When the British came to Africa they brought with them the Four C’s: Commerce, Coke, Charles Dickens and Eastenders (Okay that’s an E but anyway). For all their melodrama, endless twists and lack of appeal to the majority of the male species, soap operas are here to stay. Rather than fight them I have learnt to accept them. However, I have noted some concerning trends that need to be urgently addressed if audience numbers are to be maintained or increased with regards to African soaps.
1. No trap doors/secret closets etc.
Our soap operas never have secret doors or trap doors that open some secret hole somewhere deep beneath the main character’s mansion. We (Africans) are not an inquisitive bunch. If ever we encountered a trap door in reality we would rather run first than find out what’s inside lest you dupe us into getting on some ship sailing to some far away land (just saying).
2. When people die they die.
Down here we have a name for people who die then come back to life…”witches”. The directors have caught on to this so they try to limit this occurrence although contract disputes between actors and film producers have been known to be at fault for this rule being broken in the past. We need more people coming back to life if we want to be in line with international standards.
3. The rich people.
There are lots of rich people in America and Britain. There are very few in Africa. In fact there are so few that the majority of people who watch soaps cannot really relate to the characters. For the majority of us TV is an escape however African soaps must stay true to reality. Rich Africans don’t go to gentlemen’s clubs or smoke cigars they have more important things to do like eat sushi off the stomachs of beautiful naked models.
4. People have photocopiers.
Ever watched The Bold and the Beautiful to see some guy stressed out because the file that has evidence that his arch enemy is not as clean as he pretends to be just got stolen from him? Well in a lot of African soaps this rarely works because people have learnt and know how to use photocopying machines. Leading me to my next point…
5. People know how to use Nero
Ever watched The Bold and the Beautiful to see some guy stressed out because the CD that has the video of his arch enemy cheating on his wife just got stolen from him? In African soaps there’s always a copy somewhere as a result characters rarely blackmail each other and this is honestly such a buzz kill.
6. Things happen a lot faster
In as much as we are not an inquisitive bunch we are also not very patient. Damn it, most of us had to wait for decades for political freedom so give us a break. Imagine Mandela’s frustration when after 26 years in jail he watches an episode of Days of our lives and it basically repeats itself for a week because the story goes back and forth without any real developments. You don’t get this in African soap operas so if you miss a month it’s like trying to write a Stats exam using English Lit notes.
7. People lock their doors
For all their advancement you would think that characters in African soaps would at least forget that doors have keys and keys lock doors and locked doors can be the difference between you being found in bed with your brother’s wife who it turns out is not really your brother but your father etc. This is the reason why in African soaps people rarely overhear things resulting in less drama putting us light-years behind the international standard. Yet another buzz kill.
8. The music.
Soap operas are not famous for their soundtracks. African soaps are no exception. Mix corny dialogue, melodrama and average acting with the added pressure to sound African then you have the worst accompanying music any TV programme could have. We’re big on sounds that move you (drums etc). Melodrama is a legacy of colonisation and just like the office coffee machine we’re still trying to figure it out.
They can be educational.
10. They change characters so often
In Africa, acting is still a mickey mouse profession for people with mickey mouse degrees or no degrees at all. Don’t let the celebrity status fool you. A lot of these stars are not that well off. Some even have real jobs or a string of mickey mouse jobs to keep them afloat.
If you are sitting there thinking “oh that’s not true!” Think about it, do you ever see Beyonce doing adverts for washing powder? Due to the fact that you can’t really retire on a soap opera salary alone many don’t stay that long. Unlike The Bold and the Beautiful, where we’ve watched Ridge grow, grown with him then outgrown him.
mickey mouse degree – any degree that teaches you to think with an open mind and live with open hands.
mickey mouse profession – any profession that your parents are not really keen on but is actually fun