Once upon a time when I was still based in Los Angeles, California, a visiting Egyptian friend and bodybuilding champion expressed to me his immense appreciation for all things USA! USA!—in particular the way Americans were, as he put it, “free to come, go and do as they please.” In his own country, he sighed, “the people can say anything they want, as long as nobody is listening. They do as they are told. On the other hand, Hollywood keeps them happy.”
Actually Hollywood, state-edited and otherwise, makes the whole world sing, laugh or cry happily. It’s the reason Hollywood exists: to remove people from their miserable reality; to inspire exuberance, however irrational and short-lived. There being no such thing as a free lunch, even in the land of make believe, making people happy, if only for a couple of hours every few months, turns out to be a pretty lucrative business. Which explains why the likes of Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Hemsworth, Ben Affleck, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Morgan Freeman are paid countless millions to be pretend bare-knuckle boxers, pretend soldiers, pretend outer-space miracle workers—even pretend God.
To be fair, Hollywood has never pretended its purpose is to alleviate poverty, not at home and certainly not abroad. According to the showbiz bible Hollywood Reporter the vast majority of the 100,000 or so Screen Actors Guild membership earn less than $1,000 a year from acting jobs. Yes, you read that right. Most actors, regardless of how talented, keep the wolf from their motel doors as fast-food servers, Vegas hookers, bartenders, party decorators and over-ambitions bodyguards to the established stars.
As I say, the business of Hollywood is as a nonstop purveyor of impossible dreams. Once you’ve walked out of the cinema at the end of a movie you’re on your own; back to your roach motel and whatever gets you through the night.
Hollywood in Saint Lucia, at any rate our tangible Hollywood, as opposed to pretend Hollywood, operates by the same rules as the so-called film capital of the world. (Curiously, one or two—that prime ministerial phrase again!—of our more deprived communities were named after the gilded American enclave, which may be indicative of a particularly sick sense of humor, cynicism beyond measure, or, to borrow from our own Derek Walcott, “minds incapable of metaphor.”)
Not that the first-time visitor at his or her air-conditioned hotel is likely to hear many complaints from the ever-smiling help. A long time ago the greater part of our population had been calculatedly programed to “forget your troubles and dance.” More Hollywood; more pretending all’s well when everyone knows “you catchin’ your royals!” like the rest of us.
What a panacea the miracle mix of cheap intoxicants and endless free hours turns out to be. So busy are we celebrating non-events, mostly mythical and political, that we are left little time for depressing considerations.
The latest misery repellent is sold as the Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival. In slightly different formats it was earlier branded as Saint Lucia Jazz and Saint Lucia Jazz Festival. Born in 1992 of the late tourism minister Romanus Lansiquot and now UWP leader Allen Chastanet, the event was offered to the unquestioning gullible as a tourism booster. How much it was expected to cost was never a consideration, neither its profit potential. Indeed, its advertised purpose was to guarantee the island’s hoteliers full houses, if only for a couple of weeks, at a time when most resorts are half empty. As for the regular population, the vast majority were altogether unfamiliar with the music that had made world famous the likes of Miles Davis, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Nina Simone.
Despite appearances over the years by such as R. Kelly, Akon, the Jacksons and Mary J. Blige, it finally dawned on the promoters that Saint Lucia Jazz was an arm and a leg and livers too while attracting fewer and fewer enthusiasts from the music’s birthplace, the UK and Canada; that an increasing number came from the region and Looshan diasporas here and there. Alas, by that time carnival, as we had known it for eons, had been retooled, deracinated from its Lenten connections—and Aqua Action drowned—for reasons altogether arcane.
As I say, since the show was never conceived as a profit-making vehicle, no obvious effort was made to avert the massive losses. The imported leading performers were paid suspiciously high sums, by unconfirmed account tax-free. There have been performances presented by local organizations, allegedly secretly funded by government. In any event, small wonder that the promoters have never declared the amounts invested or the returns from such investments.
For certain, by 2014 the main audience at “festivals” staged at Mindoo Phillip Park, Fond d’Or, Laborie and Soufriere were from the region—most of the credit going to Kassav music and musicians. That most local hoteliers harmonized over the drawing power of the festival, that by 2013 had all but lost its jazz component, was hardly surprising. This year, it seemed no stone was left unturned in the tourist board’s determination to make the event’s 25th anniversary (by its various names), that seems to have coincided with our silliest season, absolutely unforgettable. At any rate, not forgotten before Polling Day. By all accounts attendance records were broken (a truth that some campaigning politicians doubtless will welcome), never mind that the lead act proved less than satisfying.
Alas, hardly had the curtain come down than harsh reality confronted the Hollywood delusion. Right there in Derek Walcott Square some young people, including at least one virgin, were debauched at gunpoint, a horror that evidently proved less worthy of the justice minister’s comment than that the show at Pigeon Point had been incident-free, thanks to the minister’s strategic deployment of police personnel.
Marc Anthony and his American showbiz colleagues returned home a tad richer than they were on arrival, leaving many of us a little bit poorer than we were before we forked out to hear Anthony sing for the less than one percent of his audience that understood Spanish.
Meanwhile the impact of IMPACS continues out of control: the beleaguered police are protesting a magistrate’s decision to hold an inquest into five fatal police shootings after the prime minister had already had his televised say on the incident; the nation’s recently acquired image as a holiday destination, especially dangerous for Brits, stands unimproved; U.S. State Department sanctions against our government for its apparent reluctance to prosecute IMPACS threaten to bite deeper; unemployment figures continue to be a major national headache and our justice system is so broken as to appear irreparable.
Ah, but another election-time carnival looms. Another excuse to forget our troubles, step into our tightest thongs and show-all Spandex while we party like it’s 1999 when nearly everyone believed what the tourist board put out in our name was gospel.