- The Making of the Pentecostal Melodrama: religion, media, and gender in Kinshasa by Katrien Pype
Katrien Pype is a scholar on a mission, driven by her contagious fascination for Kinshasa. Her exploration of Kinshasa’s Pentecostal melodrama is a testament to her successful mastery of a city that has lured many scholars but elicited few finegrained studies. Hers is a successful attempt to map out an ‘imagined Christian community’ that has transformed Kinshasa into a fiery battleground between good and evil. To that end, Pype embedded herself with Cinarc, a makeshift cinematic troupe of young Christian actors, even going as far as performing in one telenarrative as Reine Love, an evil siren.
Starting her study with Sherry Ortner’s notion of the key scenario, Pype situates the narrative and plot of Pentecostal teleserials within a broader project involving the creation of an ‘imagined Christian community’. The Pentecostal vision of Kinshasa’s urban landscape, which Pype develops in the next chapter, is saturated by real and imagined witchcraft and clashes with the city’s reputation for its nightly, exuberant ambiance. Indeed, witchcraft shapes Pentecostal spiritual life so much that the Pentecostal teleserials have become a carbon copy of Sunday sermons, re-enacting and performing the spiritual battle that rages in Kinshasa. They function as didactic devices aimed at reorganizing and resignifying Kinshasa’s urban reality of misfortune, infertility, illness, sudden enrichment, etc. through carefully scripted plots. In Chapter 3, Pype shows that Cinarc is used by the Pentecostal church as a ministry that takes the gospel where other ministries have failed to venture: that is, inside Kinois’ private living rooms. At the same time, many young actors join Cinarc to find a partner, to become famous, to travel to Europe, and more generally to have a ‘good life’. Pype analyses the inevitable fallouts of such ambitions – splintering, gossip, betrayal and vendetta – much in the same way that Bob White describes Kinshasa’s musical scene in Rumba Rules.
In her fourth chapter, Pype shifts her analysis inward and asks what inspires good actors to perform for their audience and acquire aura and charisma. She makes a compelling claim for a continuum between traditional diviners and born-again pastors as they both operate within the same ‘spiritual scheme’. Yet she fails to investigate whether the seemingly idiosyncratic ethos of Kinshasa’s pastors is also rooted in mimetic appropriation of the performative personae of American charismatic televangelists. Cinarc actors and actresses often blur the line between fiction and reality and become possessed by their stage character and persona. In keeping with Kinshasa’s lurking Manichean scheme, only malevolent characters (namely witches and prostitutes) end up bewitching both performers and audience.
Chapter 6 is arguably the book’s most revealing segment, because the author analyses confession, contrition and deliverance rituals on the basis of her own [End Page 338] participant observation. She confesses before her fellow performers that she was a ‘sinner’, yet at the same time wonders whether she has gone too far in her embedment. In Chapter 7, Pype discusses the way in which teleserials venture into the realm of politics, opening a space for young people to challenge gerontocracy and the state, and allowing them to weave their personal stories of spiritual rebirth into the melodrama’s plots. Starting from the teleserials’ promotion of endogamous, monogamous and heteronormative unions, Pype focuses on the clash between the Pentecostal ideology and Congolese ‘tradition’, especially in marriage, intimacy and sex, in the following chapter. Many Cinarc actors use their off-screen interventions to police gender (i.e. female) sartorial mores and to enforce their vision of proper sexual behaviour. Yet, as Pype concludes, ‘Christian TV actors are first of all Kinois and only secondarily Christian’ (p. 276), because, in the end, they promote patriarchal, often misogynistic, views that stem from an amalgamation of Christian values and customary ideologies.
Pype’s superb study is not without flaws and shortcomings. She often pits ‘Westerners’ against Kinshasa’s born-again Christians, whereas one could...