They say that television content is a true reflection of who we are as a society. If this is true, then the runaway popularity of reality TV show Nairobi Diaries, in which the city’s top ‘socialites’ engage in weekly confrontations and physical fights, speaks loads about our affinity for drama and scandal.
A one-and-a-half minute video posted three weeks ago on the show’s Facebook page in which two women, Risper Faith and Mishi Dorah, have a violent altercation, had registered 6,800 views at the time of going to press. The video posted before that one, in which there were no kicks, flying wigs or tussling in the mud, only had 2,100 views in comparison. The viewer’s affinity for the more salty scenes is clear.
Do Kenyans enjoy the spectacle of watching others self-destruct in public? Do we prefer to expose other’s secret lives and vices than to discuss their useful contributions to society? Are we spending all our time online and in front of the television searching for juicy bits of gossip about others?
“Kenyans love scandal. They can’t live without it,” says Bridget Achieng, one of Nairobi Diaries’ cast members. In person, Bridget is as straight shooting as she is on screen. She reckons that when it comes to show business, scandal sells.
“Look at most of the big musicians. A lot of them burst (into the limelight) through scandals,” she points out. “There are a lot of well meaning, strong women doing great things who do not get any air play. Scandalous ones, however, are high up there. It is as if the more scandalous you are, the more rewarded you get as an artist.”
Sylvania Ambani, an entertainment journalist who interacts a lot with these local stars, agrees. According to her, celebrities know that scandal sells, and the majority of them have perfected the art of feeding the public scandals that are juicy enough to create a buzz, but not so bad as to kill their careers.
“I’ve seen musicians leaking compromising photos of themselves; wannabe socialites sleeping with well-known men then telling everyone about it,” she says. “For those who know how to play (to the gallery), it boosts their careers,” she says.
Nairobi Diaries producer Janet Mwaluda is reluctant to equate the love of the show with Kenyans’ love for scandal. In her view, the reason the show is so popular is because it is a very real depiction of the society and thus a lot of people relate to it. “Yes, it can be salty at times,” she admits. But she pegs it down to women’s newly found outspokenness. “Unlike previous generations, we are a generation of women who speak whatever is on our minds, which can come out as scandalous especially when we are talking about matters close to our hearts.”
COMMON AVENUE FOR DRAMA
Facebook groups have become another avenue for scandal and drama. Groups known for their scandalous content such Kilimani Mums Nairobi Uncensored, Kilimani Mums and Dads Nairobi Uncensored, Kilimani Mum’s Udaku Zone and Buyer Beware Kenya, register some of the highest membership numbers on the local social media landscape. Members visit these sites usually for the gossip as other members out each other’s private lives.
Purity Nduta Machariah, a former administrator of Kilimani Mums Nairobi Uncensored, is reluctant as to label our love for scandal as an addiction. “It is just fun and entertainment. You should take everything you read online with a pinch of salt,” she says.
Purity runs her business online so she spends a great deal of her day logged on. She opted for an online shop after a shop she had set up in Thika failed to break even. Facebook, she says, helps pay her bills. She believes it is the same for many other women. It is thus natural that they also unwind online.
“My online persona allows me to let my hair down. In real life, I am introverted, I have a small circle of friends and I prefer to spend my time indoors,” she says.
She agrees that sometimes, scandals online do get out of control but she sees it as a necessary evil. “It is a temporary escape. A lot of us are sole bread winners with irresponsible or absentee partners. Sometimes you need a place not only to share ideas and vent, but to let your hair down (and) have a good laugh,” she says.
According to Kennedy Awuor, a psychologist, scandal mongering allows us to step out of our sober, cloistered existence and live vicariously through others who seem to attract drama and confrontation.
While at it, we get to feel superior because unlike this person, you didn’t mess up as badly.
“In a way, it makes one feel better about their current situation. You will look at a rich person or a talented celebrity going through a scandal and you will think to yourself, they may have all this talent but at least I didn’t make such a stupid mistake. It’s somewhat reassuring,” he says. It is this sense of reassurance that makes us want to keep a scandal going.
Mary Wahome, a sociologist and the lead researcher at the Schizophrenia Foundation of Kenya, likens scandal mongering to students starting a strike in a school. What we see in such an event is usually a symptom of what is going on underneath.
“Scandal mongering is just a way out. Sometimes people will scandalise something that isn’t even a scandal just so they can vent the anger they are feeling inside by humiliating or punishing another person,” she says.
In her view, we are an angry society and we do not know healthy ways to expend this anger. So it is misdirected at easy targets like people in the limelight.
How addicted to scandal are you?
To find out just how much you thrive on scandal mongering, answer these questions giving the answer that best describes you and how you react to situations. To get a correct analysis, you must be as truthful as possible.
1. Your cousin tells you that she and her man are getting a divorce. She tells you it’s because the two of them drifted apart. You…
a) Accept that they drifted apart and don’t think about the issue again.
b) Think that it is an odd reason but you respect their wishes.
c) You assume that one of them must have cheated and launch into an investigation to find the details.
2. When you walk in on your friends gossiping about you, you…
a) Are angry because your life should not be anybody’s business.
b) You try to set the record straight.
c) You stir up an even more interesting piece of gossip about someone else so that they can stay off your back.
3. How hard is it for you to keep a secret?
a) It’s very easy
b)You try, depending on how important it is for you to keep it secret.
c) You can’t keep a secret.
4. You have started a rumour about someone else…
b)You haven’t but you have kept one going
c) Plenty of times
5. Have you shared a video of someone making a fool of themselves on social media?
b) A few times
c) Yes. You find them so entertaining.
6. You overheard your friends talking ill of another friend this morning; when you meet the said friend during the day you…
a) You say hello and say nothing.
b) You do not go into details but you discourage her from hanging out with the ladies.
c) You feel that she deserves to know so you tell her everything with some dramatic effect to go with.
7. You stalk people on social media without commenting on their posts…
c) All the time!
8. Do you watch reality television shows?
b) Sometimes, but I keep it in mind that it is not real.
c) All the time.
9. You are the last to know that two of your friends are dating. You…
a) Are happy for them.
b) Feel bad that they didn’t tell you yet you would have supported them.
c) Are angry. How could anyone not tell you?
10. You walk in on two of your colleagues in the office kitchenette looking a bit disheveled. You…
a) Do your business and go back to your work station.
b) You give them a knowing smile and make a mental note to investigate what is going on between the two.
c) You spill the beans to the very first colleague you come across.
Mostly a’s – You do not partake in scandal mongering which is commendable but you also seem a little out of touch with the happenings around you. In a world where networks are everything, you need an ear on the ground.
Mostly b’s – You seem to have mastered the art of filtering what you hear or see around you and only letting out what you think will help situations. Keep up.
Mostly c’s – You are a scandal monger. You do not stop to think about whether a rumour is true or not before spreading it. You could be hurting a lot of people.