IS REALITY TV AND SHOWS LIKE #TUJUANE THE DISEASE OR THE CURE?
A few weeks back, the UK public was stunned when local tabloid The Mirror revealed how Josie Cunningham, a 23-year-old model and call girl, planned to have an abortion just so she could be allowed to participate in the upcoming season of Big Brother. She was very adamant about her plans because it would mean having all her dreams come true by the same time a year later in 2015—and no one, not even her unborn child, would get in the way of that.
The public was horrified and disgusted, Big Brother distanced itself from her, international gossip was quick to pick up on the story, and before you knew it, she was enjoying her perverse moment in the spotlight. As it often happens with the controversy surrounding reality shows, many wondered whether they would want to watch her on telly should her plans have gone through because that would serve as something of a stamp of approval for her actions. Yet the sad truth is, these same people would have gone ahead and given her that stamp.
The same rings true on this side of our world. Ever since Tujuane's entry into local television around this time last year, I have had people come up to me asking, “Hey, have you seen that new show? You know the one everyone is talking about?” And as it usually turns out, the new show is some reality drama produced to spin the minds of our public and get us thinking what on earth is wrong with some of the people who participate. Yet eerily enough, there is never a shortage of people willing to do so. You’d have thought after the Mirfat Musa episode (we all know it) or that of Tender Ooko losing his job because of what happened on the show, people would shy away from participating in it. Tujuane is however one of the most watched shows on TV, what does that tell you?
No doubt when the first season of Big Brother Africa hit local airwaves approximately a decade ago, everyone was eager to jump on the reality show bandwagon. We stayed glued to our screens watching the often shocking antics of the house mates, each of them in a desperate bid to earn some fame and cash. Once again, the trolling that happened after Huddah appeared on big brother for example was just traumatizing. But when that ended, others came along to replace it.
One that stands out in my mind is Idols, mainly because a relative decided to audition for it. The night the first episode was to air, we all assembled in the sitting room to catch a glimpse of our guy, not once thinking that was all it would amount to. A glimpse. It was bad enough that he had not made it past audition rounds, but add on the fact that his try out was slotted in for pure comic relief, well it was a pretty terrible experience. Of course when you ask him that, it was one he would never in a million years take back.
Others such as Coca Cola Popstars, Tusker Project Fame, and subsequent seasons of Big Brother Africa, have managed to spawn stars with enough staying power to still be mentioned in newspaper tabloids and online gossip rags from time to time. Yet despite the obvious allures of taking part in reality tv—fame, fortune, admirers and haters galore—is it worth it?
Perhaps. One cannot say that the effort was futile in cases of such people as Gaetano Kagwa, BBA season 1 finalist, who has become a huge media personality in the African continent; or TPF winner Valerie Kimani who has managed to have a stable career in entertainment both locally and internationally in productions such as MTV's Shuga and Higher Learning.
Nevertheless, the repercussions can be just as bad. Ruthless media persecution, people willing to sell you out left, right and center, and the ever present risk of fading into an obscurity worse than the one you came from—each of these effects multiplying and spawning more problems.
In fact, one could say reality tv is like a double-edged sword. It can either make you or break you, all done in front of a rather unfeeling audience. This calls to mind Russell Crowe's character in the epic film Gladiator when after slaughtering and decapitating a bunch of faceless, nameless fighters in the arena and emerging winner, he turned to the spectators who watched in stunned silence and yelled, “Are you not entertained?” And they were. The claps came slowly, progressively growing in both sound and vigour. They were entertained, except you could tell that they were at odds as to whether their being entertained through such methods was a good or bad thing. And since art imitates life, the show went on until—spoiler alert—Russell Crowe's death at the end.
By the way, Josie Cunningham did not end up having the abortion. Her reason? She felt the baby kick. However, she is still willing to appear in Big Brother. If not in this season, then at least in the next one. What can you say? The show goes on.
Question then follows, are reality shows the right form of entertainment? Should we embrace them despite the repercussion or should they be abolished all together?
What do you think?
Written by Nadia Darwesh