By Femi Akintunde-Johnson
We are wandering through the chaotic landscape of our common heritage which has been brutalized by successive incompetents and mercantile do-gooders, in different togas. What we call a nation-state today would have made even the front-liners of our independence struggles whine in debilitating agony were they alive to see the deterioration. Just barely 60 years ago.
Nothing illustrates the decadence of our existence more eloquently than the hyperbolic and nonchalant manner we share and clothe ourselves in titles, to gain some sense of worth and perpetuate an air of entitlement. Traditional rulers gift all manners of characters hallowed titles, or gentrify some fabulous concoctions to splash on ignorant “money-miss-roads”, who then terrorise our roads and sights with odious paraphernalia of hollow chieftainship. Our media, especially the social media ‘influencers’ and bloggers, flog our sensibilities with blatantly ignorant and irredeemable epithets on the lightning rods of their creative space. Words such as ‘icons’, ‘legends’, ‘superstar’ and ‘celebrities’ are some of their favourite candies dispensed with bewildering care-freeness.
My immediate concern is the abuse of the true meaning, grace and emotion of the word, CELEBRITY. Hopefully, some of the abusers of that word may find redemption in the following submissions, and retract from their current path of watering down the critical emotional efforts of millions who eagerly look out for true examples of quality role models in a nation plundered by corruption, mis-governance, depravities and all sorts of depressing anomalies.
In a progressive society with a functional conscience, the value or esteem given to the celebrity is essentially an aggregate appreciation of the characteristics and attributes which the society seemingly agrees upon, with little or no dissension. In fact, it may be narrowed down to the comparative influence of each generation. As earlier stated, the people who grew up in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s of Nigeria, and many other African countries, have particular expectations and ambitions of who could be classed a “star”, “superstar”, legend, icon, celebrity, and such superlative endearments.
To those bred between 1980’s and 1990’s, these same characterizations and superlatives may take a different colour. Perhaps, they consider themselves less narrow-minded, less rigid, more flamboyant, easier to please, easily excitable. Perhaps not. I strongly suspect the former sentiment.
While it is true that civilisation, culture and the ecosystem are not immovable… in fact, the more flexible and reasonably disposed to reinventing the wheel of any human-driven system, the greater the capacity to endure, prosper and multiply.
Yet, traditions – or measured and positive observance and interrogation of traditions – are the kernels (unbreakable knots) that keep a society from the erosion of identity… from emotional, psychological and intellectual neo-colonialism… from scattering into tiny quarrelling, destructive entities.
So, in our deeper interrogation of the keyword, CELEBRITY, we must set aside jaundiced mindsets and preconceived notions of our casual understanding of what makes an individual a celebrity. We must also go beyond funky, hollow ritual of westernized imagination.
‘Celebrity’ is a derivation of the generic noun, ‘celebration’ (or the verb, ‘celebrate’). In Africa, celebrations are not mere “jollification” or revelries. They have deep spiritual and communal ramifications. Every ceremony (another variant of same word) is a rite of passage, a means of communication, and an attempt at re-connection between the visible world that we live, and the invisible that we don’t see but dread a lot!
Therefore, we hold as proper and sustaining the following attributes in those who are decorated with the privileges of power, of influence, moral compass and legacy possibilities.
– A Celebrity status is not attained by guile, by design, by attainment (ie. acquisition of external articles of rewards obtained for meeting or surpassing stated goals);
– Not merely by academic excellence, incredible wealth or inheritance;
– Not by the grace of physical beauty or admirable physique;
– Not by oratorical finesse or the gift of the garb…etc.
One is a CELEBRITY who has accomplished impressive or awesome feat in any area of human endeavors. The keyword is ACCOMPLISHMENT (perceived/internal/success), distinguished from Attainment (external/goal-driven/progress). For example, if you’re the first person to graduate from a university in your village, you are a celebrity to your villagers – it is an awesomely inspiring accomplishment to everyone associated with that village. As soon as you enter Lagos, or any major city where graduates are roaming the streets, your BSc, MSc, BA, etc, is merely your personal attainment/achievement.
From our village analogy, the following highlighted virtues become self-evident: You need not be famous nor popular, in the main, to be a Celebrity within your environment. Therefore, a Celebrity is POPULAR (well loved) for his or her accomplishment, such that parents want their children to EMULATE…and children look up to the ‘celeb’ with unhidden admiration, seeking INSPIRATION. And consequently, he is FAMOUS (well known) in spite of his best efforts.
While fame usually pursues the Celebrity, he or she is not excited about the incessant beaming of the media’s searchlight into his life – beyond his public accomplishments! So, the true Celebrity DRIVES the media – he shies away from interviews, spotlights and any avenues that seek to focus unduly on his privacy and personality. This quality endears him to the media, a mystique that must be unveiled… hence the constant “struggle” between the media and the Celebrity.
The Celebrity uses his PRIVILEGE to actively INFLUENCE positively and directly his immediate environment – with or without the media – for the BENEFIT of his society, and humanity. He is an authentic ROLE MODEL – a beacon of shinning light for younger generations to aim at.
Celebrities are also held in HIGH ESTEEM by the populace because they have remarkable accomplishments which are sustained and referenced by the media, properly so-called.
It is important to note this: in the evolution (the making) of the Celebrity, the role of the MEDIA is paramount. It is the media, by no discernible agreement, that bestow or strip off the toga of “celebre” on any individual or group. Journalists, by their frequent and eloquent coverage of certain individuals, make them famous or popular…make them celebrities. It is therefore vital for the relevant members of the Nigerian media to deepen themselves in the dynamics of social valuation and ethical imperatives within the society they operate in – so that they correctly elevate genuine figures,and isolate pretenders.
The dynamics of social valuation (entrenched virtues and morals ingrained in us from childhood – schools, homes, religious centres, etc) demand that the people we hold up as role models and motivating personalities should have certain enduring qualities that underscore their weight and fascination in our hearts. We perceive them to be kind, talented, gifted, generous, God-fearing, strong-willed, intelligent, etc. We may be wrong, and occasions have proven that, but PERCEPTION is the anchor that pulls us towards our Celebrities.
Next time, we hope to further explore sociodynamics, from the African perspectives; thus laying the foundation to understand, and appreciate the true dimensions of the unidentical twin of Celebrity (the Socialite).