Damage Control for BMW Drivers

The first time I went to Germany and saw BMW and Mercedes Benz taxis, it was a real eye-opener.  I don’t mean the top-end, private chauffeur market.  We’re talking route taxi.  I once took a BMW taxi from Cologne to Bonn to pick up a visa for Ghana.  I’d gone to a conference and decided to make a quick side trip to West Africa.  I figured that since I was so far from home I might as well keep on travelling back to roots.

Of course, because Bimmers and Mercs are manufactured in Germany they don’t attract the same kind of blind worship there as they do on this side of the Atlantic. True, even in Germany the BMW brand is synonymous with exceptional luxury.  But it is in the export market, particularly in economically impoverished countries like Jamaica, that a BMW becomes such a highly valued commodity that a man would kill for it.

On that score, I keep wondering why did it take so long for the name of the anonymous man to be released.  Is this yet another example of the insightful jackass’ perception that ‘di world no level’?  You can bet your last dollar that if a DJ had been driving that killer car his/her name would have been plastered all over the media as on a dancehall billboard. He or she would have been loudly declared a ‘person of interest.’

But, I suppose, if you drive an X6 in Jamaica you must have lots of money.  And you can use it to buy privacy in a corrupt culture where many law enforcement agents appear to consider themselves above the law.  The alleged killer immediately fled to the U.S.  But how did he manage to get away so easily?  Cynics fear that nothing will come of this case.  But people of good conscience in this country must insist that justice prevail.

A driving obsession

The new association of the BMW brand with murder is an extension of the negative stereotypes the luxury vehicles attract.  BMW must take much of the responsibility for the classist way in which the brand is perceived.  When you define your car as ‘the ultimate driving machine’, you seductively invite your customers to think of themselves as the ultimate human being.  And that’s where the problem starts.

Quite by accident, flipping channels, I ran into CNBC’s documentary on BMW which premiered last Wednesday evening.  The subtitle for the programme, “A Driving Obsession,” is a lovely play on the word ‘driving’.  The primary meaning seems to be an obsession with the pleasure of driving.  But a more worrying interpretation seems to be that BMW is obsessively driven to produce the ultimate driving machine – beyond all reason.

The documentary takes viewers inside the BMW factory.  Oops, dare one say ‘factory’?  It’s more like a temple of totally obsessive materialism.  The most absurd bit of information I picked up for the few minutes I watched is that ‘classically’ trained musicians are employed to produce just the right notes for the sounds the BMW makes to signal various functions.

And talking of ‘classical’ music, I was most amused to discover that   the Nexus chorale has done a remix of   Mr. Clifton Brown’s serendipitous composition, “Nobody Canna Cross It”.  The inventive arranger has transposed DJ Powa’s pop mix into an ‘upscale’ fine art key.  It is pure theatre:

The much celebrated  Mr. Brown made his debut as a performer at
Reggae Sumfest.  Despite his earlier reservations about being exploited, he now appears to be enjoying his celebrity ride.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t so good at riding di riddim.  But he did sound like a powerful fundamentalist preacher.  Perhaps he should stick to the church and not get tempted into the dancehall:

BMW also owns the Mini and Rolls Royce brands.  I turned off the TV when it was reported that a Rolls Royce customer wanted his car to be custom-coloured to match his dog.  I couldn’t stomach it.  Too many people in this world have more cents than sense, as my friend Leahcim Semaj puts it.

‘Bad mind and grudgeful’

Just in case it’s assumed that ‘is bad mind and grudgeful’ that’s motivating my critique of the material excesses of the BMW brand, I must admit that I do drive a BMW.  But, for me, it’s just a car.  It’s not the ultimate anything.   And I routinely provide taxi service. I just can’t pass people trekking up or down the hill and not offer them a ride.  Most are happy to get off their feet after a hard day’s work.  And my payment is lots of ‘God bless yous.’

In assessing potential passengers, I try not to discriminate against young men on principle.  I think it most unfortunate that we tend to criminalise working class youth, most of whom do not fit the stereotype of predator.  The young men who come to work in my neigbourhood are mostly gardeners, plumbers, electricians, masons, painters and the occasional security guard.  They are decent youth struggling to make a living in a society that doesn’t adequately reward honest labour.

I must confess that I did have a rather unusual experience once that made me suspend my taxi service for a while.  One Sunday morning bright and early, as I was heading out to church for a christening, I stopped to give a ride to a young man I thought I recognised.  As soon as he got in the car, he pulled out a gun in an entirely non-threatening manner.

With great glee, my passenger, who was a security guard, explained that he had just gotten the licence to carry a gun and this would now greatly increase his prospects of getting a better-paid job.  I cautiously asked if he wasn’t tempted to use the gun for crime and he assured me that ‘im deh pon di level.’

In retrospect, I realise that it could have gone quite differently.  The guard could have turned the gun on me.  And my BMW couldn’t have saved me from the evils of the human heart.  There are limits to what the ultimate driving machine can do.

Politically incorrect humour

In the recent cabinet reshuffle, Karl Samuda and Dorothy Lightbourne become victims of Bruce Golding’s murderous rage.  Well, that’s the message of Las May’s cartoon last Monday.  Poor Karl and Dor are standing on the sidewalk, like many an innocent pedestrian, minding their own business.   With their back to the street, the ‘sacrificial lambs’ are unaware that a lunatic ‘Driva’ is threatening to mow them down. As the car hurtles towards them, Bruce maniacally observes, ‘They won’t know what hit them!’

And that is supposed to be funny.  In a society where the rules of the road are regularly violated Las May thinks it’s cute to portray the prime minister in this dementedly lawless way.  The cartoon in the morning tabloid that same day wasn’t much better.  Using the identical metaphor of the vehicle as a weapon, the cartoonist portrays the prime minister as a murderer, deliberately pushing Dor to her death.  The driver of that bus, more rational than the ‘Driva,’ attempts to bring the vehicle to a screeching halt.  But he anticipates failure.  So he prophetically exclaims, ‘Dorothy dead now!!’

I can’t blame either cartoonist for the publication of their politically incorrect ‘jokes’.  They are entitled to their twisted sense of humour.  It is the editor of a newspaper who is ultimately responsible for what is published, particularly on the editorial pages.  So that’s where the buck stops.  But since making a buck seems to be the main business of newspapers these days, editors often sell out to sell papers.

‘Only in Jamaica’

Making a joke of the violence on our streets is particularly cavalier coming so soon after the murder of Khajeel Mais.


A deranged man shoots up a taxi, killing a passenger, because his luxury SUV has been damaged in an accident!  It’s the kind of story that makes cynics say, ‘Only in Jamaica.’ But, of course, this kind of demonic rage is not peculiarly Jamaican.  It’s a sign of the times.  Status symbols have much greater value than human beings.  Life is cheap; BMW’s are expensive.

On top of that, the gun itself has become a status symbol.  These days, if you don’t own a gun, ‘yu naa seh notn’.  A gun is like a fashion accessory or a credit card.  You don’t leave home without it, as the American express slogan advises. If the driver of that SUV didn’t have a gun in his possession, Khajeel would still be alive.  In the good old days, the enraged motorist might have had a machete for protection.  And, most likely, someone would have been able to restrain him as he attempted to ‘slew’ the taxi-driver.

Ian Boyne

The gun culture in Jamaica is now so widespread that we will soon have to stop blaming the dancehall DJs for all of the violence in the society. Veteran journalist Ian Boyne is notorious for demonising dancehall music.  In a Sunday Gleaner article, “The Gully-Gaza War,” (September 20, 2009) he piously pontificates:

“It had to come to this. I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so. When some academics were talking mumbo-jumbo and making all kinds of absurd excuses and rationalisation for the decadence in the dancehall, engaging in pathetic shadow boxing, I confronted their intellectual cowardice.

The ‘violence’ that middle-class people like me saw in dancehall lyrics was more a reflection of our literary philistinism and reflexive bourgeois condemnation of poor people’s cultural expression. The violence which we deplored was just harmless metaphor. We were using a hammer to kill a flea and engaging in the usual middle-class – and in my case, ‘fundamentalist’ – hysteria.”

As one of the academics ‘talking mumbo-jumbo’ about metaphor in dancehall culture, I wonder by what circuitous route Ian Boyne could possibly blame the dancehall DJs for the literal violence of our missing SUV driver.  But I don’t put it past him.  Anything is possible once you identify a scapegoat and put the sins of the entire society on the sacrificial victim’s head.

Lyrical gunshots

It’s not only the DJs who ‘draw’ gun violence both literally and metaphorically. Even respectable people in Jamaica who claim they don’t understand the ‘vulgar’ lyrics of the DJs have gotten accustomed to using gun imagery.  You think you’ve found the right solution to a problem.  So you say, ‘That’s the shot.’

A Christian minister rejoices in his Easter morning sermon:  ‘Jesus Christ is risen, pram pram!’  Divine gunshots.   I’m not making it up.  One of my students at the University of the West Indies, Mona, who knows of my interest in the subject of the lyrical gun, reported what she’d heard in church.

Dr. Davidson

I still remember vividly Dr. Winston Davidson’s tribute to his friend Professor Carl Stone at the memorial service. ‘Winty’ used a startling image to convey the extraordinary power of his friend’s mind:  ‘His brain functioned like an M16 rifle set on rapid, supported by an inexhaustible quantity of live ammunition.’

Dr. Davidson’s lyrical turn of phrase is a symbolic gun salute to a fallen hero.  The goodly physician didn’t literally ‘fire two shot’ at the ceiling of the University chapel to punctuate his point.  And he did ask permission to speak colloquially.  He knew he was trespassing on the boundaries of middle-class respectability.

All the same, Dr. Davidson’s lyrical gunshots demonstrate the degree to which gun violence is now accepted as ‘normal’ by all social classes in Jamaica.  In much the same way, we know that road safety is a thing of the past. What is truly terrifying is the fearful prospect that the cartoonists’ provocative portrait of the prime minister as a diabolical ‘Driva’ may not just be politically incorrect humour but an accurate reflection of the affairs of state.  And that’s no reason to say ‘pram pram!’

Driva hits new low

Las May’s cartoon in today’s Gleaner turns the Prime Minister into a raving lunatic.  With murderous intent, the ‘Driva’ deliberately sets out to knock down Samuda and Lightbourne.  This cartoon is even worse than the one in which the PM kicks Miss Dor out of his cabinet.   At least she has a chance of surviving the boot to the butt.  Hit at close range, the duo are dead meat.

Considering the everyday carnage on Jamaica’s roads, it’s really not funny that Las May would portray the Prime Minister as a demented driver.  Fun is fun and joke is joke.  But this cart00n is no joke.  It’s obscene.  How can you turn road rage into a laughing matter?

Garfield Grandison, editor-in-chief

The real problem isn’t Las May’s twisted sense of humour.  It’s the judgment of the Gleaner editors.  Surely, Mr. Garfield Grandison, the man at the top,  must take responsibility for what passes as ‘humour’ in the editorial cartoon!  If  he doesn’t, he’s no saner than Las May’s ‘Driva’.

Not in my kick-ass cabinet

Las May’s cartoon in last Thursday’s Gleaner kicked Senator Dorothy Lightbourne to the curb. His nasty representation of the senator’s fall from grace is just vicious:  Prime Minister Golding sends his former minister of justice and attorney general flying with a well-placed boot to the butt.

At a time when women in Jamaica are constant victims of abusive men, Las May portrays the prime minister as a classic perpetrator of physical and psychological violence against a woman! If I were Bruce Golding – God forbid – I would demand an apology.  But an apology, by its very nature, cannot be legislated.  It has to be freely given by the offender.

There’s no question that Senator Lightbourne deserves to be kicked out of the cabinet.  Metaphorically speaking, of course.  The kick is a familiar image of dismissal.  We use it all the time.  So much so that it has become a cliché.       Las May’s cartoon puts the punch back into the metaphor through the power of visual narrative.

You know that other cliché:  a picture is worth a thousand words.  Saying that Senator Lightbourne has been kicked out of the cabinet is a thousand times less violent than seeing her literally brought low. Las May fully understands the power of the picture.  That’s his job.  He knows what he’s doing.  His attack on the senator is a deliberate blow below the belt.

Dorothy Lightbourne

True, Senator Lightbourne is no angel of light.  She foolishly ventured down some rather dark tunnels of deceit.  Seemingly pretending to be a victim of Alzheimers, she conveniently forgot dangerous truths.  I completely understand how Senator Lightbourne could fail to recall very recent events and yet could so clearly remember K.D. Knight kicking her chair thirty one years ago.

That’s how Alzheimers works.  Long-term memory remains intact.  It’s short-term memory that vanishes.  But Senator Lightbourne should remember the Jamaican proverb that warns, ‘trouble deh a bush, anansi carry it come a yard’.  Alzheimers is not a disease to ‘run joke’ with.  Is bad enough to ‘put goat mouth’ on other people.  You shouldn’t put it on your own self.

‘Dutty Laugh Jamaica’

Las May has also joined the long line of people – including me –  who need to apologise to Mr. Clifton Brown. Mr. Brown never said ‘the bus can swim,’ as I reported in last week’s column.  That was DJ Powa’s splicing.

Incidentally, truth really is stranger than fiction.  Looking for a picture of Mr. Clifton Brown on the internet, I ran into this story:

“MP Raises Issue of Flooding in the Cotswolds

10th February 2011

Yesterday in the House of Commons, Wednesday 9 February, Cotswold MP, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, once again raised in [sic] the issue of flooding in the Cotswolds. Subsequent to a letter from Mr Barry Russell, the Environment Agency’s Area Flood Risk Manager, Mr Clifton-Brown took the opportunity to raise his concerns in a debate on the Funding of Flood Risk Management in Parliament.”

So it’s not just in Jamaica that there are problems with flood waters.  The very same Britain to which 60% of Jamaicans want to return for governance is having grave problems with basic infrastructure.  Even in Britain, there are many rivers of bureaucracy that cannot easily be crossed.

Sharon Hay-Webster

In last Friday’s editorial cartoon, which focuses on Sharon Hay-Webster’s exit from the People’s National Party, perhaps to join the Jamaica Labour Party, Las May makes Mr. Brown say, ‘Sharon, you canna cross it . . . ongle if you are a fisser-‘oman!’

Like Simon Crosskill and Neville Bell, who so vulgarly derided Mr. Brown on the now rebranded ‘Dutty Laugh Jamaica,’ Las May seems to feel entitled to ‘tek Mr. Brown mek poppyshow’.  Bell did apologise to Mr. Brown.  But it sounded like he was forced to mouth an apology.  I don’t think his heart was in it.

I also wonder why Crosskill got away with not apologising to Mr. Brown in the same formal way that Bell did. He behaved just as badly as his co-host.  Though the camera focused on Bell, Crosskill’s laughter was audible throughout.  Crosskill was the set on. Straight-faced, he pretended to be conducting a serious interview with Mr. Brown while setting up Bell to be the fall guy.

Just look at the way Crosskill introduces Bell’s apology to viewers:   ‘And in case you didn’t know it, today is a white shirt day.  It’s surrender day.’  Crosskill’s choice of the word ‘surrender’ immediately turns the promised apology into a joke.  Surrender is giving up against one’s will.

In response to Crosskill’s declaration, Bell says, ‘Yeah, let me start there.’  And what is Crosskill’s response:  ‘So quick?’  It’s as though he’s surprised that Bell is actually taking the apology seriously as a matter of urgency.  But Bell’s response to that ‘jook’ is not a good start:     ‘Yeah, my producer said I should I should do it at this time.’  The repetition of ‘I should’ suggests that the apology itself, not just its timing, is legislated by the producer.

This is what Bell says:  ‘Ever since that interview that I was a part of with Mr. Clifton Brown last Friday, a number of folks have suggested that my behaviour was inappropriate.  There was no intention to be disrespectful, there was no intention to ridicule Mr. Brown and at no time was I laughing at Mr. Brown.  Having said that, because of the perception, I do want to apologise to Mr. Brown.’

Bell’s apologia reminds me of Sir Hilary Beckles’ equally bogus apology for comparing Chris Gayle to ‘Dudus.’  In Beckles’ case it was the ‘deductions’ not his actual statements that were the problem.   So, too, with Neville Bell.  It is the ‘perception,’ not the reality, of inappropriate behaviour that forces him to surrender to the weight of public opinion.

Simon Crosskill’s indirect ‘apology’ is much more honest – no surrender: ‘Now I understand, I don’t know if is certain, that Clifton also now has benefitted not only from the video but from the interview and is getting a fairly large contract with one of the telecommunications companies.  So the whole perception that Clifton was embarrassed and we were being wicked to him is misplaced.’

Crosskill asks a trick question: would the public be as offended by the mockery of Dorothy Lightbourne or any other politician?  Of course not.  Even though she’s been kicked out of the cabinet, Senator Lightbourne is still powerful.  She’s on one side of the social divide and Mr. Brown is on the other.  That’s the big difference.  If only the Prime Minister would kick himself off the cabinet!  But that’s one river he cannot cross.