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The Wild

Without Horns

by Brandon Edmonds / 18.04.2011

Game reserves occupy a contested space in the South African mental environment. They straddle a confluence of contemporary issues. Beneath the idyllic, clichéd African savannah vista resplendent with flat top Acacias and giraffes grazing in the sunset, lurk much darker currents. Take, for example the unmitigated destruction of the natural environment by human development, or the tide of poaching fuelled by lucrative Asian and local muti markets, then think of the land claims and the fact that game reserves are still the preserve of the privileged, moneyed classes. Yes, this is fertile territory for a popular, daily TV series.

Alas poaching is the only vaguely compelling narrative thread of Mnet’s new soap The Wild. Set in a chi-chi game lodge, the channel’s pockets are deep enough to have bought land in Heidelberg to escape the stolid studio-bound limits of every other local tele-novella – giving episodes a welcome naturalism and expansiveness. Cloud shadow moves across landscape in real time. The sun actually sets. Evening feels like evening. Night night. Pity the cast haven’t inhaled the hale air.

It’s as if they’re fostering an outbreak of dendrophilia (the love of trees, ignoramus) so tentative and wooden is the acting. You magazine’s heralded glamour-couple, Connie and Shona Ferguson, are both awful. He’s all tattoos and sunglasses – signifiers of a new South African something or other, but that hipness hasn’t sunk into his body language, his presence or sensibility. His lines don’t feel like they’ve spent any time in his brain.

The Wild

Which may have something to do with the old single writer per episode syndrome. It’s an abiding weakness of local television, the absence of packs of quality writers bouncing shit off each other to tweak language beyond a sort of rote, functional speech. It means everyone pretty much talks the same. The dialogue never flips back on itself like Tarantino. There’s none of the jarring, surprising flow of actual speech. Dull talk passes between characters like herpes.

Shona’s squeeze, Connie, is less agonizingly wracked and melodramatic than she was in Generations, but she’s an actress incapable of relaxing, her default mode is fretful, as if the sky is about to fall on her pretty head. Maybe it should – the show certainly needs soapier elementals (miscarriages, evil twins, erotic sabotage) than the pabulum it’s first week served up. Whether some groomed patriarch enjoyed the marula cake is hardly drama. A fist fight…nearly breaks out. The tribal land concession granting the lodge use of the range might not be signed.

The Wild

All I can say is Jersey Shore. People got drunk and partied. There was no hedging, no guess-work. It’s what they live to do. Good TV is all about conviction. Tony Soprano will kill you. Liz Lemon will get the show out. Don Draper does not suffer fools. Our lives are already compromised by half-measures and mediocrity – don’t rub it in our faces. Give us drama. Soap opera. Get operatic. People need to collapse in pain. Hearts must be broken. Lives ruined. Dreams shredded. Am I wrong?

Instead a fat old white guy almost attacks his demented, repulsive wife after she’s spent the day flinging massive wobbly double-entendre’s at a suspiciously Amazing Black Ranger guy. Suspicious because the series is funded, designed, written and directed by well-connected white people. Sorry to go there but the Amazing Black Ranger guy is a glaring case of guilty over-compensation. There’s a rare self-reflexive moment that neatly punctures the post-racial ease when pretty Lelo flirts with the chief’s son at a party as Afrikaans pop tinkles in the background:

“You’re not dancing?”
“To this?”

The Wild

The series’ opening week paled before its off-screen drama. The chief’s son was originally played by Tony Kgoroge (Blood Diamond and Hotel Rwanda) who was fired after wavering on a contract with Mnet that apparently cedes “residual (and rebroadcast) payments” to the company “in perpetuity”. Kgoroge said: “I refuse to sign a letter of intent saying I must give away my royalties to Mnet for a lifetime.” The contract allegedly cuts actors out of international royalties. A serious loss given how the subscriber channel spreads its content throughout Africa. Similar residual payment issues shut down Hollywood in 2008 during the Writer’s strike. The Creative Workers Union subsequently picketed The Wild launch held at Montecasino and weighed in with the usual clanging rhetoric, declaring a war against Mnet for “its continued racist, exploitative measures and undermining of South African talent.” About 28 people showed up.

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It would have been great if they’d protested the Soapie as such. A TV format that seldom asks much of its audience beyond prurience and “aspirational” envy. When a fashion features editor on heat in The Wild – “I’m an extrovert!” – plops kaal into an outdoor tub before a smug ranger hunk, the redundant commercial banality of the entire soapie format feels oppressive. They must fuck because they’re young and work out a lot. They must fuck so the series can velcro the tag “sexy” to its hide for advertisers to festoon face cream and fast food around. They must fuck because hey ladies don’t you wish it was you in the hot tub… Meh.

Imagine soapies re-engineered to put the mass attention and habitual devotion they enjoy (especially in “emerging economies” like our own) to work – critically exploring the dramatic global forces behind our social lives. That sounds like dreary Stalinist social realism, but it doesn’t have to be.

Take China, Naspers and poaching. 300 rhinos were killed for their horns in SA alone last year. The World Wildlife Fund suggests these deaths are “actually driven by the black market demand for rhino horn in East Asia.” 90% of the rhino population has been wiped out over the last 40 years – a pattern paralleling the Chinese turn to market capitalism. Traditional medicine routinely uses endangered species and demand is high. A single rhino horn is worth thirty thousand dollars. By weight, that’s better than gold.

Naspers, the multinational media behemoth, incubated in the dark days of high apartheid, and the owners of Mnet, made R15.8bn early last year (most of it generated by Multichoice subscription fees). It’s the money behind The Wild – a show almost about poaching. Naspers also owns 30% of Tencent, as FIN24 puts it, “China’s biggest internet company by market value.” This makes Naspers a small part of the story of emergent China. A country with folkways deaf to contemporary conservation ethics and a thriving black market for rhino horn. Naspers has ultimately financed a series dramatizing poaching partly with capital made in a country driving the same illegal practice! That’s global capitalism. These are the real dynamics behind the days of our lives and they’re crying out for radical new forms of popular storytelling.

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RESPONSES (11)
  1. Jason says:

    ‘His lines don’t feel like they’ve spent any time in his brain.’

    Nice one, Brenda.

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  2. LukeSkyCrawler says:

    so your mnet subscription is for research …… You do have dstv ?…. Right…

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  3. LukeSkyCrawler says:

    back to watchin sabc… i mean havin dstv makes me a poacher – right … [refer to the article on smokin fake cigarettes] …

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  4. screaming doc hansen says:

    With that pic I thought I would find something in the piece on my old mate Ian Kalahari Roberts but nothing ? I have this theory that with the globalisation-driven death of thel other local industries we’ll all be game rangers soon.

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  5. David says:

    Nice thinking at the end B re Naspers and china but very tacked on to a review. Please develop this theme. Basically the commoditization of our valuable resources for material gain. Isn’t that showbiz? Or dark slant eyed muti?

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  6. underwhelmed says:

    The last bit about naspers-apartheid gain- Chinese internet company? Maybe you will need to lead me gently down your path of enlightenment. Is it because they have shareholding in a Chinese internet company that they are now firmly behind an agenda to downplay the seriousness of the poaching problem. You could have just left it at a nice review on the storylining, characters, acting and production value. Don’t go on tangents that would require actual journalistic practice on your part.

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  7. lizard says:

    With you on this one Underwhelmed. The Naspers / China / Mnet / Rhino horn is one giant leap of the imagination, with nothing concrete to back it up. Stick with the (good) review and leave the real journ work to those who don’t base their entire research on watching a couple of episodes of the latest soap.

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  8. brandon edmonds says:

    Yeah well I was trying to illustrate that the world is far more interesting and complex (Naspers flying over to China for meetings, deals, big business etc.) than soap storylines could ever be. Why can’t popular narrative forms reflect some of the contradictions and ironies of global capitalism – like china-mnet-poaching. Links in a chain held together by capital. It’s a plea to move beyond the daily whatever of some hunting lodge. Tangents are far more interesting to me than ‘actual journalistic practice’.

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  9. whatever says:

    as if african people where born in tin cans?all white people whatch mnet?as if the capitalists don’t spend there lives trying to get richer?how many cars can u drive at once and how many houses can u live in at once?logic says why do we pay more for a tiny car that uses loads of petrol just because it goes fast,when we can’t even legally drive at those speads on our roads?logic does not seem to apply in our society and…since when don’t african people love africa too,or are the americans in disguise?

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  10. ziggy says:

    Getting bored with Mahala, friend sent me a link to this page else I wouldn’t have bothered. The Wild is a great soap, most SA soaps are fantastic, compare them the Bold or Days etc, we make really good daily soap. But that’s what it is – soap – no the Sopranos and not written by Tarrentino. Big yawn to Mahala for not knowing the genre they’re talking about

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  11. Amrain says:

    Please lets not forget that it is a soap opera not a drama. It tick’s all the boxes as far as soaps go. I agree with ziggy, it’s a good quality soapy. It’s not meant to be particularly deep or challenging. Just believable and enjoyable. I certainly have seen and been involved with worse. So big up to those involved. I disagree about the acting. Maybe you are just used to over the top, wildly gesticulating, ‘let me spell it out for you’ acting. For once it is great to see something subtle and that doesn’t insult the viewer by needing to hit us over the head with what the characters are feeling. You know it’s easy to criticize. Why don’t you try writing a soap yourself and put yourself in the firing line? Or better yet, be part of the solution and offer to write some treatments. I am proud at the rate at which out industry is growing and developing. Our skills are being sought after internationally. your opinions seem a bit bourgeoisie. You are not the target market. Why knock it? It seems a bit intellectually elitist that you do. This is a product for the people. Open your eyes and take a look around. You are out of touch.

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