THE BIG BROTHER PHENOMENON: A SHOW OF SHAME?

The phenomenon of Big Brother Africa has come to many as a revolutionary pop culture; a youth cult of some sort. But not me!

At the beginning of this year’s edition of Big Brother Africa, my wife and her sisters were quite delirious; waiting for the phenomenon they called the BBA. They talk consistently about it to the point that I got really bored. The anticipation was ecstatic; it was crazy. I too was slightly curious at some point. What’s it about this show that everybody is talking about! I went ahead and renewed my subscription, did everything to ensure that the appropriate channel was activated. Now we waited for the show. And at the end, it finally came.

The first day was like on every other reality TV shows—the arrival ritual: a festival of color and motion graphics. This year’s edition paraded, as usual, a gang of young men and women from all over Africa—beautiful young girls; cool handsome dudes—all smooth and swag. They arrived at their new home and the phenomenon began.

If you ask me to pitch The Big Brother Africa to a potential sponsor, who is holding a cheque for a billion Naira, how do I begin? Probably like this: A bunch of idiotic African youth, put together under the same roof, to interact under an unusually rowdy atmosphere with constant noisy party, drinking binge; fucking spree, eating food and sleeping… Their mission: to unite Africa through exchange of lousy sexual intercourse; unrestrained debauchery and cheap idiotic talks—how does a Ghanaian girl moan in bed, for instance, under the pounding of an Angolan hunk? Do I get your attention and probably your cheque? Then you must be a fool!

To the producers of Big Brother African show, Africa must be like the rest of the western world. And the only way they can do this is by borrowing the culture of immorality; to them, perhaps, that is a significant trait of the western civilization—the swag thing; you know… It is their parochial idea of attuning to the world’s social dynamic model. This is simply pathetic!

Please don’t get me wrong: I am not some moralistic prick here who has come to preach morality to the world. Fuck morality for all I care! I am equally socially and culturally attuned like every other dude out there in this so-called entertainment industry; so don’t fuck around with me. TV is not about preaching idea of morality to anybody; that I know already—it is to entertain: Hmmm! They will say if you want a message of morality, then go to church—that’s their usual argument. But my point is: what is TV when it is not value-added? TV programs can be made entertaining without necessarily being moralistic; and yet not necessarily idiotic. Value is what we all pay money to see. Has Big Brother Africa brought any value to the table? I will say no; none that I have seen yet! All I can see every day on the show are bunch of young energetic men and women who do nothing other than eating food, sleeping or talking endlessly about simple subject of sex and alcohol; and then we are all waiting for the almighty eviction day! IK will speak big English. Some struggling African stars will try to break their necks singing their hit singles and then we will all get to see who the evictees got to fuck or failed to fuck while in the house. And that is when I begin to get worried: Is this the new direction for Africa—my Africa?

Let’s come to think of it: a show like Big Brother Africa is a rare opportunity for the continent to showcase the potentials of Africans to the world. How often do TV producers get finance to the tune of several million Dollars to stage a show of this proportion? African is still far behind in all forms of developments—that’s the fact! Recent research has just shown that our contribution to the world research is abysmally low. While the UK does 5% of the world research and is still very active in the remaining 95%, for instance; African’s contribution to the world’s research is less than 0.01% and is not in any way active in the remaining 99%, and we are not even ready to. When are we going to build the first African car? When am I going to see the first Nigerian-made Computer or a Zambian-made Helicopter; or a Ghanaian-made tricycle? This may sound far-fetched; but a show like Big Brother Africa—with all the money involved; all the publicity and all the media platforms—can initiate an innovative mindset of this kind through simple creative suggestions and manipulations (in the nature of daily tasks, interactive games and other orientation programs amongst the housemates) that can challenge the minds of the youths to a more creative and intellectual endeavors.

Wait a minute: Will it be too demanding on the part of the organizers to set up a room as a library in the house, where intellectual ideas can be shared among the housemates? What happen to the culture of reading? I’ve never seen a single soul in that house with a novel in hand. That’s why you won’t see library in Big Brother Africa. It is simply because library is not part of an entertaining show—reading is too boring; it is not fun. Somebody said: if you want to hide something away from African; just put it in a book, because they won’t read it! The housemates of Big Brother cannot read books; because they are too lazy intellectually to read! Their minds are too rigid to process intellectual information. The great works of many important African writers of the late 20th century are no any concern for a bunch of lazy farts. The Leopold Senghors of this world; the Ngugi wa Thiong’os, the Wole Soyinkas, the Chinua Achebes, the Ayi Kwei Armahs; the Mongo Betis… where are they? They definitely have no more relevance to the show organizers and their puppet housemates than a piece of tissue paper! It is cooler to gossip about who’s the first to get laid in the house than to talk about the historical developments, cultural values, political relevance and moral integrity of Africans as a people. Sleeping, to the organizers of the Big Brother Africa is a thing of great fun; eating is another thing that is extraordinarily cool. Anyway, Shakespeare had already summed it up in his writings: “That man, whose sole enterprise is but to sleep and eat; beast: no more!”

You might want to argue with me that the original template of the Big Brother franchise was not designed to accommodate library or any form of intellectual activity. That the show was primarily meant to entertain an audience; not to intellectualize. Fine! You might be very right. But what happens to the idea of re-structuring some elements of the original template to accommodate those areas that we need most. Africans need information; that’s what we don’t have. We need ideas… Ideas rule the world. So why don’t they restructure some of the elements of the show to accommodate creative ideas that can inspire the minds of today’s youth in preparing for their tomorrow’s challenges? Well, you might argue: the show’s original template was carved in a stone slab and can never be altered. Oh, so sad! Or maybe, there is a death penalty for tampering with the original template. Let’s come to face the reality here; Big Brother is shallow. The organizers don’t have ideas. Last year’s edition was spectacular in the portrayal of their shallowness. You will see a Nigerian contestant crying like a little baby. A Ugandan hunk was swaggering up and down bragging about his sexual potency and virility. Coca-Cola was the principal sponsor. With billions of Naira in sponsorship, they secured a platform to haul insults on the entire continent through their media campaign. They said over and over again in their shallow advert copy that while the rest of the world are busy, thinking about the future of the world; a billion Africans gathered around their rickety table, sharing a bottle of coke! That’s all we know: eating food, drinking coca-cola and having fun! When are we going to wake up?

Big Brother show is making billions yearly in an investment return—that’s good for an argument from the financial standpoint. They are creating millionaires from several billions of destitute African youths through their annual 300,000 dollars cash prize award. That’s also cool for an argument from the social-viability standpoint. But let’s ask this question: how many millionaires have Big Brother produced since the inception of their shallow show? Eight? Nine? Ten…? Where are the millionaires? Kevin was a little boy when I knew him. He promised a lot of creative potentials if appropriately channeled. Big Brother gave him 200,000 dollars for winning the 4th edition of the show; then his problem began! He was first exposed to the world of corruption and debauchery. He was lavish in his spending; plunging headlong into the fake world of celebrity; spending his money uncontrollably. He threw a wedding shindig fit for the royalty that gulped a chunky part of that money. Today I doubt if Kevin has an investment that could take a little burden off the Nigerian unemployment gridlock.

How do you create financial prosperity from a bunch of fools? How do you secure the future of Africa from a gang of sexual perverts? Mark Zukerberg is the creator of Facebook; the popular social network provider that enables me publish this article without the usual bureaucratic bottlenecks. Mark was merely 20 when he did that; far younger than Richard Bezuidenhout, the guy who rose to a heroic prominence as the winner of the 2nd edition of Big Brother Africa. Richard rose to prominence, not because he was intelligent; but simply because he was an epitome of irresponsibility. He gained popularity for his adventurous feat of fingering the ladies while they slept. His heroic deed, in fact, cost the organizers of BBA a whooping 10 million naira in court settlement and in damage control. What a legacy!

So far, these are my allegations for a show that, I believe, doesn’t really give back enough value to a society that requires more in terms of social, cultural and intellectual awareness. But what about if the organizers come up with a big defense: that Big Brother Africa is not necessarily about any social or moral, or intellectual issues; that the show’s primary objective is merely to entertain Africans and the world? Is the show not really entertaining—at least judging by the responses of the people as it can be seen through tons of text messages, twitting feedbacks and facebook postings that kept scrolling unceasingly on your screen? Well, if that’s their argument, then I will say, maybe, they’ve got me… because truly there are some people who still believe that the show is entertaining. But then, I begin to wonder: is Big Brother Africa really entertaining? Well… I will say not actually. I don’t think I need an expert to verify the show’s entertaining potentials for me to know if Big Brother Africa has really got what it takes to keep the butt of my pants glued to the seat of my chair all day long. There are a couple of parameters to judging an entertainment potential of a show. Where is the dramatic value in a show that will leave the camera rolling on a housemate, even when the housemate is fast asleep; snoring quite obnoxiously? Well, maybe you will say because it is a reality show and, therefore, everything has to be realistic. But I will say bullshit! Which means that anybody can put up a show then… when all it takes is just a couple of cameras; plus a bunch of people to sit around a table and start talking; isn’t that reality too? Look, let me tell you this: reality sucks. Every minute counts in a seriously entertaining TV show. Today’s audiences are no longer in such a luxury of time to sit all day long, watching a bunch of people sleeping and eating. Francis Ford Coppola will tell you how eating on camera does not really work. All that people want to see is real drama—real tension… They don’t want to see you eating; they can watch their family eating at home if they want! They don’t want to see you sleeping; because people are already snoring right beside them as we are talking now. All they want to see is genuine emotion. All they want to see is real solid tension. These all are fundamental to the entertainment potentials of a TV show.

But wait a minute… how can we get drama in a show that is running 24 hours? How can we afford not to have people eating and sleeping in the entire 24 hour-period of the show? Well, good question. I most certainly concur that eating, sleeping and talking are all a part of realistic existence of a group of people living together. There is no question about the fact that for 24 hours; it is most natural to see the housemates eating, sleeping and talking together at one point in time or the other. But that still doesn’t leave out the possibility of realistic essence of genuine dramatic situations that can naturally engender truthful emotions and tensions. For this, I’m not talking about those fake, idiotic emotions which some housemates usually put up when they want to impress us, by shedding crocodile tears while waving bye-bye to fellow evicted housemates. I am talking about realistic emotions, naturally engendered by truthful responses to the events of realistic scenarios. Special moments that can generate realistic emotions and tensions can be deliberately structured into the plot of the show through conscious creative planning, where housemates will just naturally react to without necessarily having to fake things. This will definitely save the show a lot of empty spaces where housemates will have nothing to do other than to eat, to sleep or frolicking…

Drama, they say, is conflict; now where is conflict amongst a bunch of happy-go-lucky, who are so used to one another that they are usually reluctant to nominate the fellow contestants for the weekly evictions. Usually, “Big Brother”, with his huge melodramatic voice, will always resort to cajoling, compelling or partly threatening housemates to concoct reasons for having to nominate others for eviction when all have failed to procure genuine antagonistic feelings or divergence of opinions or ideas amongst fellow housemates. That is not the way it should be! This is supposed to be a game of psychological research; a game of character unveiling: who is the good guy; who is the bad guy? We can’t know who is who when the scenario does not present necessary challenging motivation that is capable of revealing the true identity and personality of each contesting housemates. Daily tasks to housemates are usually made up of idiotic plastic toys arranged around the corners of the garden, meant originally for kindergarten kids. That’s a big shame. I can’t stop wondering at the level of the idiocy watching grownups running up and down the compound, chasing after plastic color balls in the name of game.

My word of advice to the creative team on the Big Brother African: you guys cannot afford to sit back and relax while the cameras are just rolling aimlessly as housemates walk about the plush set doing their things haphazardly. Reality TV shows equally need creative guidance as any other shows on the planet. Creating a solid entertainment show on TV requires more than just some fancy motion graphics; pompous media campaigns and opulent set. Great entertaining shows require drama; it requires plot, character, conflict, and solid dramatic objectives…

Well, whatever… if Big Brother Africa failed truly in its responsibility as a zero value-added show; I’m sure it has not failed in its offer of lewd entertainment though—after all, we watch pornography sometimes and still derive some vicarious pleasure. I am quite aware that this year’s edition parades a gang of exceptionally beautiful girls and handsome dudes. And as I am writing this article, I’m eagerly looking forward to that glorious moment when the delicious Dellish will be humped in the backyard by that hunky Zambian dude. Can anyone remind me of his name?

If you hate my article please post me back some nasty response; but if not, stay blessed…!

Dawood SolaTunji— 2013

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