The Americans taught us that it’s OK to cry. During the bleak years of the Equity ban, South Africans glutted themselves on a diet of American sitcoms. These programmes – while very funny – often had some moral-of-the-story moment, right at the end. And it involved not only the emotions of the main characters, but also the supposed audience that was watching.
It was usually accompanied, not by canned laughter, but by a canned collective sigh – “aahh!” – which was heard right on cue. It was here where one or two main characters would wipe away an imaginary tear or have their voice go all funny, like they were choking back the emotions.
This tradition has continued in television history and it found expression on other platforms and in other ways. An excellent example is the talk-show host. We’ve all seen them. Well turned-out female presenters who exaggeratedly lift their elbow (so as not to spoil their make-up) as they dab a speck of moisture just below the eyes. Oprah and our own Felicia come to mind.
Most recently, I watched an episode of Chopped – South Africa on which Jenny Morris is one of the judges. This is a carbon copy of the exciting, slick American production of the same name. The other night, Jenny Morris had a lump-in-the-throat moment when she informed one of the contestants that his dish was to be “chopped” and that he would not continue to the next round. Fortunately there was no exaggerated lifting of the elbow and delicate dabbing of the finger. There was real emotion in her voice as she delivered the judges’ verdict.
I’m not sure how I feel about all of this. I realize that the world has changed since I grew up and that we’re all encouraged to be more free with our feelings. But on a programme like “Chopped” I’m not sure if it’s appropriate. The contestants have all had a fair chance to do their best and, inevitably, most of them will have to leave at some stage. Also, if the contestants’ professionalism as chefs is to be respected, then we can’t really have judges about to dissolve into tears as they deliver their verdicts. The contestants deserve better than that.
It will be interesting to watch the programme develop and to see how it compares with the American original.