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Monday, June 30, 2008
A society that glorifies badness
n December 20th, 2006, I
wrote an article called
“Bad Man Complex.” I
attempted to describe what I see as
one of our fundamental social, cultural and spiritual problems.
“The Bahamian ideal of manhood:
A prize fighter, a playboy, a heavy
drinker, a semi-professional athlete, all rolled into one. Someone
who thinks reading books is for
Someone who thinks love is a disease you avoid by having multiple
partners. Someone who thinks
being a good father is giving their
baby mamma $50 every other
Friday. Someone who thinks
Guinness is a breakfast food.
The bad man complex is glorified
in the music videos and on the
radio - reggae and hip hop especially. Callous, cold, brutal, antiauthoritarian, and most of all, ready
to have sex with whomever, at the
slightest opportunity.
And the
action heroes in the movies reinforce this ideal as well.
Today I want us to ponder the
message media is sending to our
sons and daughters about what a
real man looks like, how he acts,
and what he stands for.
With fewer and fewer men in the
classroom, and fewer and fewer
men remaining in the home, manhood is often learned from
American sports entertainment,
Hollywood action flicks, television
crime dramas, and rap and reggae
videos and music.
And with blacks underrepresented
in American print and electronic
media, the image of the black baller
is preeminent. This cultural and
spiritual war is taking place
throughout the Americas.
In the September 23rd, 2007 edition of the Trinidad Guardian,
Martin George wrote: “We are
immersed in a type of gangsta-lov-
ing culture, here in Trinidad and
Tobago and in the wider Caribbean,
whereby we embrace and idolize
the bad ‘bwoy,’ the rude ‘bwoy’ and
the gold-toothed, vest and sneakerswearing bandit.
Young girls in the society seem to
see it as a badge of honor to have a
bandit or gangsta man, or a child
father who is either in jail or just
getting out of jail. The music videos
on BET and MTV often feature a lot
of gangsta rap which further glamorizes and glorifies this lifestyle.
Notorious BIG, Fifty Cent, Snoop
Doggy Dog and others have made
millions of dollars, rapping and
singing about the glories of the
gangsta lifestyle, complete with bottles of Cristal, hot-looking, nubile
young women and the fabulous
looking house with the stunning
pool side vista.
It is, of course, attractive and
seductive to young people, as it
makes it look like you can just get
money for doing nothing and automatically acquire all this fame, fortune and success, by just following
the gangsta lifestyle.”
In the June 5, 2005 edition of the
Jamaica Gleaner, Ian Boyne
declared that “The dancehall is the
place where gunmen and dons are
toasted and touted, where they get
their obligatory big-ups and shoutouts . . . The promotion of criminality in our music has been with us
for some time, but because corporate companies were making big
bucks from some of these wellknown deejays, and profit is sacrosanct, they turned a blind eye to
their 'informer fi dead', 'People
dead', 'bore bwoy skull' lyrics.”
Now, I do believe that popular culture is warping our young people
and it is succeeding so well because
parents and educators are blind to,
or in denial about, the amazing
socializing power of the media.
Dr. Ian
However, I also believe we have to
go deeper to really address the
“problem” of masculinity. If rap and
reggae artists clean up their act will
it be enough? Tempo has started a
“Badness Outta Style” campaign.
Will that be the end of the glorification of badness, or is it more complex?
If we ask Cable 12 to scramble the
hip hop and dancehall channels,
will our men stop acting the fool?
Yes, we may stop boys from imagining they can live like “gangstas” but
can we make them respect women,
value education and take care of
their children?
A professor of mine wrote a book
called “From Trickster to Badman”
in which he developed a fascinating
thesis. It was Prof. John Roberts'
contention that slaves in the US,
faced with systematic and brutal
repression, held tightly onto the folk
tales of African tricksters like
Anansi the Spider or Brother
Rabbit, who always outsmarted
stronger predators, like Snake, Lion
or B' Boukee (which means
“Hyena” in the Wolof language by
the way).
Roberts further postulated that as
blacks remained devalued and
deprived in Jim Crow America, the
attributes of Anansi or Brer Rabbit
were passed on to black outlaw
heroes of the late 19th century like
Railroad Bill and Stackolee who
grew to mythic proportions. Their
fearlessness and their ability to outsmart the white man's law inspired
people to invest them with supernatural powers in the folk songs
and tales.
I run the risk of simplifying things
here, but there's a sense in which
being “bad” has meant being
“good” in black culture for some
time. Michael Jackson's album,
“Bad,” is probably a “bad” example,
so I'll remind you, instead, of the
(Muhammad Ali) who, after beating the sense out of his opponents,
would turn to the camera and tell
the whole white world, “I'M A
“Badness,” has been celebrated in
black culture in the face of a world
where the ultimate good was to be
white, and in a world where obeying the law meant a life of scarcity
and frustration for many. The legendary Rhygin of Jamaican culture,
who was celebrated and mourned
in the film, “The Harder They
Come,” comes to mind.
The question that begs asking then
is why does the image of the gangsta bad bwoy ring true to our young
people? Youth who struggle with
feelings of inadequacy and who
look with frustration toward lives
with narrowing prospects, see in
the thug-poets of Tempo and BET a
fantasy of power, freedom, confidence, glory and material bliss.
They see black men who ‘diss’
brutal and crooked cops; they see
black men who diss hypocrite
politicians, and who flip the bird at
authority figures that, their whole
lives, have called them dumb, nofuture, Over-the-Hill niggers. And
these thug-poets have gotten rich
and powerful for having been so
unapologetically rude.
As Beanie Man sang, “I'm a bad
man and I don' give a damn/ bad
man and dis is who I am/ bad man
I hope you overstand/ circumstances make me who I am.”
But before those of us who see
through this foolishness start feeling all self righteous, let's be real.
Badness is attractive not just to
working class black youth but to all
youth, and to all humanity in one
way or another.
Howard Stern is a hero of many a
white American male because he is
so rude, nasty and disrespectful to
women. And although we are up in
arms about the saggy-pants gun
boys of Nassau, we ignore the
wealthy thieves and robbers, who
have degrees on the wall and wear
suits, or who pimp from the pulpit
not Dowdeswell Street.
The crooked Customs and
Immigration Officers, the lying, nocount daddies of every class who
only show their sons how to be
dirty dawgs, get a free pass in our
How do we get mothers to stop
making excuses for wife-beating
sons? How do we stop the encouragement successful men get to
become sweethearters? How do we
change what manhood means?
That's the million- dollar question.
Ian Strachan is a playwright,
poet, novelist and filmmaker. He
teaches English at The College
of The Bahamas.
Write: [email protected]
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