ESSCH edition:8 location:Ghent date:13-16 April 2010
Since 1996, Kinshasa’s mediascape has witnessed a significant transformation. In that year, President Mobutu ordained a freedom of press, which led many wealthy individuals (politicians, entrepreneurs and Christian leaders) to set up their own television channels. With the proliferation of TV stations, the production of local television drama increased. Totally in line with the charismatization of Kinshasa’s society, the post-Mobutu teleserials are immersed within the ideology of Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity. The most popular television serials are those that visualize a spiritual battle between God and the Devil. Many of Kinshasa’s drama groups are also affiliated with charismatic churches. This not only influences the storylines, but it also shapes the social organization of the TV acting groups. The analysis will focus on the diverging forms of patronage and clientelism that are at play among (1) the actors and between actors, (2) the drama group and the heads of television channels, (3) the dramatic artists and the pastors, and (4) the actors and the powerful (“Big Men”) in Kinshasa. It will be argued that Kinshasa’s dramatic artists occupy diverging positions within the patron-client axis, which offer them not only power and authority, but which allow these professional artists to earn a livelihood. Media celebrity thus bears an economic significance in Kinshasa’s precarious society. The material for the research was gathered during field work with Kinshasa’s most popular drama group (17 months between 2003 and 2006). Field work included interviews with Kinshasa’s dramatic artists and observation and participation during religious events, the actual filming of the teleserials, and the interaction between television actors and their audiences in talk shows and beyond the studio.