I love popular culture. I love the assimilation of foreign inventions and ideas to stir up the spirit of one’s society. I am an advocate of a free world, a world where dogs and baboons ally to discuss their territorial rights and privileges; a world where Christians hold their orderly “Miracle Nights” while living in a community of Muslims and where Muslims air their Tafsirs of the glorious Qur’an unchallenged, one where atheists are allowed to live with their opposed theories of a new age nature. The chaos of disagreeing minds, and of proposing ideas, is the civilisation that occurs when believers and disbelievers debate the ways they must live.
I loved LP records, from my childhood when they used to play the sagely words of Bob Marley for my late father. Yet I celebrated their replacements with portable disks—CD, DVD, Blu-ray discs. And yes, I prefer the secular miracles of my digital gadgets, software, hard drives and apps which have decongested lives and rooms from Abuja to Beijing, Canberra, Dublin and La Paz to Madrid and New York. I am a renaissance man who learnt the accents of anchors on MTV or Channel O, who dressed like admired celebrities, who studied martial stunts from Chinese films, who loved women in the fashion of the paper-thin characters in Bollywood films, and who almost disobeyed my parents like the kids in Hollywood films. Here I am now, at the terminus of the internet revolution!
But pop culture destroys insidiously when it possesses us unchecked. Because it is the playground of a delightful hedonism, and because its introduction of new things in our lives is seemingly spontaneous, the world and we in it are thus subtly enslaved. The zeitgeist of this modern world is uncontrollable, and we are lost in its mad illogic in the same way one is unaware of how sugar invades and kills our kidneys. Our generation is lost in the frenzy of mass media and is consequently attracted to easily consumed sound-bite type ideas and inventions that push us against the very soul of our civilised existence—our ability to think things through. We are lost in the fakeries of a soulless pseudo-culture dictated in truth by business executives in far away conference rooms armed with demographic studies and psychological assessments. A pseudo-culture in which we ride on the entertainment and education of video games, televisions, films and, the father of them, sports. Do not mention the internet—that’s a case for another day. In Africa, football is religion to millions and this deification of football is a leap away from our social soul. Eager to know this, innit? Forgive my slang. The soul of the civilisation is the Book!
Books, once the premier entertainer of the society, being a medium in which thoughts are stimulated, ideas inspired, and knowledge acquired, have become bound reams of paper collated in these true museums known euphemistically as libraries. Like it, hate it, the moment books become tools of mere decorations or intellectual posturing in our households, our society is finished. The absence of books, even the electronic versions, in the ideological prisms of our media, is the reason the average man in his multitude repels intellectual and academic exercises. The society, now that books are endangered, is largely a group of shallow-thinking, video games-playing, football-obsessed, internet-based people who “like” and “lol” at attempts to have them reading, and thinking. One of them, a nameless co-passenger in a random bus, once asked “Are you preparing for examinations?” having watched me flipping through a book with fitting attention. He is a product of the culture that defines books as the mediums we consult to either pass our school examinations or some such activity!
The society can only think when they see mirrors of themselves. In books! In the regenerative engagement with rigorous academic and literary traditions! The superficial portrayal of our world in films and music only breeds one-dimensional thinkers. Today you have graduates who would say “I dey craze?” on being asked to go for a second degree except if that is to be done for a career prospect, for money and filthy lucre!
But hope is not lost. Just when I’m worried that the world is being increasingly populated with androids that only know the fixtures of European premier league matches, to thereafter discuss the results over bottles of Star and Gulder, a wonder came from Africa’s gods of modernity: footballers. The news is that a group of 20 England-based footballers have embarked on a project tagged “Premier League Reading Stars” to inspire reading among their “stray” fans. This is good news, considering the psychological import of the realisation that these gods themselves do read books. Since the West and its media dictate the way we live, and with the power of globalisation, I hope our own distracted brothers and sisters would sway to this new literary “swag” of pop culture!
While the European governments keep the fire of literature burning, our president and his men, occupied with the arithmetic of their loots, could not sustain a dubious “Bring Back the Book” project. Don’t mind them, soon as you reconnect with your soul, and you’re able to understand what budget is, and why their “recurrent expenditures” is bigger than “capital expenditures”, your anger will be justified. You will also understand why a governor who claims that “recurrent expenditure” eats up his budgets has a hundred Directors-General and Permanent Secretaries without portfolios. The newest big thing in the Nigerian publishing bloc is that Parrésia Publishers Ltd, started by the magical duo of Richard Ali and Azafi Omoluabi, having understood the essence of our missing social soul has introduced a new intervention—the Parrésia Foundation for Arts and Literature. We need more interventions like this and we need to support this new NGO.
I note the strange paradox that my own fanfare-craving governor, Dr. Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, PhD, CON, Talban Minna, who could not give us ordinary water as his sixth anniversary chimes this month, is the only Nigerian leader whose “philanthropy” includes immense and committed support for the revival of book reading and literary development. I hail him for that singular achievement, this one important thing that hasn’t been accomplished only on the face of billboards. May God save us from us!
By Gimba Kakanda
Blueprint Newspapers (10/05/2013)
@gimbakakanda (On Twitter)