Friday, March 21, 2008

The Miss Jamaica Mulatto Factory

I’ll be the first to admit that a beauty contest is a pretty easy target. The bane of feminists, scholars, spunky girls, intelligent girls, hard achieving women, unpretty women and just about anybody aware that this is the 21st century, beauty contests have been around longer than them all and will be around presumably long after. That doesn’t grant them respect, but one does come away with a certain grudging admiration. It seems even foolish now to be appalled when a beauty queen conforms to stereotype—who expects a contestant to have a view on Marcus Garvey or Michel Foucault when the whole world needs to adopt a puppy? What beauty contests say about women is still an open and now tired debate, but what it says about race, particularly in a country like Jamaica is still up for grabs.

This is Facebook’s fault. Only this week somebody who shall remain nameless sent me a message, recruiting me on a campaign for (I can’t remember her name) to win Miss Jamaica. The winning Miss Jamaica would then represent the country at Miss World, where as you may not know ‘beauty’ comes ‘with a purpose.’ I took one look at the girl and remembered a remark I made in a review of Thomas Glave’s last book where I brought up the oh no he di-int specter of what I like to call Consensual Eugenics.

Consensual Eugenics. Post WW2, Nazis flocked incognito to the tropics; for anonymity to be sure, but you have to wonder if they had not marveled at what we’ve been doing for centuries in the Caribbean, without the help of a good old kristalnacht to spur us. The transmogrification from one race to another. Many white Jamaicans would be stunned, for instance to discover that they are actually black. This is neither new nor unique to Jamaica. Mr. Black man has sex with lighter black woman (or white woman if he hits a bonanza!) to produce brown child, or mulatto. Said brown child has sex with slightly browner woman (or whitey) to produce Quadroon. Said Quadroon has sex with other Quadroon (or whitey) to produce Octoroon. Said Octoroon, who can now pass, has sex with white woman to produce full free—er, white. This sounds like ancient history but black men and women are doing it right now or making plans in an office cubicle near you. I’ll never forget my shock when a former co-worker came back from the hospital blushing with pride that his bred a child that looked like his brown wife and not him. This from a graduate of a tertiary institution.

Consensual Eugenics however should not be mistaken for jungle fever. That is a matter of the heart or loins, both of which demand some form of heat. Nor is to be mistaken for genuine blind love. The least interesting thing about interracial couples is their race and they would be the first to tell you. But its the others, the ones who know what they are doing that bowl you over, mostly because sometimes I wonder if they have a point. We haven’t had a dark skin Miss Jamaica for some time now.

But aren’t light-skinned Negroes people too? Even a white Jamaican has a right to enter a beauty contest, even to win it, but the endless parade of different models of the same insipid mulatto female archetype has me wondering if these women are born at all, but engineered on some breeder assembly line hiding out in Vernam Field. Some may think my objection is racial. Some of these very women will quite proudly tell you that they are black, and our doubting them says far more about us that it does about them. The very distinction of “brown” says more about the person using the term than the person whom the term is being used. It’s not the race of these women that makes them so objectionable, but the blandness of them, the monolithic sameness of the brood that trots of 18 versions of the same model year after year. Lisa Hanna, a beauty queen of rare intelligence was a striking break from the norm (well sorta, being Indian...ish) but she has quickly become the exception that proves the rule, despite her being the last to actually win the Miss World crown. The very next year all contests went back to normal, popping another generic mulatta out the beauty poop chute, as if uptown high schools sold them by the bushel. It says something, though I’m not sure what, that the type of woman that won a beauty contest in 1979, looks absolutely no different from the type that won in 2007.

Then again, dumb beauty queens are one the great guilty pleasures of civilization. And the dim ones are far more preferable to the driven ones, frightening in their self-determination to win contests, dust out rivals, snag a politician as husband or breeder, and go to work in the biblical sense. Beauty contests even provide sorely needed temporary employment, after all, there are only so many flight attendants, receptionists and entertainment coordinator positions available in one small island and not every woman knows how to be a good beard. One wonders what happens to these women afterwards. Some go on to enter contest after contest, making hay while the jaw lines hold. But what about the others? I think the beauty queen mulatto factory rounds them all up at gunpoint, takes them to a ‘camp’ run by a leading cosmetics company and then shred them to pieces in a Garbage disposal. Then, ever environmentally conscious these women are recycled and reshaped into a brand new model. A new model same as the old model, mind you.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Five Songs I Must Have On My I-Pod

Geoffrey tagged me with this one. Strangely enough, it’s easier to write a 1500 word screed against homophobia. This would be the perfect time to get on my soapbox on how I-tunes and the I-pod have ruined the album experience. I just went back to vinyl—pretentious, I know, but you won't think so when you remember how accommodating vinyl could be. Just last month I listened to Tears for Fear's Song From the Big Chair, amazed at the stuff I forgave on LP that I would never tolerate on CD. But back to the topic. As I said this stumped me for a good while (OK 10 Minutes) until I realized that maybe the I-pod should tell her own story. I plugged the thing into I-tunes, searched under 'play count' and stumbled upon these, the five songs I play the most. Right now anyway. I eliminated those played under special circumstances, like jogging or the gym in favour of those played simply because I cannot bear to be apart from them too long (Sorry Justice, whose "Stress" I've played 33 times.)

1. "No, No, No," by Yeah Yeah Yeahs. (42 times)

I swear to God that I did not make this up. This must be one of those stylistic coincidences that makes even God go all goosepimply. Or maybe my I-pod has a wickeder sense of irony than I do. Coming from Yeah Yeah Yeah's bananas debut Fever To Tell, No No No attacked quiet-loud as if Smells like Teen Spirit's chorus was just a semi-forgotten after thought. And the dub coda at the end sent this most earthy of punk songs into the stratosphere of white-people ganja haze. I would quote lyrics, but when the chorus for one song goes uh huh/uh huh/ uh huh/uh huh-ow! and the other goes uh-uh/ awooowooo! lyrics are beside the point.

2."All I Need," by Radiohead (38 Times)

I'm into schadenfreud as much as the next person. So half of the joy of this song is knowing that Coldplay are right now stupefied with the task of trying to rip it off. All I Need must have them at a strange impasse —a band that more than any other, benefited from Radiohead's curious season of not wanting to be Radiohead anymore. But enough about them. I've remarked on this before, of Radiohead's stunning descent/rise into sheer loveliness, but this is a luminous wonder, startling even by their own stiff standards. It's even sexy, which is perhaps the greatest surprise of all. Like No No No, All I need shoots up in the end, but for them it's a not a dubwise no mans land but a glorious crescendo, like a carnival of bursting lights.

3."Emily," by Joanna Newsom (32 Times)

Let me tell you a story about Nick Drake. Years ago, Mystic Urchin, back when he was pretending to work at Island (ha!) gave me Nick Drake's compilation, Way To Blue. I had no idea who he was except for a review in an old issue of Spin and was expecting at the least something like Paul Weller. Way To Blue went into CD in my changer in 1993 and stayed there until 1997—and only because the laser went bad. I say this because Newsom is a similar spellbinder, whose acoustic beginnings hint barely at the universe of sound yet to come. Lazy critics call her medieval Bjork and there is some merit to that. But there is so much more as well. Emily is a 12-minute masterpiece that starts with gentle harp but ends in the thunderous full tilt of an orchestra. The lyrics itself are similarly arcane, expansive and not a little comic book geeky: "The meteoroid/is a stone that's devoid/of the fire/that brought it to thee/" Yes she said thee. It's that kind of song. And If you're stuck on a desert island you'll be glad for such flights of fancy.

4. “Spanish Joint,” by D’Angelo (28 Times)

What can I say—I’m as surprised as you are. This is not even my favourite D’Angelo song. But I remember skipping to it on the subway, thinking perhaps that a gentle latin-esque showstopper with horns was as far away from subway grit as one could get on 45th street. Or maybe it’s the aural equivalent of sunshine. I’m not sure. Either way, I play this an awful lot.

5. “Like Cockatoos,” by The Cure. (20 times—so far)

Had you asked me ten years ago which song do I play the most on my Walkman, Like Cockatoos would come out on top, despite fierce competition from Prince’s Crystal Ball (Which come to think of it makes more sense on a desert island since it takes near forever). Happily or sadly, technology hasn’t change my habits much still I still listen to this song way too much. I’m not sure why either. I would never call it the finest Cure song or even the finest song on that album (Kiss Me Kiss me Kiss Me), but Like cockatoos has this strange transfixing power over me, swirly, even psychedelic as if I had taken the very best drugs. Or maybe it’s the woozy bass. Or maybe it’s the way the strings come in at the end —I seem to have a thing for orchestral crescendos. Maybe some things should stay a mystery. Maybe If I find out why I listen to it so much I just might stop.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Invention of Homophobia.

Two days ago I was in the men’s locker room at this gym in St. Paul. Americans have totally different ideas when it comes to locker room exposure and being a quick adapter to change, I had no problem doing as the Romans do. In the shower amid several buck naked white men were two black guys laughing, joking and showering with bar soap. That they were the only ones showering in boxer shorts should have been a dead giveaway that they were Jamaican. There was also the accent of course, but in a city like St. Paul one gets so hungry for a Jamaican accent that an Antiguan could just as easily pass. But I knew beyond any doubt that they were Jamaican because they were doing one of the Jamdown man’s favourite pastimes: Convincing the world that he’s straight.

Yeah man when me fuck 'ar she jus' awwww and ohhhh and eeeeeh and IEEE-I-I-I-! said stud number one. Not to be outdone, stud number two went on about how even as he was knee deep in pussy, felt a burning sensation and had to go to the doctor because the girl gave him the clap. Of course he punished her with another good and proper screwing. Leave it to people like us to assume that the only way to get rid of a sexually transmitted disease is to fuck it out. With showers spraying, other men talking and loud music playing over the speakers it would have been hard to hear anybody, but those two came out loud and clear. As was something else not said but made plain. WE fuck pussy you faggots, so stay away from us.

Jamaica’s homophobia is so acute, so unlike gay-hate anywhere else that it would have been funny were it not for the odd murder or lynching. It seethes in the rumours of the powerless about the powerful, but it also explodes far too frequently with a brutality that begs for the reintroduction of terms not seen since before political correctness: blood lust and savagery; with murder gangs operating like a Klu Klux Klan fighting for the right to preserve the unfucked anus. If you were to look for corresponding models one would have to go to the most repressive of Middle Eastern states to find a parallel. Last week, after Jamaica cop Michael Hayden’s very brave and very public coming out, death threats started flying and Hayden, who at one point seemed ready to take the hit that the rest of the community dodged, finally realized that he was no match for countrywide hatred and the blind eye of authority.

What’s at the crux of such bigotry? Homophobia’s most frequent victims aren’t necessarily homosexuals either, but anyone who in voice, manner or even profession deviates from a relentless maintained masculine archetype. Our homophobia can be so extreme that a man who has only one woman is suspect. And there in lies the subtext, that our Homophobia is not really homophobia at all but a crisis in manliness.

Truth be told, we produce many males but our country hasn’t really produced a man yet. How can we, with so many still fatherless? In an environment consistently robbed of a father figure, we allow manliness to be defined by other things, music for one, where heterosexuality is dragged to such ridiculous extremes that one wonder how these men’s penises don’t fall off from overuse. Our homophobia, chauvinism and promiscuity all come from the same place, that puzzling unanswered question of what it means to be male. We don’t have fathers to answer our questions so we take lessons from Bounty Killer.

It’s not gayness that's in crisis but straightness. Heterosexuality is relentlessly policed day after day because what was straight today may be gay tomorrow. The straight identity perceives itself as so under threat that it needs to be reinforced every day by chauvinism and promiscuity. So infamous Don-Man, Zeeks, in response to assertions that he was gay, provided his many bastard children as proof that he only bangs the ladies. Not long ago, Bounty Killer, never one to hide his hate, found himself on the defensive for appearing in a No Doubt video where the frequently naked drummer got naked again. This of course took homophobia into the realm of the ridiculous, but nonetheless it was a controversy that raged on for weeks. Only a few years back Beenie Man nearly had his hetero pass revoked because of poor grammar. “How can I make love to a fella/ In a rush? Pass me the keys…” was looked upon by some as a confession of love sessions with the dudes until English teachers everywhere reminded everyone the difference between a comma and a fullstop. All this despite the song having a roll call of conquests matched only by the most virile rabbit.

In this heterosexual crisis women are as much a threat. So even now despite the fact that women are more educated than men, most men (and quite a few women) work towards the day when the woman doesn’t “have” to work, because as we all know women couldn’t possibly enjoy a career. But more than that, the capable woman challenges the identity and place of the man, leaving him with nothing more than phallic certainty. So right along with the kill batty-boy tune, is the Gal in a bungle tune. Boasts of sexual prowess is nothing new to music and is certainly not endemic to any one culture, but it’s the nature of ours, the depersonalizing, the grouping of women like cattle or spare parts, the violent ‘tear it out wide and kill it with stab’ imagery that makes ours special. With it lies implicit the fight to be the man that nobody has defined the Jamaican male to be. The homosexual, or rather the effeminate man of course confounds this.

Homophobia also rages because good people do nothing. The church, never shy to fan a homophobia flame when it needs to get fornicators to go to church, nonetheless turns a blind eye to acts of violence, fearing one supposes that support would mean consent. This is understandable of course, but it is also backward logic which has no place in the 21st century. One cannot turn a blind eye when people who aren’t the least bit religious, trot out the bible excuse; fornicators calling sodomites sinners as if they aren’t all going to the same hell—if you believe in such a thing. Homosexuality is a sin, according the wildly corrupted King James Bible that I read, but then it also calls for the death of all who eat shellfish, which raises some interesting questions about Crab Night.

Such hatred in unacceptable in any place that claims to be a member of western civilization. Annie Paul is right about foreigners coming into a country to condemn their atrocities when they are in truth redefining cultural superiority in another effort to show how better than us they are. But she is also right that this does not let hatred off the hook. Nor does it hide that we are on the verge of becoming an international concern and a genuine human rights crisis. I for one have very little tolerance for homophobes. If that person is you, feel free to stay away from my blog. Come to think of it, you can fuck right off.