Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Wednesday, September 03, 2003  

Okay. It's been just about a week that Ryan posed these questions, as part of the blog chain-questionnaire game that I asked to be part of. And here, finally, are the answers. If you wish to take part, follow the simple rules hereunder:

1. Leave a comment, saying you want to be interviewed.
2. I'll follow up with five questions.
3. You'll post your five answers to my questions on your blog.
4. Your post will include these five simple rules.
5. You'll then ask other people five questions when they want to be interviewed, etc.

Now, for what they're worth, the answers to Ryan's questions. And although it took me this long to get around to answering them, I didn't spend all this time thinking up the answers. Even if I had, I doubt they'd've been much different.

1. You get a chance to spend a day relaxing and sharing a beer with anyone in history, living or dead. Who would it be and why?

She’d take a pass on the beer, but that wouldn’t make a day spent in the company of the closest, dearest friend I’m yet to meet, Bina Shah, any less relaxing or enjoyable.

2. The thing that pisses me off the most about the advertising industry is __________.

…having to work in it. Okay, that’s the glib answer. The real answer’s not so simple. I believe that advertising in and of itself is, for the most part a worthwhile profession. But, as with all fields, it has its problems; and in a country such as ours these problems all seem magnified, and they’re all related. So it isn’t simply a matter of boiling it down to one, easily definable problem. I’ll give two.

One is the reactionary nature of most business companies (at least, that I’ve had to deal with). Planning and research are often very poor, target markets not properly specified, and advertising campaigns usually rushed and incomplete (and always subject to change). Companies never seem to be proactive, forward-thinking; advertising is often only in response to competitors and as such is usually, to use the industry term, hard-sell: just show the product, the price, and (the bane of all advertising graphic artists) make the client’s logo as big as possible.

Which ties into the second major problem, the lack of creativity. There are some abundantly talented people in the ad industry here (I don’t pretend to be one of them). But they become easily frustrated (and cynical) because they by and large don’t get the opportunity to do truly creative work. Poor budgets aren’t the only problem; after all, a great idea costs nothing. But the conservative nature of business here, the thinking that says the consumer will not understand imaginative advertising--to which ad guru David Ogilvy countered (quite some years ago), “The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife”--means that basically we churn out a very risible, cynical, sometimes patronising form of advertising.

I could offer some solutions to these problems, but that wasn’t specifically asked, and this answer’s long enough as it is.

3. What's your favourite book of all time? And favourite writer?

The dreaded question, favourites.... I honestly wish I could just name a book and an author and be done with it, unlike those who say, “I’ve read too many good books to name just one, and there are so many great authors.” But the truth is I have read so many wonderful books, and my reading has been for the most part quite scattered so that I couldn’t be authoritative enough to pick one writer as greater, better than the rest I’ve read.

Different books have meant different things to me, affected me and changed me in different ways at different times. And I usually find, as with a past lover who’s out of your life for good, while a book may remain with me in certain ways, I almost never come back to it. (Poetry is another matter entirely.)

All of that just to say that I do not have a favourite book, nor a favourite author.

4. Should prostitution in the Caribbean be legalised? Why?

Yes. Prostitution--like illicit drugs, which I also think should be legalised--is essentially an issue of demand. There will always be a demand for the services of prostitutes (not for nothing is it the oldest profession in the world). Seen this way, the question of whether or not prostitution is a “bad” thing, something that should be discouraged and stamped out, simply does not arise.

It would be in the best interests of everyone involved--the government, the prostitutes, their patrons, the police--to officially recognise the existence of this industry, to look pragmatically upon it and get away from the tacit and often absurd arrangements that exist at present. Regularise is, tax it, and use some of the revenue to set up resource centres for prostitutes seeking alternative employment or help with education, assistance with children, drug rehabilitation, assistance with abusive relationships.

By the same token, we also need to put an end to child-prostitution, and the sex-tourism industry that it is allegedly spawning. But we aren’t doing anything about that, and our regressive, head-in-the-sand attitude towards prostitution in general (and other related issues, like abortion) isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

5. Jamaica is the cultural capital of the Caribbean. True or false? How come?

I’ve never been to Jamaica, so this is a question that I cannot categorically answer. If we take our definition of culture to mean the preponderance, support and popularity of indigenous music, literature and the arts, then quite conceivably one could measure up Jamaica per capita with the other Caribbean countries along these lines and make an objective decision. It’s quite possible that Jamaica would come out on top, at least in the Anglophone Caribbean--I suspect Cuba, in this sense, might be more “cultured” than Jamaica.

But of course culture isn’t simply a matter of books published and plays staged and albums released. Culture is a larger entity of which the existence of the arts is an example; culture encompasses a nation’s and a people’s ethos, the attitudes and philosophies towards everything from governance to education to the treatment of minorities and the environment. Culture isn’t so much the existence of certain physical entities or institutions as it is about how these things are viewed, practised. Culture isn’t a noun, but a verb.

In this sense, unfortunately, the Caribbean lacks culture in many ways, and can’t really be said to have a cultural capital. Or so I think.

posted by Jonathan | 3:37 PM 0 comments


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