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It was truly a let-down for many when the South African broadcasting network Etv, announced that they will no longer be airing episodes of the internationally renowned wwe (i.e. world wrestling entertainment). Over the decades, wrestling entertainment has been a great precursor for its audience in the normalisation of television entertainment bearing overt hazardous effects on both the entertainers and its viewers. Wrestling entertainment has played its part in the reinforcing of a lot of societal stereotypes (often politically incorrect and offensive to many sects) as well as launch successful acting careers for those who were able to use the platform correctly.

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Reality television is the motion mirror of society showing all that is to be celebrated and hated about it. It puts the entertainment aspect in the notable events we participate in on a daily basis. Reality tv in South Africa has been effective in activating national dialogue around the cultural and social norms and values we still adhere to today.

The dialogues which dominated the peak of wrestling entertainment when it hit our screen around the 2000s seem to be resurfacing today as the scope of reality tv has so diversified over the years. What started off as reality radio and later evolving into candid camera shows around the 1970s has broken social barriers of perception with much lucrativeness. Reality television is often connoted with the narcissism and vanity of what has become known as ‘trash tv’ but its evolution has given viewers much more to get out from it then just watching another person live out their life. Reality tv shows vary from investigative and competitive shows, to biographies involving families of the rags to the richest of society.

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Evidently, it should be general knowledge by now that the matchups and storylines in the wwe are all scripted for the sole purpose of our entertainment. While by now we have made peace with the fact that ‘wrestling is fake’, the conversation on the reality of ‘reality shows’ is also not without its fair share of mixed emotions. Yes, this is entertainment, and the fame and profit made from the plethora of off spin products from video games and movies are real! This is not necessarily negative for the shows however- viewers are not likely to stop watching a program because of doubt regarding authenticity. On the contrary, some argue that it actually highlights how talented and well-rounded actors are in their ability to grip us into their world for that given hour or two.

 

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Reality tv shows allow viewers to vicariously live through their stars, who often masquerade as the everyday people they see, just on levels closer than ordinary movies and tv productions we have become accustomed to. Equally, the different types of reality television we are exposed to also shine light on quite a number of issues we may have known about our world, but were never quite able to confront like we are able to today.

The manner in which television is experienced today is more interactive than the past. The viewer not only consumes but also plays a role whether it's voting for your favourite contestant to win or merely sharing your views on what you find praiseworthy or reprehensible. The social media experience allows for instant engagement with the shows and its universal audience throughout the plots and twists (or the lack thereof sometimes). This has been effective in garnering feedback from viewers facilitating engagement as shows are being realised for the social vehicles they truly are.

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There seems to be a great appreciation for unique content which is able to relate to the South African context as the viewer experiences it. This is largely substantiated by the number of reality tv shows appropriated from their western networks but have failed to find resonance in South African homes. The current USA President Donald Trump owes much of his social status to the hit reality show: The Apprentice (2004). While it raked in the seasons abroad, its adaptation in South Africa did not have the same success as not much was said after its first season ending with two joint winners.

The shift from appropriating foreign shows to creating unique local content has seen the ongoing success of reality television such as Khumbulekhaya, which is enjoying a run of 13 seasons since first airing 11 years ago. The reality show has been able to speak to the disparities in the family unit of our black communities often marred with absent fathers and lost relatives due to reasons ranging from the effects of systematic dispositions to historical family feuds. The show is reality. The tears are real. The stories are relatable and the moral teaching of “remember where you come from” has bridged the gap between the generations in society. The July ratings for the show stood at 3.4M viewers according to Channel24 news. The show is committed to reuniting families as viewers write in seeking assistance almost every day. Yes, this is entertainment and the reunions are real!

  

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It is worth pointing out that a driving force behind the production of many reality tv shows is how cost effective they are to produce. The nature of ubiquitous shows makes for riveting content with much of the work lying behind how well edited productions are. Whether its watching investigative content on infidelity in society like Cheaters or fraud and scams exposed on shows like Speakout; we are able to have a premise to pave solutions in addressing the needs much closer to where the problems are.