Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Mass Communication and Media Arts
This research reveals the opaque social hierarchies which work to structure Black life in contemporary South Africa. Using a multi-modal critical discourse analysis, and four theories: hegemony, neoliberalism, post-feminism and African womanism, this study analyzes the representation of weddings in Our Perfect Wedding and Top Billing Weddings, two South African wedding reality television programs. In addition, the study examines the TV programs’ audience narratives in online spaces. Analyzing online conversations helps to show how audiences actively engage with and interpret messages disseminated by the TV shows as they talk back to the shows and among themselves. The study also examines wedding speeches to understand their role in relation to gender issues in contemporary South Africa. The findings demonstrate that neoliberal and post-feminist narratives are used to exemplify what is contemporary and attractive. Tied to this, practices and appearances moderated by whiteness are represented as beautiful and normative whereas Blackness and Black feminine looks are either mainstreamed or discarded. The representations create a binary that is hard to resist between what is represented as modern and attractive versus the African culture that is represented as inconsequential and disposable. Regarding the TV shows’ audiences there is a tension between those who embrace the high class televisual representations of white weddings and those calling for a return to African cultural practices and an appreciation of Blackness. Such calls illustrate nostalgia for Blackness. For this reason, these narratives offer insight into the intersection of class and culture and illustrate that Black South Africans are navigating an identity struggle confronted with attractive contemporary life unfolding in a space where African practices are largely marginalized. Furthermore, wedding speeches with perspectives drawn from the African culture and Biblical scriptures reveal that marriage is constructed around patriarchal beliefs. Wedding speeches structure gender roles and define hegemonic African manhood, a prominent identity that towers over African womanhood. Christian and African cultural beliefs converge to normalize women’s subordination and male supremacy in the Black South African society, a contradiction to the attractive images portrayed on TV. The televisual representation of weddings, online responses to the representations and wedding speeches demonstrate an intersection of issues of culture, class, and gender in modern day South Africa. This intersection demonstrates that Black people are in pursuit of a Black identity confronted with issues of contemporary living while attempting to adhere to what has long been defined as inherent Black cultural practices with highly structured gender roles. Neoliberal and post-feminist narratives, while embraced for their attractive features of glamor in the form of white weddings, are also feared and resisted for displacing Blackness. Gender norms also complicate the identity picture as they are influenced by African practices that lag behind proclaimed gender equality in present day South Africa.
This dissertation is Open Access and may be downloaded by anyone.