Friday, March 3, 2017 6:42 am
By Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi
Big Brother is an international reality TV show that was created as an experimental game to see how human beings would relate to each other if kept sequestered for an extended period of time, usually up to three months, having minimal contact with the outside world. Over the years, the results have ranged from hilarious and entertaining to outright scandalous. The novelty of watching a handful of young adults languishing in a house for weeks on end doing next to nothing never seems to wear off enough to discourage investments in the show. The more scandalous and outrageous the behaviour in the house, the more the ratings. With ratings comes sponsorship. The notoriety acquired from participating in the show is enough to guarantee a long-term win for most of the contestants, winners and losers alike.
I watched most of Big Brother Africa Season 1 in 2003. The show was on when I got home from work, and I was not paying much attention to it until a question came up. One of the participants asked ‘When did the genocide in Rwanda happen’? The other housemates gave responses to the question. None of them got it right. I was so shocked I dropped what I was doing and starred at the TV. I could not believe what I was watching and hearing. The only one who seemed to come close to a right answer was Gaetano Kagwa from Uganda who said ‘ I think it was 1995’. The 1994 Rwandan Genocide is one of the most devastating events in Africa’s history. No African, regardless of where they live should be ignorant of this terrible chapter. It is like being a Jew and not knowing about the Holocaust.
The housemates all seemed to be young, most of them under 30, from different countries and backgrounds. It dawned on me that people of my generation needed to pay more attention to what younger people were saying before the inter-generational gap widened even further. I never became a Big Brother fan, but I treated the show as an acquired taste. I watched highlights whenever I was able and filed away whatever I learnt from the shenanigans of the housemates. The show is about real life – choices (wise and foolish), dreams, hopes, creativity, immorality, friendship, lust, the list is endless.
Big Brother Naija (BBN) which is meant to be the Nigerian version of the show has generated so much controversy, thanks to the hawkish nature of social media these days, that everyone is now an authority on the ills of reality TV. The moral brigade is out in full force, with many calling for the cancellation of a show that has admittedly become increasingly brazen, especially in relation to sexual matters. As stated above, I am not a Big Brother advocate, but I am a fan of rational thinking. These are some my thoughts on the Big Brother Naija ‘crisis’
1. GREECE WON THE OLYMPICS BUT THE STADIUMS WILL BE IN SPAIN
The serious objection I have to BBN 2017 is that it is being recorded in South Africa. With all due respect to our sister African country, this is not right. The arguments that Nigeria lacks the capacity to host the show are ridiculous and those mouthing the excuses, Nigerians and South Africans alike should be ashamed of themselves. Yes, Nigeria would have presented a challenge in terms of power supply, security, technical support and so on, but what happened to building capacity? Big Brother is big business, but it should be interested in not only milking the massive market that exists in a country like Nigeria, it should also be able to help build infrastructure. All the material, technological and human resources required to host the show would have created jobs and provided income for Nigeria. It sounds like Greece winning the Olympic games and building the stadiums in Spain.
2. ‘FAST FOOD TV’ IS HERE TO STAY
All those screaming themselves hoarse over the impropriety of Big Brother Naija are welcome to the world of what I call ‘ Fast Food TV’. The world of The Jerry Springer Show, ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’, Real Housewives , ‘Married at First Sight’, Wives and Girlfriends (WAGS) of Miami, and so on. The world of the insane, the inane and the inexplicable. Not everyone wants ‘Fine Dining’. My favourite TV channel is The History Channel, followed closely by National Geographic (but not when they are showing snakes and spiders). However, every now and then I have a ‘TV hamburger’ when I am switching channels and come across an episode of Real Housewives of somewhere or the Kardashians. I am fascinated by the dramas of people who never seem to have any work to do other than shop, eat, dress up and go on vacation. I however cannot stomach more than a few minutes of TV ‘French fries’. If fast food is your thing, good. If not, reach for the remote control.
3. UNDERSTAND THE SHOW – IT IS A GAME FOR ADULTS
Big Brother is a game for adults. For a period of three months, live with complete strangers and during that time, show them your best and worst behaviour, manipulate, ingratiate, show leadership, make friends, incite enemies, do whatever you can to remain popular, entertaining and relevant to avoid being voted off the show. The housemates are mostly single adults and after being cooped up for weeks on end, with alcohol flowing freely, hormones go into overdrive and naughty things start happening. The more discreet steal touches and snuggle under the blankets. The more brazen go further. Too disgusting, offensive and immoral? Reach for the remote, just as I do when I have had enough ‘TV fast food’.
4. LET US RESPECT THE RIGHTS OF OTHERS
In the interests of protecting our collective human rights, those calling for the scrapping of BBN should take it easy. We cannot mount surveillance over what is appropriate for consenting adults to watch. The show is rated 18, and people should learn how to operate the Parental Guidance controls on their televisions. If we go down this road, one day some people will call for the banning of all those indigenous Africa Magic Movie channels full of witches, Juju men and the like. Then we will have a full blown war on our hands. Do you have any idea how many people are fans of Africa Magic?
5. THINGS ARE NOT ALWAYS WHAT THEY SEEM
Thinking about shows like the Kardashians and the Real Housewives of wherever, the beautiful, well-groomed people who pass their time engaging in one meaningless drama or vacation after the other are not as stupid as they come across. They are mostly shrewd, calculating entrepreneurs who are acting out a script for which they are well remunerated through their modelling contracts, endorsements and sales of merchandise. The scale of youth unemployment in our countries is a huge cause for concern. If sponsors of BBN are dangling a cash prize of U$50,000 for the lucky winner, it makes sense that the housemates would outdo themselves to win. The prize money for Big Brother Africa is U$300,000. From the Big Brother Africa/Naija shows, we have seen the on-show notoriety ploughed into careers in modelling, acting, radio and TV, music and public relations.
6. WE NEED TO TALK
I have made the case for the remote control, freedom of expression, career advancement, and I have appealed to the moral police to sheathe their weapons. We however need to talk, and I mean the sponsors, the young people on these shows or those thinking of going on some day. There is a thin line between bravery and stupidity, and the roaring flames that look welcoming on a cold day can also consume you. Yes, you own your breasts and your ‘eggplants’, and I am sure they look very attractive. But do you really need to unleash all your business on millions of viewers/voyeurs? I am not sure all the breast sucking and blow jobs are necessary. If you are seeking a career in show business or the entertainment industry, risky sexual behaviour will not necessarily open doors for you, it will only make you vulnerable and disposable.
7. ANOTHER WORD FOR FEMALE HOUSEMATES
For the young women, we still live in a different universe from men. The handsome young man on the Big Brother shows can bonk all the women in the house and still go on to win, hey, people (including other women) will keep voting people out for him to stay so he can score some more! Sadly, hypocrisy and double standards still reign. The women are the sluts, the tramps who get voted out once they have the audacity to put their breasts up for consumption. Sexy does not have to be trashy and a total lack of inhibition is quite dangerous.
For all those who are not fans of shows like Big Brother but have no interest in jumping on the ‘banish’ bandwagon, I suggest we should aggressively promote alternatives. If you are in a position to do so, step up and sponsor shows that promote real talent such as entrepreneurship, writing, debating, acting and so on. Our policy makers should concern themselves with laws and regulations that can address our real problems such as creating livelihoods, ending discrimination and violence against women and making sure that we attract and not chase away people who use us to amass subscribers and then take the show elsewhere to record.
The problem is we all know the benefits of eating healthily and regular exercise, but when no one is looking, we reach for the burgers and French fries. Oh, it is those Kardashians on again. Let me watch for a few minutes…Where is my remote control?
Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com