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Funmi Iyanda
Lagos, Nigeria
Funmi Iyanda is a multi award-winning producer and broadcast journalist. She is the CEO of Ignite Media and Executive Director of Creation Television
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Monday, January 22, 2007

On The Goody Controversy

A week away
Between a problematic server and a backbreaking work schedule that includes constant travelling, keeping this blog going is no mean task but they don’t call me shangree (uncool 90s term for never say die) for nothing. I have in fact had an incredible two weeks spanning three cities, Lagos, Cape Town and Johannesburg. In typical fashion l find it easier to write about my experiences after the fact by which time reason has tempered the extremes of emotion usually provoked lending coherence and structure. From the chaos and corpses on the street on the day l left Lagos to the Vital Voices Summit with 250 women across Africa and beyond and the head spinning experiences packed into that week in Cape Town to my languid days in Johannesburg l do have a lot to recount. It will mean writing everyday forcing me back into rhythm, shall l start therefore with the most stupid…

On The Goody Controversy
I have been watching more than my usual share of international news in my hotel rooms and therefore cannot get away from the Jade Goody/Big Brother/Racism brouhaha. Quick summary for those who usually have more important issues to deal with. Jade Goody is a loud mouthed, barely literate, near train wreck young mother who became a national British celebrity and earned millions of pounds in endorsements, show appearances, magazine columns and so on through the ubiquitous voyeuristic reality TV show Big Brother. Shilpa Shetty is a beautiful Bollywood star with over forty films under her belt and and the adulation Indian fans. Celebrity Big Brother is an extension of the show concept using B rated celebrities as well paid guinea pigs. A ratings winning formula that satisfies the thirst of a celebrity obsessed and voyeuristic world.

The allegation of racism emerged due to the bullying of Shilpa by Jade and two other housemates who hurled racial slurs at her and refused to pronounce her name. A large portion of the audience sent in complaint, the media waded in with 24/7 coverage, people protested in India, sponsor pulled out, the finance minister Gordon Brown was hounded about the issue on a visit to India and so the circus is in full swing.
Aside from incredulity on my part at how pointless the issues that engage the western media often is in the face of real issues elsewhere and my alarm at how the manufactured bar conflict of work seeking celebrity has been thus elevated, I am mostly amused by it all.

Of course Jade Goody’s comments were racist and her conduct reprehensible but isn’t she herself a victim of a bigger smarter machinery? Big Brother, like most reality shows is very much manufactured reality with an overriding goal, to push the envelop to ratings paradise and earn a pot of fortune in return. Behind the machinery are some really smart people who pitch potentially combustible personalities together and then add a few ignitable and sit back to watch the earning boosting conflagration. Whether they have gone too far now is debatable.

What do you expect when you put Goody who is the sometimes likable, ignorant, body issues battling, serial bad relationships surviving, famous for being famous single mother made good with the beautiful, exotic, aloof, elegant, slender, male magnet and frankly superior working actress Bollywood star? Forget the cultural and personality differences, as women they will clash and to me this is the true heart of the conflict. Jade feeling threatened by Shelpa attack her the only way she could, by that which made her different. She couldn’t very well have attacked her beauty or star status but she can mock her accent and refuse to deal with her humanness by refusing to pronounce her name. A more enlightened person would have found other ways to take out or hide her inferiority complex but that would not give great TV ratings.

Jade has been evicted, channel 4 is being hounded to pull the show, the debate rages but l can predict the following post the media frenzy.
One, Jade Goody’s “career” will survive, her enthusiastic albeit shambolic passion for life is not manufactured, the British public like the sad sod who publicly battles with her demons scenario a la Kate Moss, Pete Doherty, George Best. Finally she is an international newsmaker now so all she needs is a good manager to help her leverage on that starting with a tail down visit to incredible India and a goofy smile embrace of all things Indian whilst there. As for Shilpa Shetty, this is a career enhancing controversy. A bullied Barbie is a clarion call to all the living Kens and the long dead knights to come running to the rescue. The offers for jobs will roll in, even Hollywood might call, as soon as she losses the Indian accent!

As the reality TV fever grips Nigeria, feeding on the joblessness and hopelessness of her youth and nurtured by a system that is emotionally primed by the belief in miraculous, instantly gratifying interventions, l am concerned. Unlike the west, we do not have a deep enough celebrity culture and the supporting industry to suck in the instantly famous. Even in counties where they do, these have been known to have a short shelf life. In Nigeria, their naivety, youth and “talents” will be exploited but in exchange for what and for how long?


Mitch b said...

i have one comment with regards to BB and the Jade incident. Firstly though please note i am in no way a fan of Jade Goody. My comment is that i am constantly reading bloggs that criticise Big Brother, Channel 4, and just about everything English perhaps in a bid to address the perceived 'racist' comments by Jade.
Your comments with regards to Shilpa are noted, she is very beautiful and a star in her country, however if she is so famous, so well loved, and if BB is so bad and western entertainment so low, then why did she go on the show in the first place?
I have repeatedly travelled the world and am constantly amazed by the amount of cultures that head at full speed towards a western style of living. Why? i dont know. The west has gone too far in alot of areas and values are few and far between. However I am yet to know of anyone smart enough to adopt western culture without its bad points

candy said...

First!Hi Funmi.This my first time on ur blog, and i couldnt help but comment on the Jade/Shilpa issue. Not forgettin to mention Danielle(the disgraced beauty queen), and Jo(who has no face whatsoever in England). I consider this to be something that has resulted from lack of security on the parts of the BULLIES, as Shilpa seems a threat to them(shes a favourite to win).Like i read in the london lite newspaper, u only do such things if u got nothing at all to lose. Jo doesnt(we hardly know her, or i'd rather say shes not been much of a success here in the UK, after her songs failed to sell). Danielle on the other hand has never failed to disgrace herself. Got de-crowned after it was found out she was dating one of the judges of the pageant-a footballer who i dont wish to recall his name. Another offence was that she posed topless for playboy magazine, and twas decided she brought total disrepute to the MGB crown. Shes already lost a modelling contract worth thousands of pounds after this controversy, and Jo and Danielle couldnt just hide their sorrow when their almighty "mother Jade baddy", as i luv to call her was unceremoniuosly evicted fromn the CBB house. She had the most to lose,and she never knew the gravity of what she had done until she got out(the cops were waiting to question her). To protect her, no audience was allowed to receive her the usual way, as there was fear of violence on the part of the audience. Who then turns out to be the winner at the end?, if not our own very dear and humble, yet respectable Shilpa Shetty, who is expected to get more roles(like u said funmi), and earn more than she ever did. As they say, the fall of one is the rise of the other. Who thinks otherwise? Dont mind my long comment please.I couldnt help it.

Anonymous said...

Hello Funmi,

Call me retrograde, but I do not watch Big Brother from any continent as I've never had the desire to be entertained by other people's meanness, trickery and abuse. Politics supplies all that, thank you.
Ms. Shetty knew what she would be in for when she signed up for a show with half-baked dregs. Ms. Goody has always made money from her rather controversial life - so why not try again this time? These so-called 'reality shows' that demean and humiliate contestants and show audiences how to get ahead by lying, cheating and backstabbing should be boycotted.

Daddy's Girl said...

Funmi, this is the most intelligent thing I've read about this whole issue. Truly, that razz Jade is not smart enough to realise that she and her ignorance have been thoroughly manipulated for profit. Poor poor ignorant girl. Reality tv is really nasty for the most part. I really like 'The Intern' though - it's on Nigerian tv at the moment and I think it's doing a good job of showcasing the brilliant, resourceful, confident and articulate young people we have in our midst. I really hope we can have more intelligent shows like The Intern.

Bluntremi said...

I have t disagree with you "daddy's girl" not everyone that acts stupid, is truly stupid. There are tons of women out there that feel that the best way to get their point across or to get what they want is to act dumb...

I havent seen BB, but I can only imagine it from what I have read, and I believe that bullies will always be bullies. If she had been the same race, same height same everything, it may not have stopped the bullying from happening...sad but true. There are just people out there that set out to make life difficult for others and hate people that are everything they arent...

The fact that she was Indian only gave them ammunition...but i doubt it was the true cause.
Kudos Funmi for touching on it...

Pablo said...

this is my first time here and i really dont know what to say other than you are just amazing.you have writen your name on the sands of time in the life of most nigerain youths.God bless you.

Daddy's Girl said...

"There are tons of women out there that feel that the best way to get their point across or to get what they want is to act dumb..." That's very true, bluntremi, but I was talking specifically about Jade - and if you'd ever watched/listened to her closely and if you knew more about her background (incidentally her mother Jackiey was on BB too), I'm sure you'd agree that she's not one of those women. Although I called her a 'poor' girl, I'm very much aware that she's really made a huge fortune from her onscreen persona - kudos to her and her publicist for that. I'm not convinced she's putting on ignorance as an act though. Like Funmi said, she was the victim of a smarter machine, but like Funmi also said, she'll be ok with a bit of positive publicity. She's actually rather likeable despite everything else.

SolShine7 said...

This is sad. It seems like reality TV shows either bring out the worst or best in people. That's the test of a little fame.