“[I]n whatever department of human expression, wherever there is objective truth there is satire.” Wyndham Lewis in Rude Assignment
To write this post, I read about the origin of satire, about Aristophanes (c. 446 BC – c. 386 BC ), a Greek comic playwright, and the Roman poet Horace (65 BC – 8 BC), whose works inspire and form the model for writing modern-day satire. But sha, na dem sabi, I know that I know that I know that satire originated in Nigerian culture. How do I know?
After I ran across a road without a zebra crossing or traffic lights or a pedestrian bridge, just missing that crazy driver who sped out of nowhere, a woman selling oranges by the roadside exclaimed, “You dey craze? You wan kill persin?” so I turned around to look at the yeye driver who’d almost cut my young life short, and then realised she was talking to me.
She could have blasted the government for not providing infrastructure. She could have cursed the driver for failing to observe common-sense speed limit. The irony was that she chose me as the subject of her satire. She exaggerated my role as a potential killer, exposed me to ridicule with her loud gesticulations, and criticized my lack of judgement. And the humour? Well, here I am writing this piece and laughing retroactively, twenty years too late.
You can describe the human condition with white chalk on a blackboard, spacing your letters evenly and clearly, but people may yawn and rub their eyes after a while. You can show how the problems of the world are at once “un”trivialized and brought into sharp focus by employing irony, exaggeration, and/or humour, and people may stay up late to watch the show. This is satire and provoking change, if only in a shift in thinking, is the endgame.
Satire’s overtness, sometimes camouflaged by its subtlety and silent sophistication, is blended into much of what we watch and read, but is often overlooked because we appreciate these works for their entertainment value only. Perhaps the authors want to make people laugh before they make them think.
The #BringBackOurGirls campaign focuses on the serious business of finding and freeing the over 200 girls kidnapped from a Nigerian secondary school in Chibok. While we are still lighting candles for them, questions surrounding the culpability of Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, the legality of the first lady’s “tribunal” and the state of security in Nigeria, especially in the light of recent bomb attacks, continue to make rounds on social media.
It is the cartoons and videos, not the essays, expressing the general mood of the country that have captured my attention the most. I see these works as satires. Some of the media that zoom in on the Nigerian first lady’s perceived gaffes, have come under attack, because satire can be misunderstood when we view these works for their ridicule value alone. Perhaps the authors want to shock people first and then make them think.
“Satire is a mirror where beholders generally discover everybody’s face but their own.” Jonathan Swift
Politics and satire live on the same street. However, I cannot imagine that President Obama, or any other president pouts and refuses breakfast because of a political cartoon splashed on the front page of a newspaper. This is not to say that satire cannot be a demeaning and horrifying personal attack, the pendulum can swing to any extreme, but I’m referring to satire, which has as its greater purpose constructive social criticism to further dialogue and/or action.
Uneasy the head that bears the crown
As a child, I had frequent bouts of malaria. At my mother’s insistence, not only did I have to wait until the smell of sheltox faded into the walls of my room, but I also had to sleep under a white mosquito net. Once every few months I would stand in front of her under the dim inquisition lights of our verandah, hands outstretched as she placed three tablets of Camoquin in my palm one after the other.
“Swallow it quickly with your Fanta,” she would goad.
I was never fast enough. After taking a sip of Fanta, the Camoquin would begin to melt in the fizzy oasis that was my mouth. I would shut my eyes tight as I swallowed the mixture. After I swallowed the third tablet, the half-empty bottle of Fanta was my reward. I rushed the orange liquid, willing it to eliminate every trace of the bitter Camoquin. After this ritual, my body would stave off malaria for a few months.
This in my view is satire at its best; mix the bitter with the sweet to move society to a better place. When this era is over and the dust settles, the videos, the cartoons, and slangs coined, will be reminders that truth was once too hard to swallow.
©Timi Yeseibo 2014
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