Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Vybz Kartel's Editorial: Traversing the Chasms

The resurgence of the Dancehall/censorship debate, has once again caught my attention with the Broadcating Commission's announcement that "daggering" songs could no longer be played on the radio. You will recall I did a post demanding that these songs be banned, but interestingly, I am not very happy about the way this matter was dealt with.

A flood of articles lambasting Dj's have beenx featured since Esthe Tyson's article was published on February 1, largely with a monotony of perspectives. Vybz Kartel went on the offensive, and fired off an editorial in defence of Dancehall. See his article here.

The time has finally come, when dissidents are unafraid to speak out against those in authority. Like-minded individuals, who represent but a small segment of Jamaica’s populace, dominate debates in the print media. It was refreshing to hear from Vybz Kartel in his editorial "Censorship vs free expression”; he has an opinion that I deem no less valid than that of the fire-breathing, middle class dragons, who categorically believe in the superiority of their arguments. I hope this current exchange of perspectives works to traverse the chasms that divide us as a people, and too, that it heralds the beginning of a new era of intellectual exchange. No longer should pro-choice advocates be cornered by religious conservatism; nor should homophiles be silenced by puritanical moral objectivism. Vybz Kartel, a representative of the marginalized classes, refuses to be bogged down by classist intellectual elitism, which hinders the possibility of forming a progressive nation, founded on mutual respect for people of all persuasions. Noteworthy however, is that he decided to deflect blame to other socio-economic problems facing the nation, without acknowledging the real possibility that our children are overexposed to countless mature themes in Dancehall.

I am personally overjoyed that the Broadcasting Commission has started to live up to their mandate. For far too long, we have indiscriminately allowed crude, deleterious lyrics to clog our airwaves and infiltrate the minds of our children. The popularity of Dancehall today speaks volumes to the influence it now wields in Jamaican society, and though it is by no means the cause of any of Jamaica’s problems, it cannot escape all blame. UWI academics and many diehard dancehall fans continue to exoticize the music as a means of cultural expression and a metaphor for life. Furthermore, they assert the lack of empirical evidence to support the claim that Dancehall promotes sexism, belligerence, homophobia and other retrograde persuasions. However, we do not need empirical evidence to know that if you hear something often enough, in the absence of critical thought, it eventually becomes verity. How often do you hear people chanting dancehall mantras in justifying their actions or reproaching other’s? “Man a gyalis” (I am a player), “Man a bad man” (I am a gangster), “Man fi main uman” (Men must financially support their women), or even “Bwai fi get gon shat” (He needs to be shot).

We need take our future into our own hands. There is no longer any ‘them’ and ‘us’. We are all witnessing the unraveling of a social fabric that was built through centuries of oppression and struggle. It will take a very long time to rebuild it, but if each of us grabs some thread and a needle now, we may be able to stitch together the pieces- together. Dancehall is a potent socializing force, which desensitizes our children to the use of violence, sexualizes our young girls andmakes them targets for predators, and on the whole glorifies the objectification of our women. Once our greatest pride and showpiece to the world, our music and the influence it has had on the psyche of Jamaicans is now a cancer threatening to envelop Jamaica’s prospects of being a prosperous nation.

As much as I disagree with Vybz Kartel, I want to see greater representation of his perspective in our print media- the delineation of sometimes controversial, divergent views, which more accurately represent the opinions of all Jamaicans. Jamaica’s lower classes have long been seething at the slight to the validity of their opinions, and many “well thinking”, “decent” Jamaicans are surely staggered by Kartel’s audacity. Serves them right! How insensitive we have been, in ignoring the perspectives of an entire class of people who cannot understand the need to ban any Dancehall songs. Had we made more inclusive efforts to bring all interested parties into the debate, we would not now be faced with a torrent of never before aired opinions. Let the dialogue begin.


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