Friday, September 26, 2014

Nation FM is a flawed teacher.

Every now and then, when the state of my world is particularly fraught with trepidation, hesitation and ennui the likes of which will make one weep with despair, I switch over my radio to the one FM station that it can catch, Nation FM and its State of the Nation morning show. Angela Angwenyi and Lorna Irungu-Macharia do a decent job trying to analyse contemporary events and topics with their visitors, some of whom have wit, wisdom and an on-air sense of style that the likes of Kiss 100 and Classic 105 can only dream of. This Friday morning they were knee-deep in the apparently knotty problem of weddings, with a tangential consideration of marriage as an institution.

What I was able to glean from the show despite the constant musical interruptions is that very few of us understand the difference between the two; indeed many conflate the two as the witty presenters did once in a while during the show. The second revelation was a bit surprising; the presenters implied that only the parties to a marriage could ever possibly understand the difference between the two. Finally, they fed their listeners this fallacy that a wedding was the principal cultural obligation if a man and a woman were to be considered legitimately married.

Every now and then we are reminded that the monied classes in Kenya are peculiar, more peculiar than the walking masses who inspired Michael Joseph's observations of our peculiar calling habits. State of the Nation is aimed at the burgeoning middle class that has come to "appreciate the finer things in life" and which will not bat an eyelid at spending a million shillings on a bottle of brandy. These are the people who set the public tone of debate on political, economic and, increasingly today, cultural matters. And they speak perfectly to the invited guests on State of the Nation, for these guests are a reflection of Nation FM's audience, their mores and their priorities.

The obsessive discussion, bother overt and sub rosa, of the place of money in our lives is a particular identifier of the Kenyan middle class. On today's State of the Nation show, it was clear that the participants were paying lip service to the social and cultural values of a wedding ceremony or, indeed, a marriage; but they sure were animated by the place of money in the wedding. While they all declared with varying degrees of emphasis that "I do not join wedding committees or give money" their discussions revolved around how resources for a wedding could be mobilised; whether friends and relatives should be asked to "do their bit" or whether they should volunteer; whether how much one spent was or was not indicative of the "classiness" of the event. (To them a marriage is an event and only after is it a solemn ceremony with social, cultural and economic significance.) State of the Union proves that Mammon is the god that rules our airwaves, even when we assiduously pretend that he is not.

State of the Nation and shows of its ilk have lulled us into a cozy dreamworld where bounty is to be had for little exertion. In a nation where half the population cannot afford more than one meal a day, and where more than two-thirds are one bad harvest away from famine, that bounty remains a fantasy that will never be realised. We have been sold a bill of goods by the peacocks of the upper economic classes who shape our views of the world through their playthings such as TV and FM radio stations. Angela and Lorna are the mouthpieces for a class that wants us to believe in the illusion that we are valued actors in the theatre of public discourse while in reality Lorna and Angela are the Houdini-like distraction from the economic, cultural and moral rapine of their masters. It is this illusion that has so far prevented the more ambitious among us from starting revolutions or uprisings and what has persuaded the majority of us to join in with the looters and perverters of justice n shouting down, and shooting down, those that do.

Maybe one day we will be lucky enough to get men and women with the capacity to contextualise contemporary issues and events, to look beyond the superficiality of soundbites and to offer a nuanced appreciation of the cultural differences that we have all along elided for the instant gratification that we have been told is our birthright. Angela and Lorna are charming and entertaining but they are not the voices of reason. Those broadcasting on our airwaves are yet to persuade all of us that they are voices of reason. They can entertain us; let them not continue pretending that they will educate us. They are not ready yet.

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