Much ado about Big Brother Naija

The Big Brother Naija Reality TV show has been a subject of debate since it began broadcasting in January. And as the days have progressed, the arguments for and against its relevance have become more heated on social media. It’s not a new development. Since the first Big Brother Africa show made its debut in 2003, and the Nigerian version was first aired in 2006, it has courted controversy; plenty of controversy. Apart from the “strange” idea of having a group of strangers living together in a confined space without the trappings of gadgets and activities that accompany daily life, there was always going to be concern about what the housemates who are full-fledged adults would get up to within a period of three months where they would have nothing much to occupy them save for interacting with one another.

Years down the line, the show has remained more controversial than ever. With more awareness about the Big Brother franchise has come a closer scrutiny of the activities of the housemates. The current housemates are young people from different parts of the country who have chosen to stake their claim to a N25m and brand new SUV prize. However, what has caught the attention of the viewing public is the level of mischief these contestants have got up to in just a month into the show.

In less than a month, viewers have witnessed what many consider inappropriate behaviour by the housemates, and in typical Nigerian fashion have condemned the show as one which encourages immorality. The dalliance between ThinTallTony, who is married (but has managed to keep that part of his life a secret so far), and Bisola, a single mother, has made many uncomfortable. And this development has once again called to question not just the essence of the Big Brother franchise, but the reason corporate bodies are disposed to sponsoring it as opposed to educational and informative programmes.

First of all, the Big Brother series is one that has never pretended to be what it’s not. It was and still remains a social experiment aimed at studying the dynamics of the relationships between a set of strangers who are selected to live together within a period of time, and what length they would go within the limits of the rules of the game to win a certain amount of money. That’s it! It doesn’t make a show of being educating or projecting moral values. It is simply a game. Application is voluntary and anyone who applies to take part is believed to be aware of what they are getting into. It also explains why the show never admits anyone less than 21 years old, and is rated 18 for viewers.

Critics probably know this already, but really don’t care. They are more concerned about why organisations would rather spend their money on a 24-hour entertainment reality show instead of initiatives that promote education, career development and capacity building, such as the Cowbell Mathematics Competition sponsored by Promasdor, and the now rested “The Debaters” and “Dragon’s Den” sponsored by GTBank and UBA respectively. We do not have nearly enough of these programmes which have a significant impact on the future of youths of this country, particularly at this time of economic downturn. And I agree with them. Big Brother Nigeria is a waste of valuable resources that could have been channelled into better use. I do not necessarily agree with this part.

This is a good time to remind those who have knocked the show that no one has the right to dictate what an individual spends their money on, let alone a corporate body. I am sure the headline sponsors of the Big Brother Naija, PayPorte, weighed the pros and cons before opting to invest in it. And for the average company, profit maximisation trumps every other thing. We can criticise them all we want, but the management of PayPorte aren’t stupid. If they didn’t believe they would get adequate return on investment from sponsoring the show, they would have stayed far away from it. It’s purely business. We can pontificate all we want, but in a recession where companies are winding up daily, it’s probably the best decision for them.

Isn’t it even interesting and bemusing how many are vocal in their criticism of the show, yet the ratings are going higher every day? Did anyone listen to all the stats reeled out by Ebuka, its host about its viewership on TV and following on social media? And if you doubt him, all you need to do is visit all the social media platforms to experience the level of engagement and talk the show is generating. Are the people who are watching and tweeting about it ghosts?

@Haroldwrites conducted a Twitter poll which asked if people would renew their DSTV/GOTV subscription solely for the purpose of watching Big Brother Naija.  Fifty nine per cent voted yes, and 41 per cent voted no. This confirms that people actually love the show in spite of all the criticisms. It’s one of our biggest problems. We come out to condemn many things in public, yet enjoy these same things in private. Who then is fooling who?

How many of us would actually take time out to watch this educating programmes we clamour for? How many watched the ones I mentioned above? How many watch “The Weakest Link”, the long running British television game show, hosted by Anne Robinson? How many tune in to Cowbellpedia any time it airs? I’d bet my last kobo that the ratings on these shows are not up to half of what obtains for Big Brother Naija. Have we stopped to consider why “The Wedding Party”, a comedy, is the highest grossing movie at the cinemas till date? And if you argue that it’s because it was well-marketed, then what will you say about Ay, the comedian’s “A Trip To Jamaica” which is the second highest grossing movie in the Nigerian Box Office? What does it tell you about Nigerians and the kind of stuff we like to watch?

I watch Big Brother Naija. I am a fan of the show. If I were in the position to determine the sort of programmes my organisation sponsors, would I choose to sponsor Big Brother Naija ahead of something that would promote entrepreneurship for instance? No. But I will not deny that it offers the perfect distraction from my personal struggles and the ones automatically imposed on me by virtue of being a Nigerian.

Oftentimes, after a hard day’s work, I prefer to see something that isn’t so serious on TV. And let’s face it, the media never has good news most of the time. Also, there’s such a thing as personal preference, and I believe people should be allowed to watch what they feel like watching without being made to feel guilty for it.

Big Brother was created for the sole purpose of entertainment (and yes, to make one person rich). It should suffice as that.

Ms Ajekigbe, a blogger and art critic, wrote in from Lagos via l_ajeks@yahoo.com

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