The weirdest reality show I've seen in my life by far is the Kyknet Program 'Boer soek 'n vrou'. For those of you who do not know, it is a show similar to 'The Bachelor'. However, instead of one eligible stud, we have 5 single farmers selected country wide, and introduced during the first episode. Then bachelorettes get to write to the farmer of their choice, in the hope of getting selected to go with the farmer on a date - but this is not a normal date. Each farmer gets to choose 5 women to accompany him in true Amish style on this date. Then, after the date he chooses 3 women to take with him to his farm, where they then get to know each other better. In the end, ideally, each farmer decides which of the three candidates is the women of his dreams.
During Thursday's episode they all went on the first date, and the choice of 5 women were narrowed down to three. Watching this show makes me feel really uncomfortable, although I do find it amusing at the same time - it's like a guilty pleasure to me.
The one good thing about the show, I guess, is that you get to see how many lonely people are out there, and it's always satisfying to see people finding love, especially if they need to overcome some obstacles. In the case of the farmers, being isolated from the world, thus lacking opportunity, and having to choose a very specific person who will thrive in a farming environment. Then in the case of the bachelorettes, having to compete whilst getting to know someone, without losing your cool and revealing your ugly side. Also, finding someone you care enough for to give up everything. I guess my last two sentences sort of gives you a clue as to what is wrong with this show - or at least one of the things that is wrong.
My main complaint about this show is the suger coating of the politics behind farming. In the show you get to see fairly wealthy farmers, and the idea of farming is over-romanticised. It really bugs me how they shy away from certain issues that comes with the trade, such challenging weather conditions, environmental issues, competing in a free market, rural security, labour unrest, abuse of farm workers, talks about land redistribution and the effect mining has on agriculture. My feelings towards these issues are ambivalent, and please note that I don't want to accuse anyone of anything - at least not yet.
I find it really disturbing that none of the women address these issues, which I personally find very important. Before I would even consider giving up everything, I would want to know about these things. I would want to know what the plan B is when the harvest is bad (since finding employment for myself would be difficul living in the country side). Also, I would want to know that this person respects the environment and treats workers fairly. As a city girl, I believe that the way someone treats a waiter is a true test of character. On a farm the same principle would apply, but this time with workers. I would also want to know how open-minded this person is about land reforms, meaning participating in projects to teach skills to new farmers, and once again, having a plan B career wise should economic policies change. The plan B also applies in case where farming has to make way for mining activity, which is another reality in SA. Finally, I would want to know that I will be safe on this farm, because rural security is a concern country wide. And again, the farmer should also look after the security of his workers, fences should not only protect his family. Fans of Sunette Bridges and Steve Hofmeyr just won't do it for me.
My next issue is about stereotyping and the use of traditional roles. We have these white, heterosexual, Christian men, who get to make their pick out of loads of women. The women are all quite submissive, and almost all claim to 'respect his choice', because 'the choice is up to him'. To me this reinforces the very archaic notion propagated in popular culture that men are always the hunters and women are bait. Popular culture would also want you to believe that women are more likely and willing to give up everything to be with a man. This is definitely the case in this show.
Then, adding to the monotony, I feel that they are not making enough effort to use a more diverse sample of participants. I get that there is a lack of farmers of other races, especially since it is an Afrikaans show on an Afrikaans channel, and not that many non-white farmers would be willing to date in their second or third language. But they should try harder. Bringing in a an Afrikaans coloured person or two would definitely add some flavour. And how about homosexuals? Also, I know at least one female farmer, why should only men get to make their pick? And we live in a secular country, where are the atheists, pagans, muslims etc? I know finding pagans in the Afrikaans speaking community is a long shot, but I am sure it won't be that hard to track down an atheist or two, and even if they try hard enough, a Muslim (Islam is fairly widely practiced in the coloured community).
Traditional roles are not the only feminist qualms I hold towards this show. In the last episode there was already a spat between some of the women, to such extend that one of the participants decided to withdraw from the competition. The natural (yet annoying) response from the farmer was something along the lines of: 'ek verstaan nie hoe vroumense se koppe werk nie', which roughly translates to 'I don't understand the way women think' - only it sounds super sexist in Afrikaans.
Then, obviously this event fuelled some more misogyny, with the people watching with me reaffirming that cat fights are inevitable, because a bunch of women together tend to get jealous. What they are implying is that all women live for is to please a man. Well, my response to this blatant sexist stereotyping is: what would you expect from a bunch of men together? An overdose of testosterone could be equally fatal. In fact, this type of show thrives on cat fights, which I guess, would happen, not because women are inclined that way, but because the dating environment is unnatural. Honestly, in real life, for a start, you would seldom find 5 women competing over the same man - nobody is that special, especially not the men in this show. Quite a few women participating who got selected to go to the farms, have allready confessed to not being in love with their assigned farmers.
I have allready mentioned that the participants are from similar backgrounds, which makes the show boring as sin. Apart from their backgrounds, they all more or less hold exactly the same opinions about what they want in a partner - true love, a good sense of humour, faith, loyalty, babies, blah blah ( why am I even watching it?). And then, at least two of the farmers have revealed a mean streak, and think they are God's gift. One of them had the nerve to specify that he is looking for a well-groomed women who wears make up everyday - and that while he is not exactly the poster child for Calvin Klein. And another was going on about people that shouldn't lean against his bakkie - please man, get a life!
Anyway, in conclusion, watching this show is like watching a car crash, it's awful but hard to look away. It's just a shame considering that it could have been a platform for stimulating interesting debates, and could have given us a more realistic glimpse into farm life.
I want to see less-affluent farmers as well and how they survive. I want to know about the challenges non-white and female farmers have to face and how much progress they have made. I want to watch this show with my gay friends. I want to know how people are dealing with crime and how they co-exist with the natural environment. Most important, I want to see the stereotype of the stingy, abusive bigot debunked - because trust me, although I believe that there are real bastards out there who shouldn't be farming, I've met some decent farmers in my life. These are the people that should be getting publicity, because they should lead the way in restoring integrity in their trade. In fact, Kyknet should include a list of farming best-practices in their selection criteria - environmental policy, fair wages, etc - and make it public.
Maybe I'm reading too much into this, maybe escapism is something South Africans crave to keep their sanity, but I would have prefered more intellectual stimulation. Nonetheless, I'll be watching again next week, and hate myself for it...
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