By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 05, 2022
“Man is a rational substance consisting of soul and body.”
—St Augustine, “The Trinity”
“The human person… is a being at once corporeal and spiritual.”
—Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church
Two weeks ago I gave a lecture at a Transformative Leadership Bootcamp at QRC organised by Dr Brian Harry, to a mix of younger and older people who asked my opinion of the themed party Stink & Dutty. Implicitly, the questioner included those unscripted events such as Jam Naked and FOC that are occurring across the country. My puritanical instincts and old-fashioned notions of decency almost demanded that I regard these events as expressions/manifestations of moral and social decadence.
A few days later, Maurisa Findlay, a woman, younger but much wiser than I, offered a different interpretation of these events: “The ‘class sensitive chorale’ should stop fretting and fuming over a perceived decline in social conduct and morality whenever a mega theme party is held. They should instead celebrate our young people from whence they come to jam, jab, jump and rub-up together. These events aren’t just about the flesh and photos, which are posted and reposted online. Patrons are actually building and strengthening a vital part of the economy which, when examined, may leave the pious chewing their fat. Jam Naked, Stink & Dutty, FOC are significant economies that interplay.”
These are spaces in which these young people realise an existential freedom. It has to do with an inward gaze and elevated self-confidence in which they realise themselves: a reality that is shorn of their elders’ certitudes. Some people call it the “Me-Economy”.
The “Me-Economy”, according to Findlay, a former journalist and communication/marketing consultant, is a space “where you utilise your time, money, creativity and body to make your personal statement, visible and recognisable by countless people you’ve yet to meet. Here, your value proposition is derived from likes, followers, shares, views, and ‘subscribed’. Your market is any one on every social media platform.
“As a personal/individual branding company, you’re a whole business project. Your goal is to use your presence, any and every time to create content. An edgy party is fertile breeding ground for self-marketing and influencer magic. Rife with uberous, artful, personal presentations—in mind, body, smile and spontaneous dancing, the unspoken narrative is: ‘Look-Me!'”
In prepping to attend these parties, patrons spend hefty sums to get the trending look: “They book beauty care appointments—nails, lashes, eyebrows, hair stylists and barbers. Artisans churn out wire bras, designers stay up late making customised monokinis and bikinis, tight shorts and vests. Retail stores see a surge at the register and the gig economy gets a boost.”
To moralists, the most scandalous aspect of these parties is their carnal dimensions. Findlay comes to the rescue again: “These events are colourful, courageous and carnal, not to be confused with lascivious, libidinous motives. Many of these giddy, gyrating, skittish, skimpily-clad people are most progressive, productive but fun-loving, frolicsome professionals.
“They are the country’s entrepreneurs, business owners, tech-experts, medics, lawyers, public servants, private enterprise employees, tertiary students, and beloved ‘sugar babies’. Indeed, they have earned the right to express themselves however they wish by merely surviving the pandemic.”
I can relate to this liberation sensibility in the post-pandemic era, having suffered from the pandemic’s paralysing effects. After two years of little productive work, I have resumed writing my manuscript that outlines the lives of two courageous Caribbean preachers. Schoolchildren, too, are also trying to regain their balance after feeling the devastating effects of this pandemic.
As one examines these “bacchanalian” releases, one can relate to the celebration of the flesh that was put on hold during a period of disorientation. It reminds me of the Roman celebrations of flesh during the pre-Christian era which occurred frequently. Christians believed this was a sinful practice.
It took St Augustine, an early African bishop of the church, to remind us that a human being “is a rational substance consisting of soul and body” and that neither “the soul alone, nor the body is an individual human being or a human person. Only the soul-body composite is an individual human being or a person”.
The soul, although entirely distinct from the body, has an important relationship with a body. “Every soul ‘is the principle of life’ and the governor of a particular body. Soul and living body are not antagonistic, but interdependent. The body needs the soul in order to live, and the soul needs the body in order to be a soul at all… Jesus is not only soul but also flesh.” (Justin Hannegan, “How Augustine Made Us More Than Matter—And Immortal”.)
It seems appropriate, therefore, to let the partygoers play themselves according to their gospel. It is an important expression of their personhood. Findlay notes: “In the digital era, defining your space, sometimes narrows style to skimpy transparency. You dip, bubble and wine to raw, risqué levels for the ten-second video whether you’re fluffy, full-figured, or fly-weight. Just be your authentic self, on your own terms.”
St Augustine understood the temptation to denigrate the body and to see it merely as a prison of the soul. It has its own rites/rights that should be celebrated accordingly. As an anthem of these themed parties exhorts: “I am just a stranger in a crowded place / Me and my cooler / Hoping to find someone with a familiar face / So we could fete and celebrate… This is not the time to be a loner / This is the time to wine on a bumper”. (Blaxx, “Mash Up”.)
Belongingness is the prevailing sentiment of these celebrants of the flesh. It’s a way to free up the soul and tell the world, “I exist.”