Audience interpretation of the representation of violence and gangsterism in South African television: a case study of Uzalo.
Mpanza, Khethelihle Musa Brian.
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Uzalo: Blood is Forever was launched in 2015 and by the end of September 2018 Uzalo became the most popular South African television production with 10.2 million viewers each night. Uzalo’s narrative is largely driven by gangsterism and as such relies on violence and crime to achieve its objective. A unique achievement of Uzalo is its portrayal of a gangster in a township setting on prime-time television, this study explores how this is not mutually exclusive from its dominance of television viewer ratings. This study was, therefore, conducted to ascertain why violent stories are popular with audiences and how the portrayal of violence, through Uzalo’s characters, resonates with its viewers in the township of KwaMashu and central Durban. Furthermore, the study investigates the audience’s interpretation of how accurate Uzalo is in its depiction of the township setting. Uzalo is considered to belong to the telenovela genre. This study outlined the construct of that genre but also drew on comparisons from outside the genre, both locally and internationally. A qualitative research methodology was adopted and data was collected through four focus groups, two in KwaMashu and two in central Durban. Thematic analysis organises the data which is then interpreted through the lens of narrative theory and the concepts related to ‘the active audience’. The study found that Uzalo is premised on binary oppositions which are expressed through the inner conflict of its characters who constantly grapple with the moral boundaries of good and bad. These individual accounts play out under the broader disequilibrium of two babies being swapped at birth and nurtured in obverse circumstances to their nature. Furthermore, this study considered whether the audience perceives the depicted violence as realistic or unrealistic and also highlighted similarities and differences of the audiences’ perception of violence in a township setting. These interpretations were varied and found to be informed by the audience’s location (township and/or CBD) and experience (cultural beliefs, age and past experiences).