Graduate Examined Interpretations of Masculinities in SA Soapies

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Interpretations of masculinities presented in three South African soap operas – Uzalo, Imbewu and Isibaya – by Zulu male audiences living in KwaZulu-Natal were the focus of doctoral research.

The research was done by Dr Melba Nzimande who graduated with a PhD in Media and Cultural studies.

Nzimande says research contributes to African masculinity studies, especially those in soap operas in terms of representation and audience engagement in a ‘post’ era, from the perspective of the global South.

Her study found that contemporary South African soap operas uphold and subvert dominant discourses of Zulu masculinities that are fluid and influenced by social and cultural factors. This articulates the complexity of these masculinities, thus working against stereotypical representations of Zulu men.

Nzimande identifies the significance of this finding. ‘First, soap opera producers are creating narratives that no longer conform only to traditional soap opera codes and conventions. They encode messages through narratives that draw in male viewers and use the power of cultural proximity in representations, meaning that there is a move to the indigenisation of settings, storylines and languages to attract audiences.

‘Secondly, male audiences decode the messages through parasocial relationships and cultural proximity,’ she said.

The study ‘adds to understanding the specificities of viewing within the African context, and the importance of creatives to be aware of the ways in which these habits shape the meanings of the programmes they produce.’

Looking back on her doctoral journey, Nzimande said: ‘Being a student in the Centre for Communication, Media and Society (CCMS) pushed me to work harder, read more and to ask more questions. The type of learning environment present blew me away and I loved every moment of it. I have the highest respect for the CCMS staff and their research integrity. I am privileged to have been a part of it. The academic boot camps, colloquia and symposiums were enlightening.’

Reflecting on the supervision process, she said: ‘The supervision relationship is a vital component of the doctoral journey. I was lucky that Professor Lauren Dyll was my supervisor. She provided me with wonderful academic assistance providing feedback on drafts and urged me to attend special workshops and symposia, even arranging for my attendance in Dr Kerry Frizelle’s psychology gender and identity classes. On top of all that she was always kind to me.’

Among the biggest challenges for Nzimande was juggling work and studies as she was based in Pietermaritzburg but registered to study in Durban. This meant commuting weekly to attend colloquia, workshops, lectures and taking time off work to attend. ‘I knew that the typical student worked about 40 hours a week on research and that I had to equally put in those hours after work. This meant a lot of weekend time was spend on studies, plus late nights and very early mornings. As a new mom and a wife, I created a rhythm of working that was able to accommodate all that.’

Nzimande is grateful to her family for their support as well as to the men who participated in the focus groups and the soap opera producers from the various production companies: Mmamitse Thibedi (Uzalo), Duma Ndlovu (Imbewu) and Jacob Ntshangase (Isibaya).

She urged all current and future doctoral students to ‘invest in your supervision partnership – and the starting point is open, dialogic and frequent communication.’

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