Mr. Ugly Contest: Empowerment or Debasement as Entertainment?

Zimbabwe, like the rest of Africa, can only be perceived in the manner in which it presents itself to the outside world.  That is the starting point of discussion.  There are many good and positive things to be magnified and promoted than the controversial and “bizarre”.  

The speed by which news cycle changes, from positive coverage to the controversial.

Talk about a contrast of serious contradictions! Within a matter of days, the coverage of Zimbabwe shifted from a positive story of historic achievement to the controversial and “bizarre” Mr. Ugly Contest.  Since when have we degenerated into a society that finds entertainment in the debasement of the physicality of others?  When has exploiting and making mockery of the unfortunate circumstances of others become an acceptable pastime?  Are people devoid of creative ideas to the extent of promoting and reveling in grotesque events as a means of getting recognition and worse, for profit?

Understandably, people need entertainment and a good laugh once in a while. The question is, where do we draw the line?  What are the parameters to what is acceptable as entertainment and what isn’t?  Furthermore, what sort of benefits if any, do such events bring to communities and society at large?

While people have a right to do as they please without the burden of society’s morality police breathing down their necks, it is equally important to note that those same rights and freedoms come with huge responsibilities. For instance, what type of message is being relayed or promoted?  What lessons are to be drawn or learnt by the young and future generation, if any?

Mr. Ugly Contests

The bizarre and controversial Mr. Ugly Contests are taking off in Africa.

The bizarre and controversial Mr. Ugly Contests are taking off in Africa.

Ironically, Mr. Ugly Contests are gaining momentum in Africa including Zimbabwe. While the title itself is enough to raise eyebrows and warrant rethinking on the part of promoters and proponents, it highlights a troubling permeation of moral decadence and degradation within our societies.

Whereas community events have always been platforms of social interaction and a means of contributing towards community development and empowerment, the same cannot be said for this contest.  Until then, the event will be perceived as nothing other than a revival of the once condemned and banned “freak shows” of the past whose existence depended on the exploitation of people with all sorts of deformities including rare physical traits.

Uganda's Ugliest Man, Godfrey Baguma has a rare medical condition.

Where do we draw the line? Uganda’s Ugliest Man suffers from a rare medical condition.

In fact, the unpleasant grotesqueness of the event is made bare in the case of Uganda’s Ugliest Man. The obvious insensitivity to the rare medical condition which has deformed this man typifies the growing moral decadence of promoters and exposes how low they will go for profit.  While such deplorable events are becoming the norm, they are not helping or empowering the participants,  rather, they legitimize the public mockery of people “different” from us in the name of entertainment.  In addition to the obvious controversiality of the events, they are also deemed to be twisted, inhumane and unethical as they debase the very individual(s) they purport to empower.

While everyone has a right to choose and support a pastime of their liking, there is a growing consensus both within and outside Africa that believes such events should be left in the dustbins of the historical past where they belong. Afterall, there are more non-controversial issues to showcase and promote about Zimbabwe and Africa including the creative, the entrepreneurial and the social. It’s not always about the easy money; it’s about creative talent!


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