Saturday, January 21, 2023

Radio sex and Italian leather shoes

The straw that broke this camel’s back came on a dreary morning riding a Double M to work and listening to Maina and King’ang’i in the Morning. It had rained the night before and, as was usual then, the sewers along Landhies Road were blocked and the sewerage was flowing out in the open. The stench was terrible. But what caught me out, beyond the indignity of my fellowman playing hop-skip-and-jump over puddles of sewerage, was the cackling by the two radio personalities at the expense of the poor people who suffered these indignities. It was stark that the morning radio shows, in addition to serving salacious and risqué fare, had little empathy for those they considered beneath them and held the unwashed masses in utter contempt.

While I disagreed with Joe Aketch’s opposition to the sale of Muthurwa Estate to private developers for the construction of new social housing, I understood it. As a councillor in City Hall, he had seen first hand how promises for the betterment of the poor were never kept, they were often dispossessed in in the name of redevelopment and slum upgrading, and no one could take the promises of the movers and shaker at face value without establishing trust through cast-iron-guarantees of benefits to project affected persons. For this reason, on the day that Maina and King’ang’i choose to mock and belittle the poor of Muthurwa, the repairs and rehabilitation of the sewer and drainage system in the area had been ignored for years. Not much has changed in 2023.

The reason I’m banging on about Maina and King’ang’i has something to do with a discussion I had last night on Twitter. I suggested that (especially for radio listeners) we have been programmed to listen more to radio shows heavy on sex and salaciousness than educational or informative fare, like Seeds of Gold (a series published in a weekend newspaper and broadcast on TV). Sex, and our version of political commentary, sell more than any programme designed to inform and educate.

I had, when I was a student in India, the benefit of WorldSpace satellite radio, through which I listened to lots of USA radio programming, particularly NPR. When I came home, the kind of on-air commentary that I enjoyed on NPR was lacking. I think, though my memory may fail me, that Granton Samboja had an evening radio show where he interviewed aspiring parliamentarians in 2007. But, for the most part, radio was dominated by low-brow sex-heavy broadcasts, sprinkled with low-brow political commentary that was long on speculation and shot on any substantive discussions of things that affected us.

My observation is that the low-brow end of the entertain-inform-educate troika attracts advertising shillings. These kinds of shows are easy to produce and easy to sponsor. On the other hand, Seeds of God, for example, require more resources, more time, more expertise. They cost more to produce. They are not popular topics (sex and politics). They do not attract many advertisers. Media companies will promote the low-brow programmes and only the bare minimum to bring Seeds of Gold to a wider audience. In my opinion, we have been programmed to prefer the Maina and King’ang’i programme to Seeds of Gold. 

This isn’t to say that we don’t actively choose to seek and listen to Maina and King’ang’i. Given the paucity of shows like Seeds of Gold, the choice we are given is merely different varieties of Maina and King’ang’i. It is not really a choice. The consequences are stark. Even among the people who should know better, little of substance is published, aired or broadcast to a wider audience. One must actively join different platforms, and actively search for informative and educational information, if one is to “better oneself”. Our national IQ is slowly slipping. It is how we end up with parliamentarians who think that being a Big Boy is being able to buy five thousand dollar Italian leather shoes. Sex on radio in the morning is how we ended up, to a large extent, being governed by semi-literate windbags in the Age of Information.

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