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Between Abass Bundu and China Nicky

Between Abass Bundu and China Nicky

I was totally out of circulation when President Bio attended the UN General Assembly. I did not get to see it either on social media, so no comment. A trusted friend of mine gave his speech an “A” grade. After that, Bio has been to the European Union and many other important news have run the news cycle. Guess what? I am not writing about or dissecting all that good stuff. I feel like getting into the gutter or slinging mud… getting to write about two “non-issues”: One involving the Speaker of the House of Parliament, Dr Abass Bundu, and the other Sierra Leone’s newest and humblest cultural ambassador, China Nicky. Phew!  (Photo: Fayia Sellu, author)

Upfront: I know am getting into a folly of an enterprise for two reasons; a) I don’t do WhatsApp groups or share news or gossip there, nor have I watched any episode of Big Sister Salone (I probably never will); b) I like to write about stuff I am either/both passionate and knowledgeable about. My brush may be pretty broad, but this canvas is not going to paint itself. And for some reason I am itching terribly to do so.

What can possibly bring the No.3 fountain of honour in Sierra Leone, the speaker of the parliament and an “illiterate” reality TV show star in the same stroke (keyboard) in any respect? A lot. Both personalities, for inverse reasons, shed light on how far we have, or not, come as a country, the psyche of the nation and its direction in terms of moral, values and its cultural fabric.

I hate to start pontificating about cultural decadence or showing denouement in excessive abuse of an unbridled social mediascape. However, matters of plain decency and cultural integrity exercise my mind, plenty. In the US where I live, reality TV is big. So big, we can’t say that it had nothing to do with why the current POTUS won his elections bid in 2016. As a scholar of film and media, I regretfully have less than 20 hours of reality TV in me. Chalk that up to accidentally watching of “Jersey Shore” to get what all the craze was about. Reality TV really kicked off, I believe, in the US with the police chase of  O J Simpson’s Ford Bronco as suspect for the murder of Ron Goldman and boyfriend, and from my panoramic view, leads up to the “Jones’” now been replaced by the “Kardashians.” I could probably analyze the content of Reality TV, but won’t touch it with a ten foot-pole for all its wondrous appeal. I have nothing to learn from the ‘screened drama’ of other people’s lives posing as “reality.”

Whether you study cinema or not, we all follow the dialectics of “good” and “evil” injected into films and TV shows, from Hollywood to Nollywood. Empathetic associations and rooting for the underdog or whichever character permeate from our ability to identify with them as humans mostly irrespective of the racial and cultural barriers. Most movies are scripted unlike Reality TV that is arguably unscripted. Apart from the human-to-human identification, there is expected to be the ‘shock effect’ of not having a precise plot which is a hefty part of its thrill. In the age of ‘virality’ (it pays to know the source word VIRUS) and social media, the shock effect is crucial! China Nicky had legions of fans and she puts the “real” into the Reality which many a viewer wanted to see on screen. Also, she had a very compelling story that even/especially Cinderella would root for her.

The interaction between participant populations and cultural products is a tricky one. First, let me take something back: there is no cultural integrity, per se, imported or local. Culture is living, breathing and evolving. Culture has also had a history that is oppressive, excluding outsiders…those who do not belong, especially where it intersects with other instruments like class, food, language, race and level of education. This enclaving of culture, and the structures built therein, determine which culture is high or low and obscures its plurality. When some people ask me to represent Sierra Leonean culture, I find it a misnomer. There too many fibres that make the hodgepodge that I cannot possibly (yeah you got it right, the “Africa is a country” types) fully represent. Which one is “really” representative? ALL.

The nexus of culture and the use of technology, especially digital, (the latter being a culture its own) brings the question of access to the fore and in a different light. Access brings to culture and cultural products bottomless supplies of advertisement money and also the inclination to be vernacular. Par exemple, the “We wae munku nar we boku” slogan espoused by the China Nicky supporters and fanatics. This trend corrodes the gatekeeping intents of those who for whatever reason were/are insistent that cultural integrity (often a code word for class) should be maintained. That typology of folks who think Miss Salone must have excellent command of the Queen’s language and brains ( at least by their definition). Massification and access on the one hand, and market forces the other, have a match made in heaven.

My bad. Why does it feel like I am lecturing on culture. Exactly. I would refuse to call any antics of “Big Sister Salone” “lowbrow,” “raunchy” or cultural banality. In fact it’s reductive to do so. Reality TV anywhere is just not my taste. Now, I still need to talk about…why pair Abass Bundu and China Nicky? Traditional forces that may impede virality and unrestrained expression, screening and circulation of “shocking” images across hitherto different classes and types of folks are now a thing of the past in the global digital economy. One, Nicky, is a beneficiary of what some might call low culture and the other is a victim. In what was a total eclipse of fortunes in the domain of public discourse, the powerful Mr Speaker, allegedly, was “captured” on camera naked, being a real human being taking a lavatory break. Someone, nay, many people, found it in excellent taste (BTW forget about good or bad, that was zero taste) to circulate the image(s) to the world!! The lowly China Nicky was filmed in a house being herself and was catapulted to national prominence.

The “actor” (growing up in Salone, “actress” was not regular in our lexicon for main protagonists) and “badman” dichotomy fits neatly into this scenario, where Abass Bundu, Cambridge PhD and many degrees, former Executive Secretary of ECOWAS and now the third most powerful man in Sierra Leone can only be the “bad man.” China Nicky who did not complete high school because she was orphaned, beautiful, yet poor and lowly, can only be the “actor”–underdog par excellence. Two things strike me as ominous ironies. First, the lack of restraint that people show (assuming the footage is real) for someone taking a lavatorial break. Just because the penis or anus can excrete waste matter does not mean we can do so freely without restraint. We were taught, potty-trained they say, to restrain ourselves until we get to the right place for that. Just because we have internet connection does not make it right to share anything. China Nicky’s “reality” stabs irony in the face, making a mockery of it. The “Big Sister Salone” people centre ‘Women Empowerment’ as the chief objective for hosting the show. Even named it after the esteemed Ella Koblo Gulama. Who else could use more empowerment than China Nicky?

Symptomatic of the tens, maybe hundreds of thousand others, if she models anything at all, it is what Barack Obama penned into his second book “The Audacity of Hope.” China Nicky exudes radiant hope in people that the most vulnerable and dispossessed in our society can and should aim for the skies; that they too can be cultural/brand ambassadors and a celebrity like Nicky. That’s what lights the fire in her fandom!

AFTERTHOUGHT: Reality people say is a bit62h. And it has its variants. How’s this for reality? China Nicky Africell brand ambassador and the newest, arguably, biggest celebrity in town cannot obtain a British visa to attend and represent Salone at a World Trade Fair. You think Dr Bundu will be refused a British visa on own recognisance? Cannot the Ministries of Tourism and Foreign Affairs arrange for a visa for this newly-minted cultural ambassador? Alas! There is something called CLASS, alive and stumping! And that too is REALITY. It needs no cameras.

By Fayia Sellu

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