I still use bunny ears – or an equivalent – to tune into the public broadcaster and eTV. I have had brief fantasies about the perfect picture that a satellite dish and an exorbitant monthly subscription (I think R600-ish a month to watch Masterchef Australia once a week and Super Rugby/Tri-nations once a year is more than a little steep) would bring, but not many. If I watch without my glasses I don’t really notice the speckle and the fuzzy edges and anyway my expectations of the channel offerings are not high. Anything worth watching is usually scheduled after my bedtime, although it was my intention to break to the rules tonight to catch the new (sic) CSI New York at ten.
Considering all of the above, I was a little puzzled at my dismay when I switched on SABC3 shortly after eight. At first I thought I was watching a choir competition. The fellows sported brown shwe-shwe dashikis and crooned what I thought was something religious. I am accustomed to the fact that its economic woes meant that the SABC has had to rerun 20-year-old Afrikaans drama series to avoid hours of black screen, but the old TV2 and TV3 Sunday afternoon faire, I thought, was a new low.
But when the performance faded to a melodious halt, the man who dashed onto the stage to do the continuity presenting had a funny accent and soon lapsed into some French, which I thought made the whole affair a little more current. This, and the absolutely great suit he was wearing. While I was trying to Google the night’s TV schedule, a full symphony orchestra erupted in the early, delicate notes of Ravel’s Bolero and some ballerinas teetered into the frame.
Hmm. A variety show? As my computer booted up a male dance group joined the swaying swans. The guys were wearing plain white shirts and black pants and they were doing that very old Michael Jackson Thriller-type dancing, except that they were barely synchronised. And then some girl dancers came on with red costumes that were sort of Indian, and they immediately converged on centre stage to do the goddess Durga-lookalike thing when they crouch at various levels behind each other and stick their hands out and flutter them. Hmm. Cross-cultural, crossed purposes and generally pedestrian. I managed to open Chrome and typed in “what’s on SABC3 tonight”. At which stage everything was explained, if not clarified.
SABC3 was going to “cross live to the IOC opening ceremony in Durban”. JZ was going to speak. The Ravel persisted relentlessly, as it does, increasingly urgent and loud. Sanitised gumboot dancers came on to add to the symbolic cultural diversity. I looked at my watch. They were supposed to cross to Top Billing at 8.30, according to the announcement, and it was already 8.38. I wondered if JZ was still going to speak. But then the music terminated and the continuity announcer was back, this time with a sidekick. More English and French, and then more dancers, this time with flags. I knew what I was looking at, but not sure why. I was not sure why the show took the form it did. The orchestra indicated there was lots of money thrown at it – the size of the cast. But who in this day and age designed a variety show with such a budget? I imagined that even Mbongeni Ngema could do better in an afternoon.
I recognised the flag of South Korea. Well, I knew it was one of the two (Google again). Now there is something we could call an actual legacy of the 2010 WC. More South Africans now know more international flags than ever before.
SABC3 cut to Top Billing. Seeing Ursula Stapelfeldt sparkle in an overdesigned house was almost a relief.