Is that Who I think it is?: Passing Porn & Notes on Life in a Small Place

“I say the whole worl’ is only a dam’ little morsel of a place. Besides Trinidad is a smaller place even. It all close up on itself, an’ you have to look out fo’ that with the bigges’ eyes you have.”– Old Boss, The Humming Bird Tree (1969)

One of the things I aimed to do in the new year was to write more about things I had wanted to  talk about before—but hadn’t had the time or gumption to do before. A prime example of that would be the Anya Ayoung-Chee episode and so, here I go, talking about it now. Now, when Anya’s porn tape/s got “leaked”–one of the most fascinating aspects of the whole debacle to me, were the ways in which certain people immediately closed ranks around the issue (and her) and grew a moral spinal cord, refusing to pass on the footage.

Sometimes, the same people who were passing Sampson Nanton footage left, right and center (for anyone who remembers that episode, for anyone who hasn’t the foggiest idea—ask a Trinbagonian) not to mention, other sundry videos/stills. So I couldn’t figure out if some of the Trinbagonians I knew, on a whole, had just evolved to the point where the moral high ground on which they stood just got loftier and markedly higher, or what the heck was going on. Or whether Nanton, being a man, made it easier for folks to engage in the passage of pornographic footage of him. Either way, both are/were relatively public Trinbagonian figures whose sexual interludes ended up, being unfortunately broadcast for the public through the medium of the internet.

Allegedly, there are like six degrees of separation out in the larger world, in Trinidad and Tobago—it’s like three, sometimes even two, but still, I don’t know Anya, never met her or anything and concurrently, I actually do know a few folks that know her. I also know for a fact that I know people who didn’t know her at all but said things like: “well I have it but I don’t want to do that to her.” And I was like, do what? You don’t even know her. Following which, they invariably got busy at some point, via facebook and elsewhere, lambasting all the hordes of horrible horrible people out there, somewhere, doing the passing (presumably not the first person who directly passed it to them though).

Plus all of the bleating about the culturally ingrained “bad-mindedness” and whatnot of Trinbagonians on a whole, (except for them) for not letting the story sink into the abyss of a socially carved-out safe space for select people. As someone pointed out elsewhere on facebook, the local media even closed ranks on the story, until it went foreign that is, yet they easily dissected the virtues of Wendy Fitzwilliam‘s supposed illegitimate pregnancy with no qualms.

And of course—no, you don’t need to know someone to show compassion for them or empathise with them, absolutely not. I don’t operate like that and that’s not my point at all but it sure was mighty interesting to see how matters unfolded. And I was left wondering, was this symptomatic of something else? And yes, there was a point where I was actively seeking the footage—not because I wanted to aid in the exploitation of another young woman—but a sexual video, done by legal, consenting adults with all their faculties and free-will intact—is not the same thing. Mainly, I just wanted to see what the hoopla was about. Seriously. I mean, it even reached on blasted TMZ. And you know when it reach foreign news—it’s a big story.

A young black woman made a criticism on facebook in a thread, (I’m paraphrasing and ad-libbing to what she said a bit) about how large numbers of Trinis were hiding behind the class privilege and colour privilege awarded to this particular Ms. Trinidad and Tobago by virtue of who she was, her shade, her last name et al. and were using that as an unacknowledged frame, through which they then made a morality stance about a sex tape and a threesome—for that reason.

Of course, real people jumped down her throat for it but it was a biting acknowledgement and a brave one. And true, to a large extent. Many of those same people pass porn, porn stills and scandalous photos involving brown-skinned and black Trini-identified women and young girls all the bloody time without a fuss or any kind of moral reckoning. I know, they have appeared in my inbox randomly time and time again. And why is this? Because they are not famous or something?

Clearly, people of a certain socio-economic class who saw themselves as part of a certain kind of social (and or racial) group disproportionately closed ranks around the story compared to other folks, in my observation. Unraveling all of this means getting into that sometimes uncomfortable space occupied by the politics of representation (in a particularly Trinbagonian sense) and understanding how some groups of people posit themselves vis-a-vis everyone else (and we all do, I think, in different kinds of ways and from a milieu of racialized histories) and where this “representation” then, becomes connected to the ways in which those people are then possessive of, or protective of that representation.

The thing is too, life in a small place—a small island, seemingly larger than life on the inside, but essentially small—is just that. These beautiful but “tiny theatres of conflict and confusion” to quote the brilliant David Rudder; these islands that are  ultimately, potentially dispensible for a larger world that can, one day afford to decide it “don’t need islands no more.”  This smallness also means that the potential for the next scandal to include either someone you know, someone who knows someone you know, or could be related to, or otherwise connected to you or any of the above in some direct and or extraneous way is always very high. Which I suppose, in a sense, fuels the passage of certain kinds of material around the place.

So does that mean then, if I happened to have, erm, made a mistake involving a record of nudity (let’s just say—hypothetically), wouldn’t I want the same for myself? As opposed to it ending up inside my father’s inbox, my cousin’s and primary school friends and other friends—almost simultaneously? (My dear Mum, bless her heart, would not like that either). Hah. So probably I would want that for myself but I wouldn’t ever hold my breath on that happening either. Another interesting facet of life in a small island: seeing where and for whom folks close ranks and just where they don’t. How the news of other things doesn’t always spread how you want it to, take for example, the details behind the still unsolved Akiel Chambers case for one. (It’s Trinidad, you know somebody knows something everything).

People close ranks when they want to, spread information like wildfire when they choose to and they talk when they want to. Also springing from the same fabric are those people who swear up and down that they know a certain incident at Mt. Hope hospital involving a one, Machel Montano, way back when, actually took place. They just know. Right. (Ok, none of this is exclusive to small island societies either but you can catch my drift because inside a smaller space it is an almost always inescapable facet). I don’t know Mr. Montano either but I will continue to take certain kinds of things with a grain of salt. Everyone, after all, has an agenda. Conjecture becomes truth. Truth gets twisted. All these things happen, o, so easily inside a small place.

The other thing too, is true transformative discussions about race, class, identity and the like are sometimes hard to do in some West Indian circles—least of all on a gossip thread on facebook. Some Trinis can be quick to default to the utopic “rainbow people” meme, which then kind of derails most critical observations and or conversations pertinent to race as it plays out in our society. And where this intersects with class, sex and sexuality could truly get sticky too, especially when folks are loath to even discuss it. But they do intersect. Smack, dab at a crux oftentimes.

Additionally, all of the rampant media and pop-cultural messages which prompt bell hooks to assert that “just as nineteenth-century representations of black female bodies were constructed to emphasize that these bodies were expendable, contemporary images (even those created in black cultural production) give a similar message.” And we’ve surely been receiving them in the West Indies! In my post Viva La Black Girl, I tried to touch on the fallacy of the we’re all one big happy, wonderful mix-up, callaloo people trope and the issues with that—among other things.

I call it a fallacy because hierarchies still exist anyway, even as people tout supposed rampant race-mixtures and someone—the same one—is always relegated to the bottom of the totem pole, so it’s not necessarily a better trade-off than some rigid racialised binary (Caribbean people’s frequent critique of race in America and the “I didn’t know anything about racism til I come up here,” or that “I could be considered black till I came up here” type deal). Plus, at the end of the day, constructive dialogue always helps I think. Let’s not submerge everything under the swizzle stick of the ‘loo without attention to the ways in which we can work on dismantling the various -isms shall we? Colourism, racism, classism, sexism to name a few.

And speaking of skin shade, sexuality and perceptions of beauty, imagine in this day and age, people talking about the absence of phenotypically black covergirls for a certain Trinbagonian glossy scenes-and-gossip magazine. Which is oftentimes a lot like flipping through any Tribe carnival souvenir calendar. (Mind you, this coming from someone with the distinct memory of the so-called “white nights” at Base nightclub, as well as the one at Club Coconuts—having been to said nights at each, that were very, um, interesting, to say the least. As I am not ‘trini white’ but that is a whole other discussion for some other time, if ever). Which brings me right around to being ever grateful for the people and communities that do engage in such valuable discussions, especially some of the folks that I know personally, as well as sites like racialicious which I love and read a lot lately.

Anyway, back to the porn, now if you were one of those people that I know, I better not see or hear of you passing me or anyone, anything else lewd and salacious again—hear me—again, via e-mail forwards with a subject-line screaming that it is “Trini porn!” “Trini school porn!”, somebody’s “local” daughter with the last name Rampersad or anything of that nature. If you’re not passing porn to “hurt” a fellow Trinbagonian (whether you know them or not)—then it better not be any damn kind of porn. Basically, I’m thinking if all the people who took a stand about Anya continue to do so indiscriminately—the levels of local porn bacchanalia surrounding who is doing what to whom, where and how in the next scandal—would drop tremendously across the nation. If you say you’re about it—be about it. You don’t get to pick and choose which women* are worthy of that reprieve and which ones are not with your class, colour and race blinders on—I’ll be holding you all to that.

* Or men or boys for that matter. I had to amend to my critique of this wall of protection around a certain kind of woman by adding that apparently if it happens to be male homosexual sex acts involved, coupled with underage Trinidadian students (think form 3 age) in a video—then NOT as many people care about protecting anyone then! Ironic eh? The distance with which some of  the vast majority of the heterocentric populace imagines themselves from these  BOYS—is astounding, and makes me sad. Now, here is a video, for anyone who has heard or seen the gory details, that really doesn’t need to be circulated all over Trinidad and Tobago.

Just because it’s a homosexual encounter—this doesn’t give you a pass. They’re still kids, basically, under the age of 18. Being a homophobe doesn’t give you a pass either. Whether those boys did a silly thing, by not preventing it from becoming public, doesn’t give you a pass either. People are ending up using hateful homophobic rhetoric to allow the movement of this footage, to punish the boys—and others like them. Especially based on some of the sentiments seen expressed via facebook and elsewhere online, and on the call-in radio in Trinidad and such places. And all these people just need to stop.

Related links, suggested further readings & references:

Out of a similar milieu of slavery and oppression–very similar–not exactly the same, in the West Indies and the US, the process of de-legitimizing & dehumanizing the black woman is similar in some ways  and different in others. These articles below are great resources for learning about the “Jezebel” and “Sapphire” images thrust onto black women which all have parts to play in the presumption of black women’s innate sexual availablity & the low price placed on protecting black womanhood.

Thus some people who are wont to appoint themselves as Trini porn police, might be less likely to check themselves over images involving women who look a certain way—but will fumble when the images present women whose shade and social class make them suddenly uncomfortable with exploiting her nakedness but not others.

http://www.ferris.edu/htmls/news/jimcrow/jezebel/

http://www.ferris.edu/htmls/news/jimcrow/sapphire/

In the West Indies, the image of the ‘mulatress’ as temptress emerged as a version of the oversexualized black-mixed-raced “brown” woman. Additionally, the heralding of “brown-ness” as a kind of physical beauty & color ideal in the hierarchy of desirability. Patricia Mohammed’s article listed below is a excellent resource for further reading about this. If you have access to a university library catalogue or a really good public library, you can find it in:

Feminist Review, No 65, from Summer 2000, pgs 22-48. “‘But most of All mi love mi browning’: The Emergence in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Jamaica of the mulatto woman as the desired.”

Further informative reading on the lives and relationships of white and black West Indian women in relation to one another, white creole subjectivity, black West Indian & white creole womanhood before and after slavery, white creole identity through the eyes of women who lived and experienced it via personal accounts and various writings and much much more: Women Writing the West Indies 1804-1939: “a hot place, belonging to us” by Evelyn O’Callaghan also, 

“Text, Testimony and Gender: An Examination of some Texts by Women in the English-speaking Caribbean, from the 1770s to the 1920s” by Bridget Brereton from Engendering History: Caribbean Women in Historical Perspective

Andrea Shaw’s piece “Big Fat Fish” in Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal, Fall 2005 talks about the hypersexualization of fat black women’s bodies in the Caribbean, from dancehall queens to “Saucy Wow”. Read it here:

http://anthurium.miami.edu/volume_3/issue_2/shaw-bigfatfish.htm

bell hooks, “Selling Hot Pussy: Representations of Black Female Sexuality in the Cultural Marketplace.” From Black Looks: Race and Representation.

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One Response to “Is that Who I think it is?: Passing Porn & Notes on Life in a Small Place”

  1. 2010 in review « creative commess Says:

    […] Is that Who I think it is?: Passing Porn & Notes on Life in a Small Place March 2010 4 […]

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