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LIFESTYLE & ENTERTAINMENT

The optics of poverty porn on RHOLagos

Globally, the franchise encourages overt displays of wealth without pretentious acts of charity that require less fortunate people to be stripped their dignity. However, RHOL has crossed that line, and it’s painful to watch
Thu, Jun 23, 2022

The Real Housewives of Lagos has brought an incredible display of luxury and opulence and rewritten the narrative of Africans being swollen-bellied and surrounded by flies.

However, while this explicit display of wealth takes up our screens and we have to contend with the vapid utterings of Housewives who value designer bags over everything, a disturbing storyline that centres on poverty porn has been pervasive this season.

Throughout, we see Chioma perform acts of charity which become more tone-deaf and brazen as the season progresses. I, for one, did not know that one could just buy a prosthetic arm, unbox it and fit it on a confused team member in the office. She handles the situation with the subtlety of a herd of elephants walking through a village and gate-crashing a funeral.

From the onset, there is a clear distinction between the help, the poor and the space that the cast occupies. Lining up the waitresses at her restaurant, Chioma proceeds to inform her staff that she will allow them to eat the leftover food from the photoshoot. She smiles grotesquely, expecting her employees to lie prostrate at her feet in a display of gratitude.

Watching it feels like a satirical skit or behaviour that would be more befitting to missionaries performing selfless work to save the hungry orphans in the jungles of Africa.

However, the optics peak when the camera crew bombards a grieving mother who Chioma alleges is a close acquaintance of hers through her charity work. The first cringe moment that will make you want to kick your television is her speaking to this woman in English while she explains that she does not understand the oyinbo language and simultaneously tries to make sense of the blinding lights from the cameras.

The grieving woman proceeds to explain to Chioma that she broke her promise of coming back to assist her son with medical expenses and as a result, the child died. While crying and explaining the situation, the woman understands the class dynamic between her and the cast member and the expectation for her to get down on her knees in the presence of upper-class people.

PHOTO: Cyril Zuma

Globally, the Real Housewives franchise has operated within a framework where the display of wealth is central to its existence. However, in the current climate, some scenes appear to be insensitive to the reality of Nigerians, particularly when the measure of wealth determines the value of a cast member and their place in the hierarchy of the enterprise.

How the cast members handle their philanthropic endeavours is patronising and translates to the viewer the urgent desire to be separated from the rest of society. This is also illustrated when Tiannah delivers food to a community that is quite literally dancing for their supper while the other cast members hold onto their designer bags and appear to be visibly distressed by the amount of people and the dust.

This is counterproductive if the show aims to highlight the side of Nigeria which is not saturated by negative imagery which is prominent in western media. Instead, the ladies highlight that they are exceptional and exist on an island separated from the rest of society.

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