• Comedian is challenging our traditional view of what constitutes entertainment
• After arrest, he apologised and said the show will be back 'bigger, better and cleaner'
Comedian Eric Omondi and a contestant in a skimpy dress step out of an SUV towards a helicopter. The chopper’s rotor wash billows the dress, exposing the woman’s thighs. As they buckle up, the two commence a kissing scene that lasts for minutes.
This is just one scene from the comedian’s digital media show, Wife Material, in which 15 women from three countries fight for the affection of one man in order to win “…a brand-new car”.
Earlier this month, the comedian was arrested for producing the show, which Ezekiel Mutua, the Kenya Film Classification Board CEO, termed immoral.
Despite Mutua’s claim of fulfilling his mandate of “Protection of children from exposure to harmful content,” opinion is bitterly divided on the relationship between morality and creative arts.
Max Kenyatta, a digital content consumer, says, “First, we should agree that morality is relative. What is moral to you may be immoral to me.”
And there lies the dilemma. In today’s world of global multicultural content, what exactly constitutes morality? As a parent, Stephen Rugara feels the issue is crystal clear.
“I saw nudity,” he told the Star. “And that is a no because of my kids. Drug abuse, vulgar language. Is that entertainment?”
Rugara’s voice is one of many who feel that local standards, not imported values, should be the yardstick.
So, what guidelines should supply the balance between relatable content and freedom of artistes?
“It is not express legislation of morality,” says Martin Kariuki. “It is a fight between absolute freedoms that will see our daughters get into pornography for quick money, versus retaining a land where our children can grow and make those decisions from a point of information.”
In his paper, “Artistes and Morality: Toward an Ethics of Art (1978)”, Arnold Berleant of Long Island University identifies several reasons why moral demands may be placed on artistes. Among them is the general quality of everyone as a moral being, which includes the artistes themselves.
As social participants, artistes may also be held to certain specific standards due to their position of significant control and influence.
Although a thin line exists between morally acceptable content and that which blazes the trail, artistes are not solely responsible for policing moral standards in the country, and stifling laws and draconian measures will only hamper creativity.
“Eric Omondi is pushing the envelope,” says Eric Kimani. “He is of course doing it for relevance and to make money, but nevertheless, he is challenging our traditional view of what constitutes entertainment.”
Many in the industry agree that there is such a thing as going too far. Bobby Buluma, creative director at Macmedia Production, could not be more categorical. “You must follow the law, stardom notwithstanding. That is porn, according to me.”
Elisha Wanga, a veteran of the Kenyan entertainment industry, hopes for a happy medium. “While creative freedom should be upheld whenever possible,” he says, “entertainers should bear in mind the target of their product and tailor it accordingly. As the consumer, the audience’s input is paramount, but at times, life imitates art, and it’s the artiste’s onus to find the balance between the two.”
The border between creative licence and morality will always be a moving target. Both law and public opinion will have to keep self-evaluating to stay abreast of the constant changes.
Or, as Eric Kimani puts it, “Much as it may be unpleasant for some in this day and age of endless choices, there is absolutely no reason why [Eric Omondi] should be harassed for presenting an alternative choice. If you don’t want to consume what he is presenting, change the channel.”