Thoughts on T&T's Carnival of Commercialization By: Soy Forde
Carnival in TnT is so special to all ah we, like we need blood in we veins--that’s how we feel about Port-of-Spain--” Destra Garcia.
This is really born from a place of anxiety as well as one of love. I love Carnival but I get increasingly ambivalent about what it is becoming reduced to with each passing year. I’m anxious too about what “people” will say because you know, people get real vex any time you criticize Carnival and it’s commercialization. I guess it’s kind of like hearing Sat Maharaj berate chutney music for the ten millionth time, after a while, people just get exasperated and say, “well yuh doh hadda listen to it nah!”Which is kind of along the lines of the same thing that people will tell you when you critique Carnival culture. In true Trini fashion, you will hear, “well doh participate nah!” Or something to that effect. But what happens if you really do love Carnival, you know that Lord Kitchener’s “Carnival Baby” is about you; it’s almost like that song pulses in your veins. You cannot let it go--even when it’s over. You love it for its historical context, its social implications, its freeness, its energy. You see how Carnival is really like a kind of “thing” too, throbbing with its own lifeline while simultaneously existing deep within all of us true Carnival babies. You almost can see it too and you can watch something or someone and say, “yuh see dat right there. Now THAT is Carnival.”............................
Speaking of critical thinking........Many people are concerned about the way in which elitist and classist ideals have invaded and almost totally transformed Carnival from what it once was, to the well-heeled money making machine that it is today. Some of us understand this too but it does not stop us from jumping up and having a damn good time (honestly speaking, myself included). I’m not even going to waste too much time on the exorbitant cost for costumes because that would be like beating a dead horse and we’ve all bitched and moaned about that before--AND saved for our down payments simultaneously.
Still, there are those who often cry that progress and change are the true marks of an evolving society. As a result, it seems as though Carnival must undoubtedly adapt because of this growth. Carnival culture today seems almost warped beyond recognition in some sense. This is the Carnival culture that is largely mass produced today, packaged and sold to the world and supported by many of us. This Carnival culture is supported by a slew of online communities who obsess over the ins and outs of the season, bloggers, freshwaters who fly in and out only for the greatest show on earth, locals, many young people, foreigners and assorted other interested enterprises for whom the entire essence of Carnival revolves around: bedazzled boots (of course, only because they’re in style now and not necessarily because they are functional, even though in all likelihood, they very well might be), beautiful bodies, the perceived socio-economic borderline between the frontline and the backline, the extent to which one can be able to match accessories months in advance, among other factors from the mundane to the ridiculous.
The so-called branding of mas bands epitomizes the capitalistic consumer culture that permeates Carnival culture today. People today name drop mas bands like a luxury brand name, like it defines their character, or defines their self-worth. The clique-ish ness of the tight inner circles of these mas band enterprises are often reminiscent of secondary school in-and-out social circles. Some people are obviously delighted to be in the know and others are clearly out. Enough of us want to know to consistently incite speculation and postulations all year round, right into the next season. We want and we want and we want. We covet the exclusivity of special section costumes echoing our own social anxieties and dreams as we prance in the streets for two days. If and until you are seriously tight over some Johnny--this seems to be what matters most. Already, we want to know, what colours? What themes? Who’s in and most importantly, who’s out of this band and why?..........
Mas bands then, arguably mimic our own social prejudices now more than ever before. Carnival has a serious dark side beneath those feathered plumes; though growth can be a beautiful thing, we must be careful that the entire discourse of Carnival doesn’t get reduced to nothingness. On top of all this, the yearly price gouging for essentially a similar if not same product forges on. Mas bands like any good corporate giant gleefully exploit the insatiable need for masqueraders to participate in their successful branding schemes. Kind of reminds me of that David Rudder song, “dis is not de kinda jam where yuh stand up like a moomoo, de riddim go jam you!” And who yuh think is the one getting jam? Real madness going on here.
The ultimate value of one’s Carnival expenditure in dollars and cents begins to trump the cultural one because we’ve begun to value the trappings so much more while the historical and social implications get lost beneath all the glitter. As Trinbagonians, we presume that all of us have had access to and at least exposure to the range of our own cultural artifacts and our own cultural history inside of our islands. So we want to believe and we take this for granted even though this is clearly not always the case. What about less informed souls? Many people out here think that this is what Carnival is all about: superficiality of outward presentations, copious amounts of money to be spent on skimpy costumes. Devoid of any kind of theatre, we wear these temporary flights of fancy disconnected from the past in drunken abandonment wining alongside others who live just like we do. Carnival hasn’t been accessible to all walks of Trinbagonians for a long, long time now.
It is a pity we all cannot have ONE view on everything in the world, that we are all not interested in having MARSE as theater on the streets in lovely flowing robes of decorated fabric that means something, right? One homogeneous brain when it comes to Carnival because only THEN can we say that we truly LOVE Carnival.