Striking while the irony is hot: Jamaica, we’re all a titter

I’m not speaking for everyone, but a day doesn’t pass without my seeing or hearing or reading something totally ridiculous. When I do, I let out a huge belly laugh. If I’ve made no other contribution to the world, it’s to pass on this sense to my daughters.

Laughter releases tension and can defuse stress. I just discussed how Jamaica is blessed by having this facility in abundance, some would say over abundance. Without searching too far, I can point to examples.

Gully Bop. If you’ve never heard this term or know the ‘artiste’ going by this name, you’ve not been around Jamaica in recent weeks. He’s a man with a mouthful of bad teeth, reminiscent of a hideous parody character.2015/01/img_0632.jpgHe performs in the dance hall genre. His singing doesn’t impress me, but he got rave reviews days ago in a ‘clash’ event, STING 2014.

It says something for our warped senses that hideous is not a criterion for no success in music. Ugly politicians are rare, however. Is that an example of form over substance? In Jamaica, we know how a good-looking politician looks.

2015/01/img_0633.jpgIt comes in the form of a former Miss World. Now, I know there’s plenty of substance to back up the form of our current Minister of Youth and Culture. But the vultures are quick to peck at her every display. There’s no suiting some people. When the minister had the audacity to walk on a each in a bikini and publish a picture of this defiant act, the attack dogs went berserk. I had visions of Ms. Hanna running for a burqa. But, that would have prompted accusations about her abandoning Christianity. She could grab a sarong. But what style? What colour? Slit in front or side? Decisions. Maybe, she should just delete the picture or get her son to photoshop it with her in a pants suit. What? Women politicians in trousers! Who’s running this country? Oh, it’s another woman. Our men emasculated, again. Put on a skirt! But, should it be one of those modest-creators so loved for our schoolgirls? How many inches below the knee? How much ankle should she show? Dark of light? White is immaculate, but so suggestive. Botheration. Just go naked? What about the tan lines? It never ends.

Days ago, we witnessed something straight out of the cutting room of the Keystone Cops or Buster Keaton. A young government minister had some reputation-boosting information published on the Internet. The score from an online game, Fruit Pop, was posted on his Twitter timeline. I used these passive terms, for a reason. Well, jokers and concerned Jamaicans were quick to jab and jook at this seemingly frivolous display. But, the minister was piqued by this picking at him. He retorted and showed more than a touch of irritation. Like mosquito bites, the more he scratched the worse the itching. He blocked people. His account was ‘compromised’, he reported on Facebook–that modern town square. He deleted the Twitter account. This was crisis management, 21st century-style. He found his being mocked the subject of ‘latest news’ in one major newspaper. How? It wasn’t scandalous. It wasn’t life threatening. But, in the scheme of things mirthful, it had a place. That was it? Good Lord! No.

The minister felt compelled to explain how this truly meaningless score had been posted. It was his four year-old’s fault. Whether true or an attempt to deflect blame–which came up as a reason–there was no need to go there. Who cares? Well, since that, nada. True radio silence. Sunk without trace. Silenced by an attempt to shut out the noise of social media. In the same way that an ‘Arnold Palmer’ became a well-known drink, and ‘Arnaldo Brown’ may have a place in social media annals as what not to do when cornered by one’s own shadows.

When you step into the public eye, you are a target for scrutiny, and it may not be to your liking. It may be created by friends, enemies, strangers, or yourself. Deal with it. Look at former Public Defender, Earl Witter. I’ve no idea what possessed him to write the letter he did regretting having proposed his deputy, Mukulu, to replace him on retirement. It was a cri de coeur that seemed best left in the Confessional or just in the depth of some deep sleep.

2015/01/img_0634.jpgBut, it’s out there, now, and in the mix of a messy piece of public indecision to which he seemed to contribute, but perhaps not. Sometimes, a bubbling pot needs no stirring. But, once you stick your spoon into the soup, don’t be surprised if done spills, or the pot overturns, or the dish is spoiled. Get out of the kitchen!

I’m wary of Jamaicans looking abroad, too readily. But, sometimes it’s good. In the realm of how political figures need to deal with modern media, lessons are out there, and access to them is a button press away. Fail to do that and be ready to be put on your butt.

As for musical artistes, ugly is ugly, but what sells is not what’s seen. Gully Bop was dropped by his management team faster than a football manager who has his chairman’s “full support”. He got a Benz, but lost some friends. He needs new teeth and had an offer for that to be done in the USA. But, that was gummed up.

Jamaica is no easy place to survive. We are full of scruples, yet pestered by the unscrupulous. Hammered by scammers. Discredited by our misdeeds. Let’s grin and bear it. Er, not you, a Gully Bop. 😒

Charlie is my darling

The words come from an old Scottish folk song.

It’s more poignant, today, for many reasons, to talk about the ‘young chevalier’.

In France, the phrase ‘Je suis Charlie’ (I am Charlie) has suddenly flown up in front of many faces. Without humour, we are all dead, is a phrase that rings true in my head. Just yesterday, I wrote about how Jamaicans have a great life because they are constantly laughing (more than many other people). It relieves and redirects stress.

Like many, I was shocked to hear of the shooting in Paris, France, of 12 staff, including four cartoonists, at the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.  I’ve read the magazine on occasion, when in France. I’m a great lover of satire. I grew up in the era of Monty Python, Spitting Image, and Private Eye. Ian Hislop, Editor of Private Eye, issued a statement yesterday: “I am appalled and shocked by this horrific attack–a murderous attack on free speech in the heart of Europe….They paid a very high price for exercising their comic liberty….Very little seems funny today.”

In Jamaica, we often take for granted the freedom to express ourselves, especially in our printed media. Our cartoonists are, and have been, amongst the most vicious I have seen anywhere.

Jamaican cartoonist, Clovis, in today's Observer, sharp as a tack
Jamaican cartoonist, Clovis, in today’s Observer, sharp as a tack

They play a vital role, in poking fun at leaders and those making views public, and highlighting traits that we often would prefer not to see.

It’s fitting that among the powerful reactions to the killings have been cartoons that depict the pen as mightier (than the gun, if not sword, in this case). We will have our favourites. One of the first I saw, by David Pope, is still the one that hits me hard.

He drew first
He drew first

Again, in keeping with how modern life turns, Mr. Pope circulated his image and thoughts by Twitter–the fastest way to spread a message around the world, I think.

I also liked Darrin Bell’s drawing of the gunman slaying a pen, and being surrounded by them, as if under attack. Lastly, I like Banksy’s or Lucille Clerc’s drawing, which I saw late last night. (There’s some question who actually penned the drawing.)

Banksy's or Lucille Clerc's tribute to Charlie Hebdo
Banksy’s tribute to Charlie Hebdo

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 5.10.34 AMI am not a journalist, in the traditional sense of someone who is employed to write. But, in the world of so-called ‘new media’, I am very much a journalist–I write and publish almost every day. If I say it’s a challenge, that’s because I have to create my own content. When I get an occasional column or letter printed in a regular newspaper, it’s just an extension of what I now do, regularly.

I’m not short of opinions. I also am not reluctant to air them, publicly. However, one thing I found out early, as a blogger, is that many people who do not like my opinion are not afraid to threaten me, at least, verbally. I’ve never taken those as idle threats. There needs to be motive, and that shows it. Whether opportunity and action follow is not just down to me. In general, I do not get a lot of abusive reactions, but that can change at the drop of a word. Sitting at my keyboard, or jotting notes, or tapping words out on my phone, I have learned that my views can rile, annoy, and put me up as someone to attack, even mildly. I cannot control other’s opinions and actions, but I have to live with my own views. Some don’t like that, for reasons too many to describe. That’s the world as it is.

I have also noted, and it disturbed me much more in the past, that many who are most vociferous also want the cover of anonymity. I have never been shy to say that allowing  anonymity in social media is a ticking bomb. If you have a view, stand by it, as who you truly are. Yes, there are many ways to mask identity, but the mere bother of having to verify identity deals with many of the opportunists. Anonymous comments on my blogs, often went nowhere. How does one interact with a blank space?

Those who claim that their positions stop them from being frank and open, are looking for weak cover. I don’t need to rant about it, but like with most things, if you fess up and deal with the consequences many problems don’t seem so great.

Those who killed the staff at Charlie Hebdo may be caught soon, but that does not remove the threats to the rest of the staff, or to anyone else. Like grains of sand blown by wind in the desert, more are coming behind. Whatever reasons people find for wanting to do others physical harm they are difficult to dislodge with reasoned argument, or even silence. Remorse and regret are not the stuff of such people. Fear is also something to which they have become numb.

On the other side, those who face the threats shouldn’t cower. It won’t change attitudes. So, better to stand strong. Sticks and stones will break bones, and clearly words (and images) do hurt, too.

One of Charlie Hebdo’s editors, who died, Stephane (‘Charb’) Charbonnier was aware that its satire put the publication in the radical’s cross hairs, but he said he didn’t care: “I am not afraid of retaliation. I have no kids, no wife, no car, no credit. It perhaps sounds a bit pompous, but I prefer to die standing than living on my knees.” Those were his words in 2012.

No joke intended, he lived up to his word, to his death.