What the hell is go­ing on

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

Con­tro­versy about the changes that come to pop­u­lar cul­ture are some­what amus­ing in that part of the com­men­tary is the in­gre­di­ent of sur­prise, even shock and out­rage, as ex­pressed in the fre­quent “what the hell is go­ing on” re­ac­tion. Whether we like it or not, the re­al­ity is that cul­tures con­stantly change and in the furor in re­cent days about var­i­ous be­hav­iours in the new “Guyana car­ni­val”, what we’re see­ing is sim­ply an ex­pres­sion of to­day’s cul­ture – of what to­day’s mar­ket wants; that’s what the hell is go­ing.

Mankind for­gets its his­tory very quickly, so that we seem to have not no­ticed that th­ese con­flicts be­tween what was and what is, or is about to be, are con­stantly in play through­out our past. Fur­ther­more the changes are not con­fined to the pop­u­lar mu­sic or dance moves of the day; they are tak­ing place across the board in every­thing from the clothes we wear, to the foods we eat, to our moral stan­dards, even to the way we speak, the way we com­mu­ni­cate, and even to the ap­pli­ances of ev­ery-day life. In the mid­dle of the car­ni­val row, for ex­am­ple, I was struck by a co­in­ci­den­tal series of posts on Face­book where per­sons were rem­i­nisc­ing on var­i­ous prod­ucts in the so­ci­ety, com­mon in ear­lier times, but vir­tu­ally ex­tinct now. Among them was the hand-made wooden scrub­bing board for wash­ing clothes. An ev­ery­day item when I was grow­ing up in Guyana, one would ob­vi­ously have to ex­plain to a teenager to­day what the hell is that weird piece of wood with grooves cut in it. Change, in fact, is a con­tin­uum in so­ci­eties on earth; it is con­stant and per­va­sive.

Con­sider, for ex­am­ple, that there was a time in this coun­try (I was about 10 years old then) when a ma­ture woman’s dress al­most in­evitably cov­ered her from an­kles up to her neck – that was the com­monly ex­pected stan­dard – and while I don’t re­call the furor when the hems rose and the neck lines were low­ered, there were clearly per­sons shout­ing “dis­grace­ful” back then, as they are shout­ing to­day at the skimpy car­ni­val wear. What I do re­mem­ber is that Trinidad Car­ni­val of 1967, the first year I saw it, was a rel­a­tively con­ser­va­tive crea­ture in that re­gard, and the changes that even­tu­ally came in were grad­ual, but steady, un­til we got to the level we see to­day. The point, again, is con­tin­uum. What we are see­ing is not an overnight out­burst from some de­mented in­di­vid­ual; we are see­ing the grad­ual pro­gres­sion of evo­lu­tion, and no­tice that the change is al­ways up on the graph of more lax moral po­si­tions, if you will. It is al­ways a case of more lee­way, rather than less, in the cul­ture, so that we never see a fash­ion de­signer com­ing out one year of­fer­ing dresses with low­ered hem lines and reach­ing up to just un­der the chin. And no­tice, too, that th­ese so­ci­etal shifts are tak­ing place with­out any street protests (like the park­ing me­ter ones) in­di­cat­ing that pop­u­lar sup­port for them has been es­tab­lished via a grad­ual and ex­pertly or­ches­trated pub­lic test­ing over time, as op­posed to the park­ing me­ter ap­proach.

To take one par­tic­u­lar as­pect, con­sider the ques­tion of cleav­age in fe­males. I guar­an­tee you that, aside from per­haps see­ing a mother nurs­ing a child, young men in the 1960s would have no knowl­edge what­so­ever of cleav­age. In­deed, most of us were not even aware of the word in that con­text. Con­sider where that con­tin­uum has taken us when we con­sider the dif­fer­ence to­day; not only are the mod­els in the fash­ion show at the Mar­riott dis­play­ing it, but “cleav­age” abounds in the au­di­ence, as well, and, here’s the key point, there is not a mur­mur of protest about it. The con­tin­uum of change has over­taken us and while a few prudes may still ex­ist, they are seen as relics from an­other time to be laughed at and ig­nored.

To nar­row the dis­cus­sion, that is ex­actly the process that has been go­ing on in the field of mu­sic, so that ma­ture peo­ple to­day who tell the young party-goer “your mu­sic sucks” are miss­ing the boat com­pletely. In fact, such a ma­ture per­son is blind to the fact that in his youth, his own par­ents were dis­miss­ing that per­son’s pop­u­lar mu­sic, as he is now do­ing. It’s just an­other case of the wheel of life turn­ing and cre­at­ing ex­cite­ment in the young pa­tron but dis­may in his/her elder.

It is the same story in the evo­lu­tion of car­ni­val mu­sic. When Tradewinds started in 1966, calypso was the mu­sic of the day; our first hit, Honey­moon­ing Cou­ple, was in that genre. But by the early 1980s, in a more fast­paced world, the con­tin­uum of change re­sulted in Lord Shorty’s ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with the shift to soca (in­ter­est­ingly, some Trinidad band­leaders were ini­tially dis­dain­ful of it) and the Trini song-writ­ers since then have moved soca it­self into an­other gear with higher tem­pos, more em­pha­sis on drum tracks, and high-en­ergy per­for­mances.

The shift to more skimpy fe­male cos­tum­ing in car­ni­val is an­other ex­am­ple of it with the con­tin­uum be­ing to less and less and with the Brazil­ians even go­ing as far as to nu­dity in car­ni­val bands, with only body paint cov­er­ing the more pri­vate parts.

Although the process of change is not a very ex­act sci­ence, it is clear that so­ci­eties, over time, have found ways to in­tro­duce th­ese changes in an ac­cept­able man­ner, and they per­co­late across the spec­trum, so that while “back­balling” may still of­fend some, even our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers have been seen try­ing the move, al­beit with some hes­i­ta­tion.

Ul­ti­mately, the com­plaints about car­ni­val be­hav­iours are sim­ply run­ning up against cur­rent pop­u­lar cul­ture which sees noth­ing wrong in them, and most of the con­sumers of the prod­uct would dis­agree with pop­u­lar arts critic and colum­nist Al Creighton who sees the Trinida­dian prod­uct, in my words, as di­min­ish­ing Guyanese cul­tural ef­forts. It is a to­day prod­uct for to­day’s world, and the peo­ple drawn to it would dis­miss the neg­a­tives. In the light of Mr. Creighton’s point, how­ever, one could be ex­cused for ask­ing, “What the hell has Trinidad let loose on us?”

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