Reality television is not harmless recreation. What we watch affects us on a cognitive level. What we see, hear and read influences our behaviour and emotions more than we realise… Shows like BBN are coarsening our values by suggesting to us that fame or fortune can be had through manipulative and devious behaviour. We must discourage this.


What better way to stand out and achieve instant celebrity status than to compromise your morals (if any), have sex on live television and you may still win sixty million naira, land a deal for a reality show of your own, or get enough attention to land a lucrative brand ambassadorship deal. What kind of message does this send to young people? Well, it tells them that the more outrageous your behaviour is, the better your chance of breaking out of the pack to achieve fame and make money. Increasingly, shows on cable television are rewarding bad behaviour. Why do they do this? They want the rating and the money. Welcome to the age of mainstreaming stupidity, moral turpitude and bad behaviour.

This is all about driving ratings and making money at the expense of society. We did not die when we had to wait till 4 p.m. to watch television. Then, television networks were state owned. There was no cable television, and no Internet. Life was simpler, without extreme exhibitionist behaviours. With the media in fragments, the competition for eyeballs are relentless. Reality television is like an accident scene, as people like to see the gory details. In this digital age, train wrecks are what people like to watch.

It is the age of technology-enabled exhibitionism. The camera is a lot smaller and affordable. Cellular phones now have cameras that are powerful enough to make high definition videos. With this comes the ability to record real things, crazy things and ridiculous things. Affordable and accessible technology has revealed the voyeur in all of us. People want to see real humans behaving like them without a script. Smart television and cable executives saw this and tapped into the itch for outrageous over-the-top content. The downward spiral that produced Big Brother Naija (BBN) and brought Tacha to us was thus birthed. In the age of YouTube and reality television, a large swathe of our population celebrate loud characters who behave badly, doing stupid things that makes you laugh with them or at them.

We just do not have as many heroes anymore, as money defines everything for us. Whiz-kids who win in international competitions, inventors, scientists and artists who create things of value are not celebrated as widely any longer. People are more interested in seeing losers on television than seeing a brilliant doctor operate on a foetus and put it back in its mother’s womb.


From the money the finale of Big Brother Naija raked last year and will take in this year, the market is tempting and huge. With a ballooning youth demographic, the demand for raw and outrageous material is ever increasing. For the youth, it is all about skirting the edges of decency to break out of the pack, to be famous and make money. All over the world, cable and network executives are on the lookout for the next big hit. As they become addicted to ratings and advertisers’ money, so have their audiences become hitched to cheap thrills. The result is the continued downward spiral of decent content.

Those of us who are not amused by all this, are not preaching censorship. We know we cannot legislate behaviour but we also know that social cohesion is based on certain norms of acceptable conduct. There is something systemically wrong, if someone like Tacha is hailed in a society. There is something wrong when the youth segment sees rudeness, being totally uncouth, disagreeable and brash as attributes to celebrate. That people hail Tacha, and are actually raising money for her, for getting disqualified, raises a lot of concern over our systemic loss of values. Who wants a wife, sister, aunt, daughter, niece like Tacha? Novelist Paulo Coelho wrote: “How people treat other people is a direct reflection of how they feel about themselves.”

We just do not have as many heroes anymore, as money defines everything for us. Whiz-kids who win in international competitions, inventors, scientists and artists who create things of value are not celebrated as widely any longer. People are more interested in seeing losers on television than seeing a brilliant doctor operate on a foetus and put it back in its mother’s womb. Instead, theywould rather watch morons ruin their reputations on national television. It says a lot about who we have become because reality television is not only about entertainment; it makes us feel better about ourselves. We think we are not as foolish as the people we watch make a porridge of their lives. We love the negativity that is often the epicentre of reality television. While traditional, scripted shows often have a moral bent, on reality television, if you act out you get juicy deals. The cable executives who brought us BBN are meeting a demand. They feed us what majority of us want to see, to drive ratings, lure advertisers and get more money from voting. Unfortunately, many are unable to understand what they see as entertainment. Sadly, most of these bad behaviours by reality television stars are copied by their audiences. To our utmost discomfort, the media shapes minds and educates the public. Most people assume the behaviours they see on television are acceptable because it is on television. They are not!

Nigerians are fantastically aspirational. That is what BBN keyed into. They fantasise about fame and fortune because they see regular persons become famous each season and winners get rich. In like manner, showcasing boorish, selfish and uncouth people sends the message that such behaviours are acceptable.


The competition for shock value and to drive for ratings has become a vicious cycle. It has made many shows predictably vulgar. Greed has overtaken morality and the government and media must bear some responsibility for this. It is not censorship if we demand changes to how reality TV is produced. Nigerians are fantastically aspirational. That is what BBN keyed into. They fantasise about fame and fortune because they see regular persons become famous each season and winners get rich. In like manner, showcasing boorish, selfish and uncouth people sends the message that such behaviours are acceptable.

Reality television is not harmless recreation. What we watch affects us on a cognitive level. What we see, hear and read influences our behaviour and emotions more than we realise. It is called media priming. Because the media exists mostly in pictures, what we see is more accessible to our memory, and we are more likely to act it out. Shows like BBN are coarsening our values by suggesting to us that fame or fortune can be had through manipulative and devious behaviour. We must discourage this.

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo