The Pains of Writing

After writing about the pleasure of writing only last week, and making it look like the best career on earth, here you are being asked to read the negative side. Why not? After-all, Isaac Newton told us in his third law of motion that “actions and reactions are always equal and opposite.”
You must have noticed that I dropped names a lot. That is my job. The job of a writer is to drop as many names as he can, interview as many distinguished personalities as are available to him. Even academics are rated according to the magnitude of copious references they can make to great books and authors read. My former teacher, Biodun Jeyifo once taught us what he called, In Praise of Name Dropping, in one of our post-graduate courses in Literature-in-English.
The idea was for us to be able to drop the names of as many powerful authors as possible. Can you imagine a literature student who does not know Wole Soyinka and his Kongi’s Harvest, Chinua Achebe and his Thing’s Fall Apart, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and his Weep Not Child, Ayi Kwei Armah and his The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born, Sembene Ousmane and his God’s Bits of Wood, Ama Ata Aidoo and her The Dilemma of A Ghost, Nadine Gordimer and her The Lying Days, Mongo Beti and his Remember Reuben, Naguib Mahfouz and his Cairo Triology, Kole Omotoso’s Just Before Dawn, T. M Aluko’s One Man, One Wife, John Munonye’s A Soldier of Fortune, or Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine, among many others.
It is the same way a good journalist must know and be able to interact with newsmakers, whether good or bad. The duty of a journalist is to report reality. He’s not allowed to distort it, or his work would become a fiction, or at the very best a faction. There are also different genres of journalism. The most influential is what is called developmental journalism, especially in political circles. The most popular genre is what is called entertainment or general interest journalism, which appeals to a mass culture. This is often mistaken for junk journalism, but it isn’t. Junk journalism is another genre which tends to promote salacious gossips about the rich and famous.
Everybody reads it, but most people pretend to hate it. It is a hot potato until the patron becomes the victim. More often than not, junk stories are usually denied and denounced by the dramatis personae until it turns out to be true, even if it was exaggerated. The other genre which may not be too popular in Nigeria is the specialist journalism, where the attention is on particular subjects or objects. These may include medicine, health and beauty, law, automobiles, insects, animals, the environment, religion, and practically everything on the surface of the earth. A writer, or reporter, or publisher, is allowed to determine what genre appeals to him.
On the other hand, a reader is also allowed the freedom of spending his hard-earned money on whichever, and whatever, appeals to him. He may even decide to wallow in ignorance by ignoring news in its entirety, and continue to live in a fool’s paradise. No problem. What is not allowed is for a writer to insist that every reader must patronise him, just as it is unacceptable for a reader to deride any of the genres as being inferior to another. It has been noticed, and noted, in most underdeveloped societies that readers tend to be tyrannical in their attitude to the reading culture.
While the majority tends to lap up entertainment and lifestyle journalism, a vocal and sometimes opinionated minority tends to condemn any form of ostentatious presentation. They often forget that not everyone was created equal, and that even in socialist Russia and communist China, there are some of the richest men and women on earth. And that even in the so-called advanced, industrialised and wealthiest nations, we find some of the most squalid human beings, those Frantz Fanon described as The Wretched of the Earth.
That is why you would find the highbrow Manhattan and the hellish ghetto of Harlem co-existing side by side in the same state of New York. Such is life. Unfortunately in Africa and especially in our country Nigeria, many of our citizens travel abroad but seem to have learnt little or nothing. Even the most ignorant loves to act as Mr. Know-All. That is one of the greatest pains of being a writer in a society where every success story is viewed with utter disdain, suspicion and outright envy. Every rich man is seen as a thief, even where the man has not touched or stolen any money. And every celebrity reporter is viewed as a friend of the thieves, the looters of our treasury.
It is one subject that interests me, because of the total lack of charity on the part of those who falsely judge the others when even the scriptures expressly forbid us from doing so. Those who lack opportunities today often accuse those who do, and when tomorrow comes, they act worse than their former oppressors. If in doubt, please read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The oppressed have only one dream in life – to become the oppressor one day. He lives every day of his life watching his oppressor, and like a true carpetbagger, he’s busy rehearsing what he’ll do when his time comes, when he arrives big time and in grand style.
That is the reason most emergency millionaires in Nigeria rush back to their villages to erect that 50-bedroom mansion, one-in-town which he does not need, in which he lives in only at Christmas and is of no economic value to himself or his impoverished community. Yet the reporter who reports the housewarming is pounced upon by a segment of the hapless society as promoting fraudsters and looters, when the accuser himself attended, and attends, such events with professional competence to partake in the free orgy of wining and dining that usually takes place.
The reporter who shakes hands with a governor or minister, has suddenly become transfigured, and is now a looter and an oppressor. This is far from the truth. The writer or journalist must have access before he can do his job well. Larry King regularly boasts on CNN of having interviewed 40,000 newsmakers, and still counting. Wolf Blitzer gets access to the high and mighty. Oprah Winfrey puts her picture on the cover of her own magazine every month. Those who hate her face or guts, are free not to buy it. Richard Branson is not your regular entrepreneur. He indulges regularly in many dangerous adventures and models in most of the Virgin Group adverts. He’s lucky not to have come from a part of the world where success is rabidly hated and any form of pleasure is considered an act so deplorable.
Richard Quest lies down on the flat bed of the new Airbus 380 and flies from one country to the other in super luxury to show the CNN Traveller what awaits him in different destinations. He’s merely doing his job and no one sees him as showing off in any manner. Those are the great privileges provided for him by his job. It is a dream job, but not a job to be envied. Modern journalism and indeed modern life, allows for new creativity. Showbiz thrives on hype. Even banking is no longer a conservative profession.
Any bank managing director who wants to hide under his desk will soon require the services of a liquidator. These days bank MDs are expected to add life and colour to their services. If you mention some of the most successful banks in Nigeria today, your mind would immediately go to those banks whose directors have not been timid in spending money on branding their banks and themselves. These superstar bankers include Subomi Balogun Tony Elumelu, Oba Otudeko, Jim Ovia, Cecilia Ibru, Erastus Akingbola, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede and Tayo Aderinokun. The fortunes of a company are often negatively affected by public perception.
A writer or a journalist must not be timid about his trade. Like other professionals, he must package himself well. It has worked well for me. I’m able to drop names of world celebrities I have met on all the continents of the universe like my counterparts in Hollywood are allowed to do. The tool of my trade, as the publisher of a lifestyle magazine, is plenty of hype. Celebrity journalism is a world of make belief. I’m willing and ready to take all the flak that comes with it. But I’m not ready or willing to go back to my village and to a world of oblivion.
I will enjoy my world and pray to God to allow me do all the good that men and women do on earth. I will hope to be as successful as Mike Adenuga and Bill Gates and leave those who want to make my life their business to have a field day. I have come a long way and I am very happy, and grateful to God for his mercies. I’m proud today of what photo journalism has become in Africa and beyond.
No magazine or newspaper is complete today without special sections for fashion and lifestyle. Nothing sells like showbiz. See what’s been going on in our music and movie industry. It is awesome. I salute the efforts of our friends who are taking over the world by storm. I doff my hat to the world famous duo of Kenny and D1, and others I’ll do a special on soon.
Chief Dele Momodu is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Ovation International and contributes to ThisDay Newspaper.

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