less sub­jects too blinded by the prospect of in­stant fame to make sen­si­ble de­ci­sions for them­selves.

It is a con­de­scend­ing view of peo­ple who are ca­pa­ble of mak­ing de­ci­sions by them­selves. They’ve al­ready made a life-chang­ing de­ci­sion to marry. No one needs sav­ing here.

The cou­ple gets to have their spe­cial day watched by mil­lions, while the TV au­di­ence can watch great con­tent.

But last week, some­thing went hor­ri­bly wrong and Mzansi Magic’s golden goose lost its lus­tre as view­ers vented their vis­ceral ire.

The pro­duc­ers, Con­nect TV, and the chan­nel saw noth­ing wrong in air­ing an episode cel­e­brat­ing the love of a cou­ple who met and started dat­ing when the bride was only 14 years old and the man was 28.

In a chill­ing ac­count of how they met, the man boasted about how, when he worked as a taxi driver, he used to prowl the streets look­ing for school­girls to sleep with.

“I used to tar­get them af­ter school. I called it the school run,” he said as she sheep­ishly sat next to him. “I used to sleep with three or four a day,” he added.

The bride’s only con­tri­bu­tion at this stage was to say: “He used to cheat on me a lot with yel­low bones [town­ship slang for light-skinned black peo­ple], but I won in the end. He’s now mine.”

“Yeah, even her mum called me over to her house to rep­ri­mand me, but I thought who does she think she is? Rep­ri­mand­ing me in her shack when I have my own house.”

So, you might be won­der­ing, this is where the pro­duc­ers yelled cut and walked away, right?

No. Not only did they con­tinue with the shoot right up to the two-day wed­ding cel­e­bra­tions, but Mzansi Magic aired it and loaded it on Catch Up.

The show had ap­par­ently gone through a screen­ing process and was cleared by ev­ery­one. It was only af­ter view­ers com­plained on so­cial me­dia that the penny dropped for them.

So what went wrong here? I have two in­ter­linked hy­pothe­ses.

One is that Mzansi Magic’s com­mis­sion­ing ed­i­tors and the show’s pro­duc­ers were in­sen­si­tive to a South African re­al­ity and neg­li­gently aired an episode cel­e­brat­ing what is not only il­le­gal, but morally du­bi­ous.

The other is that we are all com­plicit in our si­lence over older men dat­ing younger, and some­times even un­der­age, girls. The phe­nom­e­non of sugar dad­dies is so deeply and in­her­ently part of our daily nar­ra­tive, it has be­come the new “nor­mal”. Maybe that is why the pro­duc­ers were blind to the glar­ing truths.

We see it all the time. Trag­i­cally, too of­ten. The pro­duc­ers and ed­i­tors are part of so­ci­ety too. M-Net CEO Yolisa Phahle – who over­sees Mzansi Magic – has is­sued re­peated apolo­gies, and right­fully so.

Former Miss South Africa-turned-busi­ness­woman and Con­nect TV boss Baset­sana Ku­malo also re­leased a state­ment promis­ing to re­view her teams’ in­ter­nal pro­cesses. As they should, ur­gently.

Creat­ing good con­tent is an art form that draws its in­spi­ra­tion from real-life sce­nar­ios and our truths.

Con­tent cre­ators there­fore have an enor­mous re­spon­si­bil­ity to not only cor­rectly re­flect the re­al­i­ties of the so­ci­ety it speaks to, but to also know that they have the power to in­flu­ence so­ci­etal be­hav­iours and norms.

So it is in­cum­bent upon us to al­ways have our fin­ger on the pulse of com­mu­ni­ties and to pay an in­cred­i­ble amount of at­ten­tion to ev­ery­thing. We don’t ex­ist in iso­la­tion from South Africa’s chal­lenges and as­pi­ra­tions.

For ex­am­ple, since 2000, the num­ber of South African teenagers be­tween the ages of 15 and 19 dy­ing from Aid­sre­lated ill­nesses has tripled.

Every day, we are in­un­dated with head­lines of school teach­ers im­preg­nat­ing their pupils.

Su­gar dad­dies are in high de­mand as girls and young women covet shiny and pretty things that will make them stand out.

So it is not un­usual to see the most ex­pen­sive cars parked at a uni­ver­sity women’s res­i­dence or at a girl’s home. Most of us look the other way. Most of us are com­plicit.

So where do we draw the line? When should a con­tent cu­ra­tor say: “I will not broad­cast, pub­lish or dis­trib­ute that, even if the le­gal team gives the go-ahead.”

That’s where the brand’s val­ues come into play. What are Mzansi Magic’s val­ues? What is the house of Mzansi Magic built on? This is a con­ver­sa­tion far be­yond vet­ting.

This cri­sis should be an op­por­tu­nity for Mzansi Magic to have an in­ter­nal con­ver­sa­tion on what it stands for. Most im­por­tantly, it will help the chan­nel iden­tify what it should not en­dorse.

Ar­tic­u­lat­ing its brand val­ues, com­mu­ni­cat­ing them to ev­ery mem­ber of staff and hold­ing each other ac­count­able will help it make these tough de­ci­sions. So the next time it’s faced with a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion, at least some­one in the team will say: “Hold on, we’re now nor­mal­is­ing statu­tory rape. This is against our val­ues.” Zwane-Siguqa is head of con­tent at WeChat Africa.

Mzansi Magic is owned by Naspers, which has a stake in WeChat own­ers Ten­cent

PHOTO: MZANSI MAGIC

SO­CI­ETAL SI­LENCE

Bavelile (left) and Fanie Mkhwanazi, who fea­tured on Our Per­fect Wed­ding on Sun­day

DE­COLONIS­ING THE KISS The in­fa­mous kiss that was shared by a cou­ple on a pre­vi­ous episode

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