Generations Gone Too Far

It's amazing how our politics in Mzansi somehow manages to mirror what happens in our entertainment industry. A while back during the “Mbeki wanting a third term” debacle I happened to be reading a biography written by Meredith Martin about Robert Mugabe. 

What prompted me to read it was my yearning to understand how someone who at some point was revered as a liberator and a hero to his people can turn out to be the monster that Mugabe has subsequently proven to be. 

From the book I learnt that absolute power can turn even the noblest of men into a tyrant.

ABSOLUTE POWER… I guess it makes sense when you feel like you are at the top and everybody else is beneath you. Why bother consider their opinion or feelings about the decisions you make?

Generations has been dominated the ratings for over a decade now. Deservedly so… well at least up until 4 years ago. It has become part of many South Africans’ lives. It is the reigning monarch of the Soap Operas world probably in the entire continent. 

There are were many good things about the show, one of them being the fact that it is a platform for local actors to jump start their careers or boost them. Many actors who had been in the industry for years were unknown to the masses or rather nobody cared to know about them until they appeared on Generations. 

The show has also been at the fore front of tackling issues that were generally taboo in this nation’s black households. What I personally grew up loving about the show was that it opened a world to many people that we thought was unattainable. 

Though critics of the show in its early days branded it as unrealistic of how black people live, I loved it. It offered some sort of escapism. For 30minutes once a week one could be taken into a world where black people have butlers and mansions.

Of late though the creativity within the show has run dry and now we are subjected to boring rehashed storylines. Some people here have even branded the show; Genrubbish. 

Even with the demise of thought provoking storylines and entrancing acting, the show still manages to rank in huge numbers in the ratings. The SABC’s cash cow has a cult-like following among its target audience which has raised many debates as to why people still watch the show no matter how bad it gets. 

Personally when I get drawn into the debate I just say; to understand why people follow Generations even with its mishaps one would have to decipher the logic behind South Africans voting for the ANC even when it fails its people. 

Is it racial loyalty, brain washing, loving mediocre, lack of a better alternative, etc? I do not know.

Nobody forces anybody to watch Generations, let’s get that clear. However, when I saw the Drum cover of Buyile Mdladla and Connie Ferguson on the news stand I couldn’t help but feel disheartened. 

As someone who loves this industry my heart slightly palpitated and I felt a sense of betrayal at the blatant lack of respect the show is showing not only for its viewers but for the industry at large. What annoyed me most is that our so called industry AWARDS, The Saftas to be precise, will still shower the show with awards even when it shows disregard for the industry. 

I wasn’t surprised that DRUM had them on the cover because, truth be told, the magazine has become Generations’ personal diary.

Here is my gripe with the situation. We all know that Buyile played Alex in the show before so to bring him back to the show to play a different character (Lungile Mabena) is just WRONG!! When The Star probed the show about this blunder they simply just said;
“We created the part of Lungile Mabena and sent out a brief to the various casting agencies. Agents responded and sent over various actors. Buyile was amongst them. He did a great audition. His performance best suited to what we had in mind and what we required, according to the character sketch and the storyline. The fact that Buyile played a relatively small part in Generations literally nine, ten years ago had no bearing on our decision. He played a completely different type of character. The actor simply was the best person for the job.”
Are you kidding me? The show has been recycling storylines and now you are recycling actors? So in this whole country there was not a single actor who could have played that role? Hey why didn’t you have an open audition for professional and non-professional actors if this role was so special that you couldn’t find anybody to play it from the agencies you sent the brief to.

At the end of the day it’s the show’s money and they can hire whomever they please but with the small industry we have this has to be a huge slap on the face for other actors in the industry. The insult in all of this is more poignant when you think about a show like this, which clearly doesn’t care about its viewers or the employment of actors, gets given AWARDS as the best show in the land.

For some odd reason when I thought about this situation the words ABSOLUTE POWER came to mind. Has Generations gotten too big for its own boots that its arrogance has blinded it to the social responsibility it owes this nation since it’s on the public broadcaster channel? 

Ok, even when we take the industry sentiments out of it, this situation just reeks of arrogance, PERIOD. What about the show’s viewers? If you don’t care about the growth of this industry don’t you atleast have some respect for your viewers.

An actor friend during a conversation about the industry once said to me; “The problem with our some soap writers in Mzansi is that they always think our audiences are stupid.” This might not be the case here but boy it sure has the same whiff of fowl smell. How do we expect our artists and the craft to be taken seriously if the people at the helm do not take it seriously?

Mediocre sells in Mzansi. However, we have a responsibility, especially in an industry as small as ours, to deliver quality to our audiences no matter how little some of us may think of them. Fact is; Generations has a loyal following and no matter how many blunders they do (if our politics is any indication of how blinded we are by our allegiances) they will still rank in huge numbers in the ratings.

My personal plea to the powers that be at Generations and anybody else within the soapie field in our industry who is thinking of following this travesty is that we should try and build a reputable industry that cares about its audience and respects the ART of storytelling. We are only as good as the respect we get from our audiences for the quality of the shows we produce. The only way that this industry will grow and feed its artists is if we steer clear of the lures of always taking shortcuts. We can not have foreign concepts like Idols and Big Brother rule our industry and when it comes to our own concepts we slack by lowering the standard.

As for this statement to The Star to try and justify this blunder…

“In Days of our Lives, for example, an actress called Judi Evans-Luciano played both the characters of Adrienne Johnson Kyriakis and Bonnie Lockhart”

Soapies in SA are huge. Buyile Mdladla is a well known personality in this country and whether Alex was a small role for him or not, he will be remembered by the audience. To compare SA soaps with American ones is just silly. 

Imagine if an actor from Desperate Housewives came back in later Seasons to play a totally different character from the one he played before on the series, that would not happen. The popularity of DH in the world is similar to that of Generations here, though the two are different genres.

One thing for certain; Even the mighty will fall!! Keep that “we don’t care, we are number one” attitude and you might wake up and find yourself jobless with the show being canned because nobody is watching. People can only take mediocre for so long.

With the emergence of new channels hopefully more ideas and talents will get the opportunity to shine and the absolute power in ratings that certain channels hold will be challenged. Someone at Generations needs to eat some humble pie lest the show become a victim of its own arrogance.

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