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  • Media in Postapartheid South Africa: postcolonial politics in the age of globalization by Sean Jacobs
  • Keyan G Tomaselli (bio)
Sean Jacobs (2019) Media in Postapartheid South Africa: postcolonial politics in the age of globalization. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press

Jacobs provides a panoptic view of the South African media and how in its broadest sense such media negotiated, shaped and debated the political transition (chapter 1). He starts from the multiracial TV adverts flighted on SABC-TV for Castle Lager that anticipated – and/or pushed – for impending social change after 1976 (chapter 2). New kinds of socially-referenced sitcoms, soap operas and the forging of a national identity through appealing to the notion of the 'aspirational viewer' contextualises these shifts (chapter 3). These were driven by the emergence of black urban class-mobile consumers, identified by the international advertising agency, J Walter Thompson, a firm that responded most alertly to the conditions that were developing from the smoky aftermath of Soweto '76.

Discussion follows on the idiosyncratic Africa-wide public sphere enabled by Big Brother. On a broader scale were MultiChoice's forays into Africa on the back of the PAS4 satellite that enabled Big Brother's appeal as an alternative pan-African public sphere (chapter 4). The way that the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) mobilised as a civil society organisation to defeat the liberation government's bizarre and genocidal denialist policy on HIV/AIDS, is the case study comprising chapter 5.

Chapter 6 moves in a different direction, exploring the relationship between media and especially white Afrikaner political identities after apartheid. New media technologies will have shaped these on the one hand, while appropriation by Afrikaners of the global human rights discourses [End Page 134] of 'minority rights' and 'victimhood' after ceding political power in 1994, were imported into public discussion. The book's conclusion offers some insights into the demise of mass parties, mass media, the rise of new mediascapes and associated identities that centre on mobile technologies.

Jacobs evokes national allegories that decentre media as the direct focus, while examining broader issues read through the media in general. As mentioned, the new allegory actually starts with the rebranding of Castle Lager, based on a longitudinal study of the beer's TV adverts conducted by Alex Holt during the 1980s period of apartheid reform. Holt's benchmark study underpins Jacobs' analysis of the wider trends buffeting the late apartheid political economy, and the ensuing contradictions that would contribute to its demise. Holt's analysis of advertising practices and new consumption patterns brought about by the growing black urbanisation, and the need for single advertising campaigns aimed at identifying new and growing multiracial class-based markets that no longer responded to 'separate' messages, underpin Jacobs's analysis. The idea of 'nation' thus emerged from the advertising industry as their most effective marketing strategy (41). Similar trends were evident in SABC-TV programming with a growing African-American presence prior to 1994 and in commissioned sitcoms like Suburban Bliss and Going Up, as analysed elsewhere by Dorothy Roome. The strength of chapter 2 (Branding South Africa in Prime Time) is that it extends Holt's until now neglected but visually and sonically rich approach in constructing a narrative on South African emergent national branding. Allied to these advertising messages, was their multiracialisation of characters and notable Castle's anthemic unifier.

Chapter 3 (The Aspirational Viewer) on locally made dramas and soap operas draws links between early 'whites' or 'blacks'-only examples (ie after 1976 when TV was first introduced). The programmes made during the transition aimed at promoting the idea of a kind of unified but classless multiracial nation adopting free market capitalism. The entertainment education imperatives that influenced the SABC commissioning editors is mentioned, but not developed, though such a methodology was very strongly at work via national public health communication programmes and programming, which also involved very intensive audience response and behaviour-change analysis. This corpus of research led by Soul City and Johns Hopkins Health and Education in South Africa and its university affiliates might have been highlighted. [End Page 135]

Chapter 4 (Big Brother MultiChoice) examines how reality TV challenged entrenched cultural values and sexual...


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pp. 134-138
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