My Blog List

Thursday, August 6, 2009



Dr. Lester CN Simon

It was a most remarkable endorsement, by a most remarkable and socially respectable woman, after she had witnessed the scintillating performance of Hell’s Gate Steel Band on Panorama night. She confessed, “The ban ’poil me.” Those of us who were similarly emotionally disemboweled could only muster a meager reconciliation in order to subtract the good lady from her emotive division, by rejoining, “My sentiments exactly”.

So why does music spoil us and turn us into jellyfishes, or transform us into wild beasts? To try to answer this question, I turned to an article by Karen Schrock in the special, July/August 2009 edition of Scientific American Mind. Additionally, in an attempt to understand why socially respectable persons (not the same lady) would engage in vile and vulgar public dancing that, as someone remarked, “makes animals look civilized”, I turned to the exhibitionism and voyeurism section of the book called, Perversion, by Dany Nobus and Lisa Downing.

First, let us tackle the suggestion that we should “Stop using the cultural celebration (of carnival) as an outlet for brazen half-nakedness, sexual enactments and carnal gratification”, as reported in a letter to the Antigua Sun newspaper. Let us seriously study the acknowledged vulgarity that takes place, in apparent contradistinction to the wish by some for an emancipation carnival. The fundamental question we must answer is this: If we agree that the vulgarity is inappropriate for an emancipation festival, what purpose does the vulgarity serve? It is not enough to look at the immediate, singular purpose, we must also percolate this immediacy through our history to decipher why something so pleasurable to some and so utterly disgusting to others has persisted for so long.

Nobus and Downing claim that the aim of the exhibitionist is never the seduction of the onlooker. The vulgar dancers derive pleasure from their act and not from any onlooker taking them on to actually consummate the act; a lesson readily learnt at one’s peril at carnival. Yes, the vulgar dancer wants to excite the onlooker, but this is not for a conjunction of desires. The simple and yet profound idea of exhibitionism is to make the onlooker become not only excited but also disgusted, upset and even scared, according to Nobus and Downing. Letters of complaints to newspapers attest to this.

Is there a link between emancipation and vulgarity? The emancipation through the vulgarity we so despise seems to come about because the onlookers are enticed to be enslaved by their attention to the wantonness of the exhibitionists. Hence the onlookers cannot and must not conjoin the act. I am forced to conclude that the evolutionary reason for the persistence of the vile and vulgar acts at carnival, the half-nakedness, sexual enactments and carnal gratification that we find so detestable, is the un-freeing of the spectators, casting them into visual slavery whilst the exhibitionists dance on the turned-tables of the masters, deriving pleasure from the neo-enslaved.

Now to the spoiling effect of music. The article by Schrock notes that research suggests that infants seem to have the capacity to appreciate music at birth. She makes reference to the phenomenon of “motherese”, the peculiar singsong way people instinctively talk to babies. It is even suggested that this singsong language may be the original starting point for both music and language.

If babies are hardwired at birth to appreciate music, either in the singsong “motherese” format, or as orchestrated music, and if spoiling someone is often used in reference to children, small wonder that a socially respectable lady is reduced to a child and become spoilt by the scintillating performance of Hell’s Gate Steel Band. The fact that the music was arranged by a mere 19 year old musician, probably played no small part in the spoiling.

Music, which is fundamentally exhibitionistic in some ways, can bring about the vile exhibitionism we abhor and at the same time spoil us in all sorts of ways. I will leave you with one example of this combined effect: A beloved, belated uncle of mine (friend of the famed Arthur Braggoat that cousin King Obstinate sang about) was bizarrely affected by music. He would become thirsty. In satisfying his thirst, he would throw some sugar into his mouth, squeeze a dash of lime onto the sugar, drink some water, and jump up and down riotously, like a spoilt baby.