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The outback’s sleeper hit

A sleeper hit

Slow TV from the outback, plus Saudi satire and Russia’s dancing cadets

Slow TV from the outback, plus Saudi satire and Russia’s dancing cadets

April/May 2018

A sleeper hit
“The Ghan” is a TV show named after Australia’s iconic passenger train (above) that runs down the middle of the country. Its premise is simple: viewers spend three hours in the driver’s seat watching the outback pass by, with no ad breaks. The experimental documentary is an example of “slow TV” which follows ordinary people going about their business in real time. It has proved surprisingly popular: “The Ghan” is the highest rated show on the SBS network and the train’s ticketing website crashed shortly after it aired, due to unexpected demand. At a time of slow wage growth and rising living costs, the calming quality of “The Ghan” is much in demand.

Base cadets
When cadets from Russia’s Ulyanovsk Institute of Civil Aviation stripped to their underwear and danced to Benny Benassi’s “Satisfaction”, they cannot have known the furore it would cause. Their parody of the original music video, which featured women in bikinis operating power tools, saw a crew of male cadets gyrating through their dorm room, making liberal use of a banana. The video lit up the internet, drawing more than 5m views, but the Russian authorities lashed out. State TV denounced it as an expression of homosexuality. The institute’s rector compared the boys to Pussy Riot, the punk protest group. Russian society largely came to the cadets’ defence. Students from across the country recorded similar clips in solidarity. So too did nurses, athletes and actors. Even a group of retired women from St Petersburg got in on the action.

Wishful sinking
Iran and Saudi Arabia are old rivals. A recent YouTube video took the struggle to new levels of vulgarity. “Saudi Strike Force” shows troops from the kingdom invading and conquering Iran. At one point, a Saudi machinegun sinks an enemy vessel with bullets that tear through the Iranian flag. Too subtle? Another scene shows portraits of Iranian clerics crashing to the floor. Supposedly made by “young people” from Saudi Arabia, some have suggested the video is satire. “Saudi Strike Force” has proved incredibly popular on social media, garnering over 1m views on YouTube since it was uploaded in mid-December.

Big love
Polygamy is legal in South Africa, and its most visible standard-bearer is former President Jacob Zuma and his four wives. But what is life with multiple families really like? “Uthando Nes’thembu” (Love and Polygamy), a hit reality-TV show, follows a well-heeled businessman who, like Zuma, is a Zulu man with four wives and many children (polygamy is largely a Zulu tradition). Different episodes explore the challenges of running such populous homes, including date-night rotation, the demands of a bossy first wife and how to cope with staggeringly high grocery bills. The show offers a sympathetic portrayal of modern “customary marriages”, as they are called. But the institution is in steep decline, due in no small part to a biting reality: keeping four households is very pricey, even if you’re the president.

Nollywood requests the pleasure of your company
Weddings are an obsession for Nigeria’s elite. Guest lists stretch into the thousands and the typical ceremony costs about 3m naira ($8,300, roughly three times Nigeria’s GDP per head). Demand for luxury portaloos, walls built of flowers and champagne are all on the rise (Nigeria is one of the fastest-growing markets for champagne in the world). Small wonder that marriage is big on screen too. “The Wedding Party”, released in 2016, was a comedy of errors featuring sparring family members and unruly guests that became the highest grossing Nigerian film ever. Its sequel, in which the groom’s brother accidentally proposes to a British bridesmaid, beat out competitors such as the new Star Wars film to dominate Nollywood. Where the first film explored tribal divides (the bride is from a Yoruba family; the groom Igbo), the second finds its humour in the interracial relationship at its heart, and the clash of Nigerian exuberance with English snobbery. Set in Dubai, it also reflects a growing interest in destination weddings. Expect the third edition to be even more elaborate.