Ian Boyne | Kartel - mirror to our soul
A society in which convicted criminal Vybz Kartel is a hero and in which he elicits cult-like, murderous devotion is a society in its death throes culturally. Kartel holds up a mirror to our national soul, unveiling its tragic emptiness and ennui.
Kartel is the miner's canary: The Kartel Phenomenon provides a glum warning sign of cultural collapse. Lisa Hanna, the latest victim of the dancehall rabble, puts it poignantly in reacting to the torrent of violent abuse and threats that descended on her for merely suggesting a discussion about whether the murderer's music should be played on public airwaves: "The undisguised violence and vulgarity of the disagreements posted and the sheer volume of antisocial attitudes were like megaphones screaming at Jamaicans to wake up and smell the decay into which Jamaica's proud history of decency and mutual respect have plummeted."
I have been warning about the deleterious effects of negative dancehall for decades, including the times when Lisa and her party were utilising it to win elections. My only entry in Wikipedia is as dancehall's most famous Jamaican critic. No one has been listening. Well, I did win a couple of journalism awards for my anti-negative dancehall columns. But lecturers at the University of the West Indies kept trotting out the same well-worn, useless, diversionary excuses for violent, misogynistic dancehall, disguising itself as cultural liberation from bourgeois values. So this is where we are today, with the lumpenproletariat now armed with the weapon of social media to spew their murderous threats. Happily, Lisa is undaunted. In a recent piece in the Jamaica Observer, she writes feelingly: "Every day every Jamaican is faced with choosing between what's right versus the new normal. But our courage is being held hostage by a culture of aggressive abuse and violent threats that passes for disagreement."
What's even more distressing than the rantings of the rabble is that those who have had some schooling are displaying only milder forms of that aversion to reason. The quality of our public discourse is appallingly low. It's hard to hold a conversation with interlocutors who don't even understand the questions, let alone know how to answer them. The non-sequitur reasoning, logical fallacies and straw-man argumentation used would work well for an introductory course in straight and crooked thinking.
People don't try to understand an argument before they critique it. All kinds of nonsense are being invoked about fighting against poor people's culture, trying to impose uptown values on ghetto youth, and despising our indigenous culture while exalting what is foreign. There is also the sophistry about not censoring art. It's all tiresome, tedious trivia that is a fugitive of reason.
If you want a breath of fresh air in all this fog of unreason, you have to read attorney-at-law Chuck Cameron's Observer article of last Monday titled 'The case of Vybz Kartel's music on the airwaves'. Now, Chuck is someone with whom I have sparred on this dancehall matter, with his defending dancehall against me. I debated him both in print and on air. I could not believe he wrote this piece, and if anyone doesn't know who Chuck Cameron is, don't try any ad hominem attacks on him as some uptown guy who is dismissive of dancehall.
His is the only article you need to read on this issue of whether Kartel's music should be played on air. Chuck's reasoning is compelling and coercive. He has a few questions: What is the policy regarding recording music in the prison where Vybz Kartel is being held? If the recording is permitted, has Vybz Kartel been given the permission to record songs? Is the prison providing the equipment to record the music? If not, has it authorised the equipment used to record the songs?
"If the recording of the music is permitted in the prison where he is being held and he has received permission to do so and the recording has been done on authorised devices, so be it. That should be the end of the story, as I can see no reason his songs recorded in prison should be banned from the airwaves assuming they are fit for airplay, of course." Flawless reasoning.
He continues: "If there was no permission, it would mean that the songs recorded by Vybz Kartel would be the product of criminal conduct. When songs are played on the airwaves, they generate direct income for the creators and recorders of the songs. Every time a radio station plays a Vybz Kartel song, it is required to pay the collecting societies money for the use of his copyright, known as royalties. The collecting society then pays these monies collected to the creators and recorders of the music."
I don't usually quote so much from a local column, but today I can't resist. The reasoning is too commanding. Hear Chuck: "It would mean, therefore, that the radio station ... will be benefiting from criminal conduct when they receive advertising dollars. In other words, they would be receiving and benefiting from the proceeds of crime either directly or indirectly." So this issue is bigger than Vybz Kartel. Lisa has opened a can of worms bigger than even she realised.
Cliff Hughes' Nationwide, which broke this story, might experience whiplash. For, if, as Cliff suspects, Kartel has been recording illegally and one of his deejays is playing his songs when he is asleep or relaxing with his friends listening to some soothing love songs, he is benefiting from the proceeds of crime. And so would my station, which owns this newspaper!
Attorney Chuck: "The Proceeds of Crime Act states that a person commits an offence if that person engages in a transaction that involves criminal property or if that person has possession of criminal property and knows that the property is criminal property." Cliff had better ensure that his deejays, including Miss Kitty, don't play any more Kartel songs, for the prison authorities have denied knowing anything about his recording.
A silly comparison is made with Oku Onuora, who was allowed to do his poetry and to perform outside of prison as part of Manley's progressive prisoner rehabilitation programme in the 1970s. That was not done secretly. It was a part of government policy. Our commissioner of Corrections says she is clueless about how his music is being produced. She says she has heard rumours. If Kartel is producing music without permission, his criminality continues in prison, and radio stations that play his music would be complicit in this criminality. Their journalistic right hand can't claim that the left hand playing the music is autonomous.
"Is the commissioner of corrections exposed to a charge of misconduct in public office by not preventing this criminal conduct, whether directly or indirectly?" Chuck asks. He goes on to say that radio stations "could be exposed to a charge of aiding and abetting Vybz Kartel in money laundering and committing the act of money laundering themselves". The seriousness of this article must have escaped the media. But it won't now.
Another first-rate, masterfully argued piece comes from another critic of mine, Andre Shackleford, who is studying for the LLM at the prestigious Cambridge University. You have to read it. It's titled 'Dancehall and crime in Jamaica' (Gleaner, February 24). He recites some of the common cop-out arguments given by the UWI dancehall apologists and fellow travellers and demolishes all of them, with intellectual delight.
We have sown to the wind, and we are reaping the whirlwind.
- Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.