Our Readers' Opinions
April 23, 2013

Cultural anomaly? Hardly!

by Benson Feddows Tue Apr 23, 2013

Sociologist, author, diplomat, politician: the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, predecessor in the United States Senate to Hilary Clinton, authored a much vaunted and controversial essay entitled: “Defining Deviance Down,” or as he termed it in his many television appearances and debates: “The Dumbing down of Deviancy”.{{more}}

Moynihan, a conservative democrat, dealt with the issues of the radical change in values, morality, decorum and ethics. The general breakdown of law, order and civility. The numbing of the social conscience of the American society. Moynihan’s assertion is that over the years there has been a gradual creeping acceptance of deviant behaviour into American social fabric. Things that were once objectionable and offensive are now acceptable and have become the norm. Definition of what was taboo has been radically altered – “defining deviance down.” His essay has been much reviewed, pro and con. Sociologist Anne Hendershott, in her book “The Politics of Deviance” sought to do a more comprehensive analysis of the phenomenon. She talked about the “social shifts” in our society. She asked, among other pertinent questions: “How did we adopt such different views of human nature and personal responsibility?” “How did we ‘medicalize’ what was once proscribed behaviour?”

Recently in St Vincent and the Grenadines, two events have engendered some concern, resentment and discussion. The first: a few weeks ago the Inter-Secondary Schools Championships were held at the Arnos Vale Sporting Complex. There has been much professed consternation and dismay expressed about the scantily dressed young girls and ladies, students, who attended the function and their behaviour. To compound it all, there was the situation of the police having to shut down a party at a club in Kingstown, which was advertised as the “Official After-party” to the sporting event and at which many of the said students descended in droves, scanty dress and all. The police took a student, allegedly intoxicated, into protective custody “….overnight until her parents and principal” went and got her the following day.

The second event: the situation in Bequia when they hosted the Easter Regatta. It is alleged that some patrons of the so-called “Hot Gal 4 Boat Ride” disembarked the vessel in a state of drunken stupor and caused a lot of problems, embarrassment and resentment among the regatta’s organizers, residents, visitors and others who were there to enjoy some clean fun.

I am amazed at the reaction of some who profess to be “shocked” and “dismayed” by such behaviours. Revolted and repulsed? Yes. “Shocked and dismayed” – not exactly. This is where Moynihan’s thesis or some may say “hypothesis” comes in. In the study of Socio-Cultural Anthropology and Cultural Formations or maybe “De-Formations”, the effect of “the global equilibrium” and subsequent “clash of cultures” led to eventual European or Anglo-Saxon domination. Or more recently, American social assimilation or domination of our cultural identity. I vividly recall my early days in New York and the surprise at the behaviour of some high school students. I was accustomed to secondary school students being dressed in uniforms, by which they were easily identifiable. In New York, they wore whatever they very well pleased and their behaviour on the streets and city buses was deplorable. Many were the incidences of robberies, shootings, muggings and thefts among them for designer shoes, bomber jackets and the much sought-after fad fashion item, “Gazel” spectacles, which were a designer frame with no lenses. True, our school children still wear uniforms. The question that now begs and has been rightfully asked by many: If the Sports Day is an official Ministry of Education school day, why allow students to wear what they want? Why were teachers, who should be at the event mentoring, shepherding, guiding, counselling students and cheering on their athletes, allowed to just stay away and do whatever they please on that day? After all, this is not the first time this issue has raised its ugly head. Is this the sort of creeping acceptance and benign acquiescence to deviant behaviour that Moynihan wrote about – “The Dumbing down of Deviance”?

It was also not the first time there was consternation resulting from the so-called “Hot Gal Boat Ride” and other excursions. The promoter was quoted in this very newspaper and other media prior to the event promising that there will be no “bad behaviour” this time around. Did we just take his word, irrespective of the precedence? What did we do to ensure that there was compliance with the laws that govern the occupancy of the vessel? The laws with regard to the consumption of alcohol? The adherence to the issue of public order and public drunkenness?

I have said and I will continue to say that the greatest problem we have in St Vincent and the Grenadines with regard to our quality of life and law breaking, is the “lack of enforcement”. It cannot continue to be a free-for-all where everybody does whatever he/she pleases. In 2005, I was in a meeting with a gentleman who is a former officer of the Jamaica National Army, when he was seconded here from the Jamaica Company for which we both worked. He said to me: “Feddows, you all have a beautiful country here. But if you not careful, you will mess it up. I can see the signs. That is how we started in Jamaica.” Those words proved and are proving to be very prophetic, as I can see the manifestation of the things we spoke about that day being played out in our blessed Hairouna.

It is not just an issue of personal misconduct or lack of enforcement. There is also the issue of corporate responsibility or irresponsibility. Take a look at the promotion of social events in SVG. A lot of it seems to be directed at the most vulnerable among us, at some among us whose moral compass may be a bit compromised and skewed. Competitions and prizes for the “shortest pants” the “duttiest wine” and the lewdest of the lewd. The lyrical content of some songs on the airwaves, subliminally inculcating and promoting a culture of irreverence,

immorality and immoderate drinking and drunkenness. Right there, along with these promotions are corporate sponsors and radio, television stations and newspapers, readily identifying with the profligacy!! I often wonder if some of these corporate citizens bother to do any due diligence or quality assurance before they consent to and sponsor some of these events. Or is it “The end justifies the means” kind of mentality – profits at all cost!!? Social conscience and responsibility be damned!? Try getting some of them to sponsor an uplifting, wholesome event; they either “nickel and dime” or totally “stiff” you.

Then there is our annual national festival – Carnival. Much of what was seen and done at the Sports Day and after-party and the Hot Gal 4 Boat Ride would be easily dwarfed by what transpires on the streets and a some venues and functions at Carnival, especially the J’ouvert orgy. Many of the artistes don’t seem capable of composing a song without the epithet “wine up…” or worse yet “wine up stink”. What is that about, really? Rank debauchery seems to be the order of the day. And we are shocked by what transpired lately?

I am not some religious zealot. I am also not an active participant in carnival and have never been. I do follow some of the shows, pageants, calypso etc and enjoy the parade of the bands on Mardi Gras. When I was growing up, if you were not a carnival going person or family, the most you saw of carnival was when a few enterprising guys in the community or neighbouring village smeared themselves with a mixture of charcoal dust and grease and roamed the streets. They found a strong man and chained him as the so-called “Monkey man” or “Donkey Man” (sadly) and beat him as he gyrated and galloped all over the place. Or they put a frog in a box and charged money to see it, with the pitch “Ten pounds to see the Queen”. Now, whether or not you want to see or hear carnival, it is likely to be at your doorstep, as marauding bands with amplified music on trucks move through the neighbourhoods or you may live within a half-mile of the venue; in which case you can kiss sleep good-bye for those nights. All this in the name of “Arwe Culture.” Indeed Moynihan, “The Dumbing Down of Deviance.”