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.
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.
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.
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!’