Sun | Feb 25, 2018

Daniel Thwaites | Kartel mash up society?

Published:Sunday | March 5, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Anyone who has bothered to pay the slightest attention to Vybz Kartel's prodigious output has long been aware that he's a sociopath. Kid not thyself: He isn't celebrated in spite of his sociopathy, but because of it.

Antisocial attitudes are held in high esteem in many quarters. Nor should it come as a jaw-dropping surprise that the most committed fans of a sociopath get unhinged relatively quickly and will say and write vicious things in his defence.

Having made that observation while counting myself among Kartel's (less-ardent) fans, I suppose I have some explaining to do. For it would seem that I am guilty of an elemental hypocrisy, enjoying something which probably isn't that good for me or anyone else.

My only weak excuse is the self-evident truth that most enjoyable things aren't that good for you, and the things that are good for you don't tend to be very enjoyable.

And then let's not be too harsh about a little low-level hypocrisy, for as the adage reminds us: "Hypocrisy is the homage vice renders to virtue."

The danger, it appears, is when people forget that something is a vice, and then try to convince themselves it's not one, maybe even good. This, however, is a general malady afflicting so much around us: the renaming and rebranding of stupidity and evil. It's sort of like the people who tell you that drinking rum is just great for your health.

Anyway, being a fan of Lisa and Kartel, you can imagine the distress of the last couple weeks. But from a while back, I could tell that Lisa was heading into uncharted territory by publicly noting the dilapidation of our pop culture. In fact, an anecdote she shared even before the whole Kartel flare-up (It's Time to Get Real) is quite unforgettable:

"I no longer have children dance competitions in my constituency as any part of fun day activities that I have as MP. Why? Because I remember having to take a four-year-old from off the top of her head while the other three little girls dropped to the floor in splits ... ."


I know of another MP who attended a school where the 'talent show' featured clear-eyed innocents only about five or six years old, dressed up in tights gyrating aggressively to the lyrics, "I want a man fi dismankle mi!"

Now remember, we were trying to have a civilisation here. But I find these stories darkly humorous because they force us to confront the idea that perhaps we've actually abandoned that difficult enterprise, even though we may not yet be quite ready to admit it.

As a general point, of course, there's no question that Lisa is in the right to point to our society's incipient madness of feeding the children offal but expecting them to produce diamonds. As if life isn't tough enough already, and self-discipline isn't already difficult, we burden them by valorising antisocial attitudes and behaviours, then expect them to do the opposite to find success in real life.

As I understand it, Lisa merely questioned how Kartel seems to be constantly releasing new music despite his supposed incapacitation. She also wondered aloud whether we should be debating the question of banning the music of convicts. The major point seemed to be the porousness of the prison system.

Predictably, the social-media response was swift, intense, and vicious. Say what you will, but our people's talent for invective, however deformed in choosing its targets, is as sharp as ever. The overwhelming number of outraged respondents, from what I could discern behind the rape threats and so on, were incensed that a politician would put another ding in their suffering idol. As in the conflict in the original Middle East Gaza, this conflict was about a woefully small bit of territory, and seasoned liberally with misinformation and misunderstanding, but all the more vicious because of that.

By the way, I wouldn't want to see Kartel's music banned from airplay, and I would oppose any such blanket prohibition on convicts. That's different, of course, than whether he should be recording while incarcerated. If that's happening, as seems evident, those responsible should face the music.


Since history should always inform us, consider the great artistes who were jailbirds at one time or another. It's an impressive list. And we're not talking about throwaway talents either: Billie Holliday, James Brown, Ronald Isley, Leadbelly, Rick James, and mucho importante, let's not forget Ol' Dirty Bastard of the Wu Tang. Nor do we have to look abroad. Some of our very greatest spent time in the can: Toots was incarcerated, and Don Drummond. In the final analysis, we don't know if Kartel is someone with the usual mixture of good and evil who did something really awful, or a completely psychotic murderer.

Of course, in light of the conviction, you view everything that he puts out a little differently, the way every movie by Woody Allen looks slightly different once he 'convicted himself' by marrying his stepdaughter. In Kartel's case, you might hear certain florid threats and descriptions of murderous activity and think: "This cat is the real deal! He wasn't joking around, and he probably wasn't being metaphorical like they argue up at the university."

On another point, I actually believe Vybz should be allowed to continue creating. Only thing is that the majority of the profits ought to be confiscated for the support and maintenance of his victim's family. That way, everyone wins: Lizard's family will have sustenance, the artiste will have self-expression, and, best of all, we the public can continue to, aaahhhhmmm, back it up like dumpa truck.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to