The weapon of mass obstruction – Part 2

Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka

There was apparently worse to follow the marred investiture. After the traditional rites, a Thanksgiving service followed. I did not attend. The outraged report was that the media camera once again behaved true to form. In church, not only did they tramp up and down the aisles and invade the nave and altar space, they proceeded to hawk their pictures right within the church. Who was guiltier – traders or clientele? Both are indecently culpable.

Apparently – thank goodness – not all remained complaisant. Unable to endure it any longer, one lady stood up, went after the malefactors, stuck her fingers in their shirt-collars and dragged them out one after the other. That lady should be canonized for humanist action against the demonism of camera fiends. Isn’t there an exhortation somewhere in the bible that reads: “Go and do thou likewise”?

Photography, an art form with a long pedigree of innovations in technique and expertise, is being turned into an affliction, an ‘anything- goes’ occupation that nonchalantly transgresses the borders of equity. To repeat what has already been noted, the public itself is to blame, what with its lethargic shrugging of the shoulder, its grumbling formula of ‘what can one do?’ and – in Fela’s phrasing – a “shuffering and shmiling” disposition in the face of aggression. So here, in conclusion, is what qualifies for perhaps the most overpowering experience of camera obscenity I have ever undergone.

It took place in the United States, about three years ago, where I had presented myself, all spruced up, to fulfill a granddaughter’s wish that I attend her wedding. Right from the beginning, I smelt trouble. It was impossible to miss who was the self-designated star of the day. I endured the exhibitionist, intrusive antics of the camera festooned young woman who managed to be everywhere at once, turning herself into The Event, at the expense of every other member of that gathering.

She was probably armed with only three or four cameras, but she wore them like ponderous necklaces, and they were manipulated like a battery of NASA telescopic lenses beamed at the solar system. Each camera appeared loaded, not with digital technology, but with gamma rays, ready to subdue and convert any image into her own self-augmentation, or perhaps detect and pulverize any dissenting frown or gesture. Short and stocky, a sigidi presence in stolidity, she ensured that her presence dominated the environment in inverse proportion to her height and girth.

Her crowning performance took place at the core moment – the equivalent of the akoko ritual. Having subdued the main body of worshippers, it was time to take on the altar itself. I watched her – disbelievingly – as she built up towards the assault, timed to hoist the victory flag at the climactic moment. She had already demolished the peripheries of the church’s own “territorial imperative” in masterful strides, obliterated those invisible parameters which you and I, believers or non-believers alike, respect as off-limits for the laity.

She positioned herself for the final assault, awaited the moment when bride and bridegroom pledged their troth by placing both rings on the bible for blessing before the exchange of rings. Then, wait for this – and may I interject here that, in my theology, Bible leaves or akoko leaves, all are mere vehicles of progression along spiritual invocation, and that trampling on either is an act of desecration. Not being Boko Haram or any of that demonic throng however, we shall leave the deities to fight their own battles and concentrate on ours – which is the right to view without profane obtrusiveness. However, let us get back to the wedding…

Assault camera leading, Ms Sigidi thrust herself between bride and bridegroom, edging aside one of the two officiating priests to make room for herself. I gasped, but thought to myself, now it’s going to happen. That priest is going to shut that heavy tome, turn it into a corrective rod, and biff her in the midriff.

Or simply switch his lines to the Book of Imprecations but – no – this was, after all, a camera on divinely appointed visitation – and so, that insipid man of God meekly side-stepped to allow her more room! Elated at this cheaply bought, victim assisted victory, she pointed her metallic snout downwards, and dived hungrily to ingest the bible leaves, took several shots – and then, swaggered away – back to her reconnaissance tour of the altar zone. From there she took her time to survey the congregation before switching to her lordly repertory of slow, self-adoration strides to bestow her lens benediction on the next selected target.

I am no Christian, but I did undergo my regulation abuse of religious conscription, so I still recall what we learnt was the shortest, yet the most trenchant verse in the bible: “Jesus wept”. That day, it was I who wept for Jesus!

Afterwards, between still gritted teeth of superhuman restraint, I said to my daughter – I now believe in the devil, and today it came in the shape of a social photographer. If that was not a fiend from hell, then she is an ambassador plenipotentiary of that domain. I came to see my granddaughter’s wedding but who was the officiating priest? That Afro-American she-devil!
Which American? she corrected. She’s Nigerian.

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  • Dencom2016

    Wow, this is not a feature article. It’s an enjoyable, insightful interesting short story.

    It takes a perceptive person like our own WS to take note of seemingly little and insignificant details of our national lack of etiquette.

    If I were to re-phrase the story’s title, I would call it ‘Tyranny of the Camera’, though Prof’s own title is more apt and figurative.

    • Akalanze Nimo

      It feels good to know that the serious-minded
      can sometimes be in a lighter mood also. Well done, Prof.

  • Ify Onabu

    Looks like Prof has run out of ideas. Is Soyinka still living in Nigeria? Because Buhari has become his ‘friend’ the Prof has chosen to ignore issues that threaten our national survival- for example the impunity of Fulani herdsmen- to focus his attention on the impunity of cameramen. If Jonathan had been in power, we would perhaps have seen some venom pouring out of the pen of our dear Prof.

  • Daré AKPATA

    As once-upon-a-time junk-bond “King”, Michael Milken, enlightened, upon his conviction and 10-year jail sentence for insider trading, “The final arbiter is the media”. All others take the Luciferous hindmost. In the once hallowed air of Fleet Street, the photographers were acerbically referred to as “monkeys”, for their simian enthusiasm and flappable mannerism.
    It is counter intuitive, and not a degree asinine, to coral porcine moods in a sty expecting them not to grunt and hog the moistened sod. Or conveying honey bees in one’s trouser pocket expecting them to build a honeycomb.
    Pay peanuts, get monkeys. The only thing in life that isn’t, initially, cost-indexed is a first opinion.

  • sly

    If I wrote this, and it even came in part 1 and part 11, Guardian would ‘KIV’ it. Keep in View(KIV) is a euphemism for sending something considered unimportant to a recycle bin, using the language of the computer, where such document would be kept to gather dust. WS, I think, forgot himself here.

  • Arabakpura

    I wish to be like you Prof when I grow up; to still retain all my vocabulary and be sharp-witted with the pen and the brain – I hail the capone de blood of tortuga on a Jolly roger!