Mon | Aug 20, 2018

Brian-Paul Welsh | The sky is falling

Published:Wednesday | April 26, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Henny Penny is a popular old European fable that forms part of the moral instruction many Jamaicans are subjected to from infancy as a remnant of the colonial institution.

In the more widely known depictions, it tells the tale of Chicken Licken, who comes to the alarming conclusion that the sky is falling down after an acorn drops on his head. A plan is then hurriedly hatched to save the animal kingdom by racing to the capital to bring the terrible news to the birdbrains in charge.

Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, and a menagerie of similarly impressionable fowls join him on this quest, and together they all race to tell the king of the terrible calamity they are convinced is on the horizon. In some retellings, they make it all the way to the castle, but in the version of the story made popular in West Indian schools, the troupe eventually meets Foxy Loxy, who convinces them to follow him down a different path, straight to a cave where he gobbles them up.

This story has been used for centuries as a tool to dissuade children from being gullible, and more specifically in our cultural context as a warning to see people's business and leave it alone. But for me, lately, it has taken on new resonance in this modern era of rapid and largely dreadful news carrying.

In this epoch, media are central in the creation and dissemination of information, and journalism, as we have come to know it, principally serves the purpose of arousing public interest on matters of moral concern so as to trigger the action of key influentials like those in government.

Just as the chicken in the fable scuttled about the place scratching at the surface before something big hit him on the head causing him to raise a commotion, journalists in Jamaica roam from Cherry Gardens to Tivoli Gardens picking up clues before stumbling upon a conclusion, and from then it's a frenzied race to raise an alarm with the king and his cronies so they will hopefully do something about it.

The presentation of facts, commencement of the ensuing debate, and the climactic conclusion typically run on a weekly cycle, and during this perilous time, the nation is consumed by the plots of a cunning editor who decides which stories will be killed or maimed before reaching the desired audience. The tale of the silly chicken that believes the sky is falling down is a fitting allegory in these times of habitual moral panic for how it amusingly encapsulates the hysteria of a global village in perpetual crisis.


Looming armageddon


As the world according to CNN draws dangerously close to nuclear Armageddon, it has become increasingly difficult to avoid the tall tales of modern media, and similar to my failed Kardashian exile plan, it seems the contemporary news drama is now at the point where it has become a ubiquitous aspect of all our interactions with media and society.

Information technology is now so seamlessly integrated into every facet of life that keeping up with the news no longer requires any special effort beyond compulsively scrolling through the live compilation of village chatter put together by algorithms on our phones.

With facts changing so frequently and highly excitable spectators now expecting to be entertained instead of informed, even offering commentary on daily happenings runs the risk of quick redundancy if one follows the ever-changing whims of the fickle herd. Nowadays it is easier to be a Chicken Licken or a Henny Penny for the sake of popularity than it is to glean useful information on happenings in the kingdom and share it widely for the public's benefit.

As the heavens opened up on Cocky Locky and his merry band of feathered friends making their recent strut through the king's town and causing a terrible racket to send their message of good fortune to the prince, I wondered what events could have prompted such raucous delight for those from this particular brood. Given the more muted, some would say dejected, demeanour of the few common fowls observing this unsightly parade, the excitement of those higher up the roost was strangely suspicious.

While the majority on the plantation is gravely concerned about the gloomy skies on the horizon, a few among us have taken strange comfort in the view as observed from their particular vantage.

Apparently, there is some collective delusion making the rounds uptown about a silver lining in the dark clouds now surrounding the prince's tower that the rest of us are yet to discern. Time will tell how this perception differs from reality.

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