The irony called ‘to God be the glory’
DEUS EX MACHINA: an unexpected power or event saving a seemingly helpless situation, especially as a contrived plot device in a play, novel or movie.
This plot device was first used by Aristotle, as a term to describing the technique of a device used to resolve the plot of tragedies.
Termed from the conventions of Greek tragedy, Deus Ex Machina, Latin for ‘God in the Box,’ was when a machine was used to bring actors playing gods unto the stage where they would emerge to resolve the conflict.
Back then the response of Greek audiences was direct and emotional, filling them with wonder and astonishment adding to the moral effect of the drama.
The problem was it usually lacked internal logic and was an indicator of lack of creativity by the writers, sometimes just outright lazy way to conclude or convey a predetermined message about good triumphing over evil.
With no set up, foreshadowing and a solution, which came out of nowhere; it cheated audiences.
Nigeria is a very religious country, consisting of those who claim Christianity, Islam or a traditional religion; there is a strong belief in deities, the supernatural and divine intervention in our lives, fate and future.
Watch a proportion of films from the first decade of Nollywood and there is a strong likelihood that whatever the problem – spiritual, financial, domestic – it was solved by divine intervention or incredible convenience.
The character learned nothing, except to pray hard enough, use the right charm, suffer enough and all your problems are solved without much real world effort or activity. Deux Ex Machina was as present in many films as in the Greek plays from a millennia ago.
American Director Martin Scorsese said, “Cinema was the church of the 20th century, we sit in the dark and watch a screen and learn how to act, dress and be the hero”. Nollywood has been a church for many Nigerians and a lot of Africans. From home videos (as they were called), we learned what to expect out of life and situations.
While films aren’t entirely responsible for shaping our perceptions, there is no denying their influence. Is it possible we have seen so many films where insurmountable situations are resolved by supernatural means, that we expect such in our real lives?
Tragic situations occur and our leaders call for prayers. Avoidable challenges are presented and we mention God solving the situation, to which he has given us the intelligence to figure out and resolve ourselves.
While the power of prayer is certainly effective and plays its part, the question has to be asked: How much has Deus Ex Machina, played in wiring our subconscious to have such expectations?
Many of our expectations about love, romance, relationships and marriage; the happily ever after, chemistry, sparks flying, kismet, finding “the one” came from movies, and we try to make our lives match that in the movies.
How much of a role has DEM played in how we expect national, structural, economic and supernatural issues in our country to be solved? Outside of sermons by pastors /imams, how much of this come from the films we consume?
Expectations of a miracle or manna from heaven many times negates the perseverance on our part and sometimes, temporary discomfort for the long term goal, something Martin Luther King and the African American people knew, enduring the discomfort of walking while boycotting the racist bus system, for a greater goal, as seen in “Selma”.
Too often in our expectations of Deus Ex Machina, we want the manna, but don’t even want to go out and gather it.
Aside religion, nothing else is a bigger influence on the average Nigerian than Nollywood. It reaches every socio economic demographic, who buy into the belief that the supernatural solves every problem without the individual or group taking decisive action or making smarter choices.
Consciously and subconsciously, films shape our worldview and perception of how life should turn out. As a society, Deus Ex Machina has become a cancer to national development, problem solving, and personal growth. Instead of impeachment, recall election, policy change, we await supernatural intervention.
While there will always be room for those stories, maybe we need to start telling new types.
Where lessons are learned, characters grow from their mistakes and trials; where characters use critical thinking, planning and perseverance in the midst of overwhelming odds as the solution to challenges; also stories where things just don’t work out but lessons from that failure leads to a level of growth.
For the record, this is not anti-prayer or anti religion. The Bible said, “Faith without works is dead.” Moses was asked, “What do you have in your hand?”
when God called him to confront Pharaoh. David didn’t pray Goliath dead; his skills with a slingshot were an addition to his belief of God giving him victory.
There will always be a need for escapism, but if our expectations of Deus Ex-Machina doesn’t stop at the end credits, and transfers to our real life, maybe it’s time for a re-assessment.
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