Look-Me! A Reclamation of Self

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 12, 2022

PART II

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeStaged events such as “Stink & Dutty” are nothing more than a reflection of the carnivalesque, a mode of cultural and social production that attempts to subvert the assumptions of the dominant class.

The patrons or masqueraders always try to accomplish their desired goals through an enactment of chaos and in-your-face daring. In the process, they seek to stretch the limits of received traditions to discover a new sense of authenticity.

These affairs represent a desire to achieve feelings of oneness, hence the refrain: “If Yuh cut meh / Yuh go see blood / And if Yuh squeeze meh / Yuh go feel d love; / We are one people under the sun / One nation, under the Lord” (Blaxx, “Same Way.”) These sentiments hark back to Shylock’s defiant cry affirming his humanity: “I am a Jew… If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” (The Merchant of Venice).

Maurisa Findlay offers a rationale for the young people’s immersion in these events: “There is a place for everyone at these ‘wotless’ sessions…no judgment, no segregation, no race cards. They are themed to make you refine, rethink and reimagine your persona; patrons strategise means of gaining traction, attention and attraction, by all means necessary. They opt for more face beat and a delicately decorated nipple cover. This is the perfect place to show off your just-healed, high-profile breast lift. Breast work is commonplace. What can’t be duplicated is your daring; the way you pose and pucker your hyaluronic filled lips.”

In this economy, investment in “self” is the main asset; the return on investment denotes relatability, relevance and shock value. The distinguishing requirement in this transaction is engagement. To get the optimum results, Findlay concludes: “Make sure your product is edgy, quirky, brassy, glitzy, filtered, and cocky. When dividends are paid in likes, followers, shares and views, you better sharpen your vocal identity, glow up your physical attributes, tinker your talent, and cultivate your creativity.”

One’s content also comes from a raunchy setting. It will “likely find you going ‘low-low-lower’ or zoom lens might hold you in wine or tongue ring or town ting; whatever it takes to be recognisable by your aesthetic/personal brand.” The race to popularity, sometimes fleetingly so, is urgent. “Sometimes being seen and gaining followers means you must check in at sculpting spas to lift, nip, tuck, suction transfer, fill, bleach, whiten, tighten and transplant. These are very pricey appointments which trickle down to those in the cosmetic surgery business.”

These patrons were not imported from another planet. They are born and bred Trinbagonians. They have been with us all along. We produced them over the years as we strove to maximise profits, manipulate the markets, gain unfair advantages in commercial and government contracts, exploited those who got in our way, and bled those who were unable to defend themselves. They are rich and get richer as the poor get poorer. Jesus says: “The poor you will always have with you.”

Many of our creative people reside within the liminal spaces of the society. Wilson Harris calls it “the limbo-anancy syndrome,” which he describes in the following way: “The limbo dancer moves under a bar which is gradually lowered until a mere slit of space remains through which with spread-eagled limbs he passes like a spider.”

Harris continues: “Limbo…was born on the slave ships of the Middle Passage. There was so little space that the slaves contorted themselves into human spiders…Limbo then reflects a certain kind of gateway to or threshold of a new world and the dislocation of a chain of miles. It is—in some ways—the archetypal sea-change stemming from Old Worlds and it is legitimate, I feel, to pun on limbo as a kind of shared phantom limb which has become a subconscious variable in West Indian theatre.”

He recalls seeing these performances in Guyana when he was a boy in the early 1930s. “Some of the performers danced on high stilts like elongated limbs, while others performed spread-eagled on the ground. In this way limbo spider and stilted pole of the gods were related to the drums like grassroots and branches of lightning to the sound of thunder.” (History, Fable & Myth)

It is striking that the creators of these themed parties use stilted figures in the same way Peter Minshall uses them in his Carnival portrayals—while others wallow in mud as Jouvert morning devils do, to heighten the sensibility of these happenings. Harris emphasised that limbo “was rather the renascence of a new corpus of sensibility that could translate and accommodate African and other legacies [East Indian and Asian, for example] within a new architecture of cultures.”

The patrons of these themed parties are trying to subvert received notions of respectability, knowing-one’s-place in society, and other recalcitrant forms of social behaviour that may have stymied our imaginative gifts. The promoters make bucket-loads of money from these events with their ability to attract thousands of patrons to an event, many of which are sold out. The popularity of these events signifies a dominant yearning of the patrons: “Uptown and ghetto / Feelin’ d tempo / Soca and kaiso / Is party dey like so / Soon as we land / Fun is de plan / We like to jam / Like Bim & Bam / Waving we hand, inside d band…”

The operational words in this context are belongingness, engagement and fete. Might it not be that these patrons are yearning to believe: “We are one people under the sun / One nation, under the Lord.”

One thought on “Look-Me! A Reclamation of Self”

  1. TRINIDAD
    …and the band played on.
    Forget the books. Forget nation building. Forget goals like food security and self-sufficiency. Forget improvements in Health, Infrastructure, Education, Climate, housing and sustainable development. That is for somebody else to do. Go ahead: Play yo mass all day, all night. Another jam to go to. Another bottle of Henny to drink. As Williams reminisced, the only true national movement in Trinidad is Carnival.
    Woe be unto us.

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