Gordon Robinson | Sitcoms, dunceness and politics
There’s a new wave of American sitcoms that seem to be actively discarding cardboard stereotypes formerly used for easy laughs.
Instead these new sitcoms rely on intelligent, creative writing and directorial styles establishing a hybrid look somewhere between reality show and dramedy that some have branded “mockumentaries”. Leading examples include multiple award winning Abbott Elementary (ABC; creator/lead writer Quinta Brunson) about the vicissitudes experienced by dedicated public school teachers; the Old Ball and Chain’s favourite The Bear (FX; creator/lead writer Christopher Storer) about a rising-star chef in the world of fine dining forced to return home to run his suddenly deceased brother’s street side sandwich shop and deal with his dysfunctional, very Italian family; Better Things (FX; created/written by Louis C.K. and Pamela Adlon; Seasons 2-5 written by Pamela Adlon) about an average, working Hollywood actress and single Mom raising three very diverse and difficult daughters; and HBOs’ Somebody Somewhere.
The last-named is a brilliant, albeit small-scale story that’s easily relatable but its people-are-just-people theme is likely to be a hard sell in Jamaica as it’s certain to offend the majority’s puritanical Christian “values”. But one of the sub-plots is relevant. The lead character’s sister discovers (shockingly) that her partner in their novelty shore is having an affair with her husband. The business partnership is irretrievably broken and the sister falls into a deep depression. In her depressed state she conceives (and creates) a cuddling cushion branded with words that rhyme with “Lying Stunt”. Regrettably I’m restrained from accurate reportage because of constant unwanted reminders this is a “family newspaper” and I would be poisoning the minds of our vulnerable youth who see and hear that word (and far “worse”) daily on their new-fangled “devices.”
But I digress….
To her shock and amazement, the product takes off and she suddenly finds herself receiving too many orders to handle alone so enlists the lead character’s assistance. That assistance goes beyond production line work to making suggestions for spin-offs like “Big Stunt Energy” and others even more unsuitable for a “family newspaper”. The sister makes a fortune selling these branded cushions.
By now you know where I’m going with all this which isn’t my usual style. It’s obvious to me we’ve no real problems in Jamaica because an entire news/commentary week has been spent venting irrationally because school bags, branded with the word “Dunce” are now all the rage. These bags reportedly cost between $10-20 thousand each. Outrage from the word police has been fulsome (look that word up) as variegated concerns for “vulnerable” youth are bruited about as camouflage for a fanatical desire to shield children from reality in the name of Jesus.
To dream the impossible dream;
to fight the unbeatable foe;
to bear with unbearable sorrow;
to run where the brave dare not go…
Words are just words. People are just people. Children will be children. Fads come and go. Here we find a creative entrepreneur inspired by another creative endeavour (a Dancehall recording) riding the wave of faddery to successfully operate a small business. Isn’t this what “economic growth” and “prosperity” is all about?
Why are we engaging in hand-wringing contests over a word? I’ve actually read a post from a creative industry member proposing “ban di word”.
Really? SERIOUSLY? A creative writer wanting a word banned? Now I’ve seen everything. One Principal ranted and raved in the public space that any student seen with the bag wouldn’t be permitted entry to school. Of course, this was followed by human rights activists warning about abuse of children’s constitutional rights.
Not everything involves constitutional rights. This school bag squabble is rooted in an absence of common sense. The “dunce” rage is just another youth fad that can be explained by good or bad psychological premises depending on the psychologist. Yu t’ink mi Dunce? You call mi Dunce? Well, I wear that as a Badge of Honour because, if I’m “dunce”, then “dunce” must be a good thing.
For the past 15 years, “The Dunce” has been a leading character in my Tuesday dramedy columns which I maintain are written for a different demographic than these Sunday offerings. “The Dunce” wasn’t stupid. Family history had it he fell out of a tree as a young child and hit his head since which time he behaved and thought “differently”. He was (still is) a happy-go-lucky guy who worried about nothing especially not things “normal” people “knew” you should be careful about hence his nickname. Every end of year I hand out Domino Awards including a Dunce Award for some public figure whose careless behaviour reminds me of my friend and domino colleague of my teenage and early adult years.
For fifteen years nobody has found fault. I bet they’ll start now because, otherwise, they’ll have to admit that their indignation regarding the “Dunce Bag” is selective and unwarranted.
My issue with the bag isn’t the brand but its purchase by parents who’ll tell you they can’t afford to pay Auxiliary fees. Also I’m sick and tired of this pusillanimous punishment-by-lock-out syndrome that seems to permeate our public school system. We don’t get it. Children, by and large, don’t like school. They WANT to be locked out. Nothing is achieved by lockout save for increased dunceness. The only reason to suspend a student from school is if his/her presence poses a danger to teachers or other students. Disciplinary action for any other breach of school rules should be as creative as the producer of the “Dunce bag” and involve more not less school.
The week’s random outrage didn’t end there. We were also forced to endure politically contrived anger over a silly stunt (yes, this time I really mean “stunt”) on a PNP political platform when Mark Golding played a freedom fighter saving a man from slavery’s shackles. The intended message was that Government has enslaved and oppressed Jamaicans for seven years and Mark is the man with the key to free us if only we vote PNP.
Yes, as in everything Mark does on stage, it was awkward and ham fisted. Dayton “Chatty Chatty” Campbell’s added hype was over the top but, for pity’s sake, it was nothing more than political theatre and shouldn’t be treated as anything else. I blame Nigel Clarke for this because, ever since his egregious “Massa Mark” insult, it has been JLP’s apparent mission to convert every act by Mark Golding into a race-baiting offence.
Anybody remember Michael Manley’s “Rod of Correction”? In a column for the Observer (March 1, 2017) PNP activist Michael Burke wrote:
“Michael Manley went to Ethiopia and received a rod as a present from Emperor Haile Selassie in 1969. It would henceforth be called the “rod of correction”. Whenever Michael Manley arrived at a meeting and displayed the rod, the crowd went wild with excitement. Once when his home was broken into, Manley said afterwards at a political rally: ‘I know why they broke into my home.’ He then showed the rod, as if to say that the real and only reason for the break-in was to steal the rod. Then Manley said: ‘But an angel appeared to me in a dream and said, ‘Joshua, let not thy rod out of thy reach.’ The atmosphere got electric again.”
I know. Mark Golding is no Michael Manley. Only he and his salacious sidekicks know why he seems to be trying to emulate the one and only Joshua. But, if he wants to pretend to be somebody other than himself, ours not to reason why…..
Remember Edward Seaga’s obsessive insistence, in 1980, that he’d “unshackle” the nation from Manley’s communism? He aggressively promised “Deliverance.” Remember P.J. Patterson’s claim that if he came off the platform and mingled with the crowd he’d be hard to differentiate? Seaga then used a black scandal bag as a prop to send a message of a Government riddled with scandal. But it was interpreted by PNP as a racial slur.
I know. Mark Golding is no Edward Seaga. He’s certainly no P.J. Patterson. So why he seems determined to appear to be someone he’s not escapes me. As a general rule that’s an impossible dream. Mitch Leigh and Joseph Darion penned that seminal song (best interpretation by Liberace) about psychological motivation to convert your dreams into reality. This can’t be done by gimmick.
Too many of us are caught up with racial stereotypes. Too many of us too often project past racial atrocities onto current realities. Like the new wave of American sitcoms maybe we shouldn’t be too anxious to find racism around every bend and under every rock.
Sometimes, some of us, somewhere, just need to get over ourselves.
Peace and Love.
Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org