Creativity gone awry: Is ‘four-meta a metaphor’?
The creative industry in Nigeria has come of age. We cannot but salute contributions of practitioners that are still holding forth in that axis. I remember a comedy skit that recently strayed to my phone, involving a mother and her teenage son. She was going through his note books when she asked if the teacher came to class. “So, what did she teach today?” “Aquatic animals”, the boy answered. “What is an aquatic animal?” the mother asked. “Aquatic animals are animals that come from Akwa Ibom!” It was quite creative from the perspective of a comedy skit. But if that was to be your ward in a real conversation, you won’t laugh it off. You’d be immensely worried and start looking for a proper school.
What is strange is that we are beginning to have teachers of such obscenities in the mass-media space where the public learn even faster via edutainment. A TV commercial by Airtel Nigeria resonates the most in this regard. If you watch primetime news, you would have seen it more than once. *444# entry code was weaved into lyrics and dropped the line of our above inquiry – “…4 meta is a metaphor.” Literally, it was a creative rendition to etch the brand’s code into the minds of subscribers, especially in an age of passwords and multiple entry codes into daily activities involving bank accounts, social media platforms, and household gadgets and so on. The commercial simplified the telecoms’ code, such that once you recall ‘metaphor’, with the mind of ‘meta’ (a Yoruba word for ‘three’) ‘–phor’ (which sounds like four), you have ‘three-four’! Innovative, isn’t it? But in Standard English, a metaphor is not three-four or 4 meta. And to have the contrary freely airing on primetime news is a cause for worry.
Children especially learn more from the screen in this digital age. A pay-tv offers the easiest access to all kinds of programmes. In average Nigerian homes, the TV is more on cartoon stations – Nickelodeon, Jim Jam, PBS Kids, Da Vinci TV, Disney Junior and Cartoon Network, among others. My four-year-old kid particularly has a favourite in PBS Kids. He has learnt more vocabularies from watching contents like Molly of Denali, Dinosaur Train, Pinkalicious & Peterrific, Peg + cat, Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood, Wordworld, and WildKrat. My only regret is that there are no local contents of comparative quality in indigenous languages on TV, to teach classic story lines in an engaging manner. If Dinosaur Train could relive and teach about extinct animals, it is not out of place to create modern contents out of legendary works of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, D.O. Fagunwa’s Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole, Ireke Onibudo, and Igbo Olodumare; Wole Soyinka’s Forest of a Thousand Daemons, Amos Tutuola’s The Palm Wine Drinkard, and J.F. Odunjo’s Alawiye 1 to 6, to mention but a few. The point is that a child that learns so quickly from the tube can as well learn indigenous contents, not forgetting the wrong ones too including ‘4 meta is a metaphor’.
While no two works of art or critics would appreciate content alike, there are basic factors to consider in creative art. Fundamentally, a work of art should mirror reality in the creation of ideas and concepts. Indeed, the reality is out there. It is the imaginative use of derived original ideas to represent the reality that is creativity. Whatever imagination does in the employment of sensibilities and abstractions to create new concepts, it should shirk from the misuse or abuse of reality and standards. Discerning adults can readily separate the wheat from the chaff in creative renditions, but not the younger ones that are much more at the mercy of whatever is thrown at them. To keep churning out misrepresentations is to create more confusions than necessary in the education system – a mental rift between the classroom setting and media contents; and between western education and indigenous learning that is still most relevant for native intelligence.
I believe our creative artists can get more innovatively by exploring African aesthetics in their content creation. Comparatively, western works of art, by their orientation, are more tailored at individual uniqueness and ingenuity. By contrast, traditional objects of aesthetic appreciation and creativity in Africa are incomplete without communal values and practical realities of daily lives. The African work, be it visual, musical, kinetic, or poetic are created as an answer to a problem and serve some practical ends. A brand on a marketing drive readily has a practical end to meet. So, its Research and Development cum creative arm can achieve that goal by situating the brand message within cultural ideas, values and daily realities, to create contents that capture the viewership. That is partly achieved when advert contents mirror reality and by extension, viewers see themselves in the unfolding drama.
I don’t think we have seen much of that cultural representation and consistent metaphysical outlook in the contemporary entertainment industry, and by extension in advert commercials. The trend nowadays is to have commercials in music and dance drama, as performed by the regulars in the movie and comedy industry. The worry is that the performance often fails to connect with the product advertised. Take for instance Coleman Cables’ commercials. Beautify dance drama by comedian AY and EmmaOMG. But what has dance got to do with good cables and electrical fittings? Ditto for candies and biscuits adverts. I saw some seemingly stable characters in office and street settings jump on their feet dancing wildly immediately a sweet or cookies get into the mouth. The action and reaction are neither the same nor has connection. A good brand and viewers deserve a better creative approach.
The entire creative industry, Nollywood in particular, have a lot of work to do, if they must get better and competitive. It is no longer enough to produce local content for a global audience. We already have those in droves. Their quality and attention to details are just as important. An average viewer does not like a motive that he or she could guess the end from the beginning. It is a waste of precious time. Or one that is so shoddy that a character is donning a Manchester United jersey or has an i-phone on an ancient movie set! If it is a battery or accident scene, it should be credible. A work of art should as much as possible depict reality like we see of foreign movies. Burning Train and Titanic were old movies, but kids and some adults wept watching them in the 90s. What is curious is that some Nollywood movies of today readily manipulate indigenous culture and religion to create a problem, for which they attribute the solution to Christianity or Islam. But that is an inconsistent metaphysic that debases African culture and tradition, whatever their flaws. Actually, the reverse is more often the case in reality. My point is that what is worth doing is worth doing well, placed in proper perspective and with intellectual integrity too. That is how to make a good movie or TV commercials to entertain, educate and arrest the minds of the viewers.
Certainly, there is creativity between the clown that attributed aquatic animals to Akwa Ibom and the TV commercial that called 4 meta a metaphor. Yet, the creativity has no place in reality. Our creative professionals and their researchers can do far better for long lasting impressions on our minds. Ire o!