An MTV reality programme documenting a party thrown by two young Capetonians made for nauseating viewing in a country riven by yawning economic inequalities. By REBECCA DAVIS.
From the dystopian vantage point of 2012, it seems strange to look back and recall that the M in MTV stands for “Music”. That’s because MTV’s original function was to broadcast music videos. Then the internet came along and later artists started launching their videos on their own websites and YouTube. So MTV has been forced to fill its roster with reality TV programming: mainly shows, which pen groups of disaffected youth in a confined area, load them with alcohol and wait for them to have sex or hit each other.
One of the brightest stars in MTV’s reality firmament is My Super Sweet 16, a show which British columnist Charlie Brooker once described as “an al Qaeda recruitment film”. The original mandate of the show was to document the 16th birthday parties of teenagers from extremely rich families, but I prefer to think of it as a forum in which young people compete to be first against the wall when the revolution comes. There are parents, it emerges, who think nothing of subsidising birthday celebrations for their children which make a Louis XIV banquet seem as modest as an ANC Women’s League bring-’n-braai. The featured teenagers radiate unalloyed evil and jangling neurosis: malevolent little succubi stamping their Jimmy Choo-ed feet over the fact that their imbecilic parents bought them a Maserati in the wrong shade of pink. The show is, to quote Brooker, a “stonehearted exposé of everything that’s wrong with our faltering so-called civilisation”.
But at least it has picked its recruits from a pool confined to the super-rich of North America and the UK. Until now. The show’s tentacles are now creeping around the world, in a spin-off called My Super Sweet World Class, as MTV wakes up to the fact that there are pockets of vacuous wealth all over the globe. Including, as if we needed reminding, in South Africa. And so it came to pass that on Sunday night – or ‘Black Sunday’, as I’ll remember it – MTV broadcast an episode of My Super Sweet World Class set in Cape Town, starring best-friends-and-cousins Liz and Elena, both 21.
Liz’s father is a well-known South African artist, which was a detail mentioned early on in the show to explain Liz’s apparently bottomless personal wealth. In an explication of his work on his website, an art critic notes that his oeuvre “speaks to itself in codes that are as inchoate as they are arcane”. Interestingly, this is also an entirely fitting description of the dialogue between Liz and Elena. “I think I might be the wildest,” one said. “No, I’m the wildest,” the other disagreed. In personality terms Liz and Elena appeared indistinguishable, so, to save time, I shall refer to them as a single entity, Lizelena.
Lizelena possessed an enviable sense of self, seemingly unencumbered by the doubt or introspection that assails lesser mortals. To establish just how rich they were we were shown Lizelena in a jewellery shop, being told that a watch they were trying on cost R270,000. “That’s totally reasonable,” they shrugged, which was the producers’ way of hitting us over the head with a giant hammer made of money. Lizelena are apparently famous in Cape Town for their mad partying ways. “People come up to you and they go, hi Liz, or hi Elena, and you’re kinda like, I don’t know who you are, but hi!” they giggled amiably.
The two had a mission: to throw the best party ever held in Cape Town, in three days’ time, for no particular reason other than it being required by MTV’s shooting schedule. To make this happen, they hired an event planner, who proceeded to organise the party. (The planner was arguably the only person who came off well from the programme, mainly because she was captured on camera at one point shooting a look of ferocious hatred at Lizelena.) Despite the fact that the event planner appeared to take care of every single item of party-related admin with the sole exception of what they would wear, Lizelena experienced the three days of ‘preparation’ as enormously stressful and wearying.
To be fair to Lizelena, while they did an excellent job of coming across as vapid and narcissistic all by themselves, they were not done any favours by being made to read a voiceover script of such toe-curling inanity it almost provoked pity. The intrepid twosome had decided to perform a little skit at their party, so the producers packed them off to go shark cage diving. I say “so” as if there’s a logical connection between those two statements, but there clearly is not. As they zipped across the ocean to meet the sharks, Lizelena dutifully intoned their moronic monologue: “All we wanted was to perform a little magic trick at our party, but if coming face-to-face with a 4m killing machine helps us conquer stage fright, bring it on!”
The sharks failed to breach the integrity of the cage housing Lizelena, so they survived to continue their tiring imaginary party work. The entirely hypothetical toil saw them so depleted by the night before the event that they were forced to check into a luxury hotel simply to regroup. The party was held at Café Caprice, a Camps Bay bar famous for hosting nightly idiot conventions, and – spoiler alert! – it went well. Lizelena’s friends were all shiny-looking youngsters who said “Tasty, bru” about subjects unrelated to food, and delivered Confucian soundbites like “Beautiful girls in a beautiful city, nothing wrong with that”. One of them was black, which Helen Zille will no doubt point to as evidence of Cape Town’s completed racial integration project.
The high point of the party came when the guests were brought to order to watch a video clip of Lizelena’s mothers addressing the camera. “We just want to tell you how proud we are of you,” the women gushed. “So, as our gift to you, we want to send you on a first-class trip to Europe.” If I were Lizelena I would have spat in the face of that insultingly miserly offer and demanded nothing less than a high-speed shuttle to the Moon.
Googling the show afterwards, I discovered that the families of Lizelena did not, in fact, pay for the party, which amounted to a paltry R50,000 (or as Lizelena would say, “a fifth of a watch”). IOL reported that a brand of rum footed the bill, which makes the whole affair even more artificial: two people selected largely on the basis of their ability to pay for a party were not required to do so. Lizelena told IOL: “People should not think South Africans are so spoilt. We have a good lifestyle and this was a good party.” They also said: “The episode showcases Cape Town.”
If you choose to watch the programme in its entirety, brace yourself to feel mildly depressed. You may also find yourself afterwards in the mood for a cocktail (Molotov, straight up). But I would urge you to focus on the positives of the situation. South Africans are terribly enthusiastic about the idea of being ‘world-class’, and competing on an international stage. What My Super Sweet World Class proves is that South Africans can easily hold their own in global competition in certain arenas. When it comes to unthinking privilege and rapacious consumerism, apparently we’re right up there with the best. DM
While we have your attention...
An increasingly rare commodity, quality independent journalism costs money - though not nearly as much as its absence.
Every article, every day, is our contribution to Defending Truth in South Africa. If you would like to join us on this mission, you could do much worse than support Daily Maverick's quest by becoming a Maverick Insider.
Click here to become a Maverick Insider and get a closer look at the Truth.
Rebecca Davis studied at Rhodes University and Oxford before working in lexicography at the Oxford English Dictionary. After deciding she’d rather make up words than define them, she returned to South Africa in 2011 to write for the Daily Maverick, which has been a magnificilious decision.
"Look for lessons about haunting when there are thousands of ghosts; when entire societies become haunted by terrible deeds that are systematically occurring and are simultaneously denied by every public organ of governance and communication." ~ Avery Gordon