Tuesday, March 18, 2014

OPINION. M-Net's shocking glamourisation of gun violence in Isibaya publicity - why South African entertainment media needs to think more about what its actually doing.

I loathe to show this photo which is an Isibaya publicity image from M-Net, and issued by M-Net, for the telenovela-turned-soap on MultiChoice's Mzansi Magic TV channel on DStv.

I sincerely didn't want to show this publicity image coming from one of M-Net's entertainment TV productions, but after much thought (and not knowing how to give an opinion on it without showing it), I'm publishing it here, although I wish I didn't have to.

I hate that somebody can willingly construct and plan, and take such an image and not see anything wrong with it.

And I can't believe a TV channel (especially Mzansi Magic falling in the premium M-Net pay-TV stable) would take such a photo and then have the ignorant audacity to issue it to the press, wanting it to be used in conjunction with a fictional entertainment TV programme.

I'm only showing this repulsive image which Mzansi Magic wanted used, here after I thought long and hard about it (ironically for M-Net, Mzansi Magic and Isibaya, it is being used) to illustrate a point.

I believe - and its my personal opinion - that with this image M-Net, Mzansi Magic and Isibaya consciously or unconsciously glamourise gun violence in South Africa, something which doesn't sit well with me.

The sad thing is that M-Net doesn't seem to know better. Sad as well is that, in turn, inexperienced or uneducated entertainment journalists, writers and editors of consumer and tabloid magazines and newspapers who are clueless or don't know better, will actually use this image in publications.

They will do so not thinking twice and not fully understanding, grasping or having a bigger comprehension of why an image like this is problematic and wrong.

After all, if M-Net which is a big broadcaster has a publicity department which issues an image like this, it surely can't be wrong to use it. Right?

I've noted and explained it before what the problem is with publicity photos for entertainment value in which people appear using, holding or pointing guns.

For people and journalists working in media and broadcasters who don't understand, or missed the entertainment journalism class, but who are willing to listen and perhaps broaden their understanding of the issue, I will explain it again.

Newspapers, online, TV and magazines are full of violent images. A lot of it is of news events, meaning actual violent scenes of conflict. It reflects real events which really happened. Its sad and sometimes disturbing, but a true reflection of society.

That doesn't glamourise violence or gun violence. You also won't really see images or depictions of that in entertainment media.

Even fictional accounts - like dramas on television deal with conflict and is based on real-life events and reflect or is inspired by issues within society. I don't have a problem with that either. And yes, those stories need to be told.

What isn't right however is to set-up, take, and distribute a photo of characters in a story or TV show showing then holding guns, showing a man pointing a gun at somebody's head with the finger on the trigger, and even have that person's head in a bag indicating a (possible imminent) execution style killing.

It is wrong because the photo or publicity photo isn't the show. It goes beyond the show for the sake of promoting and selling that TV show. Which means a show is selling violence (when it could be selling itself by showing multiple other aspects of its story or characters).

Remember the context as well, please. Which is that South Africa is a country which M-Net, Mzansi Magic and Isibaya know or should know has a gun violence problem.

If a viewer tunes in and sees such a fictionalised event in a programme its not good but fine. But to lure a potential viewer to possibly watch such a programme with publicity material glamourising gun violence is not fine in my opinion.

Imagine a fictionalised TV show in which a teenager constantly contemplates and has attempted multiple suicide attempts.

Would it be right, and would you stand for a publicity photo being made and issued about a teenager standing on a bed with a rope around her neck tied to the roof or cutting herself (staged for publicity purposes to promote the show, of course)?

It's just a photo after all. And one that's not really real.

Imagine a fictionalised TV show in which a bad character also abuses animals.

Would it be right, and would you stand for a publicity photo being made and issued about animals seemingly being "tortured" and displayed in situations where you see they are suffering (although no animals were really harmed during the actual photo shoot)?

It's just a photo after all. And one that's not really real.

Imagine a fictionalised TV show in which a bad character is abusing his wife or women.

Would it be right, and would you stand for a publicity photo being made and issued about a woman in blood, on the floor, clearly trying to get away, and a man standing over her, menacingly, with a chain or whip in his hand above his head, clearly ready to strike or hit her?

It's just a photo after all. And one that's not really real.

How desensitised do you have to be then, to think that a publicity photo of a TV show in which people stand with guns and point a gun at somebody else's head in South Africa is okay?

Those working in media need to realise what they're doing and what they're really seeing, and the responsibility that goes along with entertainment media content creation, the marketing and publicity of that content, and the responsibility of how to appropriately cover it.

Look at the photo at the top again. Study it.

The people having and holding the guns are finely dressed in suits. What does it unconsciously signal? It signals that they're rich and wealthy (unlike the person on his knees who is dressed differently). They're also the ones with guns (even thought you can surmise that they're the "bad" characters and perhaps not to be emulated).

It is my believe that images like this glamourises gun violence in South Africa.

Some ordinary people will see this image and unconsciously think things like the following:
"Rich people have guns".
"If you're wealthy you also need a gun as an accessory".
"If you're big and the boss, you have (to have) a gun".
"In South Africa its okay, although its not okay, to hold a gun to the back of someone's head because I've seen an image like that before in an entertainment magazine".

An image like this, possibly republished multiple times after Mzansi Magic and Isibaya sends it out, creates a normative perception of what and who you think everyone else is, and what they're doing. That negatively impacts society and South African society.

American fictionalised TV shows and dramas which deal with extremely harsh topics, subjects and social constructs from real-life - from 24 to Homeland and Breaking Bad - have people with guns who shoot, torture and kill people. It contains a lot of violence and violent scenes (and yes, viewers are appropriately advised of the content).

But even in gun-obsessed American culture you won't see that gun violence promoted so crassly and seemingly thoughtlessly in publicity material for what essentially remains an entertainment programme - even if that entertainment programme is about depicting real-life situations.

In South Africa we - individuals, media workers and media companies - can sponsor and support and give away money to causes and help raise awareness to and for a litany of causes from being against violence against women and children and even responsible gun use.

The real contribution people in media in South Africa - especially in the entertainment sphere - can however make, is to be more consciously aware, and careful, of the images and messages they are a part of putting out for public consumption.