Pentecostalite Culture on Screen
Magic and Modernity in Ghana’s New Mediascape
Birgit Meyer, Research Centre Religion and Society, University of Amsterdam, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
DRAFT, PLEASE DON’T QUOTE WITHOUT AUTHOR’S PERMISSION
In the course of the last ten years, there has been a shift of the place and role of popular culture and Christian religion- especially its Pentecostal variant - in Ghanaian society from being confined to a more secluded, partially hidden and elusive domain towards increasing manifestation in the media. This shift was part and parcel of Ghana’s return to a democratic constitution in 1992, which entailed the liberalization of media and the opening up of public space to the concerns and views of ordinary people. The Ghanaian video film industry, which emerged in the course of the late 1980s, and really took off, with more than fifty productions a year, in the early 1990s played an important role in that transformation. This video film industry, which was instigated by imaginative, film-loving, enterprising individuals who initially often had little knowledge of the actual work of film making, remains very close to the ideas and experiences of the inhabitants of big cities like Accra, who were thrilled to see their own surroundings on screen. Taking as a point of departure the latest rumours about the illicit acquisition of wealth, confessions about the work of Satan and his demons, and - inevitably – testimonies about the miracles brought about by the Holy Spirit and Pentecostal pastors, these films are inspired by and woven into the texture of everyday life. They project mediations of popular culture onto the screens of the big cinemas, the small video centres in the suburbs and domestic VCR-TVs. Eagerly echoing the views and concerns of Pentecostal-charismatic churches, the videofilm industry greatly contributes to the emergence of a pentecostally infused – or better: pentecostalite – public culture, that is, an arena hosting a plethora of cultural expressions channelled through different media many of which resonate with Pentecostal views and morals and follow its style.
Increasingly anthropologists have realized that the complexities of these and similar dynamics cannot be grasped by merely focusing on bounded cultural groups or expressions and that there is need for ethnographic investigations of modernity, which recognize the totalizing impact of modern institutional forms without falling into the pitfall of adopting a totalizing framework and affirming modernity’s teleology. In order to understand the emergence of new mediascapes, new publics and new forms of public culture in the context of what has been described as the crisis of the postcolonial state, anthropologists seeking to develop ‘ethnographies of modernity’ have turned to the notion of the public sphere. The term, of course, stems from Habermas' pioneering work on the Öffentlichkeit (public sphere) (1990 , and translated into English as late as 1989).  He presents the public sphere as an epochaltypische Kategory (a category typical for a particular epoch) which is part and parcel of particular historical developments in the civil societies (bürgerliche Gesellschaft) of England, France and Germany. It would certainly be as mistaken to adopt a universalist definition of the public sphere (as an idealtype) as to follow Habermas' own normative, rationalist and exclusivist understanding and evaluate postcolonial realities in its light.Yet reflection about his ideas on the genesis and demise of the public sphere can be of help to map out the distinct space which, as a result of ‘democratization’ and liberalization’, evolves between the forces of the postcolonial state and the global market – without, however, being fully absorbed nor left undisturbed by either two. What is at stake here is the necessity to take into account actual changes in the relationship between the postcolonial state and society, changes which cannot be fully understood by recurring to earlier analyses of the postcolony which were geared to a different historical configuration (e.g. Mbembe 1992). There is need for a broader understanding of the public sphere in the sense of an enlarged, mass-mediated, class-transcending and plural public sphere (cf. Calhoun 1992; Lee 1992; Warner 1992) which does not share Habermas’ negative view on what he calls the ‘pulverization’ or ‘refeudalization’ of the public sphere, implying the substitution of rational discourse by mere consumption and the colonization of lifeworlds by money and power. The notion of the public sphere can then be developed as a useful, sensitizing concept, which not only calls for an exploration of the disjuncture between state and society, but also brings into focus an open arena where new links between hitherto unconnected people are imagined and created, without necessarily recurring to rational or national registers.
As recent anthropological work on the public sphere has shown (e.g. Barber 1997; Barnes 1996; Probst 1998, 1999; see also Freitag 1991), attention to the role of mass media is crucial in understanding the realities of public spheres as they now exist in the context of postcolonial societies. An equally important, yet much less emphasized, point concerns the need to investigate religion’s public role. Habermas, in his few remarks about religion, appears to take for granted the fact that in the framework of the modern state religion has been reduced to the private sphere (1990: 67, 163). A broader understanding of the public sphere, however, requires to link up with debates about the place and role of religion in modern societies. Far from confirming the secularization thesis with its assertion of the public decline of religion as an intrinsic feature of modernity, it is clear that religious groups all over the world successfully appropriate mass media and manifest themselves in the public sphere (cf. Eickelman and Anderson 1999 with their pathbreaking investigation of new Muslim public spheres).
In this paper I will take as a point of departure recent incentives to rethink the relationship between religion and the mass media in the context of a pluralist public sphere and to get beyond the paradigm of secularization. Apart from the research on American `televangelism' (e.g. Alexander 1997; Bruce 1990; Harding 1994; Hoover 1988), until now there are very few studies on religion and mass media, especially with regard to postcolonial societies. In Ghana, Pentecostalism and (especially electronic) media appear to form an inseparable couple, while other religious groups are much less able to articulate themselves through them. Not only do the Pentecostals themselves make ample and effective use of, especially electronic media, thereby representing themselves as masters and reliable interfaces of global technology, private media entrepreneurs also echo Pentecostal views because of their popularity, thereby bringing into being what I just called a widely shared pentecostalite culture. Importantly, this pentecostalite culture is characterized by incorporating all sorts of popular views and images, especially regarding invisible occult forces, and thus by a deliberate – and, to some, vexing - entanglement of magic and modernity.
Focusing on the Ghanaian videofilm industry, this paper will investigate the emergence of this pentecostalite culture, the reasons for its appeal, and the debates and contests its evokes. In so doing, it will be shown that the return to a democratic constitution in 1992, and the subsequent liberalization and commercialization of the media, transformed the relationships between state and society in general, and between the state and Pentecostalism in particular. Discussing clashes between statist, hitherto hegemonic representations of African culture and heritage and pentecostalite videofilms opposing these representations, I will argue that the state has been increasingly unsuccessful to project a hegemonic definition of reality and control the media, thereby allowing for the public manifestation of alternative visions characterized by an entanglement of magic and modernity and feeding into critical attitudes vis-à-vis the state. A particular case in point is the emergence of new representations of money and power, which are increasingly imagined as being achieved by violence, meanness and engagement with occult powers. It will be argued that this shift is facilitated by transformations in the mediascape as a result of which the specters of the urban popular imaginaire gain increasing visibility on public screens such as TV and cinema. At the same time, the increasing visibility of the entanglement of power and money with occult forces also pinpoints actual misgivings and fears about the capacity of the new democratic state to create a safe urban environment.
Pentecostalism, Popular Culture and the State
In the course of my dissertation research between 1988 and 1992, I sought to understand the genesis of local interpretations of missionary Christianity, and how these interpretations were linked to the uprise of Pentecostalism, be it in the shape of prayer groups within established mission churches or independent Pentecostal-charismatic churches (Meyer 1999a). I understood how successful Pentecostalism was in incorporating into its discourse local ideas and practices pertaining to old gods, witchcraft and new spirits such as Mami Water (the Indian or European-looking female spirit at the bottom of the ocean who promises wealth in exchange for love, cf. Meyer in press). This incorporation was negative in the sense that these beings were confirmed in their existence, yet at the same time regarded as demons operating under the auspices of Satan. In contrast to the orthodox mission churches, which regarded such views as irrational superstitions to be left behind by converts, or at least to be overcome through education, Pentecostalism took these views as a point of departure. In Pentecostal deliverance sessions, for example, demons hold a central place – so much so that one could argue that people’s fascination with such sessions stems not simply from the fact that demons are eventually exorcised, but from the fact that they are allowed to manifest themselves through their – initially often unaware - hosts, thereby offering mirror images of traditional and neo-traditional forms of possession (Meyer 1998a, 1999a). In short, to a very large extent Pentecostalism’s popularity stems from the fact that it takes seriously popular views about spirits. This colonization of popular culture by Pentecostalism is not confined to the level of ideas, for pentecostalist churches also offer a material structure for the expression and propagation of these ideas through music and written texts (cf. Collins 2000). At the same time, private, independent newspapers and films, whose producers depend on appealing to the audiences, increasingly echo Pentecostal views, bringing into being what I called a pentecostalite culture.
While, Pentecostalism’s capacity to absorb and recast popular culture appears to be one of it’s enduring features, its relationship to the state has changed considerably in the course of the last two decades. It is important to recall that Pentecostal churches became increasingly popular in Ghana after 1983, that is, after a period of severe political and economic crisis. Very much against the spirit of Rawlings' `revolution' set in motion after his coup in 1981, people massively turned their back on the state, who completely failed to deliver services and goods to its citizens, and approached churches as alternative avenues to succeed in life (Meyer 1998b). Initially the Pentecostal-charismatic churches contently stayed in their niche in society. Far from seeking to contest the legitimacy of Rawlings, as was the case with the former mission churches represented by the Christian Council and the Catholic Church, the Pentecostals rather concentrated on the propagation of individual success, health and wealth (Gifford 1998) - quite an attractive promise given the troubles experienced by people at the grassroots. Despite the implementation of IMF policies of structural adjustment by the end of the 1980s which resulted in a steady flow of global commodities into the country after an extended period of scarcity, economic hardship continued to trouble ordinary Ghanaians (whereas those close to Rawlings were said to become richer and richer). In this period, the regime still sought to fully control civil society, and to prevent the expression of criticism in public (Gyimah-Boadi 1994). The regime openly defended ‘traditional religion’ and emphasized its importance for generating ‘national pride’ in what became reified as ‘the African Heritage’. While the churches were virtually denied access to radio and TV, the Rawlings regime gave airtime to the ex-Catholic priest Damuah who had founded the Afrikania-movement, which strove to ‘decolonize the African mind’ and adapt ‘traditional religion’ to modern circumstances (Boogaard 1993). The regime was particularly suspicious about the explosive rise of Pentecostal-charismatic churches, and critical about their negative, diabolizing attitude towards African culture.
The separation of the spheres of politics and Pentecostalism lasted until the early 1990s, when Pentecostalists started to move beyond their sole focus on church affairs and the private lives of their members, and started venturing into debates about the state of the nation. They developed a distinct dualistic political theology which asserts that Ghana would only prosper and progress through a God-fearing leader (Gifford 1998: 85), and conversely be brought down by a leader relying on occult forces. Not only did they start to partake in discussions about the (im)morality of power, but, even more importantly, their marked presence in the political arena to a large extent shapes the terms which constitute the terms of debate about the state of the nation as such (Meyer 1998b). In the course of the 1990s, Pentecostalism became a force in the political arena which those in power could longer neglect. Already in the wake of the 1992-elections, Rawlings himself showed a much more accommodating stance towards the churches than ever before. The reason for this, in my view, lies in the fact that he realized the tremendous social importance of these churches and their ability to mobilize people on a mass base. This type of churches' negative attitude towards ‘tradition’ and ‘African religion’ notwithstanding, he certainly preferred cooperation with their populist leaders to having to rely on the elite clergy of the mainline churches (Gifford 1998: 70-71).  This positive attitude continued in the wake of the 1996-elections, when Ghanaian politics came to be constituted as a battle field between the powers of God and Satan. In this battle field the responsibility for the future of the nation was made to depend on the individual believers, their prayers and votes, and on the moral standards of politicians. Also in the course of the recent elections in December 2000 which resulted in the defeat of Rawlings’ NDC, the Pentecostalists continued their previous political strategies. Pentecostal-charismatic churches organized prayers for the nation and sought to keep things peaceful. While it would be interesting to conduct detailed research on the relationship between Pentecostalism and nationalism, it is certainly clear that the Pentecostals demonstrated that good citizenship and Christian virtues were two sides of the same coin. In other words, in their view nationalism without Christianity would not do good to the country.
Moreover, Pentecostalists were very quick to understand the implications of the liberalization of the media which entailed a shift from state ownership of and control over media over radio, TV and the serious press to privatization and commercialization (cf. Hackett 1998). As many Pentecostal-charismatic churches are relatively well-to-do because they successfully urge their members to contribute money to the church, they can easily buy airtime and broadcast their activities through radio and TV. Nowadays early in the mornings virtually all radio stations offer zealous sermons by Pentecostal preachers who advertize their powers of deliverance and seek to attract more people to their church, and especially in the evenings on TV next to all sorts of religious programs one comes across a lot of trailers advertizing particular churches and their crusades. At the same time, in their competition for audiences, private media themselves easily and eagerly link up with Pentecostal views. This is especially the case with the video film industry, which will occupy us in the remainder of this paper.
Recently, this Pentecostal appropriation of the media has been criticized by other groups in society, such as orthodox churches, Muslim organizations and representatives of ‘traditional religion’. During a consultation on religion and media in May 2000, which was attended by social scientists and media practitioners from different backgrounds, representatives from the orthodox churches, Islam, and Afrikania bitterly complained about the massive representation of the Pentecostals and their loud voice in public (they were often said to make too much ‘noise’). It appeared that their limited representation in the media has to do with the fact that it took them some time to fully grasp the spirit of the time; i.e. that the state by itself would not see to an equal representation of religious groups in the media, but that access to media was above all a question of money. As a consequence, these religious groups have now also started to campaign among their members in order to be able to buy airtime from the two main TV-stations, the until recently state-controlled GBC and the Malaysian-owned TV3. Still, the Pentecostal hegemony is as much beyond question as the pentecostalite culture derived from it.
The Film Scene: Between State and Market
During British colonialism, as well as in postcolonial Ghana for a long time film was a matter of state concerns. The Ghana Film Industry Corporation (GFIC), which replaced the colonial film unit, was owned and controlled by the state, and produced newsreels, documentaries, and, incidentally, feature films – in line with Nkrumahist views all devoted to the ‘enlightenment’ of the nation, the ‘education of the people’ and the genesis of ‘national pride’ in ‘African culture and heritage’. The GFIC’s monopoly on feature film production was broken when the videofilm industry emerged in the course of the 1980s. Convinced of the tremendous power of the moving image to influence the masses—as is the case in any nation-state—the government attempted to assert control over the consumption and production of (video)films. Not only is there a censorship board which has to watch and approve of any locally-produced film, the Ministry of Information also met the video boom with a Draft of the National Film and Video Policy for Ghana (1995) which asked (video)film makers to make movies in line with the established GFIC-policies (cf. Meyer 1999a: 99)—a mission which has not been easily matched with the financial need to appeal to popular taste. In 1999, the National Media Commission drew up a National Media Policy, which addresses the new role of media in the age of democracy and commercialization. Importantly, the policy deliberately moves beyond a view of media as promoting ‘positive national identity and confidence’(nd.:22) and is mainly concerned with the balance between the positive and negative effects of the globalization of information and communication on local culture (esp. regarding the gap between the information-rich and the information poor). Nevertheless, reminiscent of the earlier draft policy, it still is critical about the ‘poor technical, artistic and ethical standards with most of the current generation of films made in Ghana’ (ibid.: 12). According to the new policy, steps are to be taken in order that films are ‘in keeping with Ghanaian traditions and mores and promote desirable aspects of Ghanaian culture’, entail ‘the extensive use of authentic national cultural forms and symbols’ and ‘establish the common identity and shared interests of all African and black peoples and cultures everywhere’ (ibid.: 50). Next to the Film Censorship Board, the institution to safeguard these guidelines is the National Film Board. However, as film production now fully depends on audiences’ approval, one can only wonder in how far it will be possible to actually implement these aims.
As indicated above, a great deal of the videofilm industry is closely linked with the pentecostal-charismatic movement. This entanglement can best be evoked by pointing to the fact that in present-day Accra, many cinema houses are used as churches by Pentecostal congregations on Sunday mornings. This started at a time when the local film industry was down, and the cinema houses had not much to show. Even with the rise of the popular videofilm industry, the cinemas are still being used as churches on Sunday mornings. Many cinemas in the big cities screen ‘Ghanaian films’ for some weeks in the evenings, especially in the week-ends, before they are reproduced and sold as home videos. While the attitude of Pentecostal-charismatic churches towards cinema as such is not unequivocal - especially films with much violence and sex are regarded as unsuited for Christians, all the more if they are watched in the potentially immoral, dark space of the movies theatre – church members, especially women, love to watch the locally produced Ghanaian (and Nigerian) films.
Actually most of these video movies are very much in line with the message of the Pentecostal-charismatic churches: teaching Christian morals, and, above all, depicting the awful consequences of their violation, these films make a perfect match with Sunday's sermons (cf. Verrips 2001). This actually is the condition for making a successful film, and any attempt to divert from this scheme entails a strong financial risk – an experience undergone by the filmmaker Socrate Safo who dared to produce Chronicles of Africa, a film which was highly critical about missionaries. Interestingly both videofilms and pentecostalism actively struggle with the project of modernity. On the one hand all sorts of aspects of modern life – enjoying a prosperous life, with a posh car, a beautiful villa, fine clothes, etc. – are represented as ultimately desirable and harbingers of happiness. On the other hand both films and sermons address the temptations of modernity – often symbolized by occult forces - , and the destructive impact these may have on people’s lives. Modernity, it should be noted, is not represented as an option to reject or adopt, but as a context of life in the big city. The problem rather is how to handle modernity’s promises and temptations, and the answer which both sermons and films offer is clear: in order to make the best out of everything, one has to have faith in God and be filled with his Holy Spirit; then one will certainly prosper.
Ever since the initially untrained film makers started to produce films, there have been heated debates about the representation of Ghanaian culture (see Meyer 1999b). Those film makers working for the GFIC and trained in the National Film and Television Institute (NAFTI) or internationally know filmmakers as Kwa Ansah and King Ampah made films which were more or less in line with the cultural policies of the state and represented Ghanaian culture and religion in positive, respectable ways (cf. Jorgenson in press). While they credited selftrained film makers for reviving the industry, they were highly critical of popular cinema. Indeed, selftrained filmmakers focused on matters such as juju and witchcraft and showed how divine power was stronger than these occult forces. To these film makers, investigating what appeals to audiences and keeping pace with popular culture were necessary conditions to be fulfilled in order to make money.
While at first sight it may appear that the representation of ‘culture’ and ‘traditional religion’ forms the main bone of contention between the two factions, a closer look at the conflict reveals that, actually, both representations do not offer mirror images of a ‘traditional culture’ and ‘religion’ which is still alive out there. While the state-trained filmmakers closely follow the (Nkrumahist) perspective of the state, the self-trained filmmakers depict popular ideas about ‘traditional religion’. This came to the fore clearly during a debate (in the context of the earlier mentioned consultation on religion and media in May 2000) between William Akuffo, pionier of the videofilm industry, and representatives of Afrikania, who accused Akuffo cum suis of misrepresenting ‘traditional religion’. Akuffo retorted that it was not their intention to provide correct images of priests and rituals, but to visualize ordinary people’s views on ‘traditional religion’, which as Akuffo admitted, were heavily influenced by Pentecostal representations (which, of course, are reifications of ‘tradional religion’ in terms of diabolization). And weren’t film makers free to create images as they pleased, did they always have to make sure that what they brought onto the screen matched with reality? If that was the case, Akuffo stated provocatively, why should American filmmakers be allowed to make movies in which America won the Vietnam war, whereas everybody would know that this was not true? To him, film was meant to invent imaginary spaces and should not be subject to a regime of truthful representation. On one level, this postmodern perspective on film which deliberately loosens the referential relationship between image and reality, appears to clash with the state-perspective which is based on the claim of representing the real. On another level, however, it exposes that the latter perspective – all claims of truthful representation and documentation notwithstanding - also engages is the work of imaginative creation, in this case in terms of a favorable depiction of ‘traditional religion’ which is in line with the state’s cultural policies. Thus both factions produce their own reifications of ‘traditional religion’ and ‘culture’.
Interestingly, the conflict between the self-trained and state-trained film makers as well as the expectations on the part of the state have gradually been superceded by the forces of commercialization. For in November 1996, 70% of the shares of the GFIC were sold to the Malaysian TV production company Sistem Televisyen Malaysia Berhad of Kuala Lumpur. The name of the new, now mainly private enterprise became Gama Film Company (GFC). Its main task was to produce high quality video films which could be broadcast on TV3, a new TV station (opened in 1997 and owned by the same Malaysian company) which put an end to the television monopoly of the state-owned and state-controlled GTV (formerly GBC-TV). When I had the chance to talk to the chief executive of TV3 and GFC, Mr. Khairuddin Othman, in September 1999, he told me that the sale of the GFIC had sparked off a new era. It meant the end of what he called ‘Nkrumah’s propaganda machine’ and opened the way for new productions which would not be made in the service and under the immediate control of the state (though the Censorship Board still has to approve of all films produced in Ghana). This new spirit—of course, the spirit of commercialization—showed in a couple of new GFC productions (from 1998 onwards) , which focused on corruption among the police, labor conflicts, and also unpopular issues such as homosexuality. Such films would certainly not have been made during GFIC times. In addition, the GFC also exhibited a new openness towards matters such as juju and witchcraft. In any case, the chief executive was very much interested in those products of the selftrained, private film makers which do well among the people and become the talk of the town. Such films often focus on juju, witchcraft, dead people’s ghosts, contracts made with occult forces, and similar issues, and try to offer a technically good product (besides clear sound and pictures, this also entails spectacular special effects). Nowadays, state-trained filmmakers also engage in the production of such films, a fact that is proudly advertised on film posters.
Another significant factor shaping the film scene is the tremendous popularity of Nigerian films, which started around 1998. At least initially, Nigerian films differed from Ghanaian ones in their depiction of conspicuous consumption, violence and occult forces. Here lie the reasons for their incredible popularity with Ghanaian audiences, who like these films for their masterful transgression of social norms, which is depicted through spectacular special effects, and – at the flipside - their pentecostally inspired moralization. Nigerian films, which often circumvent national censorship in Nigeria because they were immediately brought out on video, form a complete antithesis to the expectations of state-trained Ghanaian filmmakers, the censorship board and state agents. As we shall see below, the impact of Nigerian videos on the Ghanaian film industry has in any case been considerable. Ghanaian producers also feel compelled to also bring in all sorts of special effects, focus on juju and ghosts and depict phenomenal wealth and violence, rather than following the nationalist expectations of their sober intellectual film critics. Here, too, the forces of commercialization appear to dominate the production of films more than anything else. Keeping up with the taste of the audiences is the prerequisite for making a successful film.
Producers and Their Audiences
Watching Ghanaian movies appeals to a great number of young to middle-aged people in the urban areas. Fans of Ghanaian films can be found in all layers of society from lower class to (aspiring) middle class, except among the educated elites which look down at these, in their view, technologically inferior local productions. While both men and women actually watch Ghanaian films, women appear to be the ones who urge their male partners to join them to the movies or to buy a certain video for home consumption. As film makers are aware of this situation, they usually try to make films which suit the taste of women, who appear to regard film as a sort of civilizing device which will teach their boy friend or husband the virtue of fidelity and other aspects of good partnership.
Although the audiences' social-economic position cannot be explored in any detail here, it is important to note that their life in the city is characterized by a considerable gap between aspirations and actual experiences and involves hard daily struggle to get the money necessary for food, rent, children's education, medical treatment and the upkeep of oneself as a respectable person (a person who has, for example, sufficient money to dress up on Sundays and go to church, a place where beauty may be conveyed into divine blessing and social respectability). Money is a problem not only for those who don't have it, but also for those who do. For as soon as a person appears to be successful in life, he or she may expect early morning visits from friends and members of the extended family who ask for support, thereby making sure that money keeps circulating and preventing excessive accumulation. These daily struggles of people in the city, with all the ambivalences they imply between the striving for individualist accumulation and the obligation to share with the extended family, between the search for respectability and the fear to lose oneself, between the desire to embrace modernity and the fear to be morally corrupted (cf. Meyer 1999a, 1999b, 1999c), form the tissue out of and into which popular films are woven.
Watching them is a form of popular entertainment which is as widespread as, for example, listening to the latest music which is played everywhere in town or reading People and Places (in short P&P). This tabloid - significantly it's motto runs `We report nothing but the truth' - offers a mixture of fantastic stories about ghosts and monsters, love affairs, societal gossip, and family counselling - all of these embellished with references to the Almighty God. In fact, in the same way as the latest issue of P&P, successful Ghanaian films easily become the talk of the town - and especially of Makola Market (the main market in the center of Accra where rumors are traded alongside with commodities) - and thus part of a shared urban culture, which both keeps pace with and comments on all the changes social scientists try to cover by the term globalization; a mean to grasp change and to renew oneself. Watching and talking about popular movies is both an expression of one's participation in modern society and a means by which it is possible to reflect about this participation. In Accra, film truly is medium and mediator of modernity.
Through my discussions with audiences I learned that, next to being entertained, people also expect a moral message. People told me that sometimes when they watched a film, they would clap, laugh, and enjoy it alright, but in the end they would not ‘get something out of it’. The expectation to be ‘educated’ through film and to receive a ‘moral message’, of course, can be traced back to the ways in which the medium of film was represented to the people ever since colonial times: as a means of enlightenment, which could reveal superior knowledge and show what is good and bad. The expectation to receive a moral message also resonates with Ghanaian cultural traditions; proverbs and folk tales (e.g. the well-known Ananse stories) always contain a moral message to be picked up by the listeners.
This explicit occupation with morals cannot escape anyone watching a Ghanaian film in the cinemas, video centers and private homes of Accra. In the process of watching, audiences will usually insult the evildoers, and pity their victims. As loudly as audiences shout at the bad, they join the prayers of the good, or may even start calling Jesus for them. Watching a film thus triggers moral engagement, and one of the satisfactions audiences get from this is the temporal feeling of moral superiority, of being on the good side (while at the same being enabled to voyeuristically peep at the powers of darkness). A good film, moreover, is supposed to evoke debate among the audiences even after the show is finished.
While up until now there are no Pentecostal film companies actively producing Christian films, as is the case in Nigeria (Oha 1997), independent producers and directors – whether they personally endorse the message or not - surf on the pentecostalist wave and give the audiences what they supposedly would like to see, thereby contributing to the rise of pentecostalite culture. For example, the producer William Akuffo openly stressed the necessity to comply with pentecostalist expectations on the part of the audiences (see also above). He himself would love to make movies on a different note, for example comedies, but this would not be acceptable to the audiences, on whom he depended financially. Likewise, Hammond Mensah, who is an active member of the Muslim Ahmadia group, deliberately makes Christian films, because ‘this is what the audiences want to see.’ He does not find this problematic at all, because in his view, Islam and Pentecostal Christianity teach the same sort of morals and does not feel the need to advertise Islam. Similarly, many Nigerian videofilms make deliberate references to Pentecostalism. Both Ghanaian and Nigerian videofilms are often framed as confessions, dedicate the film to ‘God Almighty’, or refer to biblical quotes in the beginning or end. Certainly the Pentecostal emphasis on the need to reveal the operations of ‘the powers of darkness’ as a way to prove one’s closeness to God, offers an excellent narrative structure for engaging in a dialectics of thriving on a moralizing frame, and at the same time, visualizing transgression into evil. Pentecostalism, with its every ready dualism of God and the Satan, appears to facilitate discourses about excess.
The evolution of a new public sphere, characterized by a distinct role of Pentecostalism and a distinct representation of magic and modernity as flip sides of each other, can best be examined by focusing on shifts in the emergence of the representation of figures of power and success. The remainder of this paper will be an investigation visualizations of such figures in Ghanaian and Nigerian films, as well as in recent coproductions. It will be shown that the imagination of these figures draws on a dialectics of transgression into excessive wealth and brutality and a moralizing assertion of difference and moral superiority.
In Ghanaian videofilms, usually much emphasis has been placed on the visualization of the local setting as part and parcel of modernity. Films usually are replete with long scenes - in fact, too long for spectators from outside - in which cars take the audiences on a ride through the wide alleys of Accra (and sometimes Takoradi or Cape Coast, but virtually never places further North), passing buildings of national and touristic importance, multi-storey buildings, fly-overs, expensive hotels, Labadi beach, chique boutiques, exquisite restaurants and other places to enjoy life - and, interestingly, these scenes are usually accompanied by Western style music. Over and again I heard from spectators that it was wonderful to see the beauty and `development of Ghana' (actually: the capital, which is taken for granted as the symbol of the nation) on the screen. People were thrilled to see familiar sites, which would always appear much nicer than from the usual pedestrian perspective. Life appears more enjoyable from the perspective of a flashy limousine which takes audiences on a mimetic ride through town during daytime, and even more excitingly, in the night. For sure, the mediation of the local through a global medium such as video does not merely mirror the local cityscape, but transforms it into a series of icons of pride comparable to the Western settings which people know through TV and cinema. As being put on the screen means being made part of the wider world, watching locally produced videos should not be understood as a retreat into local worlds, but rather as a practice through which people are able to assure themselves that they, too, count in a global context. In short, these videos are not just products of global, modern media but above all mediators of modernity and globalization through which one's own position in the world can be affirmed.
Until around 1998 (the time when Nigerian productions intruded the Ghanaian videomarket on a massive scale, see below) two main types of movies can be distinguished in the Ghanaian videofilm scene. One could be summarized under the heading `family drama', with the emphasis being laid on either love stories, marriage problems, children rejected by their father, and conflicts between individuals and their own or their partner's extended family. Next to this type of film, which formed the majority of productions, there were films on a person’s involvement with ‘occult forces’ such as the Devil, Mami Water, and other occult powers.
Films about ‘occult forces’ depict how people get power and money through highly immoral means, by making a pact with occult powers. A very popular example is Diabolo I – IV (Worldwide Motion Pictures, 1991-*), a series of films about a man who turned himself into a snake and perversely misused prostitutes by entering their vagina in the shape of a snake in order to make her vomit money (cf. Meyer 1995). Another film, Nkrabea-My Destiny (Amahilbee Productions, 1992) , depicts the ‘true story’ of a chief called Nana Addae in Sefwi-Bekwai, who periodically sacrificed human beings to re-produce money and power (see Meyer 1998). This chief has a secret room, devoted to a violent, bloodthirsty spirit who converts human blood into money and power. Like Diabolo, Nana Addae lives in a beautiful mansion, easily gets new girlfriends and is held in high esteem in society. In the film, he gives a fascinating speech about the power of money in which he explains how a rich man will be virtually worshipped in society whereas a poor man has no friends and does not command respect (ibid.: 21). While usually men feature as utmost evildoers, there are also some instances of women’s involvement with occult forces. For example in Women in Love (Movie Africa Productions, 1996), a female shop-owner becomes rich through her spiritual marriage with Mami Water, the fair-skinned white or Indian goddess at the bottom of the ocean – held to be the cradle of consumer capitalism. Forbidden to have sex with a man, she lures innocent girls into a lesbian relationship, and eventually seeks to misuse them for a human sacrifice to Mami Water.
Echoing rumors circulating in town, all these stories thrive on the notion of an illicit exchange of human life for money. Here wealth is generated by destroying life. In a sense, these films assert that magic - originating from the bush, the outskirts of the town, or the bottom of the ocean - and modernity may perfectly go together, as the former is a suitable means to achieve the latter. These films, often framed as confessions which aim at revealing the operations of the powers of darkness, have been incredibly popular among the audiences who were thrilled to see the otherwise invisible work of the Devil on screen. At the same time these films were criticized, or at least looked down upon, by state-trained filmmakers. In their striving to be respected by the artistic elites (and, in some cases, to gain the approval of the government), a number of self-trained producers therefore opted for a more moderate depiction of occult forces and concentrated on the genre of ‘family drama’ – a situation which endured until the massive arrival of Nigerian films.
Endorsing the desirability of Christian modernity, most ‘family drama’ films offer an idealized image of the nuclear family, Christian marriage and family life, and prosperity. The setting is usually upper middle class, featuring a fenced, well-furnished mansion with a car park, domestic servants, and nicely dressed adults and kids. The heroes in these productions usually are the Pentecostal pastor and the Christian housewife and mother, who combine a God-fearing, caring attitude with deep faith against all odds and zealous prayers. In a great deal of such films, the wife suffers because of her weak husband, often a businessman who became well-to-do thanks to the financial help of his wife. Once he has reached a certain status, he appears unable to control his libido and gives himself over to young, loose girls – secretaries, maids, or even students - searching for quick money. Often these girls do not only rely on their sexual appeal, but also make use of love magic, which they get from a traditional priest in the bush or a Mallam in the suburbs, or they appear to rely on witchcraft. Problems, of course, start once a girl is pregnant, her attempted abortion may cause her death and expose her lover. If it is not a girlfriend creating trouble, it is the mother-in-law who manages to control her son to such an extent that the marriage gets destroyed. A recurrent theme in this context is the failure of the couple to bring forth – a failure which the mother-in-law simply attributes to the wife without any medical evidence– and usually the husband ends up sleeping with the wrong woman (a witch). The wife, by contrast, attends a Pentecostal church and can call upon the spiritual support of her pastor and prayer group and will eventually get anything she needs (even becoming pregnant).
In such films, a prosperous way of life in a modern setting is depicted as beautiful and desirable, yet dangerous because of the seductions which come with power and success. Especially well-to-do businessmen are apt to fall prone to them, for once they have a fine house, a posh car and a fanciful suit, they think that the world is theirs and merely indulge in hedonistic pleasures without taking any responsibility. They follow their sexual desires and write out incredibly high cheques. Unknowingly, they open themselves up to being manipulated by occult forces. At the height of their power and success, they appear too weak to manage their life and therefore eventually loose everything. Clearly, the films teach that modern life as such is dangerous and ambivalent, and that there is need for Pentecostal religion in order to guide a person in engaging with modernity in a disciplined way. If only the husband would believe in God and control himself, these films suggest, life would be marvelous. For God will bless with prosperity those who believe in him and keep on praying. Against this background it is no surprise that these films were very popular especially among young and married women, who regarded them as suitable educational devices for their boy-friends or husbands whom they sought to drag along to the movies.
If films about ‘occult forces’ problematize the immoral, illicit acquisition of money and power, films of the ‘family drama’ type focus on the seductions following the attainment of status. In both cases, power and money as such are hailed, the point is only to attain this by the right means and not to loose it through moral and sexual weakness. These films address audiences’ wish for a good life in prosperity. The settings and images of power and success depicted in the films do not form immediate reflections of the audiences’ actual life worlds, but certainly resonate with their dreams. The responsible businessman, the Christian housewife and the Pentecostal pastor are key icons of success in the social imaginary of the aspiring urban middle classes. These personages are a bit further up the social hierarchy, but still familiar and recognizable. While the dangers imbued in becoming powerful and wealthy get due attention, the overall message of these films is a celebration of Pentecostalism as the most suitable gate-keeper for profiting from modernity without the risk of falling into immoral behavior and loosing everything. In a sense, the ‘family drama’ films capture the overall moderately optimistic mood prevailing after Ghana’s return to democracy. Despite economic hardships, at least on the individual level the dream of a good life seemed to be within reach, provided one trusted in God and – preferably – attended a Pentecostal church. Yet, as the films about persons involving themselves with occult powers indicate, at the flipside of this dream there was the specter of ultimate selfishness, occultism and cruelty, which belongs to a particular ‘occult economy’ (Comaroff and Comaroff 2000) in which human life is perversely misused for making money. This occult economy with its particular images of power and success stands central in many Nigerian movies and has become increasingly foregrounded in Ghanaian productions in the last two or three years.
The pleasure about seeing one's own surroundings on the screen notwithstanding, in recent years (English spoken) Nigerian popular movies have become increasingly popular in Accra. These movies are brought into the country by usually Nigerian agents, who sell the right to reproduce particular films to video-shops and agencies for video film distribution in Accra which specialize in the marketing of both Nigerian and Ghanaian films. These films are only occasionally shown in the established cinemas and on TV, and above all distributed as cassettes – sold at a considerably lower price than Ghanaian films. As Nigerian films are hardly screened in public, they may easily eschew censorship and thus appear to be much less controlled by the Ghanaian (or Nigerian) state than local movies.
The popularity of Nigerian movies struck me especially in June 1998, when I returned to Ghana for one month of fieldwork. When I asked my interlocutors, whom I had gotten to know as fervent fans of Ghanaian movies in 1996, about developments in the local scene, to my surprise many people started telling me about Nigerian films. While Ghanaian films were still popular, it appeared that the initial excitement about these local products had given way to a more critical stance on the part of the audiences. Rather than taking anything they see at face value (as many elitist critics of popular cinema assume), Ghanaian audiences appear to be quite critical examiners of films, and to continuously check whether their experiences and views match with the things on the screen. If certain patterns of behavior would appear unlikely to occur in real life, the devastating judgment would be `too artificial' (cf. Meyer 1998a). Occasionally people would also complain that Ghanaian films were `always the same'. Interviews with producers made it clear to me that many of them struggled with the dilemma of either doing more of the same, or coming up with highly spectacular, yet improbable matters. At the same time, they had to make films which were acceptable to the censorship board, and this constrained them quite a lot especially with regard to the visualization of sex and crime. While it was, of course, possible to show transgression into evil, the board would always see to it that there was not more violence and sex than strictly needed for the story to teach its moral lesson (Meyer 1999).
With regard to the representation of Nigeria, by contrast, the censorship board has much less say, and, as far as the audiences are concerned, anything goes because this is also how they perceive and understand Nigeria. When, in a Ghanaian film personages appear to be very well-dressed at home, spectators would immediately react by saying that this was `too artificial', as in Ghana even the rich would not dress up like that in their private homes. If, by contrast, personages in a Nigerian movie appear even more exuberantly dressed (for example with clothes made from silk or velvet in the case of women, and in fanciful boubou`s in the case of men) than in any `too artificial' Ghanaian movie, people would see their image of Nigeria confirmed. The same is the case when in Nigerian films personages, who at first sight seem to be quite nice, are shown to engage in extremely bloody, occult practices, whilst spectators – as I witnessed in 1998 - would still struggle to maintain that `in our Ghana here' people would not be as brutal as over there - and if things were getting worse in Ghana it would be due to the presence of Nigerians. One important difference between Ghanaian films and Nigerian films shown in Ghana concerns the fact that the latter were much more concerned with the visualization of otherwise invisible spiritual realms, such as Mami Water and even the Devil himself, whereas Ghanaian movies predominantly focused on family settings and only portray occult forces in a moderate way, and in the margins of the storyline. And even if one compares Nigerian films with those Ghanaian movies on ‘occult forces’, it soon becomes clear that in Nigerian films transgression into the mysterious nexus of occultism and crime goes much further. Moral misgivings about Nigeria's involvement with spiritual forces notwithstanding, people would emphasize that they liked Nigerian movies exactly because of the abundance of exclusive mansions, flashy cars, expensive outfits, and the revelation of the occult sources of this wealth. In short, Nigerian films visualize new images of power and success characterized by a fascinating combination of excessive evil and violence with splendid wealth.
Thus, the groundedness in the local, which made Ghanaian films so popular in the first instance, also appears to constrain the scope of what should be visualized in local film making (and how). It is extremely difficult for Ghanaian film makers to represent the things which audiences so much crave to see - conspicuous consumption of incredible wealth and extremely evil behavior - as being part of everyday life in Ghana. Ghanaian audiences would immediately protest - and so would, in the case of the depiction of brutal behavior or an overkill of blood and sex, the censorship board - whereas they are prepared to take much for granted if it concerns Nigeria. This preparedness to associate Nigeria with both splendid wealth and excessive evil - videos are after all regarded as an appropriate mode of revealing the otherwise invisible - resonates not only with Ghanaian migrants' experiences in Nigeria both prior and after the forced mass exodus of illegal workers from Nigeria in 1983. It also strikes a chord with current stories in the popular press which depict Nigeria as an abode of `the powers of darkness', and with accounts by Nigerian Pentecostal preachers who tour Ghana regularly and whose books are sold in large numbers in the Ghanaian market (e.g. Emmanuel Eni's `Delivered from the Powers of Darkness' [1988; cf. Meyer 1995]). Although I have never conducted systematic research on Ghanaians' experiences in, and image of Nigeria, at all sorts of occasions I encountered the mixed feelings many Ghanaians have with regard to Nigeria - the land of splendid riches, but with low morals, armed robbery and murder, hostility towards strangers, corrupt police and politicians, treacherous 419ers who would also occasionally intrude Ghana, and a long time illegitimate military government. There is a strong ambivalence of admiration and condemnation.
In order to show why Nigerian films are so fascinating to Ghanaian audiences, I would like to briefly turn to Blood Money. The Vulture Men (OJ Production, 1997), an incredibly popular film which many of my interlocutors urged me to buy and watch upon my return to Ghana in 1998. The film is about a hitherto respectable bank manager called Michael Mouka (played by Zach Orji), who is in financial trouble because he is unable to pay back a big amount of money which he illicitly borrowed from his bank. A police officer, an old school friend, advises him that `our society has changed drastically, today the ends justify the means' and refers him to Chief Collins, one of their old boys who is tremendously rich. He is extremely well dressed, drives the obligatory Benz, and lives in a fortified, terrific mansion which contains anything one's heart desires (for instance gold-plated furniture) and which Ghanaian audiences consider so typical for the Nigerian upper class. Protected by the above-mentioned police officer, Collins trades in human body parts which he gets both from the mortuary and through blunt murder. He introduces Michael to the powerful cult of the Vultures, whose members meet in a big, modern office building in Lagos. The members of the cult either trade in human body parts or have a secret room, in which a person killed by ritual murder vomits brand-new Naira notes. Despite his disgust Michael opts to become a member, and he is sprinkled with human blood and transformed into a vulture for a number of days. He is told to feed on human flesh. After his return to the human world he has to kill a boy. He becomes rich, but at the cost of being a serial killer who, at a later stage, is even asked to kill his own mother.
When I watched Blood Money together with friends, the sphere was much tenser than when we watched Ghanaian movies. People didn't want to leave the room and remained fettered to the screen. Everybody was immediately prepared to accept the film as `a true story'. When the movie had sunk into her for some time, a woman with whom I watched told me that it revealed how things were in Nigeria, the country where she had worked for some time and of which she had such bad memories (except earning a lot of money). In her view, the film was one big accusation of the secret, evil machinations of the Nigerian upper class, who would get splendid amounts of money mainly through blood sacrifice, and run the state for their own purposes. While such things also occurred in Ghana, they did so on a much lesser scale; in any case, here the class of business-people and politicians was not imbued in such a blood-economy to the extent as was the case over there. Interesting in this comment is the fact that Blood Money was taken to reveal something about Nigerian society as a whole. Far from telling a personal story, the film evokes links between the individual striving for money and the wider conditions which facilitate the accumulation of wealth by figures such as Chief Collins and Michael. Interestingly, the woman’s comment appears to be quite similar to that of Nigerian audiences, who, as Jonathan Haynes suggested to me (e-mail 9/12/1998), view the practice of trade in body parts in political terms, `as a form of class oppression', and take films about this subject `as a central expression of what is wrong with contemporary Nigeria - that the nation has been taken over by evil characters employing evil forces to acquire and keep wealth and power, in many cases precisely because they have no legitimate claim on power' (cf. Apter 2000 and Bastian 1998).
Blood Money spoke to Ghanaian audiences’ ideas and fears about ritual murder. When I asked a befriended film editor, who has much influence on film making, about what he regarded as the most important problem in Ghanaian society, he replied: `corruption and ritual murder.' In his view, films should be made which would teach that these practices were not good. While complaints about corruption were familiar to me from previous visits, I was struck by the strong emphasis he laid on ritual murder. As I soon realized, his view was no exception. Rumors about cases of ritual murder were all over the place. For example, when Charles, a 21-year old young man, and I passed in my car through High Street (Accra) in the evening (at a time when electricity was off because of the long lasting power crisis which troubled southern Ghana throughout in 1997 and 1998) on our way to a small video-theatre in Jamestown, he told me how dangerous this area was: dismembered bodies had been found here at the nearby beach, and probably it concerned the victims of Nigerians who were after human parts which they used for ritual purposes. Didn't I know that at certain shrines one could generate riches through body parts? Indeed, I had heard about these things during my previous visit in 1996 and before – I had of course seen Diabolo and Nkrabea, and knew that tabloids occasionally published articles about people going in for body parts -, but it seemed that now the topic had gained much more centrality in popular imagination. People started to be afraid to go out in the night, especially when electricity was off.
Significantly, while in Nkrabea the crime of ritual murder occurs in the margins (this chief does his evil things in a far-away village), Blood Money places the crime right in the political and economic center, Lagos, and links it to global networks. There ordinary people, who struggle to make it in life, are to live in permanent danger to be dismembered and carried away in the boot of a flashy Mercedez Benz by strangers; these strangers are covered by corrupt policemen believing that the aims justify the means, and paid by members of the upper class who manage to keep their hands clean and enjoy their incredible wealth gained through their evil trade. Moreover, the films differ in the representation of wealth: Nana Addae's house and car are nothing special compared to the mansion and life style of Chief Collins. One can certainly regard Blood Money as an accusation of the Nigerian upper class which generates its money at the expense of innocent people's lives and hence as a revelation of the dark side of the wealthy and powerful, who realize accumulation through a secret occult economy.
The imagery represented by the vulture cult is dense and, I sense, has multiple points of reference (and different ones for Ghanaians and Nigerians) which I am not yet able to overlook. In any case - and this, in my view, is the clue - the imagery appears to speak to both global rumors about organized trade in organs (cf. Scheper-Hughes 2000) and traditional practices. Interestingly, the depiction of the Vulture cult makes very few references to African religion. The members are people dressed in the latest style who meet in an office tower, rather than somewhere in a shrine in the bush or on the beach (the place where Ghanaian video movies would usually locate the occult). Here evil forces are at the center, rather than in the margins of modernity. Being organized in the style of the lodge, the cult is represented as following a Western - and thus not traditional' or `African' - model of secret organization and as being linked with an international network trading in body parts. Thus, the bad state of Nigeria is not attributed to `tradition' and `backwardness' (as is the case in development and modernization discourses' view of Africa) but to evil global connections. Globalization, this film suggests, not only entails sharing in `civilization' but also being entangled into worldwide networks of oppression and destruction thriving on brutality and primitivism. For Ghanaian audiences this view was new and fascinating, for the bulk of Ghanaian films would usually take as a point of departure the opposition between African powers, represented as diabolic, and Christianity, guaranteeing the best of modernity. While the film still refers to Christianity’s dualistic frame of God and the Devil, in contrast to the earlier Ghanaian videofilms described above, Blood Money does not set out to prove the moral superiority of Christianity, nor does it celebrate the virtues of the Christian housewife and pastor in order to show that, if only one believes in God, life will be fine. Here adopting a Christian framework above all allows for an almost sole focus on the realm of the Devil, and thus for an excessive depiction of utmost transgression.
If the Vulture cult is represented as a modern secret society and thus points beyond local imagery, for Ghanaian audiences the way in which blood is needed to feed the Vulture (which the cult members worship and which they themselves become) immediately evokes the image of the witch, which is also supposed to secretly feed on human blood. In fact, according to Ghanaian understandings (as one encounters them, for example, in the popular press), the vulture is one of the animal shapes witches usually take. But while witches traditionally operate in the framework of the family and feed on the blood of close relatives, here the vultures excessively use the blood or body parts of anonymous people from the lower classes. Interestingly, the witchcraft implied by the Vulture differs from Ghanaian stories about Nzima Bayi, another relatively new form of witchcraft which thrived since the 1930s in economically advanced cocoa-growing areas. Nzima Bayi was said to make people rich in return for spiritually killing a beloved person or giving up their capacity to bring forth children (Debrunner 1961; Meyer 1995). But while Nzima Bayi stories, reminiscent of Faustian pacts, emphasize the necessity to give up something precious in exchange for wealth, the Vulture requires from its members the readiness to become serial killers (only in the second instance, when he is already rich, Michael is asked to sacrifice his mother) and/or to trade body parts. In the case of the Vulture, money is thus generated through excessive blood-shed and the economic use of anonymous people's organs, not through destroying one particular object of love. Here the rule is hedonistic enjoyment of money as a substitute for love and life: as Chief Collins' kiss of the Dollar-notes which he received from a white businessman in exchange for a pair of human breasts, illustrates how money became an ultimate object of desire. I understand the Vulture as a fetishistic image of the excessively selfish and ugly Self, an entity which compels people to become a calculating, blood-thirsty monster which conveys blood into money and vice versa.
When I talked with a befriended Ghanaian film maker about the popularity of Blood Money, he explained to me that people appreciated the film so much because it attributed all these crimes to Nigerians. If one would make a similar film about the Ghanaian upper class, people would condemn it as `too artificial'. Thus the moral superiority generated through watching Blood Money stems from the fact that these are crimes of the ultimate Other. Yet it would be too easy to assume that watching Blood Money merely entails an imaginative journey into the realm of the treacherous Other, an exploration of the brutal reality of a system dominated by big men who owe their power to involvement with occult forces, with which the innocent spectators have nothing to do and through which they can safely assert their personal superior morality, as well as the distinct state of Ghana. One important aspect of Blood Money, and for that matter similar Nigerian films, is the way in which it evokes the notion that individual evil behaviour is part and parcel of a general occult economy, which thrives undisturbed by the state, or is even protected and supported by some of its agents. The police officer’s statement about the fact that society has changed and ‘today the ends justify the means’ well-illustrates the point that life worlds have been transformed and restructured in such a way, that the accumulation of wealth at the expense of human life has become the order of the day. If Diabolo and Nana Addae still were portrayed as person’s on the wrong path, eventually to be condemned by society (if not by a Pentecostal pastor then by a state court), a figure like Chief Collins is a representative of the system. Who is still able to control the occult forces which appear to have taken over society?, Blood Money appears to ask. Although Christinity is used as a frame in order to visualize evil, it is not presented as a solution to this problem – that is, not within the narrative told by the film. At the same time, the film entices audiences to view the film from a Christian perspective, and to morally condemn the main characters.
If, at one level, Ghanaians could claim and try to convince themselves that Nigeria is different, I have the impression that the logic of Othering was not able to rule out second thoughts about the state of Ghana. Here certainly lies one of the reasons for the attraction of Nigerian movies. While, by watching these products, Ghanaian audiences may generate feelings of moral superiority both on the individual and national level and confirm their stereotypes and prejudices about Nigerians, Nigeria is not just Ghana's far-away Other. It also is - and here we reach another layer in the Ghanaian imagination of Nigeria - a target of desire, and at its flipside, also a specter which appears discomfortingly close. This layer shows in statements in which Ghanaians represent Nigeria as not fundamentally different, but just ahead of Ghana. In many respects, Nigeria is supposed to set the tone for all sorts of economic and spiritual developments which will get to Ghana later (the presence of the latest fashion being one example, the occurrence of ritual murder another). This is somewhat different with regard to politics, as Ghanaians pride themselves for returning peacefully to a democratic government when Nigeria was still ruled by an illegitimate military. Yet at the same time, during my research I found that Ghanaians raise a lot of doubts and express fears about who is why in power in Ghana's new, tender democracy - doubts and fears which resonate with ongoing rumors about the occult sources of the wealth and power of big men and politicians (cf. Meyer 1998). Being much less subject to control by the censorship board and much freer to visualize excess than local productions, Nigerian films started to thrive in a niche - and pointed towards a gap - in the world conjured up by Ghana's new movie industry. A film like Blood Money was better than any earlier Ghanaian movie able and suited to provide a space to express second, only partially articulate thoughts about the powers that be and stimulate a critical investigation of the (im)morality of power.
Nigerian films, with their depiction of ultimate transgression and their increasing technical sophistication and spectacular special effects (computer-designed at MAD-House, Lagos), appeared to be detrimental to the popularity of Ghanaian videofilms. Many producers complained bitterly about the new situation, and sought ways to take up the challenge exerted by the Nigerian films. Actually, the liberalization and commercialisation of the media worked in their advantage. Selftrained independent film makers were not only affirmed in their strategy to visualize what lived among the people (yet hitherto denied access to state-controlled media), but also sought to expand the possibilities to visualize transgressive behaviour. While, in contrast to Nigerian films, Ghanaian films still had to pass through censorship, it is clear that filmmakers started to press what would be acceptable to the board to the limits (Meyer in press).
One important strategy was to leave behind, or at least modify the genre of ‘family drama’, and bring in much more stuff on occult forces. A very good example for this is, for instance, Expectations I and II (D’Joh Mediacraft Productions and Miracle Films, 1999), a film with spectacular special effects (also designed at MAD-house). Directed by Emmanuel Dugbartey-Nanor, a NAFTI-trained director, Expectations was marketed as a ‘blockbuster from the professionals’. This attribute is significant, because it cuts across the earlier opposition between trained filmmakers holding a Nkrumahist cultural perspective and independent self-trained filmmakers eager to visualize occult forces which dominated videofilm production ever since videofilms had come up. What now mattered was only that a film would do well in the market, and therefore it had to both catch up with the urban social imaginary and qualify as technically superb. The film is a story about witchcraft, involving a rich couple, seconded by their Pentecostal pastor, on the one hand, and a group of witches spiritually feeding on human flesh in the bush, on the other. Associating the rich with God and the city, and the witches with the Devil and the bush, the film speaks to rich people’s fear of loosing everything through witchcraft. Much in line with earlier Ghanaian video movies, here the figures of power and success still are the businessman, the Christian housewife and the pastor. In the same year, HM Films, a big videofilm production company which hitherto mainly made ‘family drama’ films with occasional references to occult forces, brought out a number of films which started with typical domestic problems, but then shifted into the genre of the thriller (e.g. Justice, I Surrender). Similar to American action films, the big men in these films would carry guns, and shoot around all the time, leading to incredibly violent, bloody scenes. In these films, not much reference is made to the occult, but all the more to Christian virtues. Yet, while these films certainly enjoyed popularity, in retrospective it can be stated that in the course of the last two or three years, in Ghanaian videofilms the theme of a rich person’s involvement with occult forces became increasingly important, thereby linking up with earlier productions such as Diabolo and Nkrabea and recent Nigerian films.
One example for this new trend is Namisha (Akwetey-Kanyi Productions, 1999), a film about a man, who involves himself with occult forces in order to become rich and take revenge on the man who took his former wife as a lover, and the two men who impregnated his daughters who died through abortion and child-birth respectively. Namisha was a hit because it successfully brought together the depiction of excessive evil and cruelty, surprising special effects (designed by Nankani studios, Accra), and a heavily moralizing Pentecostal framework (picturing a fascinating spiritual battle between the powers of darkness and the Pentecostals). Another spectacular movie was Time, one of the first Nigerian-Ghanaian co-productions(Miracle Films, D’Joh Mediacraft and Igo Films, 2000). The pace of this film is much faster than usual Ghanaian films, which still offer audiences much space to express their emotions and still tend to be long because they always show how people get from one place to the other, thereby offering audiences a mimetic ride through town. Moreover, the film has a number of extremely violent scenes, for example depicting how a man opens the womb of a pregnant woman because he needs her baby for ritual purposes, and some terrible shooting scenes in which small children are being killed. This film comes close to the genre of horror – into which earlier Ghanaian films do not really fit because the lack of suspense - and shows how a man, who spiritually sacrificed his wife for money, keeps her dead body in the closet of his bedroom where she vomits money (the old story of the exchange of life for money). This man kills his little son who found out about his secret, and is in turn killed by his extremely violent gangster-like brother-in law, who in turn is brutally assassinated by the evil man’s friend. This man, who has promised the god in the bush to sacrifice a virgin in return for wealth, takes the young, firmly Pentecostal daughter of his dead friend to the shrine. But at the very moment when he wants to kill her, she starts calling Jesus. This changes everything, and the whole shrine is destroyed by the fire of the Holy Spirit. Typically, the film ends with a biblical text warning about the striving for wealth.
Co-productions like Time, and subsequent films by the same producers such as Jewels, Asimo and the Visitor, are very different in that they are faster, have more suspense, and focus on the upper class. As Blood Money, the stories take place in secluded worlds, the worlds of the rich, and depict the meanness of big men. They live in villas which one would still hardly find in purely Ghanaian productions, use big cars from Nigeria, which are still a rarity on Ghanaian streets, and usually are accompanied by body guards in black Western suits. These people are as exceptional in their conspicuous consumption as they are in their immorality and violence. While both Nigerian and Ghanaian actors are involved, the mean characters are often played by Nigerians (with Zach Orji being the most popular of them). As I explained above, a film like Blood Money appealed to Ghanaian audiences because it could be looked at from the perspective of a logic of Othering which made it easy to voyeuristically enjoy transgression and at the same time draw a boundary between Ghanaians and Nigerians. The popularity of the co-productions pinpoints that the earlier emphasis on national difference, already then problematic on the level of second thought, appears to be increasingly fragile. Of course, even if the opposition of Ghana versus Nigeria has become increasingly eroded, films still thrive on a moralizing Christian framework, which makes it possible to look with utmost fascination at evil behavior, and at the same time maintain a position of moral superiority. Still, virtually every film is framed in a Christian way. Interestingly, however, the message of the films is not so much that good life depends on faith, but rather that in situations of danger one is better protected if one believes in God.
Ghanaians’ inclination to regard Ghana and Nigeria as increasingly similar certainly has to do with the fact that recently ritual murder has become a main issue in Ghana. Since 1999 a number of women have been found dead around Accra, sometimes with missing sexual organs. This became a matter of great public concern, people felt frightened to go out in the night and reproached the police for not being able to find the killer(s). How was it possible, it was asked, that the state would not be able to protect its citizens?!! – thereby suggesting links between the spheres of the police, politics and the criminal rich. Many people complained to me that Accra would increasingly become like Lagos, especially in the night an area of operation of mean serial killers who would use human parts in order to become rich. One could no longer trust anybody. These fears about Ghana being incorporated into an occult economy with Lagos at its center are not only taken up by the increasingly violent plots featuring new images of power and success as such,  but also started to change the film scene as a whole. Whereas for a long time – and in distinction to the situation in Nigeria – films were screened in the cinemas before the video tapes were being sold, now producers gradually start to bring out their films as home video tapes almost immediately because people are less inclined to go out to the movies in the night (and a larger number of people has access to a VCR).
These nagging fears about the secret operations of an occult network of ritual murderers and criticisms of the government’s inability to cope with the situation also played a role in the elections in December 2000, as a result of which the NDC, which had ruled Ghana ever since 1981 was brought down, and the long-oppositional NPP formed the new government. Of course, there are now high hopes that life will become more secure and prosperous, but at the same time, due to the opening up of the public sphere, the specter of new images of power and success will find easy articulation in the media, and will certainly feed into a great number of future videofilms.
What we witness in the Ghanaian videofilm scene and, for that matter, the new Ghanaian mediascape in general, is a full separation of the symbiotic relationship of media and the state, which was characterized by the fact that TV and film were employed to create a favorable image of the state, its policies and achievements. The images thus produced formed the basic parts of the self-representation of the state, a social imaginary which was presented as being naturally real and to be taken for granted and shared (more or less in line with Mbembe’s  analysis). There was no public space to bring out divergent views, and popular culture was denied access to radio, TV and—apart from some tabloids—the official press which reproduced the structures of state power (cf. Hasty 2001). After 1992, the relationship between the state and the media has fundamentally changed. Calls for policies seeking to determine the responsibilities of the media notwithstanding, the state can no longer fully control the creation of images. It is as impossible to exclude superstitious or oppositional views from publicity as it is impossible to make people still take for granted the image the state creates of itself. Commercialization and liberalization of the media clearly trigger contestations of state power and may thus act in support of democratization and public debate.
In this paper I have tried to argue that in order to capture the growing disjuncture between state and society it is useful to turn to the notion of the public sphere, without however sticking to a normative understanding. While for Habermas the forces of commercialization worked to the detriment of the public sphere, by overruling rational argument with mere consumption, the case studied here suggests something different. For here the liberalization of the media worked in favor of Pentecostalism, a complex of movements which had hitherto thrived in the niches of society, more or less undisturbed by, as well as not disturbing, the state. Pentecostalisms’ popularity instigated the rise and spread of a pentecostalite culture, which was developed by independent cultural entrepreneurs who adopted distinct Pentecostal forms of representation without necessarily sharing its premises on the level of personal belief. This pentecostalite culture incorporates popular views and has found new spectacular modes of visualizing excessive transgression into evil, modes which run counter to statist modes of representing culture. Facilitated by the forces of commercialisation and disrespecting the boundary drawn between magic and modernity in the name of rationalism (cf. Meyer and Pels n.d.), pentecostalite culture appears to encompass a great deal of Ghana’s new public sphere.
That pentecostalite culture carves out a space for depicting what is socially and morally undesirable, or just uncanny, clearly comes out of my discussion of the representation of images of power and success in videofilms. I have tried to show there is a marked shift from positive heroes such as pastors, Christian housewives and born again businessmen to negative heroes such as ritual murderers, from the genre of family drama to something close to the genres of thriller and horror, from an emphasis on dreams of good life to an obsession with specters (both far away and nearby). This shift signals a transformation in the ways in which urban Ghanaian audiences perceive the nexus of power and morality. Increasingly, the immorality of power and the ways in which it impinges on people’s everyday life has become a matter of concern. The fear that Ghana will become like Nigeria, a society marked by the erosion of social structures and individuals’ strife for money by all means, has become more and more outspoken. While it would be exaggerated to credit this type of movies with the capacity to mobilize people into democratic movements, they certainly play an important role in ongoing public debates about the (im)morality of power, good governance and citizenship (cf. Lentz 1998, Meyer in press).
At the same time its has to be acknowledged that this shift was facilitated by the changes in Ghana’s mediascape, as a result of which it possible that all sorts of hitherto suppressed, partially hidden views could get onto the screen. In other words, these views were reconfigured as part and parcel of a new public culture (Appadurai and Breckenridge 1988), expressed through media and generating matters of public debate and contest. Important in this context is the role of Pentecostal Christianity in framing and structuring the urban social imaginary. With its emphasis on the dualism of God and the Devil, Pentecostalism offers the possibility to expand about evil from a safe position of moral superiority. This holds true in the case of films propagating divine power and Christian heroes within the film narrative, as well as in the case of films focusing on evil figures, and merely assigning a Christian perspective to the audiences. As in Pentecostal sermons, in videofilms too the affirmation of divine power requires, and thus legitimizes, the more or less excessive visualization of moral transgression into the field of selfishness, greed and jealousy, giving way to perversion, brutality and – as local discourse has it - ‘bondage’ with the occult forces. This possibility to voyeuristically peep into the realm of the powers of darkness from a position of distance is the main reason for the popularity of these films. Allowing audiences to indulge in the twilight zone of prurience, Satan scores highly both in terms of entertainment and moralization.
In sum, reflecting about the distinct features of the public sphere in the context of postcolonial Ghana, it may be concluded that in the same way as religion may play a constitutive part in the emergence of a particular public sphere, commercialization does not necessarily imply a false consciousness, and the entanglement of magic and modernity may generate criticisms of power and money which, after all, appear quite much to the point. In Ghanaian postcolonial society, the newly evolving public sphere is as much a product of particular historical power constellations, as it thrives on new audiences’ eagerness to make public what hitherto has been silenced and denied access to state-controlled media.
 Brought into existence in coffeehouses and salons, according to Habermas the public sphere emerged as a space where male intellectuals reflected critically, in terms of universal rationality, upon themselves and the state through the medium of newspapers which became the mouthpiece of critical public opinion. Yet, communication being increasingly commercialized and commodified, according to Habermas the social forces that brought the public sphere into being also made it fall apart. With the advent of modern mass media, critical reflection was increasingly replaced by mere consumption - a process culminating in what Habermas called the `refeudalization' of the public sphere. For a less pessimistic view on the pluralist public sphere see Habermas 1989, where he does not present commercialization and democracy as necessary antagonisms.
 This eurocentric use of concepts is to be avoided in any serious ‘ethnography of modernity’. See in this context the fruitful discussion by Comaroff and Comaroff on the problems and possibilities of the use of the notion ‘civil society’ (2000).
 Where he says, commenting on Hobbes’ concept of a state based on the auctoritas of the king alone, and independent from the ideas of the ruled : ‘Die Konfession ist Privatsache, private Gesinnung; für den Staat folgenlos: eine ist ihm so viel wert wie die andere, das Gewissen wird zur Meinung’ (ibid.: 163).
 But see Babb & Wadley (1995), Eickelman & Anderson (1999), Larkin (1997, 2001); there also is some fascinating work in progress, for instance produced in the framework of the research program `Religion and Media in Nigeria' organized by The Centre of West African Studies and SOAS under the auspices of the British Academy of Science. The contributions to Arthur (1993), Hoover & Lundby (1995) and Stouth & Buddenbaum (1996) mainly concern Western societies.
 I show how this colonization actually works in a paper about the Pentecostal recasting of Mami Water as a Christian demon (Meyer in press).
 Conversely, as I remember well from my stay in Ghana in 1989, Christians were scandalized about Damuah’s radio programme, and represented him as ‘the voice of the Devil’.
 It would be too simple to suggest that the Pentecostal-charismatic churches in general supported Rawlings (as has been stated by Gifford 1998, with the exception of Mensa Otabil’s Central Gospel Church). Rather they were in for certain alliances with those in power. While initially especially one charismatic church, the Christian Action Faith Ministries led by Bishop Duncan Williams, openly supported Rawlings and prayed for him in public, in the course of the last year relationships between this church and the NDC-government became more strained. This certainly has to do with the fact that the government openly considered the introduction of taxes for churches, which have increasingly turned into vital commercial enterprises.
 Charismatic churches are usually highly successful in convincing their members to contribute large sums of money. Often the offertory is collected openly, and church members are urged to show the amount they give (‘Only the Devil wants you to hide what you give’, Duncan Williams said when I attended a service of his Christian Action Faith Ministries in November 1996). Many charismatic pastors drive a Mercedes Benz, live in beautiful mansions, and dress in fanciful clothes. When I questioned members of the Christian Action Faith Ministries about their views with regard to the conspicuous consumption of the leaders of their church, they told me that they could not imagine a more suitable car and outfit for their leader. His wealthy appearance would also shine on their church. Of course, relying on the Prosperity Gospel (cf. Maxwell 1998), they also hoped to achieve similar things in future.
 Recently there have been a number spectacular conflicts between Pentecostals and traditional representatives. A still much discussed issue concerns the conflict between the Korle-Gonnor branch of the Pentecostal Lighthouse chapel and the Ga traditional authorities. Members of Lighthouse Chapel refused to obey the traditional laws, which prescribe a period of silence prior to the celebration of Homowo, the most important Ga festival. The Pentecostals claimed that it was their right as citizens of Ghana, whose constitution assures freedom of religious expression, to worship their God with singing and drumming, amplified by loudspeakers. The conflict has been going on for a number of years, and has not yet been solved. Eventually, the Catholic church and the churches represented in the Christian Council have joined forces with the Pentecostals. The state appears to find it very difficult to solve this case. While, of course, the state Cultural Policy favours Ga traditional laws, which are regarded as part if Ghana’s rich ‘cultural heritage’, it finds it is difficult to circumvent the Pentecostals, who make their point by referring to the constitution and relying on the Commission for Human Rights (cf. Van Dijk in press).
 This consultation was organized by the International Study Commission on Media, Religion & Culture from 19-27 May 2000 at Accra. I am very grateful to the organizers that they invited me to participate in debates and present the results of my research.
 For a state exercising full control over TV and radio (as was the case in Ghana until the first independent radio stations emerged in 1994 and the first private TV station in 1996), the presence of ‘small media’ (Sreberny-Mohammadi and Mohammadi 1994) such as video and audio-tapes, of course, entails a tremendous threat.
 Socrate Safo told me that his experiment was absolutely unsuitable to the Ghanaian market, and that for the moment he gave up the idea to make films of the FESPACO-genre, which might gain awards in Burkina Faso, but would be neglected in the local market.
 In the early days of popular cinema, private film producers really were all-round men in that they combined script-writing, casting, directing, editing, and marketing. Quite quickly, editing was left to professional editors at, for example, the GFIC. While some private producers still keep as much in their hands as possible, others hire the services of trained directors. Yet they continuously have an eye on the production, and stay on the set all through, in order to make sure that the film becomes as they want it to be.
 In turn, Afrikania has undertaken a sort of recasting of traditional religion in, above all, Protestant terms, i.e. with much emphasis on the Word. For similar processes with regard to Hinduism cf. Van der Veer (1999)
 Of course, it is only filmmakers like Akuffo who adopt such a perspective in certain arenas, to their viewers most filmmakers present their films as ‘confessions’ or true stories, which link up with the truth claims of Pentecostal pastors.
 That this commercial transaction could occur has to be seen against the background of the State Owned Enterprise Act of 1993, which sought to transform the state-owned enterprises into self-sustaining ones. As a result, the GFIC was converted into a limited liability company, with 51% of the shares going public, and 49% belonging to the government. This division was changed again prior to the sale of the GFIC to the Malaysian company.
 Interesting here is the emphasis people place on the attribute `latest', which contrasts with `colo' (hopelessly old-fashioned - but not necessarily related to colonialism) and `bush' (part of the village way of life). In Accra, culture grows out of fashion fast and people struggle to catch up with the latest fashion style (which in June 1998, ironically was inspired by Acapulco Bay, not quite the latest Mexican soap series), the latest music, the latest movie, etc. This pressure of continuous renewal is, of course, a distinct feature of modernity; it is the motor behind ongoing cultural production which thrives at the cost of rendering previous products outdated. Elsewhere (Meyer 1998) I have discussed how the pressure of continuous renewal is part and parcel of pentecostalist churches - the ultimate mediators of modernity in the religious field. In order to better understand what modernity means in Ghana, it would be important to extend this investigation to the field of cultural production.
 Of course, also at home watching a film is always a social affair. A good film always attracts viewers, who either gather on the ground in front of the VCR or peep in through the windows. When I lived in Teshie in the fall of 1996, in order to familiarize myself with the phenomenon I used to watch films every evening in the company of a great number of people from the neighbourhood who were all keen to come and watch.
 In his contacts with other people in the film scene, however, he emphasizes that he is a Muslim and even teases others about their limited interest in religion, their low morals, their alcohol consumption, etc.
 Even before Nigerian movies became available in shops on a massive scale, Pentecostal churches used to show Christian movies from Nigeria (for instance made by Mount Zion Productions) to their youth clubs. In contrast to Nigeria, in Ghana there is no distinctly Christian video industry as is the case in Nigeria.
 419 refers to a section in the Nigerian criminal code, covering various forms of fraud, often accompanied by confidence tricks (cf. Apter 2000).
 When I went to a big video shop (called Alexiboat) at the center of Accra in order to get `Blood Money', I learned from the owner that he had sold 30.000 copies of this film within six months (while he would sell around 6000 copies of a popular Ghanaian film in the same period).
 In order to cope with the crisis, Accra, for instance, was divided into areas. While some have electricity for three days during the day, others get it during the night, and vice versa. This means that certain parts of the town are very dark in the night - an experience which contributes not only to increased mobility into light areas, but also to the articulation of diffuse fears.
 This may be reminiscent of the slave trade. Having in mind Rosalind Shaw's fascinating work on how the Atlantic slave trade shaped and transformed African's ideas about spiritual power (199*, in press), I realize that it would be false to think the `traditional' and the `global' as mutually exclusive oppositions. Rather, one has to study the interactions between the two.
 As Michelle Gilbert has shown (1995), the issue of ritual murder is a difficult one. I must admit that until now I have not seriously studied to occurrence of ritual murder, the use of blood, the use of body parts (which one for what purpose? etc.) with regard to the (pre-colonial) histories of Ghana or Nigeria and tended to approach stories about such practices in metaphorical terms. Yet, people's obsession with the nexus of ritual murder and power suggests that this approach has to be revised.
 I am inspired by Taussig's discussion (1995) of the devil contracts which stood central in his famous The Devil and Commodity Fetishism (1980) and which became subject to much animated anthropological debate. Following Bataille, he argues that the image of the Devil and the stories around him do not simply refer to morally bad ideas and practices, but thrive on a twofold movement of prohibition and transgression of which the Devil is the arch-figure (1995: 390).
 The emergence of an image of witchcraft as being operative in the service of a global trade in body parts is another striking example for the dynamics of witchcraft discourse and its modernity (cf. Geschiere 1997, 1998).
 For instance, during my stay in Ghana in 1996 stories circulated which asserted that Rawlings was protected by strong Ewe dzo [`magic'], that he had a secret room in the Castle [the seat of the president] and that the source of his power was human blood. Moreover, according to popular sources he is said to have swallowed a frog at a shrine in the Volta Region in order to fortify himself - a rumor which became even more widespread when the vice-president Arkaah accused Rawlings in public of having done so, and was slaped by Rawlings in return (cf. Akyeampong 1996: 163).
 As stated earlier, Nkrabea-My destiny still deals with a rural chief who can still be associated with backward village life, not with big man in the center. Given the importance of the censorship board in Ghana I also doubt as to whether it would be possible to make a film similar to Blood Money in and about Ghana.
 It remains to be seen what will happen in the field of Ghanaian videofilm production in future. While many of my filmmaker friends emphasize that they still want to make distinctively Ghanaian films, it is very difficult to define what exactly that means. There is no clear static definition of what makes a videofilm a Ghanaian film, all through producers have been experimenting, and brought in influences from Hollywood, Kung Fu, Indian Films. What the undeniable impact of Nigerian films will imply for Ghanaian productions is difficult to tell at the moment.
 I often heard from Ghanaian actors that they found it difficult to play the roles of bad guys. One reason for this is the inclination of the audiences to associate the role played with the actor him- or herself, it was highly unpleasant to be reproached all the time for a certain role one played. Another reason lies in the fact that many actors attend Pentecostal churches and feel that it might harm their soul of they would mimic an evil character’s entanglement with the occult . Many actors circumvent this problem by praying excessively before playing such a role. All this indicates that there is no strict boundary between film and everyday life.
 During my last visit to Ghana in May 2000, I was on the set of a film called Mataheko, which dealt with the murder of women. The film accused the police of being inefficient, and a particular police agent was depicted as playing a double game and also being part of the murderer gang. I have not yet seen the finished product.