Mama, look a boo-boo

March 8, 2000
By Terry Joseph

Carnival is exhibitionist-friendly, so the tendency to record every event from a voyeuristic perspective seems complementary, but instead of providing a balanced picture, that approach may be harming the festival instead.

During the recently concluded season, it became clearer at every sequence that the selection of images used in print and television was not accurately describing the larger picture. For openers, we tended to show our women as little else but a group of wanton winers and wavers.

Regardless of their inherent beauty and poise, ladies who danced demurely at fetes seldom attracted the cameras and even among the very winers and wavers, those who didn't show the required amount of cleavage or cheek, ran the risk of being disregarded altogether.

From the pictures, though, we were left to conclude that an overwhelming percentage of the women who go to fetes, invariably become drunk and consequently engage in the most lewd displays.

As we all know, this is simply not true. One picture of two extroverted female deviants, in a fete that might have attracted three or four thousand women overall, hardly comprises evidence that the entire gender has opted for indecent exposure as a way of enjoying the Carnival. But that is precisely the view we come away with. The consumer then extrapolates from the single picture or camera angle to construct an image of the entire fete, coming up with a misguided opinion of what is happening there, resulting in unfair branding of the festival.

Now, its not that I have only run into cloistered nuns at the large yard-parties, nor do Tibetan monks frequent loud soca jams. But neither did any of those fetes I attended feature vulgarity exclusively, or offer incentives to the bravely dressed. And more importantly, where there were such displays, it was not just the black women who let it all hang out.

But in addition to that basic "boo-boo", the very Carnival itself has been forced to endure an equally unflattering spin in the eyes of the media. It is a burden the festival has had to bear for the past 150 years.

The coming of television has not helped and radio has given soca a bad name. At the first hint of a skirmish between what could be as little as .0002 of the patronage of a fete, the media rushes to editorialise about "Carnival Violence" and hastens to interview the police chief. A single tasteless calypso pushes even the Prime Minister to public remonstration.

But there are decent participants, good calypso and sweet pan, highly creative and artistic experiences, management models and significant social and economic activities going on in the Carnival too. On the aesthetic level, there are spectacularly beautiful moments. If only the cameras were there to capture them, then mix those images with the preferred wining shots, we might just come up with a more rounded view of the festival at large and the female bottom in particular.

One such moment, which has been elevated to the top of my lifetime list of Most Memorable Carnival Scenes, was a chip on Monday morning, down the recently paved surface west of the Queen's Park Savannah stage. It featured hundreds of people dancing their way into Jouvert, some even holding their partners in conventional ballroom fashion, all blessed by a light drizzle and swaying to the music of a single-pan band; under a canopy of exploding fireworks.

Mark you, it occurred right where all the cameras were. But up to yesterday, those images had not been reproduced anywhere, perhaps because they held no sexual value, or were unlikely to trigger controversy.

It is no wonder then that the festival's overall value having been measured only by the number of wining images delivered by the media to armchair commentators, results in a view that Carnival's only area of steady growth is in its rate of descent into wanton immorality. We are led to believe that the festival has no identifiable saving graces.

But Carnival continues to produce a number of valuable products. The festival has helped in no small way to bridge class and ethnic gaps in the society, while presenting our best-known export product to the global marketplace and creating industry. In the latter day, it has generated up to $300 million in increased economic activity at the domestic level. And although the real impact on the national psyche may only be appreciated in its absence, Carnival is generally agreed as a kind of pressure-valve that helps to keep possible civil turbulence in check.

So Trinidad Carnival is really not all callous disdain for the environment, a parade of Las Vegas streetwalkers, runaway recklessness, tasteless calypsoes, wanton immorality, intemperate pannists and deviant heaven.

But those who have the responsibility to deliver that larger body of information to the public must first believe it.

Or didn't you notice?


Terry-J at I-Level

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