Branding Bermuda – An Addendum

In my previous post I intended to provide the relevant excepts of the various legislation that the America’s Cup Act 2014 exempts the America’s Cup (and its associated ‘corporate’ partners) from in Bermuda. Unfortunately, it was just getting to be a far too big an article, so I ended up just dealing with the most relevant one for that article.

And so, here, I provide the remaining advertising exemptions granted by the America’s Cup Act 2014.

Just as a reminder, this is the relevant section of the America’s Cup Act 2014 concerning advertising exemptions:

3 – In relation to advertising of and at the Bermuda Events, ACEA and its designated commercial partners, and the Teams and their designated commercial partners, shall be exempt from –

(a) sections 2, 3, 4 and 6(c) of the Advertisements Regulation Act 1911;

(b) section 14(4) of the Development and Planning Act 1974;

(c) the Motor Car (Control of Design, Colour and Advertising Matter) Regulations 1952; and

(d) sections 3 and 4 of the Alcohol Advertisement (Health Warning) Act 1993.

I addressed subsection (a) in my previous post. As the entire Motor Car (Control of Design, Colour and Advertising Matter) Regulations 1952 is exempted, I’m simply going to direct you to read the entire Act than reproduce it here… (opens as a pdf).

Development and Planning Act 1974

Section 14 (Development requiring planning permission) – Only subsection (4) of this section is exempted under the America’s Cup Act 2014.

Section 14(4)

Without prejudice to the Advertisements Regulation Act 1911 [title 20 item 9], the use for the display of advertisements of any external part of a building that is not normally used for that purpose shall be treated for the purposes of this section as involving a material change in the use of that part of the building.

Alcohol Advertisement (Health Warning) Act 1993 – Only sections 3 and 4 are exempted under the America’s Cup Act 2014.

Section 3 (Alcohol advertisement in printed publications; Schedule)

(1) No person shall print or publish an alcohol advertisement in a printed publication to which this section applies unless the advertisement bears the health warning as set out in the Schedule.

(2) This section applies to – 

(a) any newspaper with majority ownership by Bermudians printed or published in Bermuda;

(b) any periodical, magazine or other publication with majority ownership by Bermudians printed or published in Bermuda.

Section 4 (Health warning when alcohol advertisement displayed; Schedule)

No person shall – 

(a) display; or

(b) publish or distribute for the purpose of display,

an alcohol advertisement in writing or other permanent form or semi-permanent form unless the advertisement bears the health warning as set out in the Schedule.

Summary

Basically the America’s Cup Act 2014 exemptions here remove the need to include health warnings regarding alcohol and remove the need for planning permission (and all the related checks and balances that involves) for advertising on the outsides of buildings.

Although I haven’t included the Motor Car (Control of Design, Colour and Advertising Matter) Regulations 1952, it is a relatively short Act (six pages). Some of the key sections though are:

Section 4 (General Principles)

The superficial design and colour of restricted motor cars and trailers and of any advertising matter displayed thereon shall be regulated and controlled by order of the Minister –

(a) so as to conduce to road safety; and

(b) so as to preserve as far as possible the amenities of Bermuda, notwithstanding any consideration of private gain.

Other sections generally provide regulations for lettering, colour, designs, etc, mostly with regard to ensuring road safety. I encourage readers to read through it fully though. It is mostly an Act about advertising on vehicles, as is indicated by its name.

Thoughts?

Branding Bermuda

“As a private person, I have a passion for landscape, and I have never seen one improved by a billboard. Where every prospect pleases, man is at his vilest when he erects a billboard. When I retire from Madison Avenue, I am going to start a secret society of masked vigilantes who will travel around the world on silent motor bicycles, chopping down posters at the dark of the moon. How many juries will convict us when we are caught in these acts of beneficent citizenship? —David Ogilvy, founder of the Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency, in Confessions of an Advertising Man, 1963”An excerpt from Naomi Klein’s No Logo.

There’s some questions on social media about the erection of various giant-sized corporate logos around the island, on various key landmarks. The first one I believe went up on Seon Place the other day, however most of the focus (and, I think it should be said, concern) is on Gibbs Hill Lighthouse.

From the America's Cup Twitter account.

From the America’s Cup Twitter account.

Quite a few people are pointing out the apparent hypocrisy between the Government recently clamping down on various breaches of the Advertising Regulations Act 1911 and this America’s Cup advertising campaign.

So, why is the America’s Cup advertising okay?

The answer to this lies in the exemptions, regarding advertising, granted in the America’s Cup Act 2014 (which Bernews pointed out). Specifically, the exemptions in question are in Part 2 of the Act ‘Concessions & Exemptions’:

Advertising

3 – In relation to advertising of and at the Bermuda Events, ACEA and its designated commercial partners, and the Teams and their designated commercial partners, shall be exempt from –

(a) sections 2, 3, 4 and 6(c) of the Advertisements Regulation Act 1911;

(b) section 14(4) of the Development and Planning Act 1974;

(c) the Motor Car (Control of Design, Colour and Advertising Matter) Regulations 1952; and

(d) sections 3 and 4 of the Alcohol Advertisement (Health Warning) Act 1993.

I won’t go into detail on (c) above, however I thought it might be educational for readers to understand what the other exemptions above are. So below, to save people the trouble of going through all the various Acts themselves, are the relevant sections relating to advertising that the America’s Cup Act 2014 allows.

Advertisements Regulation Act 1911

Section 2 (Restriction of exhibition of advertisements)

No person shall, except as otherwise provided by this Act, exhibit any advertisement, upon or over any land except – 

(a) advertisements upon any land relating solely to any entertainment, meeting, auction or sale to be held upon, or in relation to such land or to any property thereon; or

(b) announcements of the sale or letting of such land; or

(c) announcements or copies of any proclamation or official notice published by authority of the Governor, the Supreme Court, any Justice of the Peace, either branch of the Legislature, any Government Department, any Government Board, or any officer holding a commission in Her Majesty’s Forces; or

(d) announcements or notices duly published by proper authority of any meeting of freeholders or others for any parliamentary, municipal or parochial election, or other purpose; or

(e) advertisements or announcements upon any land, within either municipal area, being land duly licensed for the exhibition of advertisements by the respective municipal corporations : Provided that in all such excepted cases, the advertisements shall not contain letters, effigies, figures or other advertising emblems exceeding twelve inches in height; or

(f) advertisements or announcements exhibited inside a display window of an agent’s business premises of any business, entertainment or occurrence in respect of which such agent acts; or

(g) advertisements or announcements exhibited inside of any shop, store or place of business, other than any public vehicle or ferry boat; or

(h) advertisements relating to the sale of land at auction or otherwise; or

(i) advertisements relating to the arrival or departure of any ship belonging to or employed by any line or company the ships of which ordinarily ply between Bermuda and elsewhere; or

(j) advertisements published in any book, newspaper, magazine, calendar or periodical; or

(k) announcements, in letters not exceeding fifteen inches each in height or width, of the business name of the company, firm or person carrying on business on the premises and the general character of the business carried on therein.

Section 3 (Illuminated and other signs visible from street; sky-signs)

(1) No person shall – 

(a) erect upon, or fix to, or exhibit above, any land, any advertisement supported on or attached to, any post, pole, standard, framework or other support which, or any part of which, or the support of which, is visible against the sky from some point in any street or public way; or

(b) use or exhibit any kite, balloon, parachute or other similar device, employed wholly or in part for the purpose of any advertisement or announcement, over any land or street; or

(c) exhibit any flashing or illuminated sign which is visible to any person on any public street or public way.

(2) For the  purposes of subsection (1)(a), an advertisement, the uppermost part of which is no higher than the roof line of any building on the plot on which it is situate, shall not be deemed to contravene the provisions of that paragraph.

(3) For the purposes of subsection (1)(c), an “illuminated sign” means a sign used or intended to be used for the purpose of advertising the lettering or design of which is illuminated from within the components constituting the lettering or design. 

Section 4 (Vehicle exhibiting advertisements; sandwich man)

No person shall – 

(a) act, or employ any other person to act, as a sandwich man or for similar purposes to walk through any public street or highway, solely or chiefly for the purposes of exhibiting advertisements; (b) in any public street or highway draw, wheel, ride or drive any vehicle used solely or chiefly for the purpose of exhibiting advertisements.

Section 6 (Corporation of Hamilton)

The Corporation of Hamilton may grant a licence in respect of any land within the municipal area of the City of Hamilton, for the purpose of posting, placing or exhibiting advertisements:

Provided that – 

(a) before any licence is granted in respect of any land not the property of the Corporation, the permission of the owner or occupier shall be first obtained;

(b) any such licence shall be subject to such terms, conditions and notice of discontinuance as the Corporation may deem expedient; and

(c) the space on any hoarding, or other structure used for advertising purposes, shall not exceed six feet in height.

I’ll post in a separate article what those other exemptions are, as I think this post is long enough as it is.

NB – Only subsection (c) of section 6 (Corporation of Hamilton) above is relevant as regards the America’s Cup Act 2014, however I felt it wouldn’t make sense without reading it in the context of the entire section.

So, what do you think? Are you happy with these big advertisements going up on our landmarks? Are you looking forward to the other exemptions relating to advertising still to come?

This post is essentially a public service announcement, an ‘educational’ article. Happy to hear people’s views on it all though.

If anyone wants to read Ms Klein’s excellent book ‘No Logo’, this link opens to a pdf version of it.

Service/Servitude/Tourism/Whorism?

There has been an interesting response to my story on responsible tourism, where I hoped to at least get some people thinking about what kind of tourism do we want for Bermuda (and what kind of tourism do we not want).

One can read the full response here on BIAW. AMCAM

I thought it would be a good idea t quickly respond to it though:

  1. AMCAM wonders how I figure the actions of Ms Fox constituted ‘irresponsible tourism’. To understand that one needs to look at how I define ‘responsible tourism’, which I do in the same article (for just this purpose). The definition I use, which I think is a good one, is that used by the International Ecotourism society ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people’. A tourist coming, carting of some 70 pounds of sea glass (part of our environment), and in doing so hurting local artisans, would seem to be very much contrary to any interpretation of responsible tourism. Thus my reasoning that her actions constituted ‘irresponsible tourism’. I’m surprised I had to explain that. AMCAM is usually one of the most insightful commentators on tourism issues after all…
  2. ‘Imperialist mindset of a White American tourist’ – AMCAM takes particular exception to my choice of phrasing here. Perhaps it’s useful to expand on it for his (and others) benefits. Ms Fox is a White American tourist. That’s a statement of fact. That in itself means little, in as much as the vast majority of our tourists could be so defined. And that’s fine. However, to believe that there’s no racial dynamics involved in tourism featuring Whites expecting to be served hand and foot by a majority Black population in a country with a history of slavery and segregation where Blacks were forced (overtly and covertly) to serve Whites for centuries is to be delusional. Service doesn’t need to be servitude, that’s clear. And it shouldn’t be. The relationship should be one of hospitality to guests – a host-guest relationship, rather than a master-servant relationship. However, there are certain things such as White privilege here, as well as power dynamics and historical factors at play. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that this is not a reality. As for ‘imperialist mindset’, that seems quite an apt fit for describing a mindset of someone coming to someones homeland and simply helping themselves to the resources there and seeing no problem in doing so. It is an exploitative and imperialist mindset. The history of the Americas is full of this tendency, of Whites coming, expecting the ‘natives’ to be their ‘happy’ servants and generally raping and pillaging the environment. Ms Fox’s actions, while obviously no where as barbaric as the conquests of the Americas, follows this general mindset, and accordingly is resented as such within the general prism of our collective (Americas) history. I don’t need to ‘think twice’ before describing the incident in question as representative of an imperialist mindset by a White American tourist. It simply strips away the niceties that usually obscure these things. It quite aptly describes the incident. It may not be in terms that make AMCAM or others comfortable, as it touches on matters of race and exploitation, but so what? If the description fits and all…
  3. ‘Claims are conjecture’ ‘rant’ – All I did was provide a general summary of what was reported in the media, and by Ms Fox herself. It is a fact that Ms Fox came to Bermuda for the explicit purpose of collecting sea glass for her business. It is a fact that she collected approximately 70 pounds worth of sea glass. It is a fact that she then exported this sea glass back to the USA. It is a fact that she is using this sea glass for the purpose of making a profit. How any of that equals ‘conjecture’ is beyond me. What is circumstantial is where she collected all her 70 pounds worth of sea glass (was it at sea glass beach – which seems probable – where there is a sign forbidding such?), and I didn’t make any firm statement on that at all. It is my understanding that removing sea glass and doing so for business reasons like she did, is illegal. It may be okay for local artisans to do so in a small-scale sustainable way, but it is not okay for a ‘tourist’ to act in such an unsustainable way. Not quite sure how it constitutes a ‘rant’ however. I’m happy with people disagreeing with me and putting forward a counter-argument. Heck, that’s what I called for, a conversation. Not barbs. If AMCAM want’s to put forward a counter-position, I welcome him to do just that.
  4. ‘Jonathan, Bermuda does not need your brand of tourism!’ – And which brand of tourism is that? The brand of tourism I explicitly suggested Bermuda should adopt was that or responsible tourism, of which I provided a definition. Is AMCAM saying that Bermuda doesn’t need a brand of tourism based on ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people’? Is AMCAM suggesting we should instead advocate a brand of tourism that does the opposite, that seeks to damage the environment and hurt the well-being of local people? If that’s the kind of tourism AMCAM believes we should have, I’m sure the majority of our people would respectfully disagree. And if that’s not what AMCAM means, then what does he mean, and what sort of ‘brand of tourism’ does he think I’m advocating then? It’s either a poor argument on his part (misrepresenting my argument) or, well, I don’t know what else. If I’m charitable I’d suggest he only read the first half of the post and didn’t bother to read it all and consider the argument.

Ultimately, I’m all for serving our tourists as hosts do guests. I think that’s healthy. I do not support a form of tourism predicated on servitude, in a master-servant dynamic. And I’m for a tourism where tourists come here to enjoy our natural environment and culture, that engages in a non-exploitative manner with our environment, culture and economy.

I’m not for a form of tourism that, in the Caribbean, has been called ‘whorism’, a wholly exploitative form of tourism. This doesn’t necessarily mean sex tourism, but rather the general approach of engaging with our environment, culture and economy in a fundamentally exploitative manner.

But let’s have that conversation.

Derek Walcott, 1992 Nobel prize winner for literature.

Derek Walcott, 1992 Nobel prize winner for literature.

I think it’s appropriate here to conclude with an excerpt from Derek Walcott’s Nobel prize speech:

“But in our tourist brochures the Caribbean is a blue pool into which the republic dangles the extended foot of Florida as inflated rubber islands bob, and drinks with umbrellas float towards here on a raft. This is how the islands from shame of necessity sell themselves; this is the seasonal erosion of their identity, that high-pitched repetition of the same images of service that cannot distinguish one island from the other, with a future of polluted marinas, land deals negotiated by ministers, and all of this conducted to the music of Happy Hour and the rictus of a smile. What is the earthly paradise for our visitors? Two weeks without rain and a mahogany tan, and, at sunset, local troubadours in straw hats and floral shirts beating ‘Yellow Bird’ and ‘Banana Boat Song’ to death.”

Freedom of Speech – An Update

Just yesterday I wrote that the way Mr Kimathi was put on the stop list would make him a martyr and would be counterproductive. I wrote that:

“It actually benefits Mr Kimathi as he can now appeal to his followers about an injustice, and use it to fuel his ravings. It’s easy to spin – the reason I was banned was because I spoke the truth and threatened the White elite who rule Bermuda! Easily done.”

And today there’s this article where Mr Kimathi argues he was banned because “special interest groups, particularly the promosexuals and homosexuals have conspired” resulting in him being “banned from a black country.”

Now, I’m not a PR person or a spin doctor or nothing. Surely though if I could see this was going to be the reaction, others could do?

Mr Kimathi can now complain of a conspiracy, of an injustice. And those on island who agree with him will likely harden their views now. Surely it would have been better to have allowed the Human Rights Commission to finish and publish its investigation first, and allow for his views to be defeated with counter-arguments (which really shouldn’t have been hard)?

Hopefully lesson learned and we’ll handle any future incident differently. In the mean time, while this may well pass soon enough, how do we go about now constructively dismissing Mr Kimathi’s hateful pseudo-scientific propaganda?

***Updated***

There is now also an e-petition calling for Mr Kimathi to be removed from the stop-list:

“Bermuda as a whole can decide whether Mr Kimathi is welcome again in Bermuda . His opinions no matter how they are said . should not be used as a political foothold to silence the voices of people in Bermuda.”

 

Freedom of Speech?

Remember ‘Je suis Charlie’?

At the very beginning of the year the world, or at least the Western world, was transfixed by the massacre at Charlie Hebdo. This attack by some rather disturbed individuals was, I think it’s fair to say, a reaction to the Islamophobic imagery and rhetoric produced by this magazine, imagery that was deliberately provocative and daring a response.

While the vast majority of those offended by these provocations chose to either ignore it or to combat it equally with the pen, these two disturbed individuals sought to combat it literally with a hail of bullets.

Almost immediately the Western world, Bermuda included, was swamped with ‘Je suis Charlie’ demonstrations, strongly defending that freedom of speech included the right to offend. Our politicians spoke eloquently along these lines too. The basic argument was that people are free to speak and free to oppose the speech of others, but such speech should not be censored or otherwise stifled.

Today, a mere nine months on, many of those who spoke so eloquently in defence of free speech in January, today seem happy to enforce censorship and champion the use of our stop list to ban an individual for voicing provocative and offensive views.

***For overseas readers, the ‘stop-list’ is a way of barring entry to Bermuda of those the Government decides to be undesirables. Should they get to the airport or dock, they’re refused entry and put back on the next vessel leaving the island.***

Free Speech or Hate Speech?

There is of course a large body of discourse around the issue of freedom of speech and hate speech:

  • What is the fine line between the two?
  • How should the latter be handled without impinging on free speech?

To be clear, I personally find Mr Kimathi’s views abhorrent, and I do indeed think they stray into the category of hate speech – as regards Whites and those who stray from a fictional heterosexual dichotomy of sexual orientation, gender or gender codes. And I do believe Mr Kimanthi, has advocated (although it’s not clear how explicitly he did in Bermuda) violence towards these segments of our society.

Now, incitement to violence is a crime, and if Mr Kimathi did this, then he should indeed be charged and face trial accordingly. Espousing ridiculous opinions without any basis in science, that may be a crime against oneself, general decency and logic, however it is not a crime in the sense of being subject to arrest and trial.

Making a Martyr?

The problem with banning Mr Kimathi like this – without a police investigation and trial, and even before the Human Rights Commission has been able to investigate the matter properly – is that it risks making him, and his ideology, almost a martyr, in the sense of not being accorded due process or proper scrutiny. It actually benefits Mr Kimathi as he can now appeal to his followers about an injustice, and use it to fuel his ravings. It’s easy to spin – the reason I was banned was because I spoke the truth and threatened the White elite who rule Bermuda! Easily done.

A far better approach would be to allow Mr Kimathi’s ideology to be fully scrutinised by the people, to be refuted ideologically, to be confronted with peaceful demonstration to say that his ideology, what he represents, is not supported by the majority of our people. Those who are partial to his ideology could exchange arguments and, potentially, be convinced otherwise. That’s how to defeat Mr Kimanthi’s ideology and appeal.

Instead, now he can wear his ban as a badge of honour, as the mark of a martyr.

And those on island who support his hateful ideology may well go underground, where the ideology cannot be challenged, where it can only harden and find itself – potentially – in violent expression. This form of authoritatian reaction is a perfect incubator for extremism; it is a recipe for it finding fertile ground in those in our society who feel lost, alienated and resentful.

Setback for Race Relations?

One particular victim of Mr Kimathi and Minister Fahy’s reaction is that it has very much set back what was left of reasonable discussion concerning structural racism in Bermuda.

The topic that Mr Kimathi’s speech was advertised about, of the need for better education and understanding of African history and contribution to our society, is one that we need. The Ashay programme, now aborted, was an attempt to provide just this, as a complement to the dominant European narrative in our society.

However due to Mr Kimathi’s hateful ideology, one that I think can only be characterised as a particularly perverse form of Black supremacism (as opposed to Black Power), all talk of such an initiative is derailed. Heck, any talk of really confronting structural racism in Bermuda as a whole is likely derailed, at least set back. It will be all too easy for those opposed (for whatever reason) to such a frank discussion to frame it in terms of Mr Kimathi’s arguments, and use this as an excuse not to engage.

Incitement to Violence

To me, the only limit that should be placed on free speech is that of incitement to violence.

Anything else, as abhorrent as they may be, deserves simply to be derided and challenged with alternative argument, or met by peaceful demonstration (or both). Or even simply ignored and let to peter out as an absurdity clear to all.

The use of a stop list is a slippery slope and one that I think we all need to be concerned about.

I am not convinced – at all – that it was an appropriate reaction. At the very least, the decision should only have followed the Human Rights Commission report on Mr Kimathi’s actions on island.

A stop list is open to abuse, to stifling debate and reducing the diversity of thought that should be the oxygen of any democracy.

My thinking is that an ideologue should only be subject to a stop list if – and only if – they have been convicted of inciting violence. After being convicted of this, and paying either the fine or serving time in prison, or some sort of restorative justice, they can be denied further entry on this basis. And that basis alone, regardless of how disgusting I find the individuals ideology.

Return to Reasoned Conversation Needed

What we do need, and desperately, is a return to a frank conversation about structural racism in Bermuda – its causes, its consequences, possible steps to end it (of which a frank conversation is but an important first step). A better appreciation of the role of African history and culture in our collective history has a key role to play here too.

Quite frankly, we either do this properly or we leave a vacuum to be filled by pseudo-scientific and hate-filled ravings like those peddled by Mr Kimanthi.

***For avoidance of doubt, I don’t think this action was taken lightly by the Government, and I don’t think there was any conspiracy about it, although I can understand why some on social media are articulating it as such. I think the Government has acted in good faith here, trying to do the right thing. The issue of free speech and hate speech is a very complex and difficult one, one that is emotive and I don’t think there’s any one right answer. I just think that the litmus test should be incitement to violence, where the alleged incitee is provided with due process. That’s my belief, and I think it’s a reasonable one, although I certainly understand the passions that Mr Kimathi’s speech (and history) have riled. To me, a strong democracy must take great care on matters of freedom of speech, and dealing with our structural race problems are key to the long-term sustainability of our society and democracy.***

Some thoughts on Carnival

While I’ve written a few bits of my own concerning carnival, I’m writing this more in response to the article written by Davida Morris, published on Bernews today.  Carnaval

The article itself

I think Ms Morris does a good job of rebutting some of the criticism that has been leveled at this event by some in the community, and it’s clear that the article itself is framed around a reply to the comments by Pastor Maria Seaman of the Shekinah Worship Centre, who articulated the most robust attack on the event from a Christian perspective.

I think she addresses well the fluidity and constant evolution of our culture, and how carnival itself has roots in cultures which themselves have contributed to ours – and in such is less a novel ‘import’ and more an expression, a manifestation, of an already existing piece of our cultural fabric which, up until now, has been unexpressed.

This opening section also includes what I consider to be the best sound bite ‘tradition is rigid; culture is not’.

Tradition to me, reading this, can be seen almost as an ossified form of ‘living’ culture.  It’s still part of our culture, and so much so that it has become a rigid structure, it has largely ceased to evolve, to ‘live’, but instead serves as a structure around which our ‘living’ culture is organised and can even be based upon – the tradition regains ‘life’ when it is built on and adapted to changing reality.  Tradition serves as a skeletal frame which living fluid culture often relies upon for its very vitality.  However, I digress…

I question some aspects of her cultural history, mainly that Gombey’s, ‘our most iconic example of Bermuda culture and tradition is an “import” from the island of St. Kitt’s’.  I question this simply because I’d never heard such, and understood our Gombey’s to be an indigenous development, albeit sharing a common origin with similar cultural phenomena such as the Bahamian Junkanoo.  I don’t deny at all that our own Gombey tradition has been added to over the years, incorporating novel elements (including from St Kitt’s), but I question it being a straight-up import from St Kitt’s.  I concede though, I do not know the full history of our Gombey’s, so I leave it open for further investigation.

I do completely agree though that our culture is fluid, it evolves, and it incorporates new elements over time – some through ‘imports’ and others through novel ‘mutations’ – as well as developing new traditions.  We should not reject things, like carnival, simply because they are new.

The second part focuses more on carnival itself rather than the cultural argument.  Carnival is ‘new’ to Bermuda, and as such I’ve not experienced it (I was overseas for this year’s event), and while I do appreciate some soca music, I’m not familiar enough with the genre to really comment much on it, other than to appreciate it in either an abstract or occasional aesthetic manner.

Thoughts on the comments

The comments in response to the article are a bit of a mixed bag, and that’s to be expected in a divided island, fractured along racial, political, economic and sectarian lines.  For the most part they are positive and appreciative of the article and the issues it raises.

There are some points that I think need addressed, and while Ms Morris (and those directly involved in the carnival event) could probably address them better, I figured I’d give them a shot, and allow others to chip in if they want to.

  1. Why look at it as a cultural event and not just a party?  Well, it is both.  A party like this is also a cultural event, or, rather, has the potential to become a cultural event. However, I imagine the focus on the cultural argument was a direct rebuttal to Pastor Seaman’s attack on the carnival from a cultural perspective.
  2. Carnival is at the beginning of Lent – why hold it in June?  Yes, the origins of carnival (in the Americas) is from the Roman Catholic tradition surrounding Lent – and that’s partly why it’s not part of Bermuda’s history, as we’ve been dominated by Anglicanism since our inception, which does not have something really equivalent to carnival.  However, carnival can be – and has been – secularised away from its religious origins. There are precedents elsewhere, of which the Notting Hill Carnival in London is perhaps the most obvious being the Notting Hill Carnival. The Notting Hill Carnival was originally held in January, but is now held in August. It’s a carnival, but it’s divorced from the original religious date and origin (rather than stemming from religious tradition, it originated in the aftermath of the Notting Hill race riots as an attempt to repair social tie, reduce racial tensions and help cover legal aid for some of those charged in the riots).  While an argument can be made to stick to religious tradition in terms of when to hold carnival, there’s no need to do so.  Besides, in as much as one angle of this new event is to enhance our tourism, surely it makes sense to hold it at a time when it’s not in competition with more established carnival events to the south?  Holding it at a different time helps us attract carnival-goers who travel around different carnivals, as well as attract new visitors.
  3. It should be held on Bermuda Day, not Heroes Weekend! I am sympathetic to the idea that the carnival event can detract from a focus on our heroes, however I can also see it being used to help highlight our heroes too. And as Heroes Weekend is still a relatively new official tradition (replacing the Queen’s Birthday Parade, which still occurs, just not as the official highlight), I have no issue with a new holiday developing its own new traditions – of which carnival has a good chance of becoming now.  Additionally, as was pointed out by another commentator, the original plan was, indeed, to hold it in conjunction with Bermuda Day, and an attempt was made to do so. For whatever reason it wasn’t possible to realise that ambition however, and so it was moved to Heroes Weekend. I don’t really have a problem with the date, and the other existing big dates that are proposed, such as Cup Match, already have their own traditions around them which I think would inhibit the success of a new tradition of the size and nature of carnival.

 

Carnival & Pomp – Revolutionary & Counter-revolutionary?

This post follows on from an earlier post, and seeks to answer the question with which that one ended:

Are any of these spectacles (Gombey’s, Pomp or Carnival) ‘revolutionary’ or ‘counter-revolutionary’ (or have such potential), and what is meant by such anyway?

In order to answer the main question (are any of these spectacles revolutionary or counter-revolutionary), one must first answer what is meant by these terms in the first place.

Revolutionary & Counter-Revolutionary Theory

In my earlier post I quoted, at length, an extract from a work by David Harvey. In one of his key works (if not the one that made his name), Social Justice & the City, he actually provides a useful review of these terms (in relation to theory).

I won’t quote him in his entirety (he devotes a whole chapter to it, and the themes run through the entire book), only the most concise extract that I can find, from his ‘further comment’ section of the chapter ‘Revolutionary and Counter-Revolutionary Theory’:

There are three kinds of theory:

(i) Status quo theory – a theory which is grounded in the reality it seeks to portray and which accurately represents the phenomena with which it deals at a particular moment in time. But, by having ascribed a universal truth status to the propositions it contains, it is capable of yielding prescriptive policies which can result only in the perpetuation of the status quo.

(ii) Counter-revolutionary theory – a theory which may or may not appear grounded in the reality it seeks to portray, but which obscures, be-clouds and generally obfuscates (either by design or accident) our ability to comprehend that reality. Such a theory is usually attractive and hence gains general currency because it is logically coherent, easily manipulable, aesthetically appealing, or just new or fashionable; but it is in some way quite divorced from the reality it purports to represent. A counter-revolutionary theory automatically frustrates either the creation or the implementation of viable policies. It is therefore a perfect device for non-decision making, for it diverts attention from fundamental issues to superficial or non-existent issues. It can also function as spurious support and legitimisation for counter-revolutionary actions designed to frustrate needed change.

(iii) Revolutionary theory – a theory which is firmly grounded in the reality it seeks to represent, the individual propositions of which are ascribed a contingent truth status (they are in the process of becoming true or false dependent upon the circumstances). A revolutionary theory is dialectically formulated and it can encompass conflict and contradiction within itself. A revolutionary theory offers real choices for future moments in the social process by identifying immanent choices in an existing situation. The implementation of these choices serves to validate the theory and to provide the grounds for the formulation of new theory. A revolutionary theory consequently holds out the prospect for creating truth rather than finding it.

Also relevant is the subsequent passage:

A theoretical formulation can be, as circumstances change and depending upon its application, move or be moved from one category to another. This suggests two dangers which must be avoided:

(i) Counter-revolutionary co-optation – the pervesion of a theory from a revolutionary to a counter-revolutionary state.

(ii) Counter-revolutionary stagnations – the stagnation of a revolutionary theory through failure to reformulate it in the light of new circumstances and situations – by this means a revolutionary theory may become a status quo theory.

But there are also two important revolutionary tasks:

(iii) Revolutionary negation – taking counter-revolutionary theory and exposing it for what it really is.

(iv) Revolutionary reformulation – taking status quo or counter-revolutionary formulations, setting them into motion or providing them with real content, and using them to identify real choices immanent in the present.

Revolutionary & Counter-Revolutionary Spectacles?

How might this be applied to the question of spectacle, specifically as it relates to those of Gombey’s, Carnival and (military, including majorettes) parades?

Obviously the above extract addresses theory rather than spectacle, and it’s not possible to directly force it to apply to spectacle – although it provides some insights and directions.

One could propose:

1) Status quo spectacles – these seek to maintain order, to perpetuate continuity. To reinforce the status quo as, well, the status quo. 

2) Counter-revolutionary spectacles – these either celebrate (and so reinforce) power against any perceived threat, to underline the superiority of the power and State against the threat (say, for example, a military parade celebrating the suppression of a slave revolt or the defeat of a strike); or they do not claim to be anything more than spectacle, but generates false consciousness (a diversion of focus away from revolutionary tasks/criticism) or serves as a social ‘release valve’ for social pressures that might otherwise find their manifestation through revolution.

3) Revolutionary spectacle – these directly challenge the status quo and propose a potential rupture from the status quo; they propose an alternative vision and build the capacity for revolution (through developing consciousness and/or demonstrating the power of ‘the people’ to act for themselves).

Application in the Bermuda Context

Gombey’s and carnival originate as revolutionary spectacles, more or less. They upended social convention, defied formal power and the State. But was the carnival wholly revolutionary, or was it perhaps also counter-revolutionary – or even both at the same time? In as much as the carnival originates as a social convention via the Church (albeit one ‘hijacked’ and adapted by the same social pressures from which the Gombey’s orginate) – in as much as carnival was tolerated – can it not be seen as a social ‘release valve’ form of spectacle, and thus counter-revolutionary, as spectacles go?

The more formal spectacles of Bermuda’s calendar – May 24 parade, Peppercorn ceremony, Queen’s Birthday parade, other military parades, even the Ag Show – all these are essentially ‘status quo’ spectacles, even if some originate more as counter-revolutionary spectacles (primarily the military ones, and those more obvious tied to power and the State, such as the Queen’s Birthday parade).

Are Gombey’s and Carnival still revolutionary? I argued in my previous post that they are not. At least not wholly. Where they subject to counter-revolutionary co-optation or counter-revolutionary stagnation? Without a detailed historical analysis of either phenomena it is impossible to give a definitive answer now – however it seems clear they have transformed away from revolutionary spectacle and, at the very least become status quo spectacle. In some instances – or arguably – they could indeed be seen as counter-revolutionary spectacles.

Carnival

It seems fair to say that Carnival at least is more about commercialism than the revolutionary rupture it initially threatened. Yes, it is ‘a party’ and doesn’t claim to be anything more – but that’s precisely the point, it has lost the revolutionary spirit it once embodied.

Is this the whole truth of the matter? No. Carnaval

Only in the broad, the ‘social’ aspect could it be argued to be the case, to have lost the revolutionary spirit. To the individual – primarily the active participant, but also the active observer – the spectacle can be understood, can be lived, as emancipatory, as a defiant act, as a momentary rupture from the status quo (at multiple levels, racial, class, sexual, gender, age, etc). And this moment – however brief – can be sufficient for the revolutionary transformation of the self, of a development of a consciousness other than that of the status quo, of acceptance of the status quo and a fear of the other.

Carnival may serve as a social release – and as such in a counter-revolutionary way – and Gombey’s may be a neutered caricature of their original defiantly revolutionary origin, but they both retain the potential for revolution. This may begin at the individual level, but the potential exists for sufficient individual ‘revolutionary moments/transformations’ to reach a critical mass and reassert the revolutionary potential they first manifested.

Of course, the revolutionary spectacles of ‘people power’, of the strike, of the demonstration, of the popular occupation and – ultimately – the revolutonary seizure of power itself, retain their revolutionary spirit, and remain the most potent vehicle for consciousness and revolutionary change.

For clarity, none of this is an attack on the introduction of carnival in Bermuda, or the organisers or their intent. That it was attacked by representatives of the ‘church’ indicates that the revolutionary threat to the establishment, the status quo, remains, and it was that criticism which got me thinking of the question of spectacle, and what social meaning or potential could emerge from the introduction of carnival in Bermuda.

Can carnival in Bermuda be an agent of social change? Yes.

Could that social change be revolutionary? Yes. However it can also be an agent of only superficial change, just as much as an agent for revolutionary change.

The question is what kind of change one wants, and after deciding that, after bringing it into awareness, does that change how one experiences and approaches carnival?

Similarly, does such a theorising of the spectacle that is the Gombey’s serve as a step to reclaiming their revolutionary potential, reclaiming it away from their Disneyfication?