Big People Business Outta Road

Marcia Forbes PhD

Jamaican boaters have a favourite expression, ‘What happens at sea stays at sea’. I believe they honour this adage. Similarly, we often hear, ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’. Gamblers and others who jet off to Vegas honour this tradition of silence. Like boaters and gamblers, dancehall aficionados once subscribed to the belief that what happens in the dance is supposed to stay in the dance. 

Dancehall (the venue) as well as what happens there is ‘big people business’. ‘Pickney do’an belong in big people business’ is what many of us may have heard from our Grandparents and parents. As children most of us agreed. So why now do we have dancehall business available to all and sundry, big people and pickney alike, all over the place?  
Never wanting to be regarded as an ‘armchair professor’ and since I am exploring the subject of sexual culture of adolescents and its intersections with music, I made my way to Passa Passa. For the uninitiated, it’s a community dance session held mid-weekly in Tivoli Gardens. What I saw there is big people business and fortunately I saw few children. I was fascinated by the way in which the ubiquitous video camera and camera- man became participant observers in the activities. Not just capturing but also creating content as attendees performed specifically for the camera.
I imagined the many Jamaicans, oversees especially, who would enjoy the passa passa of
Passa Passa. What I did not imagine was that the material would be packaged for presentation on public passenger vehicles right here at home. I am told that the vast majority of Coaster buses now boast multiple screens from which passengers are entertained with contents video taped at dancehalls across Jamaica, not just at Passa Passa. I am also told that children would rather pay the $10 extra fare to ride the Coaster buses so they can watch the videos.
You find that the school girls dem try to copy what the video do. Because you see in the Coaster them, them play the music video and the girls dem have sex inna di bus. Them have some secret holes in some a di bus them.”
This piece of information came from a 15 year old girl. Of course the girls aren’t having sex by themselves so boys and men are complicit with what is going on in these music buses. The thought of riding a Coaster bus to get a first hand view of what has been described to me was tempting, but only for a quick minute.   All the other things which go with riding the bus in Jamaica today caused me to opt for ‘armchair professor’ status.
A mature woman helped to prepare the transcripts from the indepth interviews I recently concluded. Over the period she was doing this she experienced the journey on the Coaster with Passa Passa  entertainment. She gave me an earful of her experience. It was all new to her and her interest was particularly piqued because of her work on the transcripts and what she had learnt by sitting in on the interviews. 
After her very animated descriptions I asked her quite bluntly whether or not watching the video made her feel horny. In her own inimitable style she coyly admitted that they did. If these videos can turn on a woman whose hormones are no longer ‘raging’ since she would be perhaps close to 60 years of age, what are they doing for teenagers? 
Based on the indepth interviews it is clear to me that Jamaican children from lower socio-economic strata as well as upper middle income strata are very busy imitating quite a lot of the things they see on TV and via cell phones. They appear to especially imitate what they see in pornographic movies, music videos and dancehall recordings. Children from lower income communities in particular seem to have fairly easy access to pornography via cable TV as well as via as cell phones. In middle class homes there appears to be greater levels of restrictions.
Blue tooth technology has opened up a whole new world of pornography to adolescents. As one lower income mature male adolescent explained, “You just download it off the internet….and it come to yuh phone…Cell phones, it still bring the same thing as the TV, but only it can go higher than the TV….Because dem show more on the phone than weh dem woulda show on the TV…. Like more derogatory things”
As I questioned the quality of the image my interviewee responded, that yes the images were ‘jerky jerky’ but the appealing nature of the content outweighed the poor resolution. “Yeah, but on the phone them carry it straight everything weh you waan see them just put it on it.”   This from a boy who professed to be a devout Christian who was baptized and goes to church at least once per week, and who also felt that he didn’t keep bad company. 
Don’t get me wrong I am not being judgmental about this boy’s actions. At 17 he is entitled to want to watch pornography, whether he professes to be a Christian or not. My main point is the easy access to pornography which technologies such as cable TV and cell phones now allow. My secondary point is the way in which this boy sees himself almost like a ‘goodie two shoes’ while clearly enjoys more worldly activities.
Below I present a collection of quotes from various adolescents, rich and poor, black and white, from uptown and downtown, to highlight some of the ways in which our young people are actively imitating the things they see and hear on TV, whether that TV is a cell phone version or plain old TV.
“Like some of the artist them a smoke and it show the youth them seh them can smoke anytime them feel fi smoke” 17 year old Male, Lower income socio-economic group
“When me watch it people a dance and me learn the style” 13 year old Male, Lower income socio-economic group
“Like hot wok video….the girls fanning up this and fanning up that” 13 year old Male, Upper socio-economic group
“I’ve seen videos where children look at it and say ‘yes we should do it’. The hairstyle, although they may look odd, they wear different colours.” 13 year old Female, Upper middle income socio-economic group
“I know one boy who listen to the music weh seh ‘pick up the gun’ so him now go listen to the music…and him is one of the criminals in….” 15 year old Female, Lower income socio-economic group
“Like the song weh say ‘tek buddy gal’, because when you listen to it you a go want do weh the music say.” 15 year old Female, Lower income socio-economic group
This last quote was with reference to the latest dance craze politely called ‘Hot Wok’ but really know as ‘Hot F…’ by the youths in view of it’s  references to sexual activities and the associated sounds. In several interviews adolescents made mention of the ways in which the dances performed by the girls in this music video by Mr. Vegas are being imitated at parties. They flash their fingers as if in pain, the way one does when burnt, but the burn has everything to do with sex. As in the video, they make sexual moaning and groaning noises. 
From the interviews and as highlighted in the quotes above, it is clear that music videos teach many things. As one girl noted, “music now, it tell you good things and it tell you bad things”. Who decided which is which? 
What young people download on cell phones is a function of parental guidance and interventions. This can not be mandated by Government. Similarly Government should not try and realistically cannot mandate what is fit for play and the related dancing actions which accompany these songs and music videos which are played in the dancehall.  
Such performances however, belong right there-- in the dancehall, not on public passenger vehicles. This is a matter for policy makers and it is here that Government can and should play a role. Surely it cannot be beyond our capacity as a small island with perhaps a couple hundred buses to control the Coasters and whichever other buses these videos are being played on.