The Midas touch or simply out of touch?

2011-11-19 11:38

It is ironic that local socialite Kenny Kunene’s reality show, “So What?” had its debut at the same time the “Occupy Wall Street” movement took root in New York and spread across the world. If you happened to be flicking between TV channels when the show was being aired, you’d be forgiven for thinking you had entered a time warp: a bit like watching re-runs of Dynasty in 2011.

For those of you who have better things to do on a Saturday evening, Kunene’s reality show is a self-indulgent and narcissistic folly. The programme I saw, tracked somewhat over-dramatically the countdown to the launch party of the reality show, which was hosted at his own club ZAR.

The irony that this me-me-me moment was served up as content for the very same TV show seemed to be lost on the broadcaster, etv, or the commissioning editor. As the credits rolled, you could hear the collective echo of puzzled viewers, also asking: “So What?”

Over in the US, what began as a ragtag assortment of protesters – bohemians, socialists and part-time anarchists – who camped out on Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, quickly grew into a global movement that reached as far as Hong Kong, Sydney and even Grahamstown in SA.

While analysts were debating the effectiveness of such a movement and asking what their demands really were, it was clear that the sentiment had hit a collective nerve. The driving force was the feeling of hopelessness that many (mostly) young protesters were feeling in a protracted economic downturn. On the first sit-in one of the protester’s placards read: “Over educated and unemployable”, which is the economic twilight zone most protesters find themselves in.

But the protest isn’t just about unemployment. The simmering anger was directed at the financial and political elite: the financially powerful – and therefore politically connected – who were not held accountable for the mismanagement of the US economy, yet continue to receive obscene bonuses and tax breaks. This while the mass middle-class continue to be squeezed relentlessly by the rising cost of living.

It is the same economic liberation ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema is calling for, only packaged more rationally and eloquently.

The contrast between what is happening worldwide and Kunene’s reality show is not only stark but painfully out of sync with the global zeitgeist. Most of the criticism levelled at Kunene is that he should not be flaunting his wealth in one of the most unequal societies on Earth. My take is somewhat different, though. There will always be people who are richer than others as long as capitalism thrives, and it is their money and they can do with it whatever they want.

However, what Kunene hasn’t grasped is just how far behind the trend curve his reality show is, which makes it cringeworthy rather than offensive. Being famous for being famous (or rich) is so 2001. Just ask Paris Hilton.

Remember The Simple Life? The reality TV series featuring the then BFFs Hilton and Nicole Richie. This phenomenally popular series ran for three seasons, from 2003 to 2007. It followed the shenanigans of the two socialites as they struggled to adapt to low-paying jobs such as cleaning rooms, doing farm work and waiting tables in fast-food restaurants. Back then it was funny – poor little rich girls, way out of their comfort zones, doing what the middle-class do every day. Then came the world financial crisis that changed everything.

Making fun of the hard-working middle-class is no longer funny, and the lives of the rich and famous no longer make for mesmerising television. At the height of the 2009 recession the bling bubble burst spectacularly. The mantra was downscale, recycle and DIY (do it yourself), and those who still had cash to splash did it covertly.

In fact, sales at Net-a-Porter, the largest online fashion retailer, increased as high-street retail decreased.

They cunningly offered well-heeled shoppers an alternative delivery method. Instead of their signature status symbol – a glossy black package couriered to your home or office, they offered the option of having purchases delivered in plain, non-descript brown packaging, and many luxury brands followed suit. Adult stores do the same thing when someone wants to be discreet about a potentially embarrassing purchase, and flaunting your money in a recession carries the same stigma.

Back to 2011 and Kunene’s show. Perhaps he an Ms Hilton should have swapped notes. She tried to launch another reality TV show – The World According to Paris – this year, which bombed spectacularly. The network quickly pulled the plug. Hilton stormed out of an interview on Good Morning America when the presenter asked her whether she felt that her time had passed. Ouch!

Kunene may feel this is his hour, but in reality it’s as if he has arrived at a party in full fancy dress, having missed the SMS that the dress code had changed.

» Chang is the founder of Flux Trends:

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