When myth becomes meaning: examining the representation of female character construction in Uzalo: Blood is Forever.
Landers, Shannon Leigh.
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Soap operas have been constructed as a feminine genre displaying the everyday reality of female characters. It has been postulated by seminal scholars (Modleski, 1979/1982; Hobson, 1982; Kuhn, 1984; Brown, 1987) that the genre provides a feminine discourse, which subverts classic ‘male-centred’ genres that portray women as objects to be desired by the male gaze. However, soap opera scholarship has received criticism from scholars who contend that femininity is restricted to a western, white, middle-class context, thereby dismissing femininities that exist outside this framework (Geraghty, 1991; Hooks, 2003; Acosta-Alzuru, 2003). Furthermore, scholars (Metz, 1974; Butler, 1986; Seiter, 1987/1992) have stressed the need to extend the focus of feminist scholarship from narrative structure to include the stylistic and diegetic conventions used to purvey meaning. Language therefore plays a significant role in soap opera scholarship as it is through language that messages about femininity are encoded. The popular South African soap opera Uzalo presented a unique opportunity to examine soap opera as a feminine discourse, while accounting for the stylistic conventions in which meaning is inscribed. This study employed a structuralist semiotics approach to analyse the representation of the matriarchs in Uzalo. The theoretical framework was guided by the work of Roland Barthes (1972) and Claude Lévi- Strauss (1978) who focussed on the work of myth. The purpose of incorporating myth was to uncover the ritualistic depiction of the everyday, which is often constructed as common sense. Key findings suggest that although Uzalo attempted to establish a feminine discourse by positioning the matriarchs as central characters, patriarchal values permeated the text as absent signifiers. The study also revealed that a successful feminine discourse requires a more nuanced approach that accounts for the intersectionality of gender, race, class and sexuality.