Thu | Dec 14, 2017

Brian-Paul Welsh | Fiction and reality

Published:Monday | October 9, 2017 | 12:00 AM

I recently had the pleasure of watching this summer's blockbuster horror film IT, an homage to Stephen King's epic novel and a remake of the 1990 film that still haunts some of my dreams. It tells the tale of Pennywise, a murderous clown of demonic origin who terrorises the children of a rural American town by exploiting their worst fears, ultimately consuming them in the most heinous ways imaginable. IT torments, then devours its prey by conjuring the things that frighten them most through a series of increasingly insidious acts, exposing each debilitating fear, then swiftly disposing of the crippled victim.

In Stephen King's narrative, we are told IT chooses to prey on children because their fears are easier to make manifest in physical form, with the resulting terror akin to 'salt(ing) the meat'. The earlier film, though somewhat cheesy by today's standards of photorealistic special effects, made up for its lack of visual sophistication by the brilliant use of human psychology to trigger the fright response at frequent intervals.

As a child, this proved far more effective in inducing my nightmares than the gratuitous blood-and-gore scenes found in similar films of the time. I still look for IT (as well as The Hulk) whenever I detect any sudden movements in my peripheral vision or enter a bathroom with heavy shower curtains. I also still look for the Candyman lurking in the mirror, but I'll leave that one for my therapist to help me figure out.

Despite retaining many other deep-seated fears from a childhood spent fascinated by thrilling stories such as these, Pennywise, the dancing clown, has remained a source of persistent intrigue, specifically for what the character represents as the embodiment of manipulated fear. Such fears are typically as irrational, but nonetheless, if executed correctly, the person or entity behind it can achieve great power and get people to do their bidding quite easily.

In the original book, as well as its derivative films, the children discovered that conquering the fear of Pennywise and the trickery that empowers him would reveal his underlying nature. Once they recognised the folly of their fears, they saw the clown for what he truly was and his horrific faÁade dissipated, giving them the courage to vanquish him once and for all.

Just as in Scooby Doo, the Wizard of Oz and all the other stories successfully utilising this allegorical device, IT encourages us to look beyond the veil and see things, and people, not as they appear, but for what they are.

Given our own cultural heritage of Anancy stories and taking into consideration our political history of trickery and bamboozlement, it should be of little surprise that tales of evil apparitions with a penchant for mischief would find local resonance, since we have been terrorised by such beings, for centuries, wearing the costume of suits and ties.

 

Charismatic clown

 

Interestingly, right now, the world is enraptured by a charismatic clown prone to misanthropy that is reputed to be penny wise, while on this idyllic isle, his minions and apologists continue their grand deception while forever remaining pound foolish.

Jamaican politicians have given us some of the best examples of chicanery in this hemisphere, gathering an impressive array of deceptive devices to exploit our fears, and continuing the legacy of their colonial masters who instituted this corrupt tradition several centuries before.

Take, for example, the brouhaha over the recent reluctant admission that achieving five per cent growth in Jamaica's gross domestic product in four years was "aspirational"; and, therefore, an unfair basis on which to judge the performance of the super-friends assembled by the anointed one, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, at considerable public expense.

 

Angrily dismissed

 

Everyone who took notice of the illusion was angrily dismissed, despite the glaring imaginary stretch required to even conceive such a reality. Those whose memory hasn't yet been erased by JLP hypnosis will recall the prime minister famously saying: "This Government will make sure that we are faithful to the sacrifice that the people have made."

Similarly, the goddess, affectionately called Jah by the peasants, recently revealed an insatiable taste for human sacrifice after encouraging poor farmers to produce more boxes of coffee, despite the prevailing conditions clearly making the industry unsustainable. Coffee farmers are now being offered J$6,000 (US$46.57) per box of coffee cherries weighing 60lb or 27kg. The contents of each box will yield about 9.6lb or 4.4kg of coffee after processing, earning about US$176 at approximately US$40 per kilogramme, a spread of nearly 400 per cent.

For the farmers already barely eking out a living on scraps from the master's table, the suggestion that they should work harder seems cruel, yet in some quarters, their dissent is already being treated like sacrilege against Bustamante's ghost.

Just as the kids in the imaginary world of IT banded together to defeat the lies of Pennywise, so, too, must the children of the plantation reject the deception of this phantom called Prosperity.

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