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Opinions of Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Columnist: Tawiah, Benjamin

When Does A Sentiment Become An Epidemic?

It is not always the case that a trend becomes destiny and a sentiment breaks into an epidemic. Sometimes, even the most worrying trends are tolerated when they appear trendy. And when a way of life is trendy, it becomes normal, even if it is averse to a certain nature. So, when does it become necessary to check a seemingly normal trend?

Recently, a senior public relations practitioner wrote to warn me of the corrupting influence of the Western media. He has been monitoring my writings and has observed that my objectivity on many things is waning, especially my presentation of news about Africa?s problems, because I look at local issues through the Western mirror. What the award-winning Assistant Superintendent of Police forgot to mention was that I have been corrupted already. And that is simply because I live in a very permissive society, where it is fashionable to use the internet to divorce a spouse. The Sunday Sport, a newspaper meant for public consumption, is essentially soft porn in print. The SUN, another tabloid that sells for only 20pence features a naked girl displaying manicured bottom on the third page everyday. The magazines, which come complete with free DVDs, CDs, books, bags and face powder boxes, are in the words of a tabloid journalist ?moral chloroform in print.? Licensed Sex shops abound and prostitutes are unashamed to ply their trade, even as the heavens beam glorious moonlight on their wares. It is even possible to see a live pornographic show in Amsterdam and Belgium, where otherwise responsible sons and daughters of living parents slug it out in the presence of everybody.

So, I did not find it strange when one of my students asked if he could ?hook me up to a girl.? ?Listen, you will like her; you want them big, don ya? (don ya for don?t you). He doesn?t call me Sir, as students in Ghana do. Sometimes, he addresses me ?mate? even though I am his teacher. He is a 16 year old boy of mixed Ghanaian-Jamaican parentage, who is sandwiched between three cultures, and eventually making the worst of all. He tells me I am lucky that he writes two sentences when I give him assignments that require a hundred words, because he normally wouldn?t write any. His mother is worried that he is constantly on the internet, watching naked girls and often writing vulgar language.

This is what it is like bringing up a child in sex-consumed London. What about Ghana? I tuned in to Adom 106.3 FM to catch up on some local news, and what I heard was pure pornography in the air. In what could pass as the eighth wonder of the world, folks had voluntarily called into a radio phone-in programme, to describe in worrying detail how they had sex the previous day. Most of the callers dramatized the report and gave a no-holds-bared rendition of their private sexual activity with their spouses on live radio. It was so horrifying it couldn?t be very Ghanaian. If it was, then it was too Ghanaian for the average man.

It was 2am; it is expected that all children in Ghana will be asleep at this time. It is also expected that most responsible adults who would need some energy for the morning?s work, which would begin in less than five hours, would be asleep, too. So, why wasn?t I asleep that time of the morning? Well, may be, I am not as responsible as I thought. In my part of the world, the difference between day and night is as unnoticeable as the way leaves come to a tree. Some Ghanaians I know have not enjoyed a good night?s sleep in more than a decade. The only bad thing about that is that they develop big, bulging bellies, because they eat in the night, like nocturnal vertebrates. So, night is as good as day. Besides, the internet, where I monitor news from Ghana, is very cheap here.

So, what is particularly wrong with the Adom FM adult programme? The presenter, a woman who projects herself as a lively personification of orgasm, says she is providing sexual therapy for adults who may be having problems with their sex lives. It is a good social service that probably must be encouraged and supported, because most adults have huge problems with their sexual health, but they remain unspeakable until divorce speaks. And to be fair, everybody has a libido; there is always a natural urge to express it somewhat. Even so, it is inappropriate to wear that sentiment on our sleeves, as if it defines our very humanity. Being libidinous is just as uncomfortable as it sounds.

Perhaps, the language the presenter employs is the problem. From the grandiloquent to the outright colloquial, the baser instincts of the canal man play out in the use of vocabulary that is too heavy on the ear. It sounds like an orgy of dogs when callers sidestep decorum and ?linguistic etiquette? to describe their sexual escapades in Twi. If the British media?s portrayal of nude women is moral chloroform in print, the Adom radio porn show is ?cultural chloroform? in the air. The in-built gate-keeping terms in the Twi language- sabi and taferakye- are substituted for filthy words that would only be found in the lexicon of the spoilt freethinker or a commercial sex worker. It sounds so crude that it detracts from anything therapeutic.

Adult sex programmes are encouraged by many broadcasting houses. Today?s informed consumer is open to a wide range of choices in an age where new communication technologies have made information accessible than years gone by. Presently, the BBC is showing Sex after marriage, a programme that teaches married couples and people living with partners how to maintain a healthy sex life after marriage. The programme, which is given prime air spot on BBC One, is built on the widely accepted knowledge that sex plays a great role in marriage, and it is also the reason behind many of Britain?s divorce cases. The show features sex toys, nude women and sometimes scenes that are purely of a sexual nature, but they are conducted in a way that is educational rather than celebratory. The intention is to expose and prescribe therapeutic solutions to people?s sex-related relationship problems; it is not to celebrate sex as a physical activity. There is also a clear voice-over that dictates the direction of events on the show. You don?t feel corrupted after watching the programme; you feel educated by professionals who have taken time to research into something everybody takes for granted.

The Adom show is careless in outlay and unprofessional in outlook. It seeks to create its own strange genre, where a radio presenter has a porn license that allows her to disregard broadcasting ethics to wade into obscenities. The motive is not clear but the mission is unmistakable: to dissipate superfluous thoughts about sex and glorify all things sexual. At what point does it become necessary for a Ghanaian couple with a sense of shame to literally mount a platform on public radio and perform a sex act for everybody to listen? It would be useful for the producers of that programme to play pre-recorded pornographic tapes for listeners. If that sounds disgusting, then it is exactly what the Adom adult show is. And it has quite a patronage, too. May be, a strange kind of epidemic is about breaking out in a country where some churches forbid women from wearing trousers.

On Ghanaian dating and friendship websites, the situation is not any better. There, folks combine the advantage of the anonymity that cyber life often guarantees with the gullibility of the internet?s limitless audience, to write out their deep-seated sexual desires for the entire world to read. On Ghanaweb these days, ladies are unashamed to post advertisements inviting men for sex only, ?no relationship please.? Sometimes, there are photographs against the shocking messages. There are also some very clean postings from decent people who genuinely want to try their luck on the internet.

The Adom show has a good side to it, though. There is a love-match segment that attempts to link people who have similar profiles. Matchmaking is a growing industry at the moment. There is a dating website for nearly any kind of person: from the conservative Muslim to the wacky transvestite. Almost every British newspaper has a matchmaking column, where readers advertise their profiles to meet lovers. Even the broadsheets have tempered their serious businesslike outlook with dating segments. The Financial Times, probably Britain?s most respected broadsheet, devotes several quality pages to love search. It doesn?t dent the paper?s serious presentation in any way. I remarked to a Ghanaian tabloid editor to employ a similar strategy and he found the suggestion unthinkable. Matchmaking appears to be the preserve of the P&P newspaper.

Of course, love and sex are sentiments we yearn to express everyday. Businesses that have bought into this essential human need are making great gains out of it. Rupert Murdock?s News of the World newspaper, one of nearly a hundred in the Murdock stable, is perhaps everything but news of the world. The sex lives of celebrities make the front-page news, not the current trends in globalisation and Israeli-Palestinian crises. Those are tucked in the middle somewhere. Sex sells better than anything else these days, and most media organizations are waking up to this rather awful reality. Richard Kimble, a renowned British journalist and teacher, laments in a book that a local newspaper editor was advised by his publishers to write more on sex than important national news, to up sales, and when the editor refused he was sacked. That is when the craze for sex gets really crazy. Today, Britain and most parts of the developed world are gripped in rhytiphobia, the fear of wrinkles. Women and men spend billions on anti-ageing cosmetic surgeries to look sexy and attractive. It is expected that any media organization that gives space to enlighten people on sex tips would do better sales than the national daily whose editorial philosophy is to eradicate poverty and crime.

So, that is how sentiments are exploited, and when they are not checked, an epidemic of a sort breaks out. I, therefore, do not find it surprising that nearly a year ago that I exposed the Esewani series, a Ghanaian pornographic film, I continue to receive emails from Ghanaian young men and women who desperately want to make a career in pornography. Some of them had the temerity to attach their naked photos; they had mistaken me for a porn producer. If Adom means grace, then we are about losing it altogether.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.