A post I didn’t want to write
February 12, 2009
This whole “Rampin Shop” madness has been so utterly painful to witness, I can’t even find any joy in writing about it. But here I am anyway. By the way, I haven’t sat down and listened to the song, and don’t plan to do so intentionally. It may be blasting all around, but I don’t take in any of it. I do have an amazing ability to block out noise; that’s why I don’t know the name of most songs, and can barely distinguish the voices of most DJ’s that I don’t particularly care for. The tune might sound familiar to me, but I don’t spend much time saving it in my memory bank. That’s just how I roll, ok?
So, on the one side of the ring, you have a respectable man who has done some respectable things, including running a completely inept governmental agency that is supposed to, among other things, confer respectability on the quality of the broadcast media. On that score, he has failed miserably, but don’t tell him that right now; he has a lot on his mind. Among the other respectable things he has done is to be married for a long time to none other than the current director of the Center for Gender and Development at UWI. Now this respectable man is posed with a serious problem because one brown-skinned woman who imagines herself as the unelected minister of education blows into and explodes in his peripheral vision demanding that he act on something that he apparently didn’t think he needed to act on at all. Now, when you can’t tell the difference between feminist and conservative fundamentalism-derived perspectives in Jamaica, you know you have problems. And den people start lik out ‘gainst the song. So you know this respectable man is being pushed to act. And act he does. And lots of people are glad he did, but for different reasons.
On the other side of the ring, we have a couple of dancehall artists who, though them not the brightest of the bunch, have managed to inscribe their names and voices into pretty much every household and head in Jamaica (except the ones that are up asses – no sound system or ipod installed up there yet…), whether you wanted to hear them or not. They have done all that every other dancehall artist before them have done, which is to up the ante. If di previous one did slack, yuh affi come even slacker; den di nex one affi tek di slackness to the tenth power. Who nuh w’aa dig out, w’aa stab out, and skin out an’ red out an’ what not. Nobody nuh w’aa lick out doh. Funny how that is. No problem, ah jus so it go inna dis ya place. The truth is, we know so little and feel so uncomfortable about sex and experience so little intimacy so infrequently that the only place we think we can find and express these longings is at the dancehall. Fine. Better there than nowhere at all I guess. And wha dem two a sing sweet everybody precisely because what they are saying is clearly not meant to be spoken in public quite in those ways outside of the actual participants in the daggerin’ and rampin’ business. And the songs are very, very popular you know. The test of its popularity? Even di likkle pickney dem know it by ‘eart. Well, di artists dem nuh too too happy bout di whole prekkeh.
In the middle are:
1. At least two generations of people who don’t know anything other than dancehall as musical entertainment; everything else is “ol’ time sinting”, and who really think that the dancehall artists – and the various supporting players of the industry – really represent the best talent and strategies for self-expression, and who so closely identify with the music form and its many dimensions and off-shoots, that to raise ANY questions about the quality of music, performance and the content of such is akin to declaring war against one’s family member. So enamoured are they of the music that they come to see it as as the essence of their Jamaican-ness to be expressed whenever and however, that they gladly overlook – in fact, have difficulty identifying – the very aspects of the music that consciously denigrate them in order to teach them various lessons. In fact, they think the parts of dancehall – increasingly small parts – that do celebrate creativity and self-respect are tired an’ n’aa seh nutt’n. Hammering, chiseling, boring and jacking-up will probably be the next new thing in sexhall.
2. Media persons who really have no clue how to navigate a complicated mediascape in any ethical and informed way. They claim to make not judgments, but if something – say, an obnoxious song that they are asked to play over and over again – helps their popularity and their pockets, well, so be it. If govament nuh seh dem nuh fi do sup’m, den dat nuh mean seh dem kyan gwa’an an dweet? Anno nutt’n. So they just do what they feel like, and ask no questions, as long as they get paid.
The jurors watching and weighing in are a mixed bunch. Mostly moralizing noisy puppets who are really fed up that the society is not the way it “should” be and really believe there ought to be a law against anything that they don’t like or that they think contributes to “moral decline” and lack of respect for Authority. They neither see nor understand that there is a difference in the role of law and religion, respectively in a democratic society. To them, religion is law, and the constitution should be carefully sifted for any instances where it contradicts this tenet. If they had their druthers, we would all be saying grace at every meal and going to church from the day we are born till the day we die. Indeed, this blog would probably be outlawed if some of them had their way.
There are a handful of sensible albeit selfish and silent ones, who nod and poo-poo the ridiculous rantings of the morality police, but who quietly indulge in their own self-righteous “cosmopolitan” broodings in their careful coiffed corners of the country, and who think that the “simpletons” really should just shut up and get back to work, if indeed they had a job. Meanwhile, these quiet ones actually have some good ideas on occasion; they just think that if anybody wants to know what they think, they should be asked, petitioned, summoned or better yet, paid to offer an opinion. They certainly don’t plan to volunteer to say anything too often; too busy looking about their business and turning up their noses at the fracas.
Then there are the few jurors who talk just to talk, and who don’t always quite know what to say, or whether there is anything worth saying at this point, but do think they should say something. They always talking about “rule of law” and make suggestions all the time about things that the government should do. You get the sense that they think this is a democracy where the powers-that-be actually read the newspaper and listen to the radio and are really interested in the wellbeing of most Jamaicans. And so these well-meaning folks talk so much that it seems that there are more of them than there really are. For their willingness to lend their two cents, however naive, nonsensical or longwinded they can be, at least they are participating with the best of intentions.
And then there are the freeloading jurors, who go right along with the crowd, who think the silent ones should speak up more, but who are not willing to say anything that they would be held accountable for. So, they say nothing. They don’t know what they really think because they don’t really try to think. They do wonder a lot though. “Ah so it go” and “wha’ fi do?” are their favourite sayings. More likely is that they just take up space, nod a few times, go on their merry way, and deal with whatever comes at them, with not a clue that maybe if they spoke up and took a stand just once, however unpopular they imagine it to be, that maybe things would get better not worse. But they can’t take that 50/50 chance, so they just stay silent and focus on putting one foot in front of the other, not trying to sigh too heavy just in case they draw attention to themselves.
So, based on this setup, no wonder we get this kind of thoughtless knee-jerk reaction from the Hopeton Dunn. I am wondering what he and his wife talk about at night, since I can’t imagine that BOTH of them so completely missed the boat on the question of how to act in relation to the content of music being played on the airwaves. I guess every time he felt that the lyrics could not get any worse, and then it does, so he just threw up his hands in the air, collected his paycheque and called it a day? At this point, deciding what to play or not to play must be a nightmare. But serves him right; had he not bought into the crap that “ghetto people” have a different and thus more reprehensible and scandalous set of values than “normal people” and thus should be valued differently, he would not have been swayed to think that some of the utterly uncreative, imbecilic and woman-hating stuff that passes for dancehall kulcha is really “representative” of what its listeners really want to hear. He would have been able to offer an intelligent pro-active response to the question of the quality of the music without reducing himself to governmental puppet. He would have been able to use his role to challenge the DJ’s to dig deep into their creative selves and to produce more diverse expressions in dancehall that also come correct everytime. Right now though, he did what should have been done a long time ago, but for the wrong reasons, and under the wrong conditions.
What should Dunn have done?
For starters, the moment he took on this job he should have developed a policy that stated that sexually explicit material should only be aired in the wee hours of the night, and that this should cover television as well as radio. Instead, he let the “ah so dem stay…” lackadaisical attitude take over and now is acting in a hodge-podge and unprofessional fashion too late.
At the beginning of this debacle, he should have stated that he has been remiss in doing this part of his job and why. He should have stated that while these particular songs have been in question, that they build on a rather auspicious history of slackness in popular culture, and that not all of it is bad, some of it is quite good, but some of it is frankly, disgusting. But he really does have to explain how these songs can be so popular for such a long time and yet it is just now that he is paying attention. But I bet he doesn’t want us to ask that question.
How will he and the commission decide which category the music falls into? And what is he going to do about all the other music that came before that might reasonably contend for the “slacka dan slack” medal? And what about the music that is already recorded and played loudly in public, although not over public airwaves? And what about the public performances that are as much a part of the hype and popularity as anything else? I noticed that the Gleaner has been quite generous in providing as many images as possible, to help the viewers understand what the debate is about. (Please, I don’t think you should mistake the plethora of images for lessons in how to dagger). I picked a few that I found to be, um, compelling demonstrations:
I am wondering if spectators as well as participants are going to be censured in some way? After all, can’t we dagger to just about any song these days?
What about assistants in daggerin’?
Would injuries sustained during daggerin’ be considered more serious than injuries doing other dances?
And then there’s the issue of Carnival. Are there going to be daggerin’ and rampin’ police about the place?
Well, none of these issues will be resolved by the PM constituting a commission of moralizing know-it-alls who have already staked out their turf on dancehall. But I also don’t think the pro-dancehall folks have a nuanced enough analysis to offer reasonable approaches that don’t basically say “lef di DJ dem alone an’ top fight ‘gainst them!” Because everyone knows this is really a repackaged referendum on dancehall culture, right? Right? But, it doesn’t have to be that way. The only thing I really expect is more circus, kass-kass and a stalemate. Until the next flare-up.
What I really want is more variety and creativity in how and where dancehall presents itself; that’s all I want really. Is that too much to ask? Until the next scandal. I’m done with this one for now.
P.S. Marcia Forbes [finally] stepped forward to offer a really useful and insightful analysis based on extensive research that she did. Given her role in shaping mass media practices in Jamaica, I sincerely hope that she tried to share this information with the commission before now.
P.P.S. And of course, Madame Cooper steps in, to translate for us as usual. While I wish she would do a bit more than translate dancehall lyrics, at least she sticks it to prissy Tyson, who’s probably not been in her own rampin’ shop in a long time. I couldn’t resist that remark, really I couldn’t. Outta orda, yes, but you were thinking it too…