If you visited South African Twitter last weekend, you should have encountered a flurry of #SkeemSaam tweets about the endless tragedy surrounding one of the characters in the local soapie, Leshole. Skeem Saam started airing in October 2011 much to the delight of millions of South Africans searching for a refreshing youthful respite from soap dramas targeted at much older audiences. However, the show’s fans are annoyed by its recent reliance on placing Leshole through Job-like ordeals to advance the plot. Continous misfortune is void of hope and people don’t like that at all.
How Tragedy Plays Out
From Shakespearean plays about emperors, lovers or Princes of Denmark to Game of Thrones epic episodes, tragedy is a common thread in storytelling. However, not even Shakespeare or J.R.R. Martin dare places their characters in continuous misfortune all of the time. This is because the characters’ unfortunate fate is an eyesore to viewers, especially when we understand that the tragedy is undeserved. Aristotle describes the character in a tragedy as follows:
the character between these two extremes – that of a man who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty
That natural error or frailty is an unfair existence that viewers must attempt to come to terms with. But, stories usually challenge viewers to do this at the end of the story. Throughout the tale, we continue to cheer on the characters and believe that a pleasant ending is possible. The problem with endless tragedy is we aren’t able to convince ourselves that the character has any chance to succeed. We aren’t able to witness them overcome if they’re constantly being battered. We aren’t able to allow ourselves to believe that they will overcome.
There is a cruelty in denying people hope – even when the story ends in certain tragedy. As people, we hold onto optimism and wish for the best. Skeem Saam forces viewers to confront their beliefs about natural misfortune. As Shakespeare notes in Julius Caesar:
“The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves”