The 'visual spectacle' of soap opera and reality television


  • Mariekie Burger University of Johannesburg


In contrast to the concerns of scholars that the visual spectacle of television lulls audiences into passive consumption of pre-packaged entertainment, this article argues that popular television formats can address matters of social concern. It is shown that reality television and soap operas can engage the audience into actively taking part in 1) formulating messages for the television serials, 2) reflecting on the media messages, and 3) participating in identification processes. It is this active participation in formulating and reflecting on the televised messages and the identification processes (with the celebrity persona of the programme presenter and/or the fictional   characters in the fictional soap opera and/or the authenticity of ordinary people that appear on reality television) that counters passive consumption of pre-packaged media entertainment. Furthermore, if media   entertainment is used to enhance dialogue through such audience participation regarding matters of social concern, the assumptions of the latest approaches to social change/development communication are adhered to. In this article four South African television programmes, Soul City, Kwanda, Khumbul’ekhaya and Zola 7, are discussed as edutainment programmes that actively seek to address matters of social concern.


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