Brian-Paul Welsh | Ignorance is bliss
While reliving the horrors experienced by so many families after another spate of bizarre violence across the country last week, I couldn't help but picture Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett's rictus grin plastered on television screens while the elderly and even suckling babes were being gruesomely slaughtered inside their homes.
While the rest of us were dodging bullets in this latest murder wave, the slickest salesman in a suit was uncharacteristically annoyed as he chastised local media for their insistence on reporting the facts. It isn't surprising to frequently hear Bartlett on the airwaves waxing poetic since he has long distinguished himself by his regular grandiose declarations, but with this particular diatribe in rabid defence of his sacred cash cow, he came just short of insisting that Butch Stewart put Page 2 as the cover of his newspaper.
The fear that an honest portrayal of the brutish life of Jamaicans will frighten visitors and their precious foreign currency away from these shores is not at all new, and is a notion rooted in the idea that our economy can be built by sustaining a relic of colonial frolic.
The concept of tourism as we know it is premised on the idea that the resort is an escape from real life for weary travellers, an island theme park where tourists are royalty for adoring natives, who feed them gratuitously until they are plump. Maintaining belief in this fickle illusion through turbulent times is an amazing accomplishment for the performers assigned the special ministerial roles in the business of political folly, and the continued production of this magic show is a job that gives Ed Bartlett immense pride, something he sees as his personal duty.
FAR FROM REALITY
The script, as carefully crafted by successive tourism ministers, depicts the Jamaican experience as akin to Disney World, Jurassic Park or any other imaginary isle, and just like Peter Pan's Neverland, this place only exists in the mind.
In order to acclimatize to this alternate reality, one has to momentarily suspend belief in things as they see them and instead look through Bartlett's green lenses and see only what he says. The rowdiness of restive villagers mustn't distract from the narrow vision required to keep this mirage visible and as such, these things of bother must be shooed away lest they destroy our delicate delusion. That we have been able to keep up this masquerade for so long into the Information Age, and despite the deluge of despair in which so many of our citizens are frequently awash, is perhaps testament to our cultural affinity for fairy tales and Anansi stories to soothe our despair.
With tourism now emerging as Jamaica's leading industry next to the rapidly growing business of scamming, and with both relying so heavily on successful manipulation for financial viability, it should perhaps be of no surprise that some among us have become experts in these similarly tricky trades and will protect their vested self-interests at all costs.
It seems, historically, our most skilful politicians have either been sociopaths or emotionally obtuse, and as such could wilfully ignore the plight of dead subjects in order to focus on their own narrow objectives. In the case of the 'irie' faÁade on which holiday arrivals carefully depend, we now know that even while the marauding crime monster is devastating our villages, the official position coming from the emissary of the prince is 'see no evil'.
Ed Bartlett's grimacing expression has grown more disturbing as the nation's mood has shifted from the bacchanal of the prosperity carnival, now settling into the sombre song of shattered dreams. With a 20 per cent spike in homicides, there is a melancholy mood in the air, grief now spreading across the island. The affable tourism minister's fixed smirk seems strangely at odds with the trepidation on the faces of the many labourers under his stewardship who must leave the hotels after his armoured convoy departs and return to communities where they don't know if they will live 'til morning.
As Bartlett's veneers flashed before my eyes, I remembered the 1989 film adaptation of Batman where actor Jack Nicholson plays the Joker, a murderous maniac with a permanent toothy smile. Like other such characters already familiar to us, he couldn't resist using the spotlight to deliver a self-aggrandising monologue at every auspicious occasion, famously reciting: "I'm only laughing on the outside; my smile is just skin deep; If you could see inside, I'm really crying; you might join me for a weep"
- Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. He can be reached at email@example.com or @islandycynic on social media.