Series 17: How Tabloid Culture Became Mainstream In 2017 Local Kenyan Media

Tabloids have shaped cultures across the globe as evidenced by the popularity of sensational news. They are not a new phenomena .Tabloids sunk their claws deeper into Kenyan modern culture in 2017 with a few seemingly inauspicious incidences.

Gutter press in Kenya rose into prominence in 2013 with the introduction of the “Socialite” craze. This afront was aggressive online, eventually finding its way into print and TV as mainstream journalists struggled to keep up with the dynamic and ever changing online media. Mainstream media in Kenya is yet to device a method of remaining relevant in the face of increasing digital influence. They play catch up and more often than not, the news is a regurgitation of the online trends of the day. Thus, eliminating the need for tuning into the news for a sizable population who know that they still have access to news without mainstream media.

When Tabloids touched holy grounds

In early 2017 Bahati, a popular gospel artist, posted a photo with a model whom he dubbed his “Prayer partner”. The photo had Bahati and his Prayer partner exchanging glances that hinted at a possible relationship between the two. The Kenyan interwebs exploded with jokes about “prayer partners” and Bahati was the face of every online tabloid. Another gospel music artist named Willy Paul posted his own “Prayer partner” and they became headline fodder for months. Bahati and Willy Paul were rumored to be brawling or having “beef” therefore gossip blogs went all out with this story.

Willy Paul & Prayer partner (left), Bahati & prayer partner (right)

Why would this incident be important? Because up until that moment, the gossip about gospel musicians had been subdued in comparison to the rest of the musicians and socialites. Possibly because of an ingrained respect of the deeply religious nature of Kenyans. This story was the tabloids’ excuse to dissect the inner lives of gospel musicians and go all out. It was also the first time that gospel musicians were exposed to public ridicule and jokes on a large scale. Tabloid culture touched the untouchables.

Cyber Bullying was highlighted

2017 saw Jimmy Gait, a popular gospel artist, shed tears on a live late night show expressing his hurt over cyber bullies who criticize his work. He spoke of the impact of their words and the deep hurt that the memes and jokes cause. He has been the butt of jokes since he released a song dubbed “Sponsor ni Yesu”, that translates into Jesus is the sponsor. He sought to transform the sponsor menace amongst money hungry college kids into a rallying call for Christianity. It instead became a running joke in Kenyan social media.

His very public breakdown brought up conversations about how far is too far when it comes to online jokes. Is cyber bullying becoming a menace? Is the meme culture bordering on toxic? It roused interesting discourse on TV, radio and in social media chats.

Entry of drama-filled reality TV shows

An infamous show called the Nairobi Diaries has been the talk of the town in social media. Scenes from the trailers and episodes became trends occasionally throughout 2017. Noone wants to admit to watching the show, but the ratings are always high on each episode. It’s the secret pleasure many can’t admit to having.

To leverage on the apparent demand, Mombasa diaries has been launched and it seeks to rival Nairobi diaries. Kilimani mums, a popular women’s only gossip group on Facebook, also announced plans to launch their own reality show about real Kenyan women. Kilimani mums has already become a force to reckon with in terms of influencing women. It has served as a solace and refuge for ladies to vent and share funny and controversial stories.

Is this scenario similar to how the Kardashian fame led to the rise of similar reality TV dramas? Maybe. We’re yet to find out. Kenya’s film and entertainment industry is in need of structures. Thus it is hard to chart out a possible progression path for a trend. However, I think the future is being created one WhatsApp forward at a time. I’ll cover this in a later blog post.

Bleaching & the subliminal message on appearances

One musician unafraid of the spotlight, Kaligraph Jones, allegedly bleached his skin into a lighter complexion. He claimed to have changed complexion on the basis of upgrading his lifestyle. He attributed his complexion to drinking clean water and reducing the hours he spends in the sun. These sentiments were widely critiqued by Kenyans who picked out the lie, made jokes about it and proceeded to immortalise through memes.

Kaligraph was cheeky in his response in the face of undoubtable evidence. He has modelled the possibility that altering your appearance could be acceptable and subliminally(or not), related a lighter complexion to a better lifestyle and access to funds. With this incident, his chiefly young & highly impressionable fan base have received subconscious permission from their idol to bleach or alter themselves. Will this mark an upsurge into self alterations? We shall be on the lookout for any other significant shifts going forward. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book the tipping point, references the Broken Window theory to explain the contagious power of subliminal messages to influence people.The current media trend of running any story that will win eyeballs is worrisome as it will shape the realities of the generation growing up. Tabloid culture will raise the next generation if we are not careful to provide counter narratives.

Do you agree with my analysis of these events? What do you think of the tabloid culture in Kenya or from your country? I would love to hear from you so kindly comment and follow.

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