The book of Proverbs, and the bible in general, is full of admonitions to watch our utterances. Words, once uttered, cannot be taken back. This is perhaps even truer in the age of social media. A tweet can be retweeted several times, same with a video. Once you hit ‘send’, you are no longer in control.
There is an irony in here somewhere. Social media invites us to spill our guts, to reveal more and more of our thoughts, but simultaneously exacts what in some aspects could be a disproportionate punishment for revealing those same thoughts. The result is that we have to constantly exercise our own internal filter, lest we end up begging for mercy from friends and strangers alike. All of a sudden, we are discovering that having an audience is not all it was cracked up to be.
A private joke that may have been shared with just a few people not that long ago, ends up being viewed by thousands, courtesy of a few retweets. For example, Justine Sacco’s ‘Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!’ tweet sounds like something that would have been sent to a friend by text message, but she happened to tweet it before getting on a plane to Cape Town, from London. By the time she landed, she had lost her job and became one of several examples in 2013 alone of people who have said stupid things and had to take them back, but not before paying a high price.
Martin Bashir, who was then a commentator with MSNBC, went overboard on Sarah Palin and had to resign. Alec Baldwin also had to leave MSNBC after homophobic slurs. His new show was just five episodes in. Phil Robertson, patriarch of the Robertson family who have a reality show called ‘Duck Dynasty’, was briefly suspended from the show following his own remarks about homosexuality.
Just yesterday, Bright Okpocha, popularly known as Basketmouth, posted a joke on his Facebook page that appeared to make light of rape. The joke goes as follows:
1st date: Coffee
2nd date: Kiss
3rd date: sex
1st date: Fast food
2nd date: Hug
3rd date: Chinese restaurant
4th date: kiss
5th date: Attempted sex but failed
6th date: Shopping
7th date: Cinema, new phone, more shopping
8th date: Attempted sex but failed
9th date: RAPE!!
There are two obvious problems with this: First is the racial undertone. Mr. Okpocha seems to suggest the average African girl is more materialistic than her Caucasian counterpart. This is a separate issue that could be an entire post on its own. The more grievous matter is the flippant treatment given to rape. Now, anyone who follows the news with any regularity in Nigeria, or merely interacts with people on a regular basis knows how prevalent rape is in Nigeria. In general, Nigeria has a big problem with violence against women. This violence takes many forms: psychological, physical and economic, to name a few. Anything that appears to make light of this very real problem will have to be subjected to scrutiny.
By its very nature, art lends itself to a variety of interpretations, and what Person A sees in an art form may not be what Person B takes out of it. Even so, all art operates in a context. In the Nigerian context, based on the havoc rape has caused and continues to cause, jokes about it are never funny.
What makes it even worse is the ‘apology’ offered up by the comedian, which went like this:
Ok guys, I’m sorry about the rape joke, I won’t crack such jokes again, I’ll just stick to jokes about Men being able to marry under-aged girls in Nigeria. #Rimarima
That does not sound like remorse to me, and it suggests a lack of sensitivity to his surroundings. He could have chosen his words a lot better. We all owe it ourselves to be careful in our speech.