Turning the tables
At last the tables had turned. She stood before me, thumbs thrust in the waistband of her jeans, fists at her waist, hips cocked. I could tell she was going to enjoy this.
"So anyway," she started, as if the subject wasn't busting to get out of her, "I've just got back from your country…"
"Well apart from the terrible weather I saw many things that made me think."
"Really?" I think I knew where this was going, I've been waiting for something like this for a while. She's the girlfriend of another oyibo, and its meant she's been party to many of those conversations about Nigeria which expats have when they're amongst each other; The latest funny thing to happen, the difficulties of communication, the grinding frustration of nothing working right, the terrible driving stories, how annoying it is when people talk in the cinema, etc, etc. She'd weathered it all with a smile. And now it was her turn, and I was going to let her have her fun.
"Because of the rain I watched a lot of television, and I realised your people are really very stupid."
What were you watching?
"I was watching this show, it's this one man called the Jeremy Kyle…" Some young people were on the show, chronic, uncontrollable, hashish smokers who wouldn't listen to their families and stop it. My friend said: "What I saw was these people have wasted all the opportunities your country has to offer. People in your place call it cannabis, once you start smoking it you don't do anything else. If you give these people understanding they go and do it more. It makes me just want to slap them."
Another favourite subject on talk shows is young mothers. The UK has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe. They're seen as a drain on society, getting government handouts and to the top of waiting lists for cheaper social housing. It's been a seminal moment in many of my female friend's lives; coming back form university and seeing their school mates (often the tougher working class girls) pushing prams.
My friend said: "There was a 19-year-old girl with three children, she had one at 15, 17 and 18. I was horrified! In my country that doesn't happen as much because there is no government help for them."
She has it right, my people are stupid, drug smoking, sex addicts, pampered by a social welfare system that has failed us.
Jeremy Kyle is billed as "Britain's Jerry Springer", but actually he's the direct descendant of another more British chat show baron, Robert Kilroy-Silk. Kilroy's schtick was to get the drek of British society into his studio and then patronise them mercilessly. He would patiently listen to the horrid stories of their lumpen lives, tease all the horrendous detail from, say, a single mother with eight different kids by eight different fathers, and then stand back and pass judgement on them in a snide and malicious way. He got away with it because he never relinquished grip of the microphone so he could just cut them off with a snip, and of course centuries of the British class system made him feel superior to these forelock-tugging proles sitting in the studio.
Jeremy Kyle is even worse. He goes on long tirades against his own guests, batters them with the power of the "moral majority", wrapped up in a glossy TV format. Somehow he believes himself to be the highest arbiter of moral decency in the land. How he has not been lynched by the guests live on TV I will never know.
The truth is that these people are cherry picked for television, selected especially to enrage, and entertain, audiences. The show goes out mid afternoon, who is watching? Usually old people, naturally socially conservative, they already believe the world has gone to the dogs, and these shows just fortify their judgements. But I'll concede to my friends views of "my people", because there is a kernel of truth to them -and it was refreshing to hear someone else's unedited opinion of the British.