FUAD KHAN’S view that Carnival and Carnival music re-enforce harmful attitudes men have in relation to women has not been music to the ears of some soca fanatics. Neither is the argument new for TT nor music-making and loving Caribbean countries with their host of carnivals. While its foolish to make music, and not men, responsible, Khan has nonetheless pointed to the underappreciated fact that culture has a big role to play in fighting misogyny.
In a social media video, the Barataria/San Juan MP provided a different angle on the apparent spike in violence against women, which drew the attention of the nation after the murder of three women in the space of a few days. Telling men to “grow up,” he also suggested the root of the problem is Carnival.
“Carnival causes it,” Khan said. “Carnival degrades women to the extent that men feel that it’s okay to be degrading a woman. In all of our Carnival songs, in all of our Carnival movements, women feel they have to be getting on like some kind of wajang and the Carnival songs degrade women.” Though he did not single out any specific genre, in comments elsewhere he implicated soca, chutney, and dancehall.
Khan’s opinions follow a familiar pattern of turning culture into a scapegoat. For as long as the media has existed, it has often been blamed for a breakdown in social values. Films, moralists say, are too violent; novels too gritty; television too graphic.
Such thinking has often been rebutted by arguments suggesting that these mediums are ways in which a society relieves itself of dangerous impulses. Famed horror director Wes Craven once remarked that horror films allow audiences to purge themselves of darkness, not enact it.
In relation to our local music it’s not clear which has come first, the chicken or the egg? Is our music a reflection of pre-existing views? Or does music shape those views, give people permission to act out? A 2013 Elon University undergraduate study of the influence of hip-hop and rap music on college students concluded that the latter is true.
“Continued audience exposure to misogynistic lyrics in popular rap/hip-hop music influences college students’ attitudes toward the issue of domestic violence,” researcher Gretchen Cundiff found.
Khan is wrong to suggest the explicit, sexualised content of music is, on its own, misogynistic. In fact, some may say music has empowered women to own their sexuality. However, he’s right to point to the influence music has in bolstering misogynistic thinking. This happens through the messages sent in specific songs, amid the overall raunchiness or high-energy delivery.
Music is ultimately a communal genre, one that connects us by showing us our universal experiences. When artists opt to bolster negative stereotypes without qualification, they give their audience implicit permission to persist in negative attitudes. That is the real sour note of our Carnival which requires retuning.