No We Can’t

We goin right down to the heart of the matter

Where reality bites

And illusion shatter

Right down to the heart of the matter

Desire go buss

And reality scatter

He promise the fire next time

And who eh dead

They badly wounded

—Talk Yuh Talk, 3 Canal

No we can’t. We can’t speak out.  We can’t have opinions.

No we can’t. We can’t go on air and question our leaders. We must behave. We must tow the line. We must be loyal subjects or be labelled as traitors.

No we can’t be outspoken. We can’t be satirists or investigators or analysts. We must take nice pictures of ministers.

It was a dream dreamt many years ago by a man in dark glasses who would sometimes take off his hearing aid so he didn’t have to listen to other people’s nonsense.

It was a dream he dreamt when he was putting his own mentors under house arrest for having too many radical ideas.

No we can’t.

We can’t have a functional media because that would mean there would be too many unanswered questions.

It was a dream founded in a divided society. Where big business calls the shots for small journalists and editors become the pawns and take intimidation like they take free tickets and nice food at corporate functions.

No we can’t.

We can’t be anything else but suspicious of each other. We can’t speak our truths without first wondering and agonising about who will be antagonised.

It was a dream dreamt by teeth-baring maximum leaders who set their minions on defenceless journalists. Who demand apologies for real and imagined offence.

No we can’t.

We can’t move on from this stagnant stink of self-censorship. How it go look if you say that? They go come for you. Legal or illegal. Accident or accidentally on purpose.

No we can’t.

We can’t bear to think that we have a right to speak up for ourselves. So we hold on to our hurt or become vapid exhibitionists who only read the papers to see who was in which cocktail party.

No we can’t. We can’t be Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. We can’t satirise our leaders or make fun of their mismanagement of our lives.

No we can’t.

It was a dream born out of picong and mauvais langue being no longer acceptable except on the hustings or in Parliament.

We must be all that the maximum leader wants of us. His vision is the only one that matters.

Some animals are more equal than others. But the leader says that all citizens have the right to speed up the Bus Route and through the traffic. All citizens have the right to buy gas to have outriders and air-condition on full blast. All citizens have the right to clear the traffic out of their way in the heart of the city to pull up outside an office and walk in and complain.

All citizens have a right to ignore the Media Complaints Council and private legal advice. It’s not a big deal.

No we can’t.

We can’t possibly think that change is ever going to come to this place of ignorant, quick to anger, thin-skinned leaders.

We can’t ever get out of this morass of idiocy.

We can’t get up off our backsides and select someone younger and more thoughtful, whose vision is not of his own reflection.

No we can’t.

We can’t imagine ourselves ever as anything else but good slaves, doing massa’s bidding. We can’t bear the threat of massa’s whip coming down on our backs, or worse the committed slave that sells you out for daring to try to escape your enslavers.

We can’t be anything that is not expected of us. Loyal servants, with ready smiles and words of praise.

We must not ever even suspect that there is another way. For what would be left of our leaders if they were to realise one day that we didn’t need them to be our thought police? What would they be without their control and their veiled threats but frightened old men who want to hold on to their power like they want to hold on to their thinning hair and even thinner grasp of logic and/or reality?

No we can’t.

We can’t ever forget that they need us more than we could ever need them. We can’t ever leave them alone. Who then would give their lives meaning and purpose?

No we can’t.

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A tale to make you weep

We got to build a better nation
Clean up Jah creation
Or there will be no future for you and me

Fools Die, Peter Tosh

What good is a community without stories? What value is a society without storytellers? I mean beyond crick crack. Beyond the loss of douens to electric lights and Anansi replaced by the World Wide Web.

The carrier of the stories is the carrier of the wisdom and a sensibility that you can’t and never will get from the Red House.

The carrier of the stories is both the revolutionary and the peacemaker. Who shows the community its beauty and its dirt and its light.

A storyteller is a shape-shifter who uses every tool, every image, every sense to draw you in, capture your imagination.

So where the hell are our stories? Who is fictionalising our lives? Who is fashioning our superheroes?

All these questions plagued me before, during and after I went to see A Winter’s Tale, which everyone should see really.

Because in the absence of our own storytellers our children grow up in awe of someone else’s mythology.

Imagine in all my 30 years on this island, this is the first time I was sitting in Globe cinema to watch a local film.

And it might be set in Canada but I have to take ownership of those emotionally scarred men and the women shouldering too much weight of dying boy children.

And we have too many frustrated artists walking around this town to not understand that the loudness of our self-doubt has a startling ability to drown out our desire to speak our truths.

Aside from the embarrassment, aside from the frustration, I am so glad that A Winter’s Tale is being shown here and now.

And I’m glad too that they chose the Globe, in the heart of my beautiful stinking city, to show it, as opposed to going to that place in the murdered mangrove.

It’s not a pleasant film. It’s not a kicks t’ing. It’s not the loud, effects-filled, slap-stick foolishness that usually numbs our brains.

And this is not a review but a Winter’s Tale is bloody brilliant. Especially because you’re not going to leave the theatre feeling all warm and fuzzy.

And especially because you will weep for a fictional dead child in ways that you do not weep when you watch the news.

Frances Anne has all the marks of a good storyteller in that you will feel more sorrow for a place and time and people fashioned out of living truths.

Because everybody knows our men are in crisis. Everybody knows but who wants to take responsibility for finding or creating solutions?

The audience titters uncomfortably at inappropriate times. They steups at the gangsta boy who falls apart when the little boy dies.

They are scandalised at two beautifully naked bodies embracing in grief. They have a problem with the cuss words as if the F word is more obscene than a generation of boys who will never know what it is to be men outside of owning a gun.

We should feel more scandalised by the fact that we have a nation of children growing up absorbing somebody else’s mythology. Who do not know that they too can be superheroes, let alone be on a big screen, playing themselves with a depth and truth that is just plain shattering.

The procrastinating writer in me winces because there are so many other stories like this that need to be told.

And I hear a lot of talk these days about developing a film industry. And it’s important, yes, to industrialise the way we operate our creative potential. Beyond oil or gas or goddamned smelters, our creativity is our real nation-building potential.

But we also have to be able to see the value of the stories that we have to tell and train our storytellers wisely so that the films we make don’t end up looking like the Port-of-Spain waterfront. Tall and empty and bright imitations that are irrelevant to the landscape.

A Winter’s Tale is now showing at Globe, Cinemas 8, MovieTowne, Hobosco until Tuesday

World Press Freedom Day

It has to start somewhere
It has to start sometime
What better place than here
What better time than now
All hell cant stop us now
All hell cant stop us now
Guerilla Radio, Rage Against the Machine

It took me a long time to write this week’s column. I didn’t do my usual ‘type whatever came into my head’.

I mean, now that Robin Montano is making front page news saying that he wants to sue people for forwarding e-mails they did not author, I can only imagine what other interesting tortures they’ll come up with for people like me who like to think we live in a democracy.

But it’s like Papa Patos was saying the week before, it’s a question of behaviour. And not of what caused the behaviour. It’s like getting rubbed down by the Babylon because you have a bandit face or getting blanked from entry into a nightclub because you too ghetto black or too country Indian.

It’s a well-known fact that I’m not particularly fond of shoes and wouldn’t be caught dead in one of those power suit things. In other words I don’t have court clothes and so maybe I need to be a little more careful about what I say.

I hemmed and hawed a lot more than I usually do. Pacing back and forth, changing the music several times. Wondering if it were possible to write a column that didn’t cause offence to somebody powerful and mighty and capable of intimidating a poor defenceless little journalist like me.

Especially now that every time I pass the Prime Minister’s residence the security detail hails me out by name. But maybe I shouldn’t even be saying that, lest someone should possibly maybe perhaps construe that as some kind of anti-Patos-ness on my part.

It’s World Press Freedom Day today, and I guess some of us would love to boast at the fact that Trinidad and Tobago is the only English speaking Caribbean country to be in the top 20 of the World Press Freedom Index (we’re number 19). Even UK is number 24 and the USA is number 48.

I’ve been thinking about this number 19 status. How we ended up there. Do we really have press freedom or is it just that nobody takes the media seriously enough to think of anything that gets published or broadcast as a threat to their authority or their profit margins?

Maybe the media are as much of a pappyshow as all other institutions in this country, like the church or parliament. Toothless, useless. Maybe we’re all just going through the motions because we don’t know anything else or can’t do any better.

Maybe journalists are really just there to meet deadlines and fill space so that big business can make money off whatever is entertaining Trinbagonians the most that day.

Maybe this is why this is the only form of local television that most supposedly local television stations invest in. The news is information and entertainment enough. No need for police shows and comedy shows and dramas because all of these get played out every night in the news and the whole nation stops to take in the stories and watch themselves perform their best acts.

So if a dotish e-mail that reads like bad fiction could get that kind of rise out of our favourite economic hit-man of the day, I wonder what he would do if some journalist really started doing like everybody would like to happen and investigate the Udecott.

Or I wonder what would happen if someone were to really begin to investigate what the hell the EMA does, if they didn’t know that a 60-room hotel was being built right around the corner from their headquarters. I wonder when someone will really assess whether they have the capacity to manage our potential for a serious industrial disaster or even to protect the many communities in this country who are at risk as we speak.

And I wonder if I should feel ahow about wondering if even Zimbabwe could get rid of Mugabe why are we still stuck with PNM inefficiency. Oh yes, it’s that whole non-functional opposition problem.

Okay, so the truth is, the day I feel frightened to say what is on my mind is the day I die, but what really frightens me is that in the face of all that is wrong and given the studious lack of interest in the powers that be to set it right, where are the journalists who are willing to do the work to ensure that these stories get told? Where are the editors who will support them? Where are the camera people and the hackers and the bloggers doing the dirty work?

It’s the journalists who usually get the tootsy end of the stick first when democracy is under threat. Here they don’t get shot, they just get silenced with a big salaried corporate communications position. Which, for me, is an unfortunate fate far worse than death.

The heart of the matter

So the latest zeppo in the media world is that our favourite economic hitman with a big heart is calling for the head of a local journalist.

The source of his knickers being in a bunch this week, is not, curiously, the fact that the entire country is royally pissed off that our Prime Minister seems to be giving him a lot of lee way with our money, but rather that there’s an email in circulation raising some rather interesting points about his life story.

Incidentally the email started spreading like a dry season Northern Range bush fire on the same day that the Rottweiler got dismissed by the big Pappy.

I’ve seen the email in question, as has everybody else with a computer and an active email address. Everybody knows there’s nothing that Trinbagonians like to do more than forward emails, whether they are true or not is immaterial.

Anyway, so incensed was our dear friend with the big chest muscle that he decided to make an example of this local editor who, like most other people, passed on the information.

And I don’t have court clothes, eh, but I just want to put my two cents in and say, doesn’t it seem as if the conquistador doth protest too much? Put another way, if you don’t have cocoa in the sun, why oh why are you looking for rain?

Funnily enough, we’re observing World Press Freedom Day on May 3. I wonder what kinds of questions this latest piece of intimidation and ‘example making’ will raise. She wasn’t the only one to receive this email, why make her a target?

A most interesting and unfortunate development.  We’ll see where this example of big people bullying takes us.