While some won’t see Bobrisky as their cup of tea, the cultural omnipresence the Snapchat star has reached in the last few years is, indeed, noteworthy. Bob’s social media popularity, on account of dramatic, superfluous entries into his Snapchat (serving tea really) galvanised a large following of internet users into unflinching loyalty.
The early days of his fame conceived media interviews, famously the cringey, unseasoned interrogation of his sexuality by broadcaster Adesuwa Onyenokwe, and the controversy surrounding his invitation to speak at the Rights & Responsibility seminar in Abuja in 2016, which led to the self-expulsion of Subomi Plumptre of Alder Consulting from the panel. It became obvious, for me at least, that Bob’s presentation of gender and the permeability of social media have worked in shifting, disruptive tandem.
Achieving a tasteful, feminine aesthetic is what Bob does well, so amorphously confusing some times that other presentations might share boundaries between feminine and masculine. But that’s also what Bob is ostensibly pushing, a gender expansiveness that defies the reductive (and oppressive) nature of binary gender.
Bob’s self-containment on social media now feels historic, as he has infiltrated other institutions like television and film, the latter a 2018 Toyin Abraham-produced star-studded comedy The Ghost and the Tout. In the movie Bob is, well, a marginally sanitised version of himself, like a wild cat whose claws have been clipped off but at the tip. His character is still visibly seen as a threat, by virtue of a residual feminine identity and sassiness.
When he’s cornered and bullied on the streets by a hot-headed group of men, Isila (Toyin Abraham) intervenes and makes a promise to them that Bob’s character won’t act feminine again. After she leads him away, the men boisterously take turns mimicking him, performing ungainly catwalks and producing a messy chorus of feminine voices.
In a broader cultural sense, as seen in the practice of a burgeoning pool of Instagram comedians and even their stand-up counterparts, womanhood is only seen as aestheticised capital for entertainment. Beyond that, there’s the veiled desire or appreciation of what Bob represents, especially from straight men who massage this desire or appreciation into benign strokes of humour.
“Dear Bobrisky, are you trying to break the internet?” reads the opening line from Linda Ikeji’s blog, in response to Bob’s recent onslaught – wearing a skimpy bikini revealing fleshy parts. This is perhaps the boldest of his femininity, a testament of a gender freedom interwoven into the vehicle of social media.
To debate Bob’s true gender is, at this point, irrelevant, because he’s now a vanguard of an emerging crop of gender outliers using the ubiquity of social media to their advantage.