The way ‘Political Correctness’ is used nowadays: a shield by those who care for it, a crowbar by those who don’t. The word has all but lost its meaning between satire and self-aware mockery. A medium like film is thoroughly scrutinized for explicit and inflammatory content, but the same cannot be said for an unregulated broadcast service like YouTube per se. Watchdogs nonetheless keep an eye out for offensive content but given that half a million videos are uploaded on YouTube every second, keeping track becomes understandably difficult and monumentally daunting. Sometimes, an element escapes inquiry and breaks out into the mainstream and garners all the attention for the wrong reasons.
Nigerian media is not as old as one would imagine. Their first movie was released in theatres in 1992. Compare that with Bollywood or Hollywood that has been going on since the 1910s. Nigeria received its first state-sponsored Television in 1977, the same year 100 million Americans watched Roots.
In this age of internet globalization, there is nothing liable against a country. Paraphrasing Marcus Aurelius, every person is an island of their own making. Independent projects are being self-funded on YouTube by artists who just want to get their word across.
Enter, Bright Okpocha, a comedian known by his stage name – ‘Basketmouth’. He came under fire in 2014 for doing a stand-up bit wherein he joked about rape. This barely garnered the attention of the world but broke the dam for the ‘Anti-comedians’, who came crawling out of their dens and into the fray. In our PC line of thinking, if there is a topic that is banned outright (no excuses), then it’s joking about rape; pro-Hitler comedy is a distant second.
While this may look like a counterculture movement, it’s actually mainstream comedy trying to be edgy. Anti-comics, by their definition, is an extension to the ‘alt-right’ movement, which abhors political correctness of any kind. It’s not just Basketmouth, but a legion of comics, and it’s not only rape but also homosexuality and general ribaldry. The mishandling, the inept media, social and political backlash gave teeth to the self-proclaimed “anti-comics” who got a free pass to be detestable on the international stage.
The blame lies not with the maturity of the Nigerian populace, but the maturity of Nigerian media. Nigerian comedy and their media are in their initial years, trying to find their own voice and making their place in the colossal media world. They are weltering in the enormous empty space of unused exposure and in order to make themselves heard – the individuals and institutions are crossing their limits.
Every form of media is likely to go through a whiplash. What is relevant today will be irrelevant 20 or 50 years down the line, and people will take offence on it, hindsight is 2020. This is how things evolve, by rectifying and recognizing the mistakes that were made in the past, and this is how who hope Nigerian comedy will evolve and grow out of this phase.