Neil Coppen

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Top Billing from the Bottom Drawer


Last Thursday I happened upon an episode of Top Billing on SABC 3. What ensued over the next hour was something, that as much as I try, I will never be able to forget.Excuse me then if you are one of the brides who have in past flashed your million-rand wedding ring at the camera (while the impoverished masses watch on) or if you happen to be one of the interior decorators or house owners responsible for the over the top atrocities that weekly assault our disbelieving eye- balls.

 You need only posses a reasonable sliver of intellect to see that Top Billing (henceforth and aptly abbreviated in this column as T.B) is full of utterly useless information. One minute seducing you with a calorie infested cooking master-class and the next showing you how to burn it all off in time for the summer.  In fact here is a show that aims to teach you a hundred and one ways how to guiltlessly indulge yourself to death in the new South Africa.

Of course if scrap booking, paper mache or mosaic are how you choose to idle your precious minutes away then you will find this essential viewing or if you are one of those house bound mommies who spend fortunes on a themed children’s party for a two year old– who let’s face it– will have absolutely no recollection of the costly celebration in a day’s time.

Such base exercises in escapism would have us believe that life in sunny SA is all frivolous chit-chat, five star dining and bourgeoisie little tea -parties thrown on the fringes of Zoo lake. Personally I couldn’t care less about these masturbatory spectacles of the rich and insignificant banging on about their Tuscan villas, hand-bag chichiwawa’s and decoupaged pianos.

It’s the type of show that likes to assume we are all just gagging to peer beyond the barb wire barricades of Houghton, the maximum security palaces of Camps bay. Dying to navel gaze at fatuous exercises in misspent millions and truly awful taste.

 As for the millions, living in squalor a mere block away— well let them eat designer cup cakes! This is Top Billing after all, pedalling the suburban dream to housewives who trim topiaries into the shape of teddy bears (Me-time I think is the phrase coined by Z- grade copy writers) while beer-bellied hubbies drool over the metrosexual DIY guys who erect entire power–tool- shelving systems in the space of a five- minute montage.

Sure every beauty queen has her charity, her photo -op orphanage of choice, every socialite her string of “social” responsibilities –as if this might balance out the excesses indulged in when they’re not out saving the world. TB of course just luuurves a charity ball, ogling the elite and Nuevo riche as they congregate to blow hot air up each other’s bottoms and flash gold cards when it comes to down to  a spot of the old fundraising sport.

I can never quite wrap my head around this conceit– let’s all get dressed up and fox-trot our way around the Carlton Hotel in the name of aids orphans or engorge ourselves on five course meals to raise funds for famished babies. Of course good Samaritans go unnoticed in their daily contributions to society while publicity befok altruists are the first to clamour before a T.B camera to gloat about their bottomless credit- card compassions.

T.B it seems is also reluctant to let any of their subjects intelligence ever exceed that of the interviewers hence were are subjected to a range of anorexic models, meat headed rugby players, haggard socialites, retired beauty queens and amorous soapie hook-ups– folks who love boring us with stories of how it was all love, champagne (never cocaine—this is a family show!) at first sight.

The subjects on the show seem to be the fat- free cappuccino froth skimmed straight from the top of Pastor Rhema’s congregation– the very Armani clad dominie who lures the loaded in with promises of an after-life populated by peroxide biker angels and Chevrolet chariot’s.

As for the presenters. Who are these inane, corny robots ,swanning down staircases while “punning” themselves into a veritable coma? It’s as if these people have all had to undergo frontal lobotomies before overdosing on copious ammounts of ecstasy to make the presenter grade.

It’s impossible not to squirm while watching some ditzy coquette flirt her way through an interview with a local sports star. As is the formulae for all these shows: after a spot of perfunctory chit-chat (more daftly scripted double entendres) the two set off on a training regime whereby the presenter gets to participate in a dull day- in- the- life- of scenario, or if we’re really lucky and SABC’s budget permits, more adventurous cleavage bouncing escapades like horse riding and mountain biking. Inevitably it all concludes with the presenter and subject stuffing their faces with sushi and cocktails at a pretentious eatery. Cue theme song and stock footage of sun set over the twinkling Atlantic.

But it’s not the callous indifference or post- card pretence of it all that grates me as much as the shameless flaunting of one’s finances and complete lack of taste. Time and time again we are given houses and hotels whose interior designers who should be imprisoned (or have their diplomas revoked) for design crimes against humanity.

 If it’s not a tour around the replica of a Weatherly’s show-room, then it’s a whistle stop safari to some balding banker and his mistresses bush boudoir in the Magaliesberg mountains.  “Afro- Baroque” is apparently in vogue and “all the rage” these days and is a style that can only be described as Marie Antoinette excess meets Sol Kerzner’s zebra- striped underpants.

“Bush- Baroque” (though I imagine Bush- brothel to be more fitting) simply means your home will come out looking as if it has been upholstered in fabric of a Hillbrow hooker’s hot-pants. Insensitive to its surrounds there will be animal hides—whole herds of the poor bastards, skinned, dyed and scattered all over the show, ceiling mirrors, pink ostrich feather chandeliers, gold framed paintings (plaintive Masai warriors hung alongside those of a pouting Marilyn Monroe). There will be marble and thatch, ball & claw, porcelain tubs so vast that a single bubble bath might drain a nearby watering hole of several years worth of precious rain.

And while we are on the subject “Environmentally friendly” is another term TB just loves to bandy about and this, I suspect, is to convince us that these sorts of people have some semblance of a conscience when it comes to their spending.  If TB is anything to go by then it seems the term ‘green’ can be ascribed to anyone who might own a sun- roof or indoor pot plant, hell, even re-upholstering an antique chaise lounge seems to be a recycling effort deserving of the term.

With the dour but certainly more enlightening environmental show Fifty-Fifty recently pulled from the air, the SABC has quite tragically proven that it would far rather waste tax payers money on dismal TV shows aimed at folks who pride themselves in wearing endangered animals over those who spend their lives tirelessly trying to save them from the inglorious fate of gracing the chunky thighs of some race-day socialite.

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One Comment to

“Top Billing from the Bottom Drawer”

  1. On May 20th, 2010 at 4:02 pm warren Says:

    I loved your article! A few years ago I came up with an idea to do a grass roots alternative to Top Billing called Bottom Billing. I shelved it for lack of focus. I couldn’t decide between satire and serious coverage of relevant issues. You’ve inspired me to revive the idea. Once I get this off the ground, I hope you’ll write for us.

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