Is it right to utilise taxpayer funds to fund a popularity contest? Stupid question right, it’s going to happen anyway and it’s no less stupid than all the other frivolous crap that the taxpayers’ money is spent on. This is the on-going burning question engaging Trinidad and Tobago, oops, no, that’s not quite right. The question is whether Ravi B’s behaviour was not acceptable and it has been the source of police investigation, politician’s attention, just about everybody has added their two cents. While his behaviour was reprehensible and was up there in the category of sore loser, it is not unusual, and the question remains; should the performer be the target of all this attention?
A small explanation; this year the Chutney Soca Monarch Competition, one of those interminable Carnival related competitions based on popularity more than on content or substance was given two million taxpayer dollars as a first prize. Ostensibly this was encouraged by the Government as a means of raising the standard of the competition. Perhaps the question that should have been asked by John and Mary Taxpayer, how exactly was this to be accomplished by handing over money without setting some goals or standards?
Chutney music grew out of the rather bawdy songs that Hindu women sang at their version of a bachelorette party, over the years. With the changing role of East Indian music in Carnival prompted by Drupati Ramgoonai in the 80’s, chutney evolved into its own art form. However, in the last ten or so years what were cleverly constructed songs on a variety of tropics have been eclipsed by misogynistic ethnic stereotyping in the form and prevalence of “rum” songs. That is, songs that glorify drunkenness or love of alcohol as an excuse for not being a good husband, for beating your wife, for being unfaithful etc.
And this is where the problem starts. Should the taxpayer be funding an event that glorifies alcoholism in a country that has a problem with alcoholism? Are these the values we wish to be imparting to our youth? This trend has not been limited to Chutney Soca, indeed while calypso has always been risqué, critical of government and lifestyles there has been a downward spiral into songs that are about mimicking sex. The lyrics a mishmash of random soca buzzwords like “wine”, “jam”, “wave”, “party”, “grind” etc thrown together around a central idea usually involving what one will do with a woman in a fete. You are encouraged to be “wotless”(worthless), to “wine on a tong ting”. Makes you wonder why we are so surprised that there is little respect for women in our society, why youth are so free and loose with themselves and we have so many unplanned pregnancies.
And yet, we all talk about raising the bar, becoming a first world nation, having values. Forgive me but how are these competitions funded at the taxpayers expense doing that? The quality of the offerings are banal at best, mostly puerile aimed at the lowest common denominator. People should always have choices, if this is what you choose to listen to, well that’s your decision, should it be state sponsored, that’s another discussion. The widening disparity in popular Carnival music is a good indicator of the level that our society operates. We are supposed to be an educated, progressive, thinking lot, and yet scatological, sexual or alcoholic references are what have the most resonance. Trinidadians are losing their clever way with words and degenerating into a crude, witless, anomalous mass. Sad from the nation that promoted the Mighty Sparrow, Lord Kitchener, Earl Lovelace, Vidia Naipaul, Super Blue, Geraldine Connor and a host of other talented folk.
Back to the earlier issue, at the root of the Ravi B ‘controversy was that the competition was decided by people texting in their favourite. That means this competition was not judged on merit but on how popular your persona was. It also means that it was probably decided before a note was sung. While the performers were aware of the rules up front and should abide by them it must be very disappointing to put out the effort to be put down on the basis of popularity over performance. Then there is the disparity in prize money, two million first prize, and one hundred thousand dollars second prize? This makes sense how?
It may be a novel idea to some, but instead of investigating Ravi B the powers that be should be questioning their use of the taxpayers dollar at a time when they are also moaning about the state of the treasury. Because when Carnival is over we might all remember those things that need fixing.