27 April 2006

Chair Of Reggae Studies?

Cheap marijuana jokes aside, of course there's no reason why there shouldn't be a department at the University of the West Indies in Kingston devoted so studying Jamaica's most popular indigenous music. But its chairperson, one Carolyn Cooper, appears to be a viciously stupid woman, using her credentials to put an academic gloss on some of the most hateful aspects of Jamaican society. It makes one want to despair over the future, not just of that sorry island, but of other countries, including Britain, whose own cultures have been heavily impacted by the Jamaican diaspora.

In this excellent article, the Guardian's Garry Younge (with whom I've often disagreed in the past, but who deserves full marks for this work) takes us on a nightmarish visit to a country that promotes itself in tourism ads with a sunny reggae track proclaiming "One Love" but routinely sees people beaten, kicked, stoned and stabbed by crazed mobs chanting, "Battyman fi' dead." ("Battyman," also frequently heard on the streets of London and in reggae and dance hall lyrics, is of course Jamaican slang for "fag" or "queer")

And what does the erudite Ms Cooper have to say about this brand of savagery? Well, actually, she seems more concerned about the "artists" who use their music to promote it. "It is the music of young, working-class black people and I think that makes it an easy target," she says. Which presumably means what? That young, "working class" (to use the term loosely, since it's often used by dishonest ideologues to sanitise and romanticise people who've not only never shown any interest in working, but whose primary occupation is preying upon genuine working class people) blacks should be immune from criticism because their anti-social behaviour makes them "an easy target?" Would that criminal and anti-social cultures actually were an easy target; in fact they are a very difficult one, complicated as they are by racial, political and economic considerations, and Ms Cooper seems determined, if anything, to make them an even harder one. She rationalises:
Homophobia is one part of dancehall but you shouldn't reduce it to its homophobic lyrics. It's a heterosexual music. It celebrates heterosexuality by denouncing homosexuality. Other types of music, like R&B, celebrate man and woman. Dancehall does the obverse. But I don't think it incites people to violence. I think people understand the power of metaphor.
I don't know. In my admittedly limited experience, people who engage in frenzied mob murders while chanting "Kill de battyman" might be a bit limited in their ability to comprehend "the power of metaphor." Cooper goes on to claim:
Compared to a big city like New York, you could say Jamaica is homophobic. But not compared to, say, Kansas or smalltown USA. Buju Banton is no less homophobic than George Bush.
That an acredited academic at the country's major educational institution would say such a dishonest and stupid thing does not fill one with hope that things are likely to improve any time soon in Jamaica. Both Kansas and George Bush have their faults, but just as Kansas is not awash in violence, homophobic or otherwise, George Bush has openly or even tacitly advocated the murder of gay people. Jamaica is and Buju Banton has.

1 comment:

Matt Andrews said...

This reminds me of my little sister's school. Jamaican culture (or "chavs") is pretty big amongst her peers, and all the white kids are walking around saying "Jah knows" (only they have no idea what this means, so they're pronouncing it more like "John-o's"). I heard my sister say it and asked her what it meant, and she eventually admitted she didn't know. I got her on Google and we looked up Jah and she found out that he's a Jamaican god. I found it hilarious that these kids all say this stuff but have no idea of whose culture they're stealing. I really hope this "battyman" stuff doesn't infect its way into their vocabularies either.