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My Crazy New Jamaican Life: what’s all the fuss about?

JAMAICA, LAND WE LOVE: Holly (left) and Debbie

“I AM 62 years old, and in all my years, me never yet hear say Jamaican men love to have nuff pickney wid different woman.”

These were the words from one of the elders in my family – a Jamaican man – who I decided to consult after watching last night’s (Oct 24) Channel 4 documentary, My Crazy New Jamaican Life.

Clearly, said family member wasn’t impressed with the show’s insinuation that men having children with multiple women, is somehow part of Jamaican culture. Frankly, I wasn’t impressed with this either.

But after pressing him further to ask if he was offended by the programme in general, he said: “No. Clearly it wasn’t a representation of Jamaican culture as a whole.” Again, I agreed with him wholeheartedly.

However, it seems he and I are in the minority. If the countless Twitter feeds from angry viewers were any indication, it seems that many were truly offended by the programme, believing it to be a negative representation of Jamaican culture.

Some people were so annoyed, they even launched Twitter fury towards UK singer Shola Ama for narrating the show!

Just to recap, the show followed the lives of two young English white women, 25-year-old Debbie and 19-year-old Holly, who had both developed a fixation with “Jamaican culture”.

Debbie has three children with Jamaican-born Variel and was described as a woman who loves Jamaican food, music and culture. Seemingly loyal and in love, Debbie was clearly distraught when she learned that Variel was expecting a child with another woman.

But she accepted the situation and was happy for her beau to remain her beau, because, according to her, having lots of “pickneys” with various women was, for some – and she did stress “some” – Jamaican men was the norm.

Furthermore, with Variel doubling up as a club promoter, Debbie accepted that her boyfriend’s job meant that he was always surrounded by women. Variel himself bragged that he doesn’t even have to look for women, because they flock to him.

Meanwhile, after years of bullying and feeling like an outsider (she heartbreakingly said that she had never had one single friend in her life), Holly found happiness and acceptance after discovering dancehall culture.

Often the only white girl at dancehall club nights, Holly – who explained that her love of Jamaican culture was born when she discovered the music and videos of Sean Paul – had studied dancehall videos on YouTube in order to learn how to wuk up her waist like the greatest dancehall queens.

Impressed by the excitement of ‘Jamaican culture’ – by Holly’s account, the creativeness of the fashion; the way that the men always colour-coordinate their outfits; and the uniqueness of the Jamaican accent (even though she confessed, hilariously, that she couldn’t understand what her new-found Jamaican friend Odean was saying half the time) – the self-confessed loner found joy in the new world she’d discovered.

For me – the product of Jamaican parents – an account of Jamaican culture given by two white English women is not, and cannot be, a representation of Jamaican culture at large. Thinking otherwise would be as foolish as believing that the 2012 glory of the Jamaican Olympic team suggests that every Jamaican can run as fast as Usain Bolt.

Don’t get me wrong, having penned several articles expressing my concern about the representation of black Brits in various programmes, I fully understand why, when we so rarely see black-interest programmes on our screens, we can be sensitive about how we are portrayed when we do make it to the small screen.

But I am beginning to worry that we’re giving too much credence – as did many who expressed their anger at My Crazy New Jamaican Life – to the view that these programmes will make ‘them’ – namely non-black or, in this case non-Jamaican folks – think that ‘we’re all like that.’

TV network Fox has recently begun airing a programme called Meet The Russians. I know very little about Russian culture, but I’d bet my bottom dollar that the people in the show are not a representation of all Russians – in the same was that Channel 4’s My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding probably wasn’t a true representation of all Irish travellers.

Similarly, My Crazy New Jamaican Life did NOT offer an overview of Jamaican culture. What it did give viewers was the accounts of two English women, who each had individual experiences of Jamaican culture.

Debbie, whose own family rejected her after she embarked on a relationship with a black man, was embraced by Variel’s family, which she now describes as her own.

As such, she was introduced to elements of Jamaican culture, specifically the food, which she explained Variel’s father and sister taught her how to cook.

In my humble opinion, the tragedy of her situation was not that she had a philandering Jamaican boyfriend, but that her self-esteem was so low that she would remain in an on-off relationship with a man – Jamaican or otherwise – who was happy to be with her, whilst also maintaining a relationship with his new “baby mother”, young black woman Vanessa.

Equally sad was that Vanessa – despite knowing Variel remained in a relationship with his “baby mother” Debbie – was happy to also be with the promoter and even described herself as his “girlfriend”.

Holly’s fixation with Jamaican culture was born out of her desire to channel the frustration she felt after years of bullying and social exclusion. And frankly, if putting on her custom-made hot pants – complete with the word ‘bashment’ emblazoned across the back – and heading down to Lewisham’s Zanzibar nightclub to wine up herself allowed her to feel liberated, good luck to her I say!

Folks – particularly Jamaican folks – who were aggrieved by this programme, please remember: My Crazy New Jamaican Life was not a documentary about Jamaica. It wasn’t set in Jamaica and it didn’t even focus on a collective of Jamaican people.

By all means lobby Channel 4 with demands to see more balanced and varied representations of black/Jamaican culture, which is probably a more key issue.

But let’s not buy into the foolish idea that My Crazy New Jamaican Life was a representation of Jamaican culture. It was a programme about two English women who developed a love for elements of Jamaican culture. That is all.

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