Sun | Jan 21, 2018

Brian-Paul Welsh | The new norm

Published:Tuesday | April 11, 2017 | 12:00 AM

As if the weekly news bombardment couldn't get any more bizarre, this time around we were confronted by a slew of particularly shocking narratives ranging from machete-wielding toddlers to legally justified infanticide, and treated to every bit of juicy mix-up in-between.

At a glance, the headlines paint such a ghastly image of this Fair Isle that it is no wonder our home-grown version of the Queen's political pantomime has continued in popularity all these years, providing the natives their regular dose of cheap thrills and belly laughs to momentarily ease the painful tolls they encounter along their arduous journey, while enriching the actors, affording them glamorous lives.

We must have developed this peculiar sense of humour in order to escape the tribulations we face so often while using our more common senses. Finding amusement in the midst of strife is something we have now become culturally attuned to, making good fodder for opinion columnists to prattle across newspaper pages, and creating a jovial atmosphere in which we, the suffering natives, can find some much-needed comic relief.

As is the case with other soap operas, where if you return after missing out on a few months or years of engagement you are not likely to be very far from where you left off, in our own localised 'poppy show', if one were to delve into the news archives of a century ago, they would probably find footage of Dorraine Samuels calmly delivering the same nightly news recital as she will tonight.


Whenever another gruesome tale rocks the nation, there is typically the accompanying temptation to ask 'What is Jamaica coming to?' in a nostalgic appeal for a return to greater sensibility. Yet, each time we think we have reached the depths of our depravity, something else happens to set another extreme limit and send a new message about the nature of this society.

Many years ago, some thought the execution of a pregnant peasant in broad daylight by a uniformed officer of the law was something that could only happen in supposedly more backward and uncivilised places like Haiti, with their marauding Macoutes. Yet last week, we were reminded that in Jamaica, the killing of a virago by Her Majesty's servant can still escape criminal sanction in 2017, the same way it would in 1817.

Similarly, many thought if we all put our heads in the sand, the practice of decapitation that was trending for some -time among the tribal warriors would never again be seen, until recently when schoolchildren started replaying these incidents, in addition to their more commonplace habits of impaling and disembowelling each other for cell phones and sneakers.

With the frequency of our exposure to such appalling behaviour and the apparent absence of a sensible solution, it would appear that the current state of affairs represents the new norm, and as usual, it will take something even more horrifying than the last to briefly energise our fatigued collective conscience and get the town jabbering for a few days; that is, until new headlines announce the next calamity and the never-ending news cycle begins once more.

Given our perpetual state of insecurity and the absence of a crime plan despite decades of talk, these days, the only thing compelling enough to distract us from fretting about our looming demise is the annual 'tracing' match between Babsy and Lisa about who wastes money more efficiently.

In the 1990s when Rodney Pryce stood in the square and bellowed "Poor people fed up", he was responding to the excruciating social and economic circumstances of the time. Things have got objectively worse since then, and despite the illusion of prosperity being expertly crafted by this new troupe of green wizards, there is growing unease among the villagers who are painfully aware if even one more tax is levied, they might just revolt.

The chief sorcerer might have the most difficult job of all conjuring spells from his tower in the sky. For no matter what goes wrong from his perspective, the audience must never lose confidence or the whole thing will unravel. So he must grin and bear it, even as the stage collapses around him, and try his best to convince us it's all part of the show.

There is surely more magic left in their book of spells, other concoctions to help the bitter medicine go down. Only time will tell which pills were truly effective and which were placebo, but still we suffer through the experiments of political science.

• Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to and, or tweet @islandcynic.