Glenville Ashby, GUEST COLUMNIST
Title: Richard Blackman
Author: K.P. Malor
You can view Richard Blackman through three prisms, each commanding variant philosophical attention. There is the libertine culture of dancehall music and the celebrated DJs who make waves, influencing the minds of our youths for good or bad. You have the cyclical viciousness of male narcissism, sorely misplaced female values and a deluded society on the cusp of imploding, weighed down by irresponsibility, myopia and wanton violence. And finally, there is the struggle for identity through education and industry.
In sociological terms, dancehall culture transcends music. It is a questionable code of conduct and system of mores that define identity and self worth.
And in Malor's work this definition is starkly presented in a single emotive scene of a mother murdered out of spiteful jealousy. It is a wrenching, senseless tragedy that is chastened by a pastor amid wails and threnody. "If this is true, women I ask you, what have you come to? We now live in a time when women will not give a second thought to leaving a flock motherless. What is to happen to our children? What is our legacy to them?"
Then there is the irrepressible will to surmount social illusion through education and self-sustenance as exemplified by Sharine, Blackman's antithesis.
K.P. Malor introduces multiple characters and the reader is cautioned to be attentive. Scenes and time zones dance between each other in this well-constructed appraisal of contemporary Jamaica, and its diaspora. It's a fast-paced, dizzying work that is plied with a fair share of vernacular and expletives. Jamaican life is not all that care free and spirited as the well-oiled marketing machine will have us believe. It is muddled and uninspiring, for the most part.
The question remains: Did the author intend to portray decadent Jamaicans who are talented but shiftless, and industrious but inexorably wasteful and ingratuitous? And what of that Jamaican archetype that is rabidly homophobic, beating free expression into oblivion, or worse? Richard Blackman is a paradoxical bundle that Malor handles with measured fluidity. His overall message is daunting, an indictment on the capriciousness and deadly vacuum that haunts contemporary Jamaica. It is a message stealthily delivered under the guise of celebrity, fame and the self-poisoning baggage that comes along for the ride. Becoming the next Blackman with the celebrity and his amorous and raunchy adventures may excite the fancy of Jamaica's youth, but he is inwardly inane, dry paternally and a victim of his own reckless behaviour.
Blackman shuns commitment and responsibility for the countless children he has fathered. "... the stress thing isn't for me you know," he tells one of his elusive targets.
Family matriarchs must now bear the responsibility for his untenable sexual indiscretions. There is a distinct phenomenology behind Caribbean philandering oftentimes explored in academic circles, but is beyond the scope of Malor's work. And while Malor himself may not fancy 'Ivory Tower' academia, he proves quite an able raconteur. The reader must now glean and separate the wheat from the chaff and identify the significance and relevance of his work.
But all is not socially lugubrious and hopeless, for juxtaposed to a life of music, gonadic pulsations and violence, are tales of Jamaican industry, resourcefulness and patience under trying social and economic conditions. Nature's harshness on rural folks eking out a living is well captured. More impressive is their sturdy resolve. "When there was drought or a flood, the farmyard would still eke out a living ... the worst oranges would be their lunch. And if there was no ackee ... many times, it was just the plain turned cornmeal." For sure, our ancestors worked tirelessly, but few of their seeds have borne worthy fruits.
Blackman crisscrosses the Atlantic to the United Kingdom and the United States, where there is a sizeable Jamaican diaspora. He introduces one of the brighter stars, Tulip and her family, determined to ease the hardship of Grandma Thelma, who has sacrificed for her children and grandchildren amid tragedies. The overachiever, Theo, is the vaccine against poverty and a culture of dependence that have blighted black families in Jamaica and abroad.
Theo lectures to his girlfriend Cathy, "I think ... about those women, I think about many struggles fought yesterday for the benefits we enjoy today. I don't take these things for granted, never ever, perhaps because of my mother, my father, my upbringing. When I look at you, I feel regret for the struggles won for us, for you, not only as a woman, but especially as a black woman ... ."
Marlor's message is lucid: Bearing multiple children with a slew of fathers speaks more about an inter-generational curse than fanciful libidos.
He challenges Jamaican youth, setting a stage for a confrontation between ignorance and enlightenment, and that of productivity and lassitude.
In the end, Blackman gets his comeuppance attempting the unthinkable - sexual assault on none other than Sharine, his childhood friend.
Is the unexpected outcome of his searing sexual urges enough to jolt his senses? More important, will proponents of dancehall culture reflect on its insidious and destructive side and trumpet a more socially positive message? Unfortunately, the jury is still out on this highly charged debate.
Rating: Interesting Read.
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