Sunday, November 01, 2009

Bizarre commentary by Jamaican literature prof on violent lyrics

I'm sure many of you have heard about how homophobic Jamaica is, all the way up to the murder of gays and lesbians. Part of the responsibility for this, it has been suggested by some, are antigay violent lyrics by local artists calling in their songs for the murder of gays and lesbians. Here's the take of a local academic arguing that gays and lesbians who call for such artists' concerts to be canceled and boycotted are 'pathological'. Check out her take on the issue first, and then read my commentary below. Turns out to be the case that she attended the latest CD launch of the artist who called in past lyrics for the murder of gay people. I sent the below reply to the newspaper that published her OpEd; realistically you won't see my riposte there, though. Jamaican public debate is sufficiently incestuous to prevent that from happening. -

To whom it may concern:

Professor Cooper's editorial, well-intentioned and unusually considerate (by Jamaican standards) doesn't add up. She complains essentially that a Jamaican singer whose repertoire included a song calling for the killing of gay people is still subjected to boycott campaigns by gays and lesbians in other countries. She calls such campaigns 'perverse'. Cooper considers the offending song's lyrics 'infamous', however anyone not wanting the singer to perform in their neighbourhood is acting under a 'particularly perverse pathology'. Really, is my attempt at keeping such artists out of my country sick, Professor Cooper? So, our Jamaican artist sings infamous songs, while those who would be at the receiving end of his murderous art are sick (aka pathological). Nice touch professor, truly a well-balanced statement. You should be safe in homophobic Jamaica (whatever that means these days).

What reasons has Professor Cooper on offer for her take on the issue?

Well, for starters, she points out that our artist hero hasn't sung the song in question for awhile and launched recently a CD hoping it would be bought by amongst others gays, lesbians, and - guess what - even slim people. Let me just say that to the best of my knowledge, he has not yet apologized and retracted the song in question. That a more market savvy performer tries to increase market share is understandable, but surely shouldn't be seen as evidence for a changed mind set.

Comes the professor's next reason: the US based ACLU is defending the artist's 'right' to perform. The ACLU, of course, also defends the KKK's right to propagate its racist views in public. It's the result of a particularly silly bit of US Constitution that puts virtually no limits on speech acts, unlike any other country in the world. You could not make such statements anywhere in Europe (neither the Jamaican artist's 'lyrics' nor the KKKs racist rabble-rousing). The result is that such societies are more cohesive and peaceful than the USA.

And another lost-case type argument from our literary professor. She claims, citing an unsubstantiated statement from an ACLU activist, that there is no causal evidence that hate speech calling for violence against minority groups leads to such violence. There is an obvious reason for this: actions usually have multiple causes, some conscious, others unconscious. We do know that propaganda works; why it shouldn't work in a pathologically homophobic place such as Jamaica remains a mystery to me. Gay people have experienced time and again spikes in anti-gay violence following high-profile homophobic statements by artists or politicians and the like. Equally, many minority ethnic people in Britain were deeply incensed when the BBC permitted recently the BNP leader Nick Griffin to speak on a program. They pointed out that the mainstreaming of racism will undoubtedly lead to an increase in racist violence. I wonder whether Professor Cooper fully appreciates the implications of her feeble attempt at denying the link between homophobic statements calling for violence against gays and lesbians and the occurrence of such violence.

Her last unsubstantiated claim is that fans potentially engaging in homophobic violence would not do so after dancing to artists' tunes encouraging them to kills gays and lesbians. Is she seriously suggesting that there might be people out there who were considering killing gays and lesbians and then these folks get prevented from doing this because they attend a concert with an artists calling on them to go through with their tentative plans? What can I say, this surely is a breathtaking empirical claim without any basis in fact.

So, there you go, now you know why us folks outside your island go out of our way to have your violence and art kept where it belongs, namely on your island - as your problem, not ours. Let Buju apologize for this song and we will welcome him with open arms.

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