Letters from TZ

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

So. The latest season of Big Brother – StarGame – starts tonight. For the next three months we will be privy to all the intimate details surrounding a ragtag group of strangers, who for a period in time, have signed their privacy away – all in the name of ‘good’ television.

The Big Brother phenomenon started in Holland in 1999 when 9 volunteers were filmed 24-hours a day for 100 days. It was clear that when 15 million people tuned in for the finale on New Year’s Eve that the show was a runaway success. Since then, many countries around the world have signed up to experiment with a Big Brother of their very own. Africa joined the fray in 2003 and in it’s first season, the show captured the attention of the continent, guarding it jealously for 106 days.

Housemates were chosen from Tanzania, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Angola, Zambia, Uganda, Ghana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Malawi. Zambia’s Cherise Makubale was Africa’s first winner, walking away with $100 000 (about Sh 160 000 000) and a newfound fame that proved to be fleeting.

She returned home to a heroine’s welcome. Even the government praised her ‘performance’ in the house, calling her a “role model” with a “high level of morality.” Indeed, Cherise played the game on a morality platform and her ‘good-African-girl’ image eventually won her the majority vote.

Fast-forward almost a decade later to last year’s Big Brother Amplified – the show’s 6th season. Forty-seven countries tuned in to watch, up from 42 in the first season. Nigeria’s Karen Igho shared the spoils with Zimbabwe’s Wendall Parson. Wendall was an unremarkable contestant who probably lasted as long as he did because no one noticed he was still around. Karen on the other hand was the complete antithesis of Cherise. If Cherise was the proverbial Laura Ingalls from the Little House on the Prairie television series then Karen was Kendra Wilkinson from hit reality show, Girls of the Playboy Mansion. With her big bosoms and annoyingly lascivious manner, Karen played the game on a ‘shock and awe’ platform and her ‘bad-girl-gone-worse’ image eventually won her the majority vote.

From day one, the girl primped and preened for the cameras, titillating viewers and manipulating the housemates at the same time. It was obvious from the get go that in Karen’s mind, it was a game, and she was going to win at all costs – with or without her clothes on. If Cherise represented all that is ‘African’, then Karen represented all that is not, starting with her breast implants.

I would hesitate to associate being African with any kind of high moral standard. But even in the depths of our depravity, whichever form it may take, there is one thing that Africans know how to do – and that is to keep up appearances. Mama taught us never to air our dirty linens in public. But in this new age of ‘reality’, life is a game that we must win at all costs whether or not we lose our dignity in the process. Unfortunately, we don’t set the rules. The rules are set in Hollywood.

Like the children who followed the Pied Piper of Hamelin, we are running down the road to cultural destruction as if beckoned by angels and pursued by devils. Kendra Wilkinson, Kim Kardashian et al have become the SI unit for everything ‘real’, and if you want to make it in the world of reality television, then you have to read from their script. There is nothing African about reality television. In fact I would venture to say – even if Hollywood does make the rules – that there is nothing American about it either. Reality television is an artificial, lazy and unoriginal entertainment concept. It is a parasite that will feed off any human being, be they African, American, Dutch or other.

Africans are lapping up the ‘fake-is-real’ ideology with the rest of the drivel that flows from the Hollywood sewer. It used to be that they put chains on our hands and feet and forced us to defer to their cultural superiority. But now all they have to do is put it on television. The blind imitation of everything Western can be justifiably defined as slavery – a colonisation of the mind.

So. Am I going to watch the latest installment of Big Brother Africa? Probably. I will certainly catch a few shows here and there just so I can sit back and click my tongue at the wantonness of it all. And as I sit on my high horse looking disparagingly on all the small-minded people, hopefully somewhere on the continent someone is thinking up a few original African ideas to counter the deluge of artifice that we are up to our ears in. I would do it myself, but I have to keep up with the Kardashians.