Friday, February 27, 2009

Daggerin' Controversy

Props to the amazing Raquel Rivera for putting me up on this story...

What a real nightmare, on Friday the 13th the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica banned all songs from the public media (so that means videos and as well as sound recordings) that reference Daggerin'/Daggering (JA slang for sex) or that show the popular dance. Songs with sexually explicit and violent lyrics are considered a violation of a new set of standards that broadcasters now have to follow in order to keep their licensing.

The Commission also extended the ban to include the "bleeping'' and "beeping'' editing used to "clean" up songs that are considered in appropriate or unsuitable for public consumption. I would imagine that means that artist would not have to record clean versions in order to get played on the radio/TV. So more artist would have to follow Mr. Vegas' lead and have "Hot Wuk" on the radio and "Hot Fuck" on the album.

Supposedly this whole controversy was started over the wide spread popularly of Spice and Vybz Kartel's "Rampin Shop."

Dancehall artists are rightfully pointing out that these measures unfairly target the genre which has been emeshed in debates about "slackness" since the 1990s.

Mr Vegas issued a statement that said "I think the Broadcasting Commission has nothing better to do with their time. More than 50 per cent of the songs which are played on radio have some form of editing. So what is radio gonna sound like? Maybe we should just get one national station and call it Love 102."

He continued: "What they are doing is killing the creativity. It's no different when a R&B song says 'I'll make love to you like you want me to', than when a Jamaican says 'bend ova'; it's just the way we speak...talking about sex doesn't mean it has to be lewd and so many of our artistes have proven that. And simply because something is edited doesn't mean a curse word was there. Sometimes as artistes we realise the word may be too coarse for radio, but fit for the dance, so the word is edited." (Mr. Vegas quotes courtesy of The Jamaica Star)

Ian Boyne from the Jamaica Gleaner News had this to say in response to accusations of class-based bias and censorship:

What might really shock many people, particularly from the middle class, is that Rampin' Shop is mild - yes, mild - compared to other songs in the dancehall. And, if you ever hear what the sound system selectors say over the mike, that is what would give Esther Tyson a heart attack! Thank God, Sister Esther knows nothing of those songs.

I hear Kartel and his lawyer talking nonsense about free speech being jeopardised. But what about the freedom of decent ghetto people who want the right to rear their children without those children being assaulted by the filth and nastiness coming from the sound systems in their communities? What about their rights?

Uncritical dancehall defenders talk about parents' protecting their own children from the filth dancehall artistes spew out, but how can they do so when they are prisoners of their poverty in the ghetto, and can't afford to migrate to middle-class communities where they can escape the tyranny of all-day, all-night nasty music?

Decent people can't entertain friends in their homes or even have Bible study in peace because of others exercising their freedom to play filth and garbage.

If these people confined their nastiness and filth to Sting and Sumfest, that's OK with me. We know what dancehall night at Sumfest is about and what Sting is. If people want to have their X-rated dancehall events where they are not disturbing decent people in their homes, I am not for censorship.

The question of the division between private and public is at the fore of these debates. Basically the daggerin' critics are saying that people can do whatever they want in their homes but that once it leaves that space of sanctioned domesticity and intimacy then sexual desires and practices are then subject to different standards of conduct and even government intervention.

The slackness debates are very similar to debates about hip hop and reggaeton in terms of blaming all of societies problems on a dearth of sexually explicit lyrics and images. To me the daggerin' dance looks very similar to perreo, so I'm not surprised that both dances have received such scrutiny and become strawmen for concerns over female virtue and the nuclear family.

As far as I'm concerned the ban is absurd, and I think all you'll hear on the radio is like one pop song and two commercials if the Commission is as stringent as it says it will be. The ban is untenable.

In "Rampin' Shop" Spice lyrically gives it like she gets it in terms of talking about punishing Vybz sexually so how does that complicate the claims that Dancehall is dangerous because its all male aggression towards seemingly passive women. The song complicates the idea that egalitarian sexual practices is always a desirable form of sexual play which is interesting. Unfortunately, the sexuality and sexual practices detailed in "Rampin' Shop" are used to prop up heterosexist and homophobic sexual norms -- "man to man, girl to girl thats wrong."

Ironically, Vybz has a line of condoms called Daggering in an effort to promote safe (rough) sex.

The tag line says on the condom says: "Playsafe Ramp Rufff till game ova."

Complicated. Any thoughts.


Anonymous said...

I enjoy dancehall, reggaeton and some hiphop. The "slackness" doesn't bother me, however I do choose to keep it from my children. And I prefer that they not be exposed to it on the radio.

I don't know where to draw the line between artists' rights to say what they want and my right to not be exposed to certain things. But as a parent I understand what it is like to feel as if your children are being bombarded with messages that you would rather they not be exposed to, whether it be sexually explicit lyrics or McDonalds commercials.

What do you think should be done to respect the concerns of both sides?

Marisol LeBron said...

I agree radio and television audience is an issue. Me personally I think that the bleeps or creating clean versions kind of solves that problem in some ways. Yet what is troubling about the Daggerin' case is the fact that they're censoring censored songs. It's like even the insinuation of sex has to be stopped.

I think there is a very real concern over what children listen to, but I get worried when legislation based on moral judgments start getting passed in the name of protecting children.

A lot of times children, or even the specter of the child, get used as vehicles for cultural conservatives to regulate non-normative forms of sexuality. So I'm thinking of Anita Bryant's Save Our Children crusade in the 1970s and the way that the religious right uses images of the fetus and the child everyday to draw the line between what is acceptable sexuality or action and what is not.

My main criticism of the JA broadcaster's decision is that it is far too extreme. I think a few of the concerns are valid but I think moral panic enabled a government intervention that resulted in problematic ideas about dancehall music and practitioners along with total censorship.

Thanks for commenting on this complicated issue.


Nicole said...

I agree that children, and like you said even the specter of the child, get used as vehicles for cultural conservatives to regulate non-normative forms of sexuality. However, I guess I still am on the fence in this situation. While I do agree that the measures are extreme, I have to question myself in believing if this really is a "non-normative" form of sexuality? It's hard for me at the moment to differentiate between the both. I can see how this censoring is in many ways pathologizing the music genre, and the artist involved as sexual deviants in need of correction. That I am not ok with.

However I guess my qualms with the issue lie with Mr. Vegas statement in regards to the language used "I'll make love to you we say "bend Ova"--- by we is he implying the very normative practice of male spectator over women's bodies? Let's not forget the very homophobic, hetornormative nature of many of the songs of the genre. "Burn da chi chi man" still makes my knees buckle every time I hear it on the dance floor at a club.

I wish there was a dialogue on this because it is really a complicated issue that really would be beneficial to tease out.

Thanks for posting this.