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Carnival controversy raises serious social issue

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Carnival would not be what it is without some form of controversy. Historically, much of this “social bacchanal” has originated from the compositions of our social commentators in song, our calypsonians. In recent years though, with less emphasis on the traditional calypso, there has not been as much of this type of controversy as in the past, save for explicitly political renderings.{{more}}

This year we are faced with a new row over the lyrics of one of the calypso finalists for the Calypso Monarch show on Sunday night, Junior “Marshie” Marshall, who is facing legal action as a result of his satirical humour contained in his song, “Bowlers.” This song addresses a real weakness in West Indies cricket, the dearth of good bowlers, and using innuendo, suggests where the West Indies team can find such bowlers.

However, not all have been amused by it, amongst them the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Mr Luis deShong. On the instructions of Mr deShong, his solicitor has written “Marshie”, accusing him of defamation and slander, demanding an apology and for him to desist from performing the offending words and for the alleged offender to give an undertaking not to repeat the offence alleged.

The legal letter has apparently been copied to radio stations here and the matter covered in the Midweek edition of the SEARCHLIGHT. It is now a major talking point locally and on the Internet at that, with strong views being expressed one way or the other. It is a pity that in the process, we seem to be missing the irony of it all, for calypso-lovers have long complained about the growing disappearance of humour in song. This goes right to the heart of the calypso art form, its ability to provoke national debate and discussion. On the plus side, however, it can only serve to revive interest in Sunday night’s competition.

Calypso has traditionally been a weapon to poke fun at persons in the society, including calypsonians themselves. Politicians and public officials have long borne the brunt of this social “ribbing” and they have not always taken it lightly. Mr de Shong certainly has not, especially given the fact that Marshall is an employee of the same Ministry, for whom the Permanent Secretary has oversight responsibility.

The matter raises more serious issues beyond the pale of calypso. Mr deSong’s lawyer contends that the lyrics of the calypso can be construed as implying that the official is guilty of a criminal offence, homosexuality and thus has caused him great embarrassment and distress.

In so doing, it raises publicly the issue of the attitude of the society towards homosexuality. SEARCHLIGHT has done an excellent editorial on the matter this Midweek, which I would recommend to those who have not yet read it. Clearly there is need for sober and enlightened public discourse on the matter. Emotionalism, religious bias and political expediency will not do.

Whether we like it or not, whether we believe that based on our religious beliefs, homosexuality is an “abomination”, the matter is here to stay. It has been from time immemorial, though hidden in the woodwork. It is instructive that the US Supreme Court has ruled in favour of same sex marriages. We may not like it, but we live in a real world.

It makes no sense for priests and pastors to be fulminating against homosexuality and vehemently vowing never to perform same sex marriages; those consenting adults don’t need pastors to tie marriage knots anyhow. Should the private acts of consenting adults be the focus of our attention? Or should we not be focusing on paedophiles, adults among us who prey on young boys and girls? Even within the religious community, this practice is not unknown, to put it mildly.

Politicians will be put under pressure to make all kinds of commitments, especially as we move closer to elections, but they must be aware of current trends in the international community. We must not be afraid to confront the issue, but must do so maturely and respecting the rights of all.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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