Jesse Shipley, Associate Professor and Chair of Anthropology, Haverford College
There is a curiously intimate relationship between parody and identity in the era of digital circulation. Parody has shaped popular music in ways that reflect neoliberal sensibilities and how lives are lived through social media. For youth around the world, mobile popular culture and selfie-portraiture provide structures to imagine themselves as agents of change, as economically successful, as cosmopolitan. Digital music makes youth loud, literally and metaphorically, while also creating intimate channels of connection among social media users. Popular musical parodies are not simply humorous but take on authority gleaned from reference to more sincere forms of speaking and acting. In contemporary contexts, parody works by blurring the line between satire and sincerity and obscuring artistic intent. This paper examines an irreverent international Ghanaian hip-hop duo, the FOKN Bois who have built their fame through the potential and power of musical parody. They make outrageous songs that incite both fans and critics to respond with outrage, pleasure, or both. Their track “Thank God We’re Not a Nigerians” mocks the long-standing intimate ambivalence between Ghanaian and Nigerian nationhoods. While it explicitly pokes fun at Nigerian styles and moralities, it implicitly mocks how Ghanaians scrutinize and moralize about Nigerians. For young Ghanaian artists and audiences, shared language-use in multimodal digital popular music indexes membership in a pan-West African mobile community that refuses simple identities and mocks nationalism by blurring and moving between familiar register, speech practices, and ideas of moral value.