Daggerin Debate

Taken from Today’s Gleaner “In Focus” Section >>>

by Ian Boyne, Contributor
The Broadcasting Commission proved a godsend. After being battered by so many things, the Government took an action which has won overwhelming popular support. Last week a group even demonstrated, not to protest against economic hardships, but to support the Government’s action in banning daggerin’ music from the airwaves.
And, in another surprising but welcome development for the Government, one of the country’s most ardent anti-establishment radicals and Black Power nationalists, Rastafarian poet and celebrity, Mutabaruka, has emerged as the most ardent advocate of harsh measures against vulgarity and gun lyrics in our music.
For years when I waged a lonely struggle against slackness and violence in dancehall music while being publicly traced and abused by people like Ninja Man and Bounty Killer; and being sharply criticised by University of the West Indies (UWI) academics, Professor Carolyn Cooper, Dr Kingsley ‘Ragashanti’ Stewart and Dr Donna Hope, I was easily dismissed as an uptown fundamentalist, Christian and hypocrite.
I was projected as merely expressing middle-class prejudice against poor people’s culture; being trapped by western notions of decency, good taste and good behaviour, while being contemptuous of assertive black people demanding their ‘space’.
I had mistaken the black woman’s liberation and sense of pride over her beautiful black body, which she now exposes with delight and relish, myopically seeing that as ‘slackness’.
But they don’t know how to deal with Mutabaruka. He has authenticity and no one can get away with saying that he despises black people and their culture.
Muta’s strong and unequivocal call for cen-sorship and even punishment by the state has set the cat among the pigeons and has left the UWI defenders of dancehall in a quandary.
Those whom I have traditionally termed uncritical defenders of dancehall have been put on the defensive and are being shouted down. I will have to put up a defence of their right to state their position and to state it boldly, without our disrespecting them. I take exception, for example, to my friend Betty Ann Blaine calling them “perverts” and warning about “these intellectuals”. I understand your passion, Betty, and your incredulity at the absurd lengths to which some persons go to defend their indefensible views, but they are not perverts just because they approve of what we see as slackness. They honestly believe that we are really terrified that the subculture is taking over our bourgeois culture and that we are trying desperately to maintain our cultural hegemony.
Not promoting violent sex
I also have to say that I reject the view that Rampin’ Shop is promoting violent sex. Rough sex is not the same thing as violent sex, Dr Dunn. There is such a thing as violent sex, but Rampin’ Shop does not fall in that genre. It is raw sex, not violent sex.
In this case I agree with my usual UWI combatants that the language is metaphorical and we must not get silly by literalising it. Note, too, that in Rampin’ Shop, Spice is not merely the passive, submissive female on the receiving end of Kartel’s daggerin’ lyrics. It’s not the usual domination/submission ritual. She also promises to do “damage” to him in response to his “threats”. She “tek it to him”.
This is no defence of Rampin’ Shop.But we don’t help our case by putting forward arguments that can’t sustain serious analytical scrutiny. Rampin’ Shop is vulgar and slack and should not only be banned from radio but from public spaces generally. It is offensive to public sensibilities.
Even the dancehall defenders at the UWI would have to agree – even without a poll – that most Jamaicans would find that song shockingly offensive, crude and irredeemably vulgar. In the name of democracy and public decency alone – even if contextually defined – Rampin’ Shop should have no place in any public place – and certainly not in our buses and sidewalks through sound systems.
‘Rampin’ Shop’ mild
What might really shock many people, particularly from the middle class, is that Rampin’ Shop is mild – yes, mild – compared to other songs in the dancehall. And, if you ever hear what the sound system selectors say over the mike, that is what would give Esther Tyson a heart attack! Thank God, Sister Esther knows nothing of those songs.
I hear Kartel and his lawyer talking nonsense about free speech being jeopardised. But what about the freedom of decent ghetto people who want the right to rear their children without those children being assaulted by the filth and nastiness coming from the sound systems in their communities? What about their rights?
Uncritical dancehall defenders talk about parents’ protecting their own children from the filth dancehall artistes spew out, but how can they do so when they are prisoners of their poverty in the ghetto, and can’t afford to migrate to middle-class communities where they can escape the tyranny of all-day, all-night nasty music?
Decent people can’t entertain friends in their homes or even have Bible study in peace because of others exercising their freedom to play filth and garbage.
If these people confined their nastiness and filth to Sting and Sumfest, that’s OK with me. We know what dancehall night at Sumfest is about and what Sting is. If people want to have their X-rated dancehall events where they are not disturbing decent people in their homes, I am not for censorship.
Vulgar dancehall events
Just as how I would not campaign, in a pluralistic society, for all go-go clubs and massage parlours to be closed by the state, or lobby for porn magazines not to be sold here, or for Flow to shut down its X-rated channels, so I would not be spending column inches making the case for vulgar dancehall events to be banned.
Muta says producers who put out music promoting violence and vulgarity should be prosecuted. He feels government should not just ban songs like Rampin’ Shop from the electronic media – for youth have cellphones, iphones and YouTube – but they should be banned, period. I wasn’t even going that far. Muta feels producers should not be free to put out music promoting violence, misogyny and vulgarity.
The free-speech argument
Now, some try cleverly to use the free-speech argument to defend their right to have certain music in the public square. This is indefensible legally and philosophically.
The United States is used as the libertarian model of free speech, but many don’t realise that the US Supreme Court affords different degrees of protection to free speech based on content. This is important.
Commercial speech, for example, is not accorded the same status in US law as political speech. Political speech protection is grounded in the European Enlightenment view that free speech is critical in the search for truth and, therefore, must be protected. It is based on a view of epistemological humility and hence an open society (to use philosopher Karl Popper’s term) is encouraged so various ideas can contend for us to better arrive at truth. Commercial speech, or profanity, is not seen in that same light and does not have the same status.
I cite the Young vs American Minitheatres case in the US Supreme Court. Justice Stevens, in handing down the majority opinion said: “A remark attributed to Voltaire characterises our zealous adherence to the principle that Government may not tell the citizen what he may or may not say. Referring to a suggestion that a violent tyranny might be legitimate, he said: ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’. The essence of that comment has been repeated time after time in our decisions invalidating attempts by the Government to impose selective controls upon the disseminating of ideas.”
But Justice Stevens rejected the view that similar protection is given to erotic speech. “It is manifest that society’s interest in protecting this type of expression (erotic speech) is of a wholly different and lesser magnitude than the interest in untrammelled political debate that inspired Voltaire’s immortal comment. Few of us would march our sons and daughters off to war to preserve the citizen’s right to see ‘Specified Sexual Activities’ exhibited in the theatres of our choice.”
In Chaplinsky vs New Hampshire, Justice Murphy announced the Supreme Court’s initial formulation of what has been called the Fighting Words Doctrine.
Constitutional problem
Note Justice Murphy’s words carefully: “There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise a constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene … and the insulting or fighting words – those which by their very utterance inflect injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.”
This is significant and should prevent the advocates of negative dancehall from talking nonsense about their absolute right to ‘free speech’ in spreading their pollution.
I am happy that the debate has not left out lewd soca wining by uptown people, for surely if, as the Broadcasting Commission decrees, daggerin’ cannot be shown on television, then carnival should not be broadcast either. We must have one law for downtown and uptown. I am glad that the upper-class, social-pages people are not exempted in this. I don’t say soca songs are generally as vulgar as some of our dancehall songs, but I do say that the carnival gyrations are similar to daggerin’.
Don’t alienate poor people
We must be careful that we don’t alienate poor people by manifesting double standards – and the Broadcasting Commission’s assurances of fairness are welcome and will be monitored.
Also, the commission must pay urgent attention to violent lyrics – that’s an even greater threat to order and stability than the slackness. Deal with the gun-talk lyrics. And, the media must stop being hypocritical by bigging up dancehall artistes who promote violence and murder. We can’t leave everything to the state.
The momentum is building against negative dancehall. We must seize the moment.
Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist who may be reached at ianboyne1@yahoo.com or columns@gleanerjm.com.
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Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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