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A lazy, non-aspirational bitch dissects Top Billing

December 11, 2012

As a creature of above-average amount of imperfections, I am, more often than not very intimidated by magazine programmes promoting a certain lifestyle. And in a country like South Africa, where so many people survive on the very basics, a “lifestyle” magazine programme like Top Billing gets my goat even before I’ve turned on the telly.

Top Billing has been on our screens for many, many years; it’s practically an institution. But, over the two decades of its existence, it seems to have gone from Lifestyle Magazine Programme to being The Magazine Programme Promoting a Lifestyle that Almost Nobody Can Have and Can Only Drool Over. Wikipedia claims Top Billing is targeted at successful South Africans “……who lead the’ best of the good life’ via their achievements, lifting as they grow.”  I always thought that, if you grew, lifting would become more of a problem instead of less…

All about the bucks

In the past, I watched it regularly; I didn’t feel so intimidated by the content. These days Top Billing is all about creating – or promoting – trends, in order for people to go out and burn the plastic fantastic, all in the name of blending in with Those Who Have Made It. You never know, if you fake it for a while, you might just end up making it in the end…

Let’s start off with its rail-thin (or, for males, bulging), perpetually grinning, sleek, bejewelled, obsessively draped presenters. Let me make it clear to the rest of the real human beings out there:  it’s virtually impossible to look like that unless you spend 50% of your day at the gym, and the other 50% with your stylist, dentist, hairdresser, pedicurist, manicurist and teeth bleacher (occasionally making time for a protein shake and a spirulina tablet). I don’t think these people even have pores – they don’t sweat! Occasionally, their gleaming locks might be ever-so-slightly ruffled by a designer breeze, but for the rest, nothing moves on a Top Billing presenter.

The women in particular make my innards churn in confusion and resentment – probably all the sour grapes in my gut. They stare, unblinkingly, at the camera, their heads sometimes tilted slightly to one side, like calculating budgies. And they have down pat the one thing that all the female presenters on Top Billing have been trained rigorously to do – grinning with both your upper and lower teeth.

The Top Billing Grin

The Top Billing Grin is halfway between a smile and a grimace – probably inspired by that famous swimsuit poster girl of the 1970’s, Farrah Fawcett, who had twice the amount of teeth of a normal person, all evenly spaced, all blindingly white, and all on show at the same time.

The Top Billing Girls show their teeth all the time – right through pronouncing deeply complicated names of weird Bulgarian dishes, being pinched by uncomfortable shoes and proclaiming the merits of designer chairs. If somebody kicks them in the butt, they continue smiling. When a tsunami thunders into the studio, they continue smiling. When they accidentally break wind – can one fart in clothes that tight? – they keep on smiling. I think they actually sleep that way – unsettling their bed partners to the point where they drape a facecloth over all those exposed teeth so they don’t dream of being devoured by a hyena.

The Top Billing Walk

The next step is the Top Billing Walk – preferably performed with the aid of a sweeping staircase. This is done in a pair of hobbling, pinching, sky-high heels, in a dress so tight it could probably crack a rib, and with gleaming hairdo and chandelier earrings all perfectly in place. So, you suck in your non-existent, rock-hard abdomen, you bare all your teeth, place on manicured-to-fuck hand on the banister and start walking, slooooowly, down the staircase…

And, holy crap, you still need to mouth off a memorised script in a beautifully modulated voice, not trip on your dress’s hem, keep your breasts – usually squashed sky-high by the creation of some sadistic designer who doesn’t have breasts – from spilling over the top of your neckline, see to it that the chandeliers don’t swing too wildly as you walk……  I am starting to develop some sympathy for these poor women. Combine a straitjacket, foot binding, having your scalp burned by a hairdryer, being poisoned by a variety of paints and sprays and having your bosoms squashed to fuck, and one can safely say: “Who needs Guantanamo Bay?”

One thing I’m completely sure of – they cannot possibly be feminists.

The Top Billing Six Pack

The men, as always, are relatively free to look hunky without having to endure too much pain – their hair is left in relative peace, no torture devices swing from their ear lobes and they wear shoes that won’t lead to bunions, surgery or a Zimmer frame later in life. Although they occasionally get to wear suits, they mostly swan around in board shorts, showing off their Top Billing Six Packs – they probably spend 50% of their day trying to maintain their abdominal splendour, as the producers will find any excuse possible to get them to show these off. (I don’t mind that. Really. Off with that shirt!) And they wear the occasional suit. Which would still fit comfortably. Not fair.

Then, help us all, there’s the content.

Top Billing is “aspirational”, in other words, it shows us all those luvverly things that most people don’t have, are supposed to want and most probably will never be able to afford. All of the above is stashed in houses worth zillions of rands, where Those Who Have Made It in life get to show off their stuff, sashaying across the football-field-sized, gleaming, polished floors; their children, dogs and general human mess locked away in the store room for the duration of the shoot.

This is what Top Billing keeps telling us: these are the “designer” people that we’re supposed to aspire being like. Tall, slim, successful, wealthy, adored, draped in designer gear, and owning more shoes than…(is Imelda Marcos, the original shoe slut, a dated reference? Paris Hilton? Anyone?). Their great ambitions feature things like having their own brand of perfume and launching a range of designer handbags. I have had visions of launching a designer handbag, and it somehow involves a catapult like one of those featured in Lord of the Rings…

The Top Billing Wedding

Let’s not forget those weddings; the ones that cost more than most people’s houses. Where two famous, gorgeous (mostly young) things get together, decide to get hitched and hire a theatrical wedding planner with as many – if not more – white teeth as they have. They get to blow a wad of money on strange things like table settings, charger plates, upside-down flower arrangements, transparent tables and witty messages to their guests embroidered onto Egyptian papyrus by a community initiative. The wedding dress is the size of a marquee tent and costs even more, and the bridal retinue consists of twenty people, all in identical ensembles.

In a recent broadcast a whole phalanx of folks-in-the-know – florists, fashion designers, caterers – was consulted on the latest wedding trends. There was much earnest discussion of “global tribe”, which includes tagging guests’ names to their toast glasses, and artichoke flowers in the table arrangements. Huh? And, with the “urban chic” trend, do remember the see-through plastic chairs – I was imagining the view from beneath the see-through plastic chair – and laser-cut perspex for your guests’ names. My favourite line from this specific insert? “Naked bulbs have been huge for a good six months or so.” NO! REALLY?

The Fash Pack

In a recent fashion insert there were many girlish whoops of fashionista joy during the discussion of the new Techno Tribal trend, with the sponsorship of a major retail giant that is currently punting that line really hard to push up sales.  This included a scary fusion of “high-low hems”, animal prints, metallics (animal prints and metallics together? How?) and platforms or wedges. It all looked mismatched and very, very uncomfortable to me.

Then again, this is coming from somebody who is pushing fifty, and who lives in loose cotton pants, T-shirts and flipflops.

So. Not. Superwoman.

Am I jealous of the lifestyle that is punted on this programme? Not really. I am, by nature, a lazy woman, which means I know how much work, effort and moolah it takes to maintain that kind of looks, wardrobe and house…

My couch is a co-creation between an affordable furniture chain and my cats – they’re the only ones in our house that get manicures. I think peeling paint is interesting. Our bed is so old that we take turns to sleep in The Trench, where the springs have died and gone to heaven. All this “Shabby Boho” doesn’t really bother me that much, though. Except perhaps when I end up in The Trench. That means only one thing – backache in the morning.

There’s one thing I wouldn’t mind, though. A female Top Billing presenter’s body. Then again, that might lead to urges to go dress in the Techno Tribal style. Or walk down a staircase with The Top Billing Grin plastered all over my face…

Not on your life. Too much work!

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