One night, when I was still in the university, I passed by the hostel lounge and noticed that it was filled to capacity. This is not unusual especially during Champion’s League or important Premiership matches, when the lounge will be overflowing with very noisy students. But this time around they were silent. I was curious and decided to check what they were watching. It was Big Brother Africa. That explained the silence; they wanted to hear the conversations of the BB housemates. This was about four years ago. Big Brother Africa has a channel dedicated to it on DSTV and has gained a lot of popularity since its first episode. Recently, Coca Cola became one of its sponsors: an indicator of the show’s fame.
I remember the first episode of Big Brother Africa on DSTV. We, being typical teenagers, were excited about this new form of reality TV show. Besides, it was happening in Africa and I think a Nigerian was participating. But when we actually started watching it, it became obvious that there was something odd about a handful of male and female unrelated adults living together in the same house. To make matters worse, almost everything they did was broadcast live to the world. They had tasks to perform but they also had free times, much of which may be spent discussing frivolous matters; and we were watching. Sometimes, there were situations that were offensive to the normal standards of decency which for the sake of modesty I would not like to elaborate; and again we were watching.
Looking back now, I realise that the participants were - and still are - men and women who were seeking fame and fortune and were sometimes tempted to behave in ways that are below their dignity. The road to stardom is often punctuated by these kinds of temptations. These are people some of us are still watching and I am afraid, maybe imitating. I say ‘imitating’ because it is common for adolescents and young adults to imitate celebrities they see in movies and musicals; the disturbing trends in adolescent and early adult fashion nowadays attest to this.
Big Brother may even be more influential than the typical movies and musicals. Movies and musicals involve a lot of acting up or make believe that can be so obvious and yet so influential. Big Brother on the other hand is a reality show. It is real life. You know that they are doing whatever they are shown to be doing at that same time that you are watching them. It is unlike stage acting in that there is no script they are bound to follow. The influence of this knowledge that there is ‘no acting’ may be a powerful tool to foster imitation in the young viewer. As the show advances, it becomes more competitive and demands a certain kind of emotional tie to one or more of the housemates; the ones you hope will win. You begin to tune-in to watch your favourite BB housemate. Other competitive reality shows like Gulder Ultimate Search and Idol West Africa may also arouse emotional ties but the shows are usually focussed on a target achieved within a limited time frame. This limits the influence on the viewer, reduces the time spent watching the show and also does not create room for housemate-initiated time fillers.
BBA, being a 24hour show, gives a lot of room for housemate-initiated time fillers. So you are left at the mercy of these fame-and-fortune-hungry youths who are constantly tempted to do anything to become more popular and so avoid eviction from the house. Even things that may be beneath their moral standards or still, beneath the moral standards we want to set for our children, who happen to be the regular viewers of the show. An excerpt from bigbrotherafrica.com brings home the kind of thing going on in BBA: “They’re getting their groove on... If they are not jumping into one of the guy’s beds at night, they’re getting all touch feely, flirty and being downright tempting in skimpy little outfits and with raunchy (sexually explicit) dance moves.” Parents, is this what you want your kids to be watching? Again the same site said, “Big Brother has enjoyed a growing popularity across the continent and M-Net is pleased that it draws support from Africans across borders and outside of the nationalities represented. This serves to highlight that Africans support other Africans regardless of where they live or what their nationality is.” And I ask: support them in what?
The major audience of BBA are teenagers and young adults whose ideas of morality and approach to the issues of life are still being moulded. What does BBA have to offer them? BBA tells them that there is nothing wrong with co-habitation, that you can do almost anything to get ahead in your quest for fame and fortune, that you can live a fake life, that invasion of one’s privacy is part of entertainment, that the natural and sensible separation between unrelated males and females in matters of habitation is so old-fashioned, and the list goes on. No matter how much we try to run away from the fact, many of the things the entertainment industry offers are bad for our moral life. I suppose any parent interested in the well being of their children will be mindful of what they watch, including Big Brother Africa.