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Mutiny on the Bounty

By Terry Joseph
August 20, 2004

Based on uncontested reports of thoroughly ruthless acts inflicted on his sailors, William Bligh earned the dubious reputation as the HMS Bounty "Killer" captain, that style blamed for the mutiny led by first-mate Fletcher Christian, as the good ship braved high seas en route from Tahiti to Jamaica in April 1789.

Set adrift in a small boat, Captain Bligh never reached the island but that didn't stop Rodney Price from-perhaps inadvertently-assuming the "Bounty Killer" moniker some 200 years later, enhancing it by a 20th Century "gangsta" image on his website whose domain name is (not surprisingly) "Jamaica's Most Wanted" and tells the story of him being shot at age 12; caught in the crossfire of warring political groups.

Last month, that website posted a touching e-mail message over the signature "Sufferah", presumably a fellow Jamaican now living in Iraq, who said in part: "We suffering in Iraq, Mister Killer, we need more inspirational songs." It is a genre with which Mr Killer is not altogether unfamiliar, having charted with a work called "The Lord is My Salvation".

But early last Sunday at the Summer Fest concert, instead of pandering to the request from Iraq and spending time in that idiom, the dancehall performer was doing it behind bars at the Central Police Station in Port of Spain. Not much later, in a curious twist of history, fans at the Queen's Park Savannah mutinied in his honour.

It all started with his arrest for using obscene language, a known hazard for entertainers who insist on flouting a local law ironically titled The Dancehall Act. Mr Killer having been taken away by police officers he later described as "un-discretional" (oh word, boy!) and, in further defiance, fellow-Jamaican Elephant Man refusing to perform until his countryman was released, coupled with patently poor management of the crisis, triggered the mutiny.

Angered by the non-appearance of their dancehall music heroes, patrons pelted police with bottles, turning the arena into a battle-zone, several rioters coming away with injuries from what was supposed to be a night of fun, probably cussing more than Bounty Killer in the wake of their double disappointment and, if we are to believe police conjecture, committing a number of other crimes on the way home.

Indeed, that was only the beginning. Radio talk shows were inundated with versions of the fiasco and suggestions for resolving outstanding issues. The Downtown Merchants Assocation (DOMA) jumped into the fray midweek with what still sounds like an Olympic quality back-flip from an earlier position, saying the distressed dancehall fans were not responsible for crimes committed during the period immediately following the ill-fated concert.

Easily the most ludicrous of many responses to the mayhem was that of Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) member Olson Holder who, during Wednesday's breakfast meeting at Hilton Trinidad to discuss the upcoming National Day of Prayer for Repentance and Healing, called on government to do quite the opposite-introduce legislation to ban foreign artistes from coming to Trinidad and Tobago to perform; an embargo presumably excluding globe-trotting evangelists.

Clearly, Mr Holder is seeking to start another mutiny that could also be blamed on Bounty, for I have certainly heard from local performers, most recently comedienne Rachel Price doing stand-up at Club 51, pieces containing much more obscene language than what was reported of Mr Killer's opening remarks at Summer Fest.

While I agree with the IRO members about the negative effect such performances have on our youth, Mr Holder must be limiting his thoughts to foreign artistes who come through immigration and Customs and not those that invade homes via cable television for, as everyone knows, the greatest saturation of cussing per hour at any time of day is available by push-button remote-control.

What is even more puzzling is the deafening silence of groups like the IRO on the issue of local music airplay, given the lyrical content of a lot of hip-hop, rap and the very dancehall music which Mr Holder seems dead set against. Equally amazing is the willingness of parents to fund their teenage children's attendance at live performances of these genres.

According to one of this country's finest attorneys with whom I discussed the topic on Wednesday: "We seem to be looking for legal answers to issues that have more to do with social agreement than litigation."

If a group of adults wishes to view closed-hall performances in which the script is sincere to low-life character idiosyncrasies, actors will be required to articulate ghetto-speak. When they don't in such circumstances, the point is lost. The same is true in song and the world is full of such examples.

What can help protect the youth is guidance away from poor taste in general, which would per force include songs of the type that irritate the moral majority. The long-promised cultural policy must also materialise and decide whether we are living in Mormon country, when formulating its position on freedom of expression in theatre.

Failing a clear position on the issue, we may well find ourselves facing another more perilous mutiny, that one coming from the arts community; an uprising that can take as first hostage the very soul of the nation.

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