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Humour as "cultural reconciliation" in South African situation comedy : an ethnographic study of multicultural female viewers.

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South African women of different ethnicity and background, having lived under apartheid, are now challenged by the freedoms expressed in the Bill of Rights and the new Constitution. This study, identifying the connections between gender, race, class and social relations, incorporates an ethnographic methodology and a cultural studies perspective in the reception analysis of thirteen multicultural focus groups. In the analysis of their response to two locally produced situation comedies, Suburban Bliss and Going Up III, the effort to determine existing cultural barriers is made, examining laughter as a benchmark for the comprehension by women from different backgrounds. The theoretical framework for the research evaluates the extent to which the writers, producers and directors created a text which connects with the multicultural women viewers' reality. Changes affecting the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) in terms of broadcasting policy, are traced, and a brief history of the organization since the inception of broadcasting in South Africa is incorporated. Language policy had ret1ected the overt political ideology of Afrikaner nationalism, consequently the political changes resulting from the 1994 democratic election led to major transformations in language and style of programming to incorporate local content for multicultural audiences. This caused economic hardship for the SABC, as advertising revenue was drastically curtailed. Textual analysis of both Suburban Bliss and Going Up III employed a mix of structural, semiotics, and ideological analysis. Through interviews with the production team it became apparent that SB was based on American sitcom genre, while GU III is a hybrid combination, conceived to meet the perceived needs of the local multilingual multicultural audience. The extent to which the programmes mediate the producer/audience relationship, contributing to the hegemonic process is investigated, as the interpretation of the text can be different in the decoding from that originally intended by the producer or encoder when creating the programme. The situation comedies by depicting in a humorous vein the realities of affirmative action, adult access to pornography, the aspirations of the new black elite, feminine participation in the democratic process, and the rejection of authoritarian censorship from the state or the home indicates the ideological position of the production teams. The responses of the focus groups were examined in terms of their own identity as well as where an historic individuality expands into the collective communities of nations, gender, classes, generations, race and ethnic groups. Identity was perceived as connected but distinct and separate, as any event can affect both individuals and society. The thesis explores the proposition that humour as 'cultural reconcilation' can be effective if people are prepared to alter negative patterns of thinking and social practices.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of Natal, Durban, 1998.


Women--South Africa., Women, Black--South Africa., Television comedies--South Africa., Television viewers., Reconciliation., Theses--Culture, communication and media studies., Comedy programmes--South Africa., Television and women.