Carolyn Cooper, Contributor
'Too hot for TV.' That's how LIME TV was marketing its supposedly scorching version of Vybz Kartel's reality show, 'Teacha's Pet'. CVM TV had to be carefully lukewarm for fear of the Broadcasting Commission. Riding on Kartel's notoriety, LIME TV was quite happy to be branded as the corporate sponsor of the titillating show.
Then Vybz Kartel got arrested. And that was that. Unlike CVM TV, which continued to broadcast 'Teacha's Pet', LIME TV abruptly stopped airing the popular reality show. Vybz Kartel and his favourite female students were put in permanent detention. This appears to be a morally upright response to the incarceration of the infamous DJ who is charged with murder, conspiracy to murder, and illegal possession of a firearm.
These are all wicked crimes - certainly not in the subversive dancehall sense of the word. Murder is a truly reprehensible crime which must be condemned with appropriate gravity. All the same, it strikes me that the decision of LIME TV to disassociate itself from the criminal image of Vybz Kartel is not entirely honourable. In our legal system, the accused is still presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. It is true that, in some notorious cases, the guilty are presumed to be innocent, depending on their connections.
At the risk of sounding like a wannabe Teacha's pet, I just can't imagine that Adijah Palmer could really be so foolish as to think that Vybz Kartel could get away with murder. As far as I can tell, he's not a 'name-brand' don with friends in high places. He is only a DJ, however popular in some quarters. Bad as he may appear to be, even Kartel should be given the benefit of the doubt.
LIME's self-serving decision to drop 'Teacha's Pet' seems to be a hastily indecent retreat from a dancehall artiste with whom the company has long enjoyed an excellent working relationship. The moral of this story is that, when you get in serious trouble, that's when you know your real friends and 'bona fide' business associates.
LIME's marketing strategy
Last March, when I invited Kartel to give a talk at the University of the West Indies, Mona, LIME TV eagerly negotiated to carry the event live. The company knew that Kartel was a marketable commodity. It made good business sense to broadcast the DJ's appearance in an unusual setting - a university campus.
The news of Kartel's lecture had gone viral, spreading across the globe on Twitter and other social networks. I was even told about a journalist in Holland who wanted to come for the event, but was worried about whether or not she would be able to get into the venue. The cartoonists had a field day with the unsettling idea of Kartel in the role of lecturer. Teacha is bad enough. But university lecturer?
Tanya Stephens was invited to speak three weeks later, in celebration of International Women's Month. The topic she chose might have seemed bland: 'Music, the Power to Shape Societies'. But it was, in fact, quite provocative. It could be seen as a challenge to Kartel, who has always asserted that he is no role model and takes no responsibility for the impact of his lyrics. Tanya's talk was shaping up to be a clash of ideologies.
Quite apart from any clash, Tanya's lecture promised to be witty and incisive. Tanya Stephens is one of Jamaica's finest lyricists. She writes with an ear in tune with irony and satire. She represents the best of dancehall culture. So I was quite surprised that LIME TV expressed absolutely no interest in broadcasting her talk.
Naively thinking that, perhaps, the communications company was out of the loop, I got in touch to see if it wanted to carry the lecture. I got a polite response: "Saw your article in Sunday's paper ... . Thanks so much for checking. We won't be able to broadcast tomorrow's lecture, but ask that you keep us in the loop w/any upcoming lectures etc that you may have."
There was no explanation for why LIME TV was not 'able' to broadcast Tanya's lecture. I felt free to speculate. Tanya Stephens is not a controversial artiste like Vybz Kartel. She doesn't bleach; she doesn't sell cake soap, skin brighteners for men, daggering condoms or rum; her body is not covered with tattoos; she's not into hype. She's simply a brilliant lyricist and a compelling performer. I suppose LIME TV figured there was no profit in that.
Too much reality
So far, I've not put on any more lectures in the reggae studies series. I'm trying to get Burning Spear, 'Toots' Hibbert and Bob Andy to speak about their careers. They are three of the songwriters whose lyrics are studied in the 'Reggae Poetry' course offered by the Department of Literatures in English at the University of the West Indies. Incidentally, I've never had to resort to sexy advertising to fill that course. Popular culture sells itself.
When I do confirm the reggae/dancehall lecture series for this academic year, I'll definitely keep LIME TV in the loop. Hopefully, the communications company will recognise that there's a huge audience for this kind of intellectual debate. And there's also a big profit to be made from trading in ideas, not only in hype and notoriety.
CVM TV has resisted all the pressure from religious leaders and other upstanding citizens to drop 'Teacha's Pet'. It's the youth market that counts. And even though the star is out of circulation, the show will go on. I anticipate episodes in which enthusiastic pets vie to see who will be lucky enough to take Sunday dinner to jail for di Teacha. Perhaps, though, that will be just too much reality. After all, reality shows are actually about the illusion of reality.
Carolyn Cooper is a professor of literary and cultural studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Visit her bilingual blog at http://carolynjoycooper.wordpress.com/. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.