Big Brother Naija Reunion, shifting morality and the role models we are building
On June 23, 2021, a lady-friend who works in one of the biggest marketing communications groups in Nigeria, (I will not mention her name because I do not have her permission) made a post on Facebook that attracted my interest. It was a one-paragraph post but it was enough to validate what had been nagging my mind for some weeks then. Her post reads thus:
“Catching up on this BIG BROTHER REUNION. Dear brands, BEHOLD YOUR BRAND INFLUENCERS. These people are clowns. Goodness GOSH! This is why I hardly propose ex-housemates to my clients. You NEVER KNOW when and where their foolishness will show up.”
The post was just this brief: four sentences. But it was enough for me to realise I was not the only person that had been worried about the real impact of this show on the overall moral fabric of our society and the impacts on the brands backing it and I can boldly say for myself that apart from the voyeuristic entertainment value, it doesn’t appear as if these brands are extracting any lasting associations from the billions of naira they are throwing into this show.
To be frank, I have never followed the Big Brother show, and that is because I have not been able to understand the value it represents beyond sex and the eyeballs it naturally draws. Sex is such a powerful natural force that even if lunatics are found to be making out on a street corner, so-called normal human beings will gather and watch with shameless glee. You can then imagine when it becomes branded through a show that is shared across the world via the medium upscale television, actively supported pervasive social media. If you are not driven by passionate vanity, there is nothing for you to spend your rest hours each night on Big Brother Naija, watching and waiting for who would bathe naked or make out in the shower.
But I became interested in the show when the country’s greatest food seasoning brand, Maggi, took up the sponsorship of a follow-up reality show, designed to leverage the lovey-dovey affair between last season’s winner, Mercy Eke and the boyfriend she met in the house, better known by his shortened name, Ike.
I looked forward to this particular show each night, somehow, expecting an outcome that would erase my not-so-good opinion about the whole Big Brother universe. I also suspected that the organisers also thought they could exploit the Mercy/Ike reality show to exorcise the show of its vanity and amoral baggage and probably mainstream it in the frame of fostering relationships, and, with talk of an expected marriage between the two on the table, even fostering the integrity of the family as the smallest, most critical unit of society. Had the organisers been able to steer Mercy and Ike into marriage, the impact on the show’s rating would have increased hundreds of folds.
But this didn’t happen. What we were left with, in the unhappy ending was the imageries of a garrulous Mercy and a gold-digging Ike. We also saw the relatives of the two relatives projecting the underbellies of the untypical Nigerian family, discarding truth and cleverly, baying for the money. And when the dust settled, it was Mercy that was seen in the media, derisively calling the entire relationship, “sh*t”, almost as if they were not the same people necking and kissing on national television, expressing “undying love” for each other.
I do not know who would count the losses, but Maggi, the king of seasoning cubes would have lost quite a lot of money in sponsorships and associated costs. Maggi would also have lost kilogrammes of goodwill. If you think of it very critically, by calling her relationship with Ike, “sh*t”, what Mercy did not know was that the brand that sponsored that show was getting it in the face as the stuff was hitting the fan! If I were competition, I would have exploited that to knock the breath out of Nestle and make them sweat to be accepted as the “tastemaker” in our kitchens. Even Maggi itself should have apologized for wasting people’s time, playing with their emotions and ultimately damaging expectations of a happily-ever-after ending.
Big Brother Naija was still struggling with this baggage when the REUNION spin-off hit the airwaves. As with all things associated with Big Brother, Multichoice hyped and promoted the show until the airwaves heated up. I got hitched on the BBN Reunion viewership wagon, not because I was expecting to extract any value, but because I needed to patronize my wife. But even my wife, who has some kind of long-distance relationship (but a relationship all the same) with the main Big Brother show, was terribly disappointed.
Just before I leave this matter, I would wish to find out why there is such high sponsorship turnover on this show? I doubt if there had been any major sponsor of Big Brother Naija that ever returned the next season. Do they extract all the values in one season and thus have no further reason to back the show? Are there cost issues -real costs and opportunity costs?
If you removed the beautiful, well-cut clothes they all adorned for the show, there was heartbreakingly, nothing worth taking home from these former housemates. When I began viewing the show, my expectation, besides patronizing my wife, was to unravel those fangled lessons on strategy and relationship management that the winners were said to have adopted to on the road to victory, but it was clear from the very first day that these ones are not that intelligent; they do not understand strategy.
The tragedy of the entire show is conspicuous in its name – Reunion. What was conceived to bring the former housemates together again to relive old experiences, empty themselves to one another and heal from the small wars of survival while in the house turned out to be opening old sores, snowballing what was ordinary beef to irreconcilable differences. For a show that thrives on controversy, it seems Big Brother took for granted its own limits and limitations even on its own turf. The anger that I saw boiling over from the young men and women was shocking. That the anger was so deeply rooted time and even fame has failed to dowse it, months and weeks after they had left the house, means they could last a lifetime. And for them to go on one another knowing they were being recorded [for the viewing displeasure] of over 11 million households across Africa without a modicum restraint tells you of the real stuff these “role models” are made of.
And this was why the Facebook post of my friend referenced in the earlier portion of this article came to me as a welcome relief. Coming from someone quite close to the generation of the people so brazen with acrimony and expletives on television, I had to feel a sense of vindication that at last, I was not so wrong in my judgment of these young men and women.
Tell me who is intelligent that goes into fisticuffs on live TV? On one of the times I was watching, two of the housemates went after each other. Provoked by the effrontery of one to fitfully fling a pillow at her, the other lady leapt from her chair for an attack on her “enemy.” Although viewers were saved the gory details of the fight by the editors, we still got the benefit of seeing the fuming aggressor, walking off the set, with her wig in her hand. We saw another, who perhaps thinks the energy that powers the sun emanates from her vile and arrogant words, do a Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain by walking off the set in a fit of self-inflicted rage. Who wants anyone like these ones as role models?
And then the expletives! I am sure the muffling software deployed for this programme would have had a torrid time coping with the torrential four-letter words freely and gleefully used by well-dressed men and women on a made-for-television show. People like us would have blushed to coma were these words to be said to us in private conversations. The level of indecorousness of these celebrities was stifling. Even if the programme was deliberately designed to bring such tempestuously garrulous outcome, as a person with a life and career away from the show, I would embrace a good degree of circumspection for self-preservation purposes. The only place you should see such uncivilization is in the quasi-Hobbesian world of the survival of the most uncouth.
What will anyone say about the bitter Reunion if sex didn’t come into the mix? You see, sex has been a veritable suggestive and even direct tool that has been exploited by marketers since anyone can recall. But there is a subtlety about the way it is exploited that tantalizes and sustains appeal. But not with these ones! The level of indecency was so high the sex appeal grew meaningless even with all the “sexy” apparel they all adorned. In fact, it became known that the lingering acrimonies between many housemates had their roots in failed and duplicitous affairs while in the Big Brother house. If you didn’t understand the old saying that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, look no further than the Big Brother Reunion. It was dirty, ugly and unhinged.
I do not know what the real intentions of the owners of this franchise are, but from my analytical desk, two attempts to mainstream the show and rid it of most of its historical canal baggage have failed. The Mercy versus Ike spinoff failed. This Reunion has also been abysmally unsuccessful. Perhaps the organisers might just think along the lines of remodeling the show and even doing a lot more during the auditioning process to weed out the legion of innate compulsive eroders whose future conduct has direct bearing on the franchise. Realising how these things affect those that put money down for the show is also key.
Just before I leave this matter, I would wish to find out why there is such high sponsorship turnover on this show? I doubt if there had been any major sponsor of Big Brother Naija that ever returned the next season. Do they extract all the values in one season and thus have no further reason to back the show? Are there cost issues -real costs and opportunity costs? Who knows the answers should let me know.