I was horrified to learn that America’s most popular cultural import to Nigeria is the reality show “Girls of the Playboy Mansion.” Good grief, if my only image of the US was topless, busty blondes bouncing down inflatable water slides giggling stupidly, I might have a mind to come and blow the place up myself. I was surprised to discover, though, that Africa has its own line of inane reality programming that complements the Playboy girls just fine. Last night was the fifth-season premiere of Big Brother Africa—their own version of the depraved reality staple that makes Survivor look like high art. And, for better or for worse, it seems they’ve remained remarkably faithful to the original in tone and complexity. They’ve still got the vacuous sound bites: “My strategy is I’m here to win!” And the stubborn egotism of competitors: “I’m just gonna be myself in the house. Because that’s what I’m about.”
From what I can tell, the show is quite a phenomenon across the continent; a timer in the corner of the TV screen had counted down to the premiere for weeks. On one hand, I’m relieved this show exists: in a Nigerian TV lineup, Playboy Girls following this doesn’t look quite so bad anymore. And the Pan-African dimension of the show is intriguing; contestants come from 14 different countries, so each country has their own housemate to stoke nationalist sentiment, while at the same time the show’s popularity is pulling the continent closer together. On the other hand, the fact that this show was imported from the West (it was originally created in the Netherlands) is living proof that Africa needs to be spared from the ills of any more cultural imperialism as fast as possible. Thank goodness for Nollywood.