|Written by Roome, Dorothy|
Going Up is a hybrid combination of comic realism, allegoric mode, situation comedy, folk musical and African oral tradition, conceived to meet the perceived needs of the local multilingual multicultural audience. The industry acted as an intermediary between the cultural and historic changes that were occurring in South Africa, while the aesthetic views of the writers/producers were a crucial component in the development of GU III by redefining the audience. With its representational narrative, visual naturalism and its attention to the quotidian detail of the South African legal workplace, (a law office in the Central Business District of Johannesburg), GU III plays elicits laughter by working comedy's subversive potential for creating divergent interpretations.
Going Up III (GU III) portrays events occurring in a small established law firm, located in the central business district in downtown Johannesburg, and in a "shebeen" or "speak-easy" located on the top of the building - "Going Up". The main characters include Jabulani Cebekulu, a black colonial style helper, wearing a khaki dust coat, signifying his servile position; Mr. Reginald Cluver, senior partner, elderly old fashioned white lawyer; Edward Tsaba, the black associate, representing the role of the new black elite in South Africa. Secondary characters include Mrs. Jakobs, secretary; Squeeza, the black owner of the shebeen, and Klein Piet Gouws, white Afrikaans-speaking security guard in the foyer of the building. Each episode is motivated by the introduction of new clients. There are six sets used for the scenes and these are permanent constructions at the SABC studios. The sets include the foyer of the building, the entrance outside Cluver & Associates on the third floor of the building, the lobby of Cluver & Associates, where Mrs. Jakobs sits; Mr. Cluver's office; Mr. Tsaba's office and the shebeen or speakeasy, situated on the top of the building. There is also a kitchen, where Jabu makes the tea, but it is not used in the episodes screened for the research.
The Case of the Historically Advantaged Pale Males
This episode concerns changing identity in the new South Africa. Its opens in Squeeza's shebeen where blond, young Klein Piet Gouws, security guard in the foyer of the building, is discussing a new career as a pop star/singer. Jabulani Cebekulu, (popularly known as Jabu) and his three chums suggest he needs a new name as "Piet Gouws" does not suit the image of a popstar. They decide on the name "Snowman" and Piet proceeds to sing his rap song about a new identity accompanied by a dance troupe of black males and Squeeza. The next scene opens in the lobby of Cluver & Associates, when Mrs. Jakobs, the coloured secretary informs Jabu that Mr.Tsaba needs him to translate. The scene takes place in Mr. Tsaba's office where three white male Afrikaner construction partners are seated to receive advice from Cluver and Associates. The men are puzzled as to why they no longer receive government contracts and Mr Tsaba, whose Afrikaans is neglible, (after Jabu explains the problem) rather pompously announces that since this is the new South Africa they must expect this. However, Jabu, as the tolk or translator has an acute ability to cut to the real problem, suggests they change their names to African ones and include "the handicapped, female and gays" on their board to be representative of the new South Africa. The conservative men are suitably horrified but decide to take care of the changes.
Later in the foyer of the building Klein Piet, as the security guard, has an exchange with a motley group of people including two gay men (one with a lisp), a handicapped man in a chair and a couple of elderly women before allowing them to continue up to Cluver & Associates. When the group arrive in the lobby Mrs. Jakobs becomes very flustered, when she tries to ascertain why they are there and the gay men insist they are there to see "three burly gentlemen with muscular thighs". Finally, Jabu arrives to sort out the "muddle" and the group enter Tsaba's office where they meet the Afrikaans construction team. The latter proceed to announce they have followed Jabu's advice, changed the name of the company to "Indaba Projects" and their own names to African ones, have a new board, namely the motley crew including the two "alternative" men - the two gays. They now want government contracts. The action moves to the shebeen where Klein Piet, resplendent in sunglasses, is singing when the policeman arrives to arrest him on a charge of smuggling cocaine because his name is "Snowman". The scene changes to Reginald Cluver's office where he, Jabu and Klein Piet are discussing how Cluver managed to get Klein Piet released from all charges. Jabu, as the "wannabee" attorney, suggests it is a clear case of defamation but Cluver disagrees and tells Klein Piet it was a stupid choice of name as everyone knows that is a name for a drug dealer. Suitably chastised Klein Piet thanks him profusely and promises never again to indulge in such activities.
Back in the lobby, the Afrikaans men arrive to thank the company for their assistance as they have been awarded a contract by the government. Tsaba points out that they must have been awarded it prior to the changes as it would be illegal to make changes in the tender. At first they are horrified and one asks if he can have his own name back, but finally all decide to keep the changes, including the gay men, who have already suggested changing to pink hard hats. The men thank Jabu profusely but ignore Tsaba's outstretched hand. Back upstairs in the shebeen, Jabu announces to all "you cannot change something by changing its name whether it's a rap artist, a construction company or the `new South Africa'". Jabu then orders drinks all round from Squeeza and the episode ends.
Flexible Asian Models
Concerns the use/misuse of pornographic video tapes. The episode opens in Mrs. Jakobs' office where she is trying to transcribe video tapes and is almost falling asleep with boredom. Tsaba enters and asks her please to hurry as he needs the tapes for a client. The next moment Mrs Sue Kipling comes in, like a hurricane, to see Cluver. In his office she declares she wants a divorce because she has found pornographic tapes hidden in her husband's closet. She rants on about her terrible husband and his friends, until Cluver suggests she should try to calm down before making any hasty decisions, and he proceeds to take the pornographic tapes from her. Back in the office lobby, when Mrs Jakobs gives him the completed transcripts, Tsaba declares how extraordinary it is that anyone can say so much about anything. Jabu enters with the tapes from Sue Kipling, asking Mrs. Jakobs to keep them. He says they are sex tapes for a divorce case and she first refuses and then agrees to take care of them. When all have left her office she hesitates a moment and finally slips one of the tapes into the VCR on her desk.
Meanwhile in Tsaba's office Billy Noquase, the representative from the Department of Public Works, and Brenda Armstrong a female video maker, are arguing about the quality of the work for the corporate video on work-related tasks made by Ms Armstrong. He maintains the tapes are very boring but she had promised to make educational tapes entertaining. At Tsaba's suggestion Mr Noquase agrees to show the tapes again to the workers before pursuing a legal option. The scene returns to Mrs. Jakobs where she is watching the pornographic tapes. Jabu enters, saying it sounded like trouble since he heard a woman's voice and something heavy moving. Mrs Jakobs hastily replies that movers were moving a piano. Jabu, who obviously realises what Mrs Jakobs is doing, solicitously suggests since she is so hot she should lie down. The next scene occurs in the foyer when Ms. Armstrong delivers her fish tank tape for Tsaba, and in reply to Klein Piet's question about action movies, replies that the tapes were made with a specific audience in mind . Immediately following this, Jabu enters with more tapes, and in reply to Klein Piet's question, Jabu says these are pornographic tapes. Back in Mrs Jakobs' office she becomes overwhelmed by her viewing, and leaves her desk to splash her face in the bathroom. While she is gone Jabu enters and stuffs the tapes into her desk drawer. Just then Tsaba gives him another tape, which Jabu also stuffs into the same drawer, mixing up the public works tapes with the pornography tapes. Mrs Kipling arrives at that moment, having decided that perhaps she should look at the pornographic tapes, which she euphemistically refers to as "items" and asks Mrs Jakobs' opinion. Mrs Jakobs refers mysteriously to a "friend of a friend" who watched those kinds of tapes and suggests that she makes sure to turn the sound down. Kipling decides to take two tapes "as you don't walk out on eight months of marriage without first watching the video". Mrs Jakobs then unwittingly gives her the wrong videos. That evening as Jabu is locking up the office Klein Piet accosts him but pretends he was "just passing". He tells Jabu he feels it is his duty to watch the pornographic tapes to "inform himself" and after promising to return it in the morning, Jabu lends him a tape and Piet is so anxious to watch the tape, he leaves without the usual visit to the shebeen. As Jabu prepares to lock up Ms Armstrong arrives to get the tapes she made for the Public Works Department because "they need to know what options are open to them" and Jabu gives her the pornographic tapes and asks "Is this part of the RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme)?".
Next morning Klein Piet admits to Jabu the tapes were the most boring he had ever seen and in fact he fell asleep watching them. He explains they were about men and women in the office - "off with their clothes behind the pot plant- it's all so predictable". To which Jabu replies "never in our office". Piet then declares he prefers videos about the real world - videos like Batman and Jeanne Claude van Damme.
The next scene takes place in Cluver's office with Mrs Kipling who announces that she is so surprised because it turned out her husband was interested in social restructuring of the country, and it was quite a shock as her mother had predicted that her husband was boring. In reply to Cluver's question about her husband's reaction she said he was quite shy really and asked where the remaining ones were. In reply to her question about the oddity of a man sneaking out to watch restructuring videos Cluver tells her "it's a male thing - which happens quite often in certain circles".
In Tsaba's office the meeting between Billy Noquase and Brenda Armstrong proves to be amiable, as Noquase reports the maintenance men loved the videos and some even want their own copy. In reply to Ms Armstrong's question whether they had absorbed the content, Noquase assures her they were impressed with the flexibility of the Asian model but also liked the Swedish way of doing things. He announced he had ordered fifty copies to be sent to all government departments. Tsaba, when thanked by them, naively thinks it is his own power of negotiation which has resolved the conflict. Back at Mrs Jakobs' desk, Mrs Kipling is picking up the rest of her tapes and says she feels she should look at a few more to which Mrs Jakobs, carefully replies "if you’re up to it".
Genre and the sitcom
In the narrative of genre different forms of comedy designate disorder in relation to the discourse itself so social comedy like GU III defines its disorder as the disturbance of socially consigned ambiguous hierarchies (Neale, 1989/1992: 24). In the social hierarchy of Cluver, Cluver and Associates, Mr Cluver would seem to be the primary character, but Jabulani Cebekhulu, "Executive Social Services" - serving teas, collecting the mail - is the main character. Social comedy maps the field of a socio-discursive order whose nodal points tend to be class and sexuality, and in GU III, race. The order is disrupted so as to allow the hierarchy to be rearranged where the new order is the condition of narrative closure. To understand the genres themselves the spectators must know what to anticipate so genres must institutionalise and guarantee coherence with certain conventions (Neale, 1980/1992). Two kinds of verisimilitude occur in a work - the rules pertaining to the genre, where the work must conform to those rules and the verisimilar occurs between the discourse of the work and what the audience believes to be true. In GU III ideological norms of heterosexuality are thrown into confusion with the admittance of two homosexual men to the board of KKK (the Afrikaans Construction Company) "to look right" (Episode: The Case of the Historically Advantaged Pale Males) and women as well as men are being overwhelmed by pornography (Flexible Asian Models).
Situation comedy as ideological discourse
To become popular, fictional forms must connect and relate to popular experience and so make concessions to the opposing/different values of subordinate groups or minority groups like the white, Hindu and coloured groups who were previously part of the hegemonic bloc. Thus in GU III issues of gender, race, ethnicity, power, identity, nation and nationhood become issues for comment as these are topical. In GU III with the The Case of the Previously Advantaged Pale Males (HAPMS) episode, the ideology of affirmative action is mocked, where the previously disadvantaged receive preference as well as those who seek "alternate" sexual identities. The narrative is created around the principle of freedom of expression and adult access to pornography but women's access to pornography is parodied. Television is a popular cultural medium and the economics that affect its production insist that it reaches a mass audience (Fiske, 1987: 37). But this mass audience has many subcultures and in general people prefer jokes that are aimed at a group of which they are not a member (Palmer,1992: 68).
Signifier as bearer of meanings
Joe Mafela, who plays the black character, Jabu, is also responsible for ideas in the writing, which provides a certain validity and authenticity for black viewers where, as an African member of the production team, he represents "[those] class origins and views of the group controlling the production" (Bennett, 1987:185). Mafela has a currency with audiences derived from his previous appearance in the all-black production S'Gud S'Nays prior to the 1994 election. Mafela's currency goes beyond his character, Jabulani Cebukulu in Going Up, back to S'Dumo in S'gudi S'naysi as he bears different meanings in different points of time for different audiences. As bearer of different meanings Joe Mafela, the signifier, presumes an arrangement of signification where different points in time equals historic specificity; a different context in each production contributes the same as new social formations; different audiences provide a plurality of meanings and pleasures. Joe Mafela coordinates and connects as signifier, and the social formations of Mafela in each production remain current, as a moving sign of the times from S'gudi S'naysi in 1987 to Going Up III in 1996. In each production the signifier changes the context and the caveat is that Mafela also gives voice to the popular response as the voice of the popular hero, where the popular response to ideology is to see the real lived experience of that ideology. This response implies concurrence with the reality of the historic specificity of the event portrayed, so the ideology depicted in the narrative does not disintegrate (see Bennett, 1987). Thus as a popular hero and a mobile signifier, this constantly allows Mafela to re-assemble his signification. The factors that play into this analysis include the narratives in each programme, race and gender, where Mafela reorganizes the narrative in individual texts by also modifying the meaning in individual texts. The Jabulani character broke the black stereotype held by whites about blacks as his major contribution has been to change the typical stereotype held by whites of a stupid, servile black in that he is the smart hero of the series. It is his acumen, cunning and underhandedness that achieves results and motivates the story in ways the white lawyer would never consider utilising.
African oral tradition
In GU, Jabu as the trickster/entertainer, in the African discourse tradition has successfully adapted to an African oral tradition; this accords with Richard Beynon’s comment that Mafela provides ideas, "usually limp" but subsequently workshopped by the rest of the production team. Jabu's "limp" contribution could rather indicate that, as an African from an oral culture, he is able to conceive situations directly relevant to the audience's daily life, what Walter Ong calls "close to the living human life world" (Ong, 1982: 49). However, in the construction of Jabu's character, the racial stereotype of the "slave figure, the native and the clown or entertainer" deliberately or unconsciously reproduces the ideologies of racism (Hall, 1990: 8). In adapting Mafela's ideas to create the "entertainer" Jabu, "a good man capable of putting out every gloss he likes on the world to achieve its approval" (Benyon interview, September 1996) the production team creates an ambivalence. Walter Ong writes that in the oral tradition, events are understood in terms of spiritual agents causing them and he derives his model from examination of the way oral narratives are transmitted. First the griot or bard starts off by making an intimate communication with the audience so that he is one of them (Bourgault, 1995: 182). The chronicler is bound up in a communal role with the hero of an oral tale and with his audience. So with the communal ego and superego plus the rapt attention of the audience, the chronicler becomes the hero.
This is where Mafela fits in perfectly in his contribution to the motivation of the plot. African art and religious styles show how African culture shows plasticity and can absorb other style, forms and make them its own, having the propensity to synthesise and incorporate diverse elements into a new whole and this is particularly apparent in music. Oral traditions reflect a society’s current preoccupations not idle curiosity. Bourgault cites Ayittey who argues that colonial powers held indigenous African institutions and cultures in contempt so the elites who replaced them were the same, considering Africa backward and primitive and trying to replace cultural forms and social structures with alien systems (Bourgault, 1996 :37). But cultures can persist and outlast the structures which originally gave rise to them. In this‘cultural lag’ the oral tradition, the discourse style it fostered and the value systems it nurtured stayed on and African culture became part of the mix. African traditional forms are forms for communication and suffused throughout the practices and content of mass media in Black Africa where human communication demands anticipated feed back.
A team of four authors writes GU, but Mafela, with his African antecedents overtakes them as the actor; he stabilizes the point of reference. The various characters assume functions to represent the racial groups in South Africa. Mr Cluver depicts the white colonial aspirations of English-speaking South Africans, Edwin Tsaba is the new educated elite, who have returned to South Africa with the demise of apartheid; Mrs Jakobs depicts the "coloured" population who are wedged between the white colonial, Mr Cluver, as his "handmaiden/secretary" and Jabu, the versatile translator, everyman returned from his spell as S'Dumo in S'gudi S'nays. In the narrative of GU the "imagined community" with its image of "we" and "us" is symbolised by the shebeen where people of different cultures mix (Van den Bulck & Van Poecke, 1996 : 164). This "imagined community" of the shebeen where patrons are encouraged to partake of excess consumption of alcohol, is not seen by Mafela as a negative influence in the society (personal interview, April 1995). The Shebeen Queen refuses service to a customer when she feels he has had too much to drink, and she might even request a fellow customer to escort an inebriated customer home. Mafela never mentions prostitution in the shebeens but affirms they now have regular liquor licences and operate until 4 a.m. to accommodate men who work shifts. Roberta Durrant’s vision of the shebeen was to use it as a colourful space reminiscent of the old Sophiatown with prohibition and the township jive of the 1950s.
The genre involves the spectator in a work of art creating "a utopian world" by projecting the viewer into a mythicised world of the past. GU III’s music segments colour the world with the transforming powers of memory, less stable than art or dreams, suspending the viewers in an intermediary space of South African tradition and folklore (Altman, 1987 : 273). Roberta Durrant had said she wanted to create a space reminiscent of the 1940s and 1950s and the shebeen located on the top of a downtown building becomes the meeting place for friends, both black and white. The family grouping of the folk musical is replaced by a substitute family of friends and here Squeeza, the mother figure (played by Abigail Kubeka) watches over the clients, entertains them and feeds both their soul and their body with song and alcohol.
The ideologies of the team construct characters with identifications so that they speak the "ideological truths" of their creators (Hall,1990: 9). Media "language" can present a perspective of society but is a system of signs so that television programmes are shaped in texts through symbolic encoding and the view of cultural power and social relations is part of the encoding process by the production team (Hal1,1980:134). Roberta Durrant wanted to produce a series representing a microcosm of the whole of South African society, where the series would be a "vehicle or melting pot, reminiscent of what it was like in the days of prohibition when blacks were not allowed to be served liquor, bringing together the music of the 1950s and 1960s and representing the entire colonial/ apartheid era."