Sankofa: Critiquing our Coverage of Culture

I have been remiss. Too often I forget that this is a space of growth, questions and a conscious quest for truth. It is too easy to descend into aggravated polemics without stopping to consider and critique. It’s the writer’s equivalent of chewing with your mouth open.

In pursuit of critical discussion I have stumbled across The Nassau Guardian, the oldest and largest newspaper in The Bahamas. More specifically, their Arts and Culture segment where thought-provoking essays by Dr. Ian Bethell-Bennett and others are fanning new flames into discussions on race and identity.

It’s a Lifestyle section with more life than style, where the arts and culture pieces actually talk about art and culture. Dr. Bethell-Bennett delves critically into post-modern theories surrounding the manufacture of the Caribbean identity. His deconstruction of post-colonialism and its impact on Afro-Caribbean societies is not new but it’s so refreshing to hear someone wax poetic on the subject in a national newspaper.

I contrast our top two national newspapers: The Gleaner and the Jamaica Observer. The lifestyle section of both newspapers is filled mainly with light and fluffy pieces that don’t provide much food for thought. The Gleaner admittedly digs a touch deeper in its Arts and Leisure section, in that they comment on culturally relevant events. But the coverage is bare bones at best and leaves so much to be desired.

Is it merely that the first-world Bahamas with a supposedly higher percentage of tertiary-educated readers can easily devote segments of its newspaper to largely academic rhetoric? What is the interplay between economics and social commentary? Is socio-cultural criticism merely a luxury that Jamaicans cannot yet afford?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. All I know is that the discussions on race, culture and identity highlighted in The Nassau Guardian are critical to the future of Caribbean development.

A people without the knowledge of their past history, culture and origins is like a tree without roots.
–Marcus Garvey

Journo Thugs! Pen-toting Partisans Drive Fear into the Hearts of Intellectuals

Firstly, congrats to all the recent MBBS candidates who were successful in their examinations! The Class of 2015 is officially next in line (pretending not to shake in my boots here).

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The Jamaica Observer recently published an article entitled: Homo Thugs!: Gun-toting Gays Drive Fear in Citizens of Garrison Communities by Karyl Walker.

Cue outraged gay rights lobbyists.

In addition to its subject matter, the writing in the article is a complete journalistic travesty. To quote a friend of mine (fully qualified – in postgrad journalism school. There’s a fancy word for that).

There are relevancy issues, libel issues, morality issues, source issues – all on top of really bad writing and lazy reporting.

Since we can all agree that this article has no journalistic merit, I’ll tackle all the emotional pots it is trying to stir. Which is all of them. Sensationalism has found a new home.

The attached picture features a tube of pink lipstick overlying spent shells and a necklace with the male symbol. Which is just all kinds of stereotypical.

No way am I claiming this image. Horrible image.

Imagine if the article was talking about black people and pictured fried chicken and grape juice. Maybe someone in a ski mask robbing a grocery store. Not to mention the persistent belief that all the homosexuals are men. Female homosexuality is always shuffled off to some quiet corner, tacitly condoned with creepy leering and socially acceptable fantasies.

The first paragraph really sets the tone for the entire article:

DESPITE claims from local and international gay rights activists that Jamaica is a fiercely homophobic country, recent evidence is suggesting that homosexuals are living openly in some of the country’s notoriously tough garrisons without hassle or intimidation.

It sounds like they’re saying Jamaican garrisons have accepted homosexuality, but what they’re actually saying is

“YOU’RE SLACKING OFF, GARRISONS. YOU HAD ONE JOB.”

Their aim is not to prove that our country can be accepting, it’s to prove that gay men will kill us in our sleep if we don’t.

Image credit: cocoacasino.com

The train wreck continues.

A reliable police source said that it is common knowledge in the constabulary that some of the top names in the criminal underworld were homosexual and had relations with multiple gay partners.

However, because of their fearsome reputations, many persons who know of their lifestyle keep their mouths tightly shut in fear for their lives.

Why is Karyl Walker trying to tell us that people would call the cops on homosexuals if only they weren’t criminals too. It’s like saying, “I want to tell the police what this man does in the privacy of his bedroom, but I can’t say anything because he also sells guns and drugs to children.”

So-called informers are ready and willing to point fingers at “crimes” of sexuality, but hesitate when confronted with crimes against humanity: murder, rape, human trafficking.

Image from dvice.com

She finally crashes into what may actually be libel with her closing paragraph reaching for an illicit relationship between recently murdered Montegonian Kenley “Bebe” Stevens (openly gay and rumoured to be a criminal) and Member of Parliament Sharon Ffolkes Abrahams.

Stephens was fingered in the illegal lotto scam, the stealing of electricity, among other illegal activities. He had strong connections in the ruling PNP, as he was one of the main fund-raisers in that part of Jamaica, and was recently elected vice-chairman of the party’s West Central St James constituency, headed by state minister for industry, commerce and investment, Sharon Ffolkes Abrahams, who is also MP for the constituency.

I know journalism in this country has been taking a turn for the worse ever since I learnt how to read but sometimes it’s just really disappointing (and slightly nauseating) when the top stories from our national newspapers are no better than the top stories in our tabloids. I expect bad journalism from The Star but the Jamaica Observer has disappointed me for the last time.

Once Upon a Time (a Telecom Tale)

A long, long time ago in a land much like this one there was a kingdom called TeleCom and it was led by an aging tyrant. This tyrant’s name was C. W. J. and he was both loved and despised by his people; he only chose to be nice when it suited him and most of the time he was crotchety and mean. The people of TeleCom would complain but the Government would reply that that even though he was a terrible ruler he was the only ruler they had so they had better put up with him. 

Then one day a cold breeze from the north blew in D-Cel, a young and strapping hero who challenged C. W. J. to a duel for the leadership of the land of TeleCom. Because he was a new face (so much prettier than the old, ugly tyrant) and because he made many silver-tongued promises, the people of TeleCom fell madly in love with D-Cel and cheered him on during the long battle with C. W. J. The battle went on and on for years, touching not just the land of TeleCom but also the nearby kingdoms of Ecanami, Colcha and So-Siyiti. 

The battle rages still. 

The word ‘monopoly’ always conjures images of some oppressive dictator bending victims to his will (look at Hitler, JPS) so that the breakdown of any such monopoly will always inspire satisfaction in the minds and hearts of its victims. The outcome of such breaks is often forgotten by the history books (because by that time the chapter has ended), but the impact of the liberalization often stretches further than one first assumes.

 Economy

The Jamaican government liberalised the telecommunications sector in 2001 with acceptance of bids from Digicel and Flow. The emergence of two new companies would have likely meant an increase in the number of jobs available to the Jamaican populace. Indeed in 2010, Digicel boasted more than 1000 employees (Flow lagging slightly behind at more than five hundred).

The sudden increase in options for communication (cell phones, land lines and the internet) probably opened the doors for deeper interaction with investors both local and foreign, allowing Jamaica to experience more economic growth. It also likely helped that the new companies (and LIME, spurred on by it competition) were investing a lot of money to keep their businesses viable.

Communications expansion also means more avenues for business. The internet has become a thriving field of commerce and now Jamaicans can have a share of that pie.

But 13 years later, the Jamaican economy still isn’t what you’d call thriving. . .

Society

Investing in community projects, education, sports, you name it has become a branding competition among the telecommunications providers. The attention really does benefit the groups it is heaped on and one of the greatest advantages of liberalising this sector has to be the urge these companies have to spend money on people. They’re reaping profits, for sure, but they also give back with relatively willing hearts.

The boost in reliability of our communication (thank you Digicel’s million towers; thank you Flow’s unbeatable online speed) has likely connected families in a way they’ve never been before. The oligopoly that telecom in Jamaica currently sustains forces competition and constant improvement, which is all to the benefit of the consumer. Reliable communication is also a boon to education and even though most of our graduates can’t get hired, at least they can read and write at the tertiary level thanks  to reliability of communication that got them into university and helped them get their degrees.

A downside is that the popularity of cell phones, especially expensive cell phones, means an increase in crime rates. Reported or not, way more cell phones are being stolen now than they were before 2001. Because everyone must have more than one cell phone (to straddle both networks) and because the desire may outstrip the means some people turn to crime to get what they want.

Culture

Brand Jamaica is splashed across text messages, across Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. Liberalising the telecom sector split us wide open to cultural exchange and export.

The instant exchange of information and our ability to stay connected anytime anywhere (thank you Lime and Digicel 4G networks) helps us keep up with the Joneses in North America. This is a good and a bad thing – we’re always following behind the USA peepeecluckcluck. Do we really need another avenue that lets us do that?

Lastly, I’ve been wondering if the shift towards cell phones and away from landlines (a shift that occurred primarily after liberalisation) makes us more likely to go out instead of sitting at home waiting for a call. This might not be a cultural change so much as a cultural facilitation. It’s a lot easier now to keep in touch when you’re out after 1AM but we’ve been partying late for years, only now we don’t have to miss out on chatting to friends while we do it.

Thanks for reading.

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Disclaimer: What I know about telecommunications and economy could fit in a newborn baby’s fingernail. What little I know of society and culture I have inferred from my own meandering experience. Digicel/the Observer asked for a blogging voice. Fiction is my voice. (At most, liberalised fact).

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References here, here and here.