By Favour Olajide
You are scrolling past Instagram. Then you stumble on a picture that really catches your fancy and you press the small love button below the picture to indicate that you like it. If you have enough time, you go the extra mile to drop some comment. The same goes for Facebook, Twitter and just about any social media platform. Expressing our approval (or, in some cases, even disapproval) is so easy; just tap your phone’s screen and that is it. Sometimes, it may not be a nice picture; it may be a poem, a short story, a music or dance video, a comedy skit, some artwork, whatever. There will always be that wow moment where you ‘like’ a post you like. Sometimes, it may even be a competition as such is now common. For example, deciding the winner of a poetry contest by the amount of ‘likes’ each entry gets. The social media has made it so easy.
These days, such contests have infiltrated our social media space. I would doubt that you are on any social media platform at all if you have never gotten a message from someone requesting for your one ‘like’ to win a prize. Voting happens here and there. But this has not always been so. Before the advent of the internet, organisers of creative contests in particular had refrained from determining winners of prizes by mass voting. That unwritten principle still holds today. Taking a look at reputable contests especially in the arts would reveal that organisers would rather have selected experts decide worthy winners than crowd-source it. For example, the Swedish Academy which awards the Nobel Prize for Literature has asbits mbers foremost academics and experts in literature, together with former laureates. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences puts in place a similar structure to that for the Grammys as does the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the Oscars.
In any case, creative arts contests on social media now challenge that traditional arrangement. ‘Art for art’s sake’ is the motto of the old aestheticism movement and it is hinged on the position that art is beautiful in itself and needs not have any justification from the real world. While this movement is no longer as popular as it was then, one cannot take away the fact that aestheticists held art (of whatever genre) as highly important, with each one deriving its value from itself. But a perversion of that tenet has prompted the adjustment of that axiom to better capture the current situation of many contests and awards in the arts today, with the focus on social media. Art is no longer seen as having any value in itself. And even if it must have some value at all, that is derived from the approval of random people, of whom a vast majority lack even an inkling of insight into proper literary/art appreciation. Art for likes’ sake.
One of the things to be examined is if really the organisers of these awards and contests are interested in promoting art and creativity or rather popularising their own brand. Some actually want to promote art and artists (of whatever genre) but while their intentions may be pure, their efforts and method (mass voting) are misguided. This is because, ultimately, the brand itself is the one who benefits more, selfishly. It is not uncommon to see such organisers require voters to ‘follow’ their accounts first or subscribe to whatever subscribables in order to be eligible to vote. This is only a shady attempt at building followership under the guise of celebrating and promoting creative works, mostly by youths. Trying to amass followers is in itself not bad but using mass voting to achieve this at the expense of real appreciation of the efforts of contestants does some harm. It is only a bait.
There is a reason big awards like the Nobel, Grammy, Pulitzer, Oscars and so on do not throw out selection of winners to the open just like that. For one, not everyone is competent enough to appreciate and acknowledge the real value in creative pieces. Anyone may see a poem and like it, for example. But it takes the lens of a competent literary critic to analyse and explain it as objectively as possible. Not everyone can do that. Besides, one should ask how many of the voters take out time to really study entries and objectively cast their votes in all fairness. Judges for art awards and contests are not only selected based on competence but also on a track record of integrity and fairness to ensure credibility. A random voter would vote for his friend, or relative just because of such ties between them. This is not healthy and it in fact destroys the credibility of the competitions. In the long run, the prize does not go to the person who has presented the best work (however that may be adjudged) but to the person who knows and can reach more people to vote for him or her. What then is being rewarded? Creativity, or popularity? The answer is the latter, hands down.
I think organisers of these social media art contests are doing a good job to some extent. At least, some people and their works have become popular through these small social media competitions. However, there remains the need to have far more credibility to ensure that we really are celebrating the best. We should not discourage up and coming creatives (writers, artistes, actors, painters etc.) and limit them to crowd-sourced likes, many even sometimes gotten through fraudulent means. The whole essence of art is destroyed when creative works are subjected to popularity contests and their works reduced to the amount of ‘likes’ they get on social media. Art has value, and that far greater than cheap likes of random people on Facebook and Instagram.
Favour Olajide is a Public Affairs Analyst.