Writer: Kholeka Shange
In an African context, ukudlala (i.e. play) has always been an integral part of human social interaction. The IsiZulu aphorism Qhude manikiniki. Mnike isongo lakhe has been popularly used in national sporting games as well as in the everyday to symbolise formalised and informal expressions of play and competitiveness. These articulations of play have often required collaborative participation between opposing sides wherein there is a tacit ‘contract’ regarding the codes and conventions of umdlalo; the outcome is undetermined; preparation, chance and spontaneity are crucial elements; and enjoyment is key.
The idea of umdlalo seems frivolous or even puerile at surface value but when one considers what Erving Goffman aptly terms “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life”, one begins to see that every social ritual (i.e. going to school, being a church member, being an active participant in partisan politics, functioning at the workplace or in the home etc.) requires some kind of performance (or play) from the person or people partaking in it. In this text Goffman states
When an individual enters the presence of others, they commonly seek to acquire information about him [her] or to bring into play information about him [her] already possessed. They will be interested in his [her] general socio-economic status, his [her] conception of self, his [her] attitude toward them, his [her] competence, his [her] trustworthiness, etc. Although some of this information seems to be sought almost as an end in itself, there are usually quite practical reasons for acquiring it. Information about the individual helps to define the situation, enabling others to know in advance what he [she] will expect of him [her]. Informed in these ways, the others will know how best to act in order to call forth the desired respnse from him [her].
Jefferson Tshabalala’s (commonly known as J. Bobs) game shows titled Off the Record and Location|Lekeyishini|Lokasie explore the re-presentation of the self through an amalgamation of theatre and sports. In this context, improvisation (as often seen in everyday life) is a motif that runs through both game shows. Tshabalala disrupts the everyday performance of the self in a theatre space. Conventionally, audiences are not only expected to suspend disbelief but it is normalised for them to take on a passive role of a viewer without severing the fourth wall. In this context, what is viewed is understood as a closed narrative or product whose meaning is fixed and ‘unfuckwithable’ by the audience. What Tshabalala does is to create a triadic relationship between text, viewer and the creator of the text. What this means is that the meaning of the text constantly changes depending on the person interacting with it. In other words, the meaning of the text is malleable or fluid. Both game shows require the audience to be spect-ACTORS. In this case, they have to be active participants in the meaning making process.
Through the use of kasi vernacular(s), Tshabalala’s rendition of the Azanian game show genre is reminiscent of game shows many Azanians watched in the 90s. As a viewer, one cannot help but be reminded of popular 90s game show phrases such as “Imali noma ibhokisi?” or “iZama Zama izokuseta maan”. These phrases often transcended the confines of the TV screen as they became part and parcel of the Black lived experience(s) and Black vernacular(s) across the country. Tshabalala rightfully refers to himself as an “enfant terrible”, which is a French expression that loosely symbolises a defiant child that spews inappropriate things that burn the pots at the table. Similar to the jester, J. Bobs (the host) continually plays with the unsavoury as social commentary. Hi co-conspirators (the contenders) play along and push the envelope even further.
Both works are demanding. The spect-ACTORS should expect to be jarred out of their seats. The stakes are high as they too are made contenders. Camaraderie is crucial as there is a prize to pay in the form of points. The points in this case become a currency and a signifier of each contender’s ability to engage and dlala ka yona. As Tshabalala states, Off the Record and Location|Lekeyishini|Lokasie is a “game meets talk meets sketch format”. This format is anything but conventional but then again, who wants conventional anyway?