One thing I’ve noticed after nearly two years back in Jamaica is our mastery of language; note, I said language, not languages. That’s being polite. I don’t spend my day glued to the radio or television, but tend to listen to current affairs discussions, usually in the evenings.
Somewhere in the upbringing of Jamaicans they have learnt that when asked seemingly tricky questions, the best option is to avoid answering, but to spend a lot of time talking. It’s often called ‘sucking the air out of the room’. In politics, it’s called a filibuster. Ordinary people call it waffling.
On Monday, I did not catch the full interview on ‘Beyond the Headlines’ between host Dionne Jackson-Miller and a spokesman for Digicel; my daughter and I were negotiating our way out of Greater Portmore. As we turned on the radio, we heard Mrs. Jackson-Miller’s raised voice saying “Mr. Powell! Mr. Powell! Mr. Powell! No, Mr. Powell!” The man was talking incessantly, as if he were a contestant in the popular BBC radio show, ‘Just a minute’, where you must try to talk for 60 seconds without hesitation, repetition, or deviation, on an obscure or amusing topic. Want to know the origins of Sudoku? You don’t? Well, let me tell you!
He did repeat a lot, so wouldn’t have won, but he ignored the cries to stop.
In Parliament, where this kind of thing happens all the time, MPs just doze off and wake up to find that “Mr. Speaker, I implore you to reconsider whether paragraph 1, as amended by my short intervention, is not much better than the formulation offered by my honourable friend…” is still going on.
Mr. Powell had been asked about the episode of ambush marketing that happened during the final day of Champs. He was giving the prepared remarks, or ‘party line’, if you like. He was not answering the question, just rabbiting on in a stream of generalisations of the kind: “We have done great things for the people of this country and will continue to do this through thick and thin, and we have always shown great concern for the development of youth and…” on and on. The host asked him a question, again. The robot started talking again. “I give up!” she said, “You win!” My daughter, a mere 11, asked “Why can’t he just answer the question?” You know that you’ve lost it when a middle schooler can see that you’ve lost it. She added, “He sounds like a total idiot!” I don’t know where she learnt such language, but I couldn’t fault her assessment.
Another interview, the next day, touching on the same subject, this time with the Chairman of Calabar High School, The Reverend Karl Johnson, gave another example of the spin-and-weave-but-make-sure-you-say-something-florid style. It comes with a lot of coy phrases, and intimations of things that might have been said, or done, though not necessarily said, or done, but if it’s hinted that they have been said, or done, then your appetite will be whetted and you will think that what happened, or was said, is so important that you will keep listening while I say nothing really but keep talking till you realise that I’ve said nothing and we are up to the ad break. The fact that the chairman is a so-called man of the cloth should have warned me: we live in a region where short sermons are three hours, and shortened sermons are two. “Verily, I say unto you…” No! Stop it! My bladder can’t take it.
I don’t think I will get a call to be a radio show host anytime soon, even for one show. I’m tolerant and usually a good listener, but have a bad tendency to want to pour cold gruel over someone’s head when they get into those eye-boggling stream of drivel modes. In medieval times, hot oil to ward off invaders seemed to do the trick. Maybe, it’s a sign of old age that my tolerance for this sort of thing has worn very thin.
Maybe, the solution is to do like the BBC and make light of it all. Give them a platform for blather and call it a game show or late-night talk. Add a few juicy topics and hey presto you’ve a winner. Too simple?
Better still, forget them, and just call Rosie to speak on the topic. At least, she’s riveting. 🙂 “Call the contractor!”