Here in Botswana I don’t have a television which is perfectly fine with me since I’ve lived a full life without one for the better part of a decade. I occasionally see television when I am at the gym and then last week when I was in my hotel I was able to watch a little bit. And to clarify “watch” I really had it on while writing blog postings or planning my classes for the week. It was almost no active watching. But, having the background entertainment did allow me to get an idea for television here in Africa.Most of the television shows here are produced in South Africa, or they are imports from the US or UK. However, the American and British shows have considerable liberties taken with the content. For instance, my US show, Scandal, has been renamed The Fixer here. There were several other name differences I noticed.
One of the other curiosities to me was the amount of censoring here. In the US the use of expletives and crass language is accepted and few people think twice about it since we are so accustomed to it. Here they not only bleep out curse words, but they pixelate women who are wearing low cut tops. These two phenomena are particularly comical to me when I’m at the gym. The gym has three tvs: one is always set to cricket, one is always showing a football (soccer) match, and the third is a video music channel. Naturally, since a fair amount of the popular music comes from the US and abroad the music videos are anywhere from 20%-80% pixelated (due to scantily clad dancing ladies) and bleeped. Even the word “God” is considered a no-go. Even if used in a positive light, i.e. “We pray to God this day…” it is either bleeped or entirely deleted from the audio.
Southern African countries have been very successful imitating American and British reality and competition shows. The two most popular being Idols (based on the British version Pop Idols/ and the American Idol show) and Big Brother Africa: The Chase (based on the US Big Brother franchise). Big Brother Africa (BBA) finally ended last week, so it was a common topic of discussion among my students and several staff members I met in Zim.
BBA involves representatives from 16 African countries. Every few days a contestant is voted off by the viewing audience. All the votes from a particular country are compiled and then the country registers its one vote. The major difference between BBA and the American version is that there is an entire channel dedicated to BBA because it is broadcast 24-7 in real time for the entire season. So for 91 days which is the length of the season, no matter what time of day, you can turn on the channel and see what the housemates are up to. At one point I was up early for a flight and out of curiosity turned on the show and it was broadcasting all the contestants in the house sleeping. It was actually very boring.
But this is a huge contest and a fair amount of national pride is staked on the results. According to two young men I asked about it, they said they definitely tend to vote according to which countries they consider a friend because they want to help out their allies. This year Dillish, a 22 year old student from Namibia won. The prize? $300,000. That sounds like a lot of money. In the US the prize is $500,000, so I guess $300,000 is a deal for the producers here. But in reality $300,000 is worth way more here than back home.