Why are Nigerians taking Rema’s emotional outburst as fodder for bants?

All of Monday, social media saw a frenetically outspoken side of Rema in a string of tweets, some cryptic, others confessional, and the rest filled with strong calls to actions and the need for radical change.

The 19-year-old Afro-pop/trap star basically had a lot to say about a lot of things, from stealing a friend’s laptop to being financially independent at 17, calling on young Nigerians to wake up to the new Police amendment and the need for emerging artists to squash industry orchestrated competition. And, all of these could pass as the everyday celebrity baring their minds and allowing themself a stretch of vulnerability and openness.

But it could also simply be us witnessing another celebrity breaking down. The problem, however, is not that celebrities are not allowed to break down. They are. Like us, they also have bad days, they lose things and get overwhelmed, but unlike us, we approach their emotional spilling differently. For many Nigerians, Rema’s tweets were simply just another fodder for online bants. It was a chance to twist the artist’s moment of vulnerability into hollow, reductive conversations. And while the young man trended for all of yesterday, very few called attention to the problem behind this outburst.

It is very sad to see us treat celebrities with cold emotional removal. In this case, a young artist whose world is probably opening up and getting shaped by an insanely prosperous career. While we would offer an online mutual empathy if they were in the same situation, a celebrity’s moment of weakness becomes an opportunity to create memes and spin puffy narratives of greatness that does nothing to humanize the said artist. In truth, the celebrity complex can provide those in the system a certain level of luxury and privilege, but they are human beings regardless.

We live in the age of proximity. Social media affords that. We are privy to the intricacies of other people’s lives, we can string the lives of people together from a few tweets. If they share, we know how much pain they are going through or how little difficulty they have to deal with. But why are some people human to us and others aren’t?

Why do we respond to some people’s moments of emotional sensitivity with sensationalism as against empathy? Perhaps we are not witnessing the unbridled mind of a prodigy in real-time, perhaps we are simply witnessing a 19-year-old going through a mental breakdown. And celebrity or not, breakdowns are never funny for anyone.

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