IS OUR SOCIETY MIMICKING ARTS OR ARTS IS MIMICKING OUR SOCIETY?

By Ahoame Ngutswen Ray

It was the famed Scottish politician and writer, Andrew Fletcher who once said, “Let me write the songs of a nation, I really don’t care who writes it laws”. 

Fletcher’s belief was that if given the leverage of music (art), he would weaved a consciousness in our mind which would exert enormous influences on how we live our lives and how we determine what is morally right or wrong in the society. When one looks at the way in which modern arts and entertainments is exerting so much negative influences on the Nigerian society, especially on teenagers and youths, one would be tempted to ask whether it is our societal values that are influencing what goes on in the arts and  entertainment worlds or the other way round.

A curious mind would want to know what I mean by our society mimicking arts or arts mimicking the society. Arts as we all know involves the human efforts to recreate or imitate, supplement, alter or counteract the work of nature or human experiences. It draws its resources from raw materials like history, politics, religion, culture, economy etc. found in the society. This informs the Aristotelian philosophy of mimesis which was so popular in ancient times until Oscar Wild challenged it in his essay entitled “The Decay of Lying”, in 1819, arguing that “life imitates arts far more than arts imitate life”. He argued that the self-conscious aim of life is to find expression, and that what is found in life and nature is not really there, but it is the artists that taught people to find “there”, through arts. Oscar concluded that the beauty of a mountain is not known or appreciated until the poet or painter paints it for people behold.

In the light of the above, the current craze with which Nigerian youths model their lives towards art works such as the music they listen to and movies which they watch, leaves one with no doubt but to conclude that both Andrew Fletcher and Oscar Wild were literary prophets. Take a look at the music industry in Nigeria for example, music artistes like 2Face, Olamide, T.Y Savage, PSquare, M.I, Banky W, D’ Banj and their foreign counter parts like Late Michael Jackson, Akon, Shakira, Rihanna just to mention but a few, have had influences on teenagers and youth through their songs, dressings, materialistic cum sensual and flamboyant lifestyles so much that almost every Nigerian teenager and youth yearns to become like these celebrities. The Nigerian movie industry, Nollywood for instance has millions of viewers within and outside the county, who are mostly teens and youths. Not to talk of foreign movie industries like Bollywood and Hollywood.  The impact of the content of these films on these young minds may sometimes be neglected by adults without knowing that their behaviour and reality whether mentally, morally, psychologically and even spiritually is been created or shaped by what they see on television screens. Sociologists posit that every human being is a product of his or her social environment hence people, especially children; tend to learn the behaviour of the dramatic personae. Similarly, the social cognitive theory supports the ideal that people learn through observation and this applies to the arts and entertainment industries in Nigeria.

Furthermore, the fact that modern arts and entertainment has been revolutionised by the advent of the mass and social media through Information Communication Technology (ICT) makes it easier for people to access different kinds of contents ranging from violent films, obscene pornographic videos, erotic pictures, etc. You will agree with me that audio-visual materials have a way of conditioning our minds, thus altering our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviour. For instance, a teenager who sees adults killing another in a movie would put what he has seen into practice. In the same way a teenage boy or girl would practice kissing or sex in real life in order to concretized his or her movie or music video experience. Today for a girl to lose her virginity (the very dignity which she has as a woman) is as cheap as spewing saliva out of the mouth. The same thing applies to boys. It has also been estimated that an average Nigerian teenager or youth spends only 10 hours in a day on worthwhile activities like reading, doing domestic chores. The rest is spent on watching television or listening to music and chatting on social media platforms like Facebook, Whatsapp, and Skype etc. The use of cosmetics by girls and ridiculous hair styles by boys nowadays makes it difficult for one to distinguish between real human beings and costumes worn by actors and actress on stage, or even masquerades.

 We are sliding down morally as a nation simply because of art. No wonder! Our cultural norms and values are eroding faster because they have been termed “obsolete and archaic” by our generation. We prefer the so called “Western civilization” which tends to offer us freedom to do whatever we like. Our movies and music portray our societal norms as inferior hence the youths discard them and embrace westernization. Don’t get me wrong! I am not against westernization. But let us not forget that no matter how long the lizard stays in water, it will never become a crocodile. The recent rise in social vices such as mass shooting people by teenagers in America and other parts of the world and  increase in rape, sexual harassment among teens and youths on our university campuses point to the fact that the  our society is mimicking arts and not the other way round. It used to be only pastors, imams, and cultural revivalists who warned us of the dangers of losing our norms and values but today, even sociologist are blowing warning alarms. And if we lose our culture, we will lose our values and identity as a nation. 

In conclusion, since there seems to be a misconception about the relationship between society and arts, our art works should draw its values from our societal norms and values, not the other way round. Let us also not forget that our cultural values need art to survive since art provides a platform for their propagation for future generations. The two are like twins who rely on each other for survival. My esteemed reader(s), there is nothing like “art for art sake” because authentic art has value. And it is the society that determines that value. Therefore let us face the reality and live in life itself. It is by so doing that our society will produce sound art work with sound moral values. This will pave way for the social-cultural, political and economic development of Nigeria and Africa in general.    

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