Tue | Mar 20, 2018

Brian-Paul Welsh | Culture clash

Published:Tuesday | December 6, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Brian-Paul Welsh
The original Yellow Pages cover.

While stumbling through the 'stoosh' bush trying to locate my car after the latest society soirÈe, I overheard a security guard marvelling at the ostentatious lifestyle of Jamaica's moneyed elite that exists in sharp opposition to his own humble means.

The section of the parking lot where my old faithful jalopy was kotched contained enough wealth on wheels and in pockets to eliminate Jamaica's debt crisis, if so invested; while in the shadows of this fabulous shindig, the staff watched as their employers joyously drank and passed out far in excess of their own 'dis-respectively' meagre salaries.

"When yuh have yuh money, yuh can jus' live yuh life!" was the astute observation he shouted to his colleague as I walked by, synchronously doing the promoter's high-income projections based on the horde of high-end vehicles filling the parking lot.

As I observed the guardians of this wealth contemplating their financial security, I was reminded yet again that we inhabit a paradise of paradoxes.

We all know Jamaica to be a mysterious land of contrasts, opposition and seeming contradictions. These quirks in our identity, as bizarre as they often seem, can easily go unnoticed and are certainly undiscussed in these times of prosperity.

Take, for instance, the hullabaloo last week caused by those pious uptown churches in their condemnation of the Yellow Pages for daring to publish a depiction of Jamaicans at play. The romping wasn't as rough as a contemporary example would have been, but, nonetheless, Lennox Coke's vivid depiction of 1990s dancehall, nostalgic and celebratory in its tone, was deemed offensive to high cultural sensibilities and, therefore, an offence to public morality.

What was, in fact, depicted was our indigenous cultural masquerade during a period considered by many to be it's golden age, and for this image to be the embodiment of vulgarity.




Coke's powerful visualisation aroused some members of the church whose mission as morality police so often conflicts with the advancement of the ages.

Their decision to target the Yellow Pages shows this clearly. The young people whose spiritual development they are so keen to protect have inclination to look to the Yellow Pages as a moral or telephonic compass for that matter.

If they want to be titillated by sensual images, they can literally request it from their smartphones, or they can be the star of their own show by taking a selfie and waiting for it to go viral.

Ironically, this furore originated right here in the land of reggae, in a supposedly well-to-do segment of this UNESCO Creative City, during a period celebrated as Reggae Week!

These paradoxes don't escape attention, especially when the habits of the key players in this charade are considered.

The chief protagonist in this desperate plot for attention by the Pharisees hails from the Soca Kingdom, and having fled that inferno without looking back, there is now manifest intention to make Jamaica a healthier society by eliminating one indigenous vice at a time.

If that sounds familiar, it's because we recently saw similar political machinations whip our northern neighbours into a righteous frenzy to wash away the nation's sins, though many still interpret that to mean making it white as snow.

I can't describe this latest publicity stunt as purely religious per se, inasmuch as it uses conservative religion as the vehicle for the realisation of a totally conservative State.

For the controversy surrounding the depiction of the dancehall space as it was done, the celebration of the culture of lowly people on the cover of a publication once considered a hallmark of the highly cultured is really an expression of that underlying prejudice.

The issue of what is high culture versus low culture, posh and crass, cannot always be easily distinguished in our sometimes contradictory state.

When Miss Kitty got into a catfight with the other fluffy puss in boots, many cringed, while others squirmed, lapping up all the juicy drama broadcast on prime-time television.

Meanwhile, when Deejay Spice led an innocent call-and-response Keigel exercise during her performance for Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and the other good girls in attendance, the same hypocrites we see palancing in the road and on their drunken headtops at carnival become the ones to heap scorn because the rest of us prefer to boom-flick and 'kin puppalick' in a dancehall session.

Since an image of our culture is not good enough to represent this culture, who decides what can represent this culture, and what authority do they have to so do?

• Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and brianpaul.welsh@gmail.com, or tweet @islandcynic.