Pendulum from the Archives, July 30, 2011: The Karenplification of Africa

By Dele Momodu

Fellow Nigerians, I don’t know what you have been watching lately on television but as for me and my house we have been hooked on BIG BROTHER AMPLIFIED. And I’m not ashamed to say it publicly. Permit me to say a big thank you to DSTV and MNET for entertaining Africa and for allowing us to know people from different parts of our continent. This is their sixth edition and after some wobbling and fumbling in the past I think they have succeeded in taking BIG BROTHER AFRICA to the zenith of entertainment. As a media person myself, I know how tough it must have been to come this far.

Even as recent as last year, I was never too keen to watch what I considered an unnecessary intrusion of privacy and a promotion of frivolity. Though I was not as hypocritical as some of our politicians who banned the unedited footage of BIG BROTHER AFRICA from our screens, I was of the opinion that the organisers needed to upgrade their art by creating a more educative environment for the housemates. I wanted to see a platform that would reform some of our recalcitrant youths and mould them into decent members of our troubled society. Despite a few embarrassing moments in the house I’m quite impressed about the spectacular show they have been able to put up this season. I have finally come to terms with the necessity of entertainment as a compelling escapism from everyday stress and the vicissitudes of life. And the fact that some of us display ivory tower arrogance in matters of morality does not make us better human beings than those we see and treat as upstarts and outcasts.

For all you care, it has suddenly taken one erratic girl simply known and addressed as Karen from the petrified city of Jos, Nigeria, to attract most people to BIG BROTHER AMPLIFIED this year. Ironically, the two Nigerian ladies in the competition are both from Jos, a City that is fast becoming the hub of entertainment in Nigeria. The second lady who’s also popular in the house is our own ajebota (butter-fed) girl known as Vina. She is a sharp opposite of Karen. Vina is your typical silver-spoon kid with all the appurtenances of sartorial taste and impeccable pedigree. On the other side is the tempestuous Karen whose image is that of your next door village or street girl with a great knack for verbosity that oftentimes goes over the tops. While Vina makes extra effort to display her effervescent Queen’s English as well as mild mannerisms, our dear Karen struts and frets upon the stage in her natural and chronically native English with an overdose of thick accent and without caring a hoot who’s complaining. Karen is a walking oxymoron. She’s friendly and combative. She’s kind-hearted and bitchy. She’s generous and ruthless. No one messes up with Karen and escapes the rage of this volcanic eruption. Not even the ‘Drama King’ Luclay from Cape Town, South Africa can bully this self-proclaimed gangster. Karen hits her target with the velocity of a thunderbolt and moves on as if nothing has happened. She’s turned the BIG BROTHER AMPLIFIED HOUSE into your typical house of commotion full of sound and fury. There is only one boss here and that is Karen.

I caught the bug of BIG BROTHER AMPLIFIED midway into the cut-throat competition. I was initially attracted to watch by the brief appearance of Confidence, the voluptuous Ghanaian night-club owner and a good friend but lost interest as soon as she exited. The next excitement was going to come from another rambunctious housemate called Ms P but I lost attention when she started a misplaced romance with the Ghanaian fashionista, Alex, whose strategy was to have most of the women swooning all over him like a modern day Casanova. But the unexpected happened to me as the two houses were merged into one and individual talents began to blossom. At that stage, I began to develop more than casual affectation for this highly addictive show.

As my interest increased, I started bonding with each of the housemates. I studied their profiles, knew their countries of origin, checked out their professions, followed their passion and so on. I liked the simplicity and childlike innocence of the Ethiopian girl Hannin who’s a singer. I admired the sophistication of the Angolan Queen, Weza, the well-sculptured lady who’s a presenter with Channel O. I respected the cool mien of Lomwe, the Malawian radio deejay who reminded me of my former teacher and poet from his country David Rubadiri. I enjoyed the hypnotic pranks of the wonderful Kimberly of Zambia, probably the most daring housemate and a guaranteed nominee for the award of the most sensuous. The Kenyan actress Millicent played up her awesome figure even if many viewers thought she didn’t have a pretty face. The only Whiteman from Zimbabwe, Wendall, a commercial pilot, is an epitome of gentlemanliness even if he was not as active as was required. Sharon O, the Ugandan artist appeared more to most people as a beauty queen and she never stopped admiring her fine face. Zeus, a rapper from Botswana turned out to be one of the most intelligent housemates. His aura was so powerful that he succeeded in melting Karen’s heart and turned her into a lady she never wanted to be. Vinbai, the supermodel from Zimbabwe was considered too standoffish and vindictive but I thought she was smart and intelligent.

But my top four hottest housemates were Karen, Luclay, Lomway and Sharon O. My dear Vina who I rate to be the most intelligent girl in the house would have featured somewhere in-between but her chances were badly dimmed by Karen’s incredible amplification. Karen according to pundits is set to break all-time records in the BIG BROTHER AFRICA’s history. Karen is billed to beat the South African rampaging bull, Luclay, alias Otono, an unstoppable actor to second place. Karen and Luclay are ruling the airways. Even as I write this piece, I’m monitoring messages being scrolled on the screen and the level of support for our own Lady Karen is overwhelming. And it is becoming obvious that those waging a war against the likelihood of a Nigerian winning the $200,000 prize again this year are fighting a lost battle.

I was never a total fan of Karen before her chat-room session last Monday. I was totally for her country-mate, Vina, purely on moralistic grounds. I was opposed to Karen like many others without caring to find out what was responsible for her unusual lifestyle. I had studiously ignored the injunctions of Jesus Christ that we should not judge others from our own myopic standpoint. I also did not recognise the fact that the principal essence of the show was pure and unadulterated entertainment. Some of us saw it as a talent hunt, while others believed it was a quest for expertise in pretensions. While most housemates worried more about Africa’s perceptions of their individual characters, Karen and Luclay broke all rules. Luclay yelled regularly at people and oftentimes at invisible spirits. I was so worried at a stage that he might go stark berserk and bite one of the housemates. But Mr Otono was a damn good actor who knew when to bark but not how to bite. He bullied all but not our own Karen.
Karen stood up to any man or woman who crossed her path. She spoke with the voice of an African amazon. She never pretended to be who she was not. Her story resonated with those who shared her similar travails. Many saw Karen in them and them in Karen. It was easy to dismiss her as a street-girl, a ruthless bitch, a reckless drunk, a loquacious and shameless impressionist. But she was true to herself. She is a free spirit who’s willing to roam unfettered. She was born to fly and fly she must. She does not care what you and I think of her tantrums; she cares only about what she thinks of herself. The world for her has always been cold and mean to her. And there is nothing more to fear for someone who’s already down. She came here to catch some fun. What will be, will be, and that is all that matters.

Karen was able to penetrate many hearts when she had the honour of being the head of house a few weeks back. It afforded everyone the chance to see her transform from a gangster image to that of a boardroom executive. She dressed serious and was gorgeous. She spoke more eloquently without the usual vulgarity. She led by example and was very selfless. Her caring heart was put on open display for all doubting Thomases to see and applaud. She took a big risk that could easily have backfired when she was up for nomination. As head of house, she had the privilege of replacing herself with one of the housemates but she chose to maintain her nomination. Many of her fans got angry that she had taken a stupid gamble, but this singular act won her fans and fame across Africa. I knew of a Ghanaian woman in her 70s who cried endlessly for Karen’s rare display of love for even her detractors.

I had my own stint at weeping last Monday as Karen took the invisible Big Brother and her captive audience down the memory lane of her tortuous journey through life. I listened to every word she uttered and watched every one of her powerful delivery. Nothing escaped me. As I released torrents of tears, I phoned a friend who told me that I have good company in his house. His Ghanaian wife and mother-in-law were crying their eyes tearless and his wife had just succeeded in ruining her fresh makeup as she was on her way to work. The Karen story was a spellbinder. I was mesmerised by the story of her beleaguered childhood. It was a stuff of thriller. She did not know her father. Her 45-year-old mother who happens to be her role-model was a gangster according to her and she had to live with her grand-mum. She did not really know her father and till this day she’s very bitter about him. For the first time, she spoke about how she was in a marriage for five difficult years for the wrong reasons and decided to quit for the right reasons. She had to take to doing this and that while in Europe. She was a strip-dancer and some of her nude pictures litter the internet. What more do you want to say or write about a child the world had already written off as nobody? I was always angry at Karen anytime she dramatized her madness and behaved like someone totally possessed.

But there lies the beginning of Karen’s story as a metaphor. Hers is a taleof nothing is impossible. There is a lot we can achieve as human beings if doors and windows of opportunities are opened to us. The lesson in this saga is that by the time tomorrow comes one of Africa’s supposed gangsters, Karen, would have become one of the biggest superstars on the continent. She would be crowned not because she’s the best role model in the house, but because there is a greater testimony to be derived from this quintessential grass to grace experience. Her mother would have to pray and fast for her. It is not always easy to exorcise the demons of street-life. She must conquer her biggest enemy and that is alcohol. I’m perpetually troubled once Karen starts drinking. She is always going bananas. May God redeem this young girl and keep her safe till tomorrow when her life must definitely change for better or for worse.

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