Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Hear ye, all women and others of diminished capacity

So I'm reading today's Nation newspaper and I come across an article on the Comment page. It's accompanied by a photo of one of our roundabouts, and called The correct Way to use a multi-lane road. And so I think "Finally. Someone with some authority is going to wake drivers up to some of the mistakes they've been making on our fairly new multi-lane motorways, and perhaps fewer people will die on the streets." And I suppose that's how it was intended, but it took a couple a very, very wrong turns. (See what I did there?)

The article is quite terse, and even sounds a little angry. And honestly, doesn't make much sense. The writer suggests that on a dual roadway, the right lane is always and only for overtaking the traffic on the left, and that once right lane drivers have overtaken, they should exit onto the left lane. Now I understand the concept. It reduces to this: the right lane is a fast lane. (Apparently I'm wrong, as you'll see.) If you intend in the short term to be going faster than the other drivers, the right lane is yours. When/if your pace normalizes or matches that of the average of other drivers, then you should switch to the left. At the end of the article, we're told, again tersely: there is no such thing as a slow lane and fast lane, which, following the earlier explanation, isn't strictly true. By definition, if the right lane is for overtaking, it is a fast lane, or at least a faster lane than the left.

But I suppose the ill-explained point is that you shouldn't take the right lane if you intend to keep pace with the average speed of traffic, or if you simply intend to 'drive fast'. The point is to overtake. Although, if none of the other drivers in the right lane understands this, you pretty much end up trying to overtake but with nowhere to go, because the driver in front of you is probably thinking she can hang out in the right lane since no one's going much faster than anyone else, as is the driver in front of her, and the driver in front of him. (And this will also tend to happen since, in a country the size of Barbados, there are approximately 5 centimeters on the motorway between roundabouts. So somebody who is not overtaking will end up in the right lane. It has to happen.) And so, apparently, the hideous cycle unfolds, with the undesirable effect of blocking the overtaking lane and therefore ending humanity as we know it.

And then we're told:

If you are being overtaken by traffic on the left you are creating an
obstruction...and...encouraging the dangerous practice of overtaking on the
left and zig-zagging through traffic.

So understand this: if you ever find yourself being overtaken by some impatient buffoon who is breaking traffic rules and the speed limit by overtaking on the left, you are to blame. It means that you must be too slow and stupid to know not to block impatient buffoons. And it is always your fault, because no one who finds themselves zig-zagging through traffic is ever wrong.

And then the writer goes on:

If you are in the right lane and the lights of the car behind you are flashing
it means the driver wants to overtake or you are blocking the overtaking lane.

I love how they encourage impatience and general road rage, and place the responsibility for reckless drivers squarely on the shoulders of the rest of us who are simply trying not to die. Here's the thing: maybe if someone is flashing her lights at you, you're a bit slow for the right lane and should try and adjust, either by accelerating or merging to the left if you can (for crap's sake please don't freak out and merge into a Bico truck because that will not end well.) Or maybe the light flasher is just an entitled piece of poop who wants to intimidate every other driver off the road so she can make it to the roundabout in 5 seconds instead of the usual 7. This article, far from keeping people safe, is encouraging the worst, most reckless drivers out there to continue being reckless, and worse, validating their crude, dangerous behaviour.

So I'm thinking surely this cannot have been written by the Police Force or the Ministry of Transport and Works because the tone is so personal and angry, and because there's only a passing reference to one of the real accident causers: improper usage and poor understanding of the newly-signed roundabouts. There's also no mention of other problem-causing novelties like the new give-ways and off-ramp acceleration lanes. And then I look at the bottom and realize that it was written by C.O Williams Construction Ltd. So the whole point of the article isn't as much to save lives as it is to sulk and yell because they built this great toy and we're using it wrong. So at this point I'm starting to expect a lot less of this writer, which is a good thing, considering what comes next:

This notice particularly refers to women, taxi and truck drivers as they are usually the main offenders when it comes to blocking the overtaking lane.

Seriously? Who wrote this thing?

Even if you are of the "damn women drivers" school of disgruntlement, which I'm not going to tackle because I know I'm not going to change your mind or expand your consciousness or any of that good stuff, what is the point of flagging those people you envision as the main offenders at the end of article? It's not as if you begin: "Hey! Women, taxi drivers and truck drivers: listen here!" Clearly, by the time you've already explained all your rules, the only point of pointing out that women are the chief offenders is to say "I know you women are reading this thinking it's not you. But it's you. You are the reason we're writing this thing. So just stop it right now." And to those women out there reading this entry and snickering smugly to yourself thinking "But you know..he's right. Those other women can't drive," don't even bother, because he means you too.

If you're going to write about how to use the roads, just write about how to use the roads. Yes it's insulting to single out women (as opposed to taxi and truck drivers who are a small percentage of male drivers. You're basically saying "women can't drive. Men can drive in general, except for these special categories of male drivers), although given the overall angry, entitled attitude of the piece it makes sense and was probably written by he of the light-flashing and zig-zagging. But more than insulting, it's unprofessional and unnecessary. Does this writer envision that a woman reading this will be persuaded by the "you may think it's not you but it really is. You're a woman, see" argument?

The article is just another light-flashing, left-lane-overtaking attempt at intimidation of certain drivers, namely women. And coming from a private citizen it would be unsurprising, but from a corporate entity, it's disappointing, especially since it's presented with authority.

But you know, take this with a grain of salt because after all, I'm only a woman.

Monday, 14 December 2009

And look how well that worked out for Buju

I've attempted to write this post so many times, and so far have not made it past the first sentence. Finally, last week, I saw an old friend - a Bajan reggae artiste - and although I intended only to do the hugs and catch-up thing, I ended up holding forth on this particular disappointment, while he, ever gracious and probably slightly afraid, nodded and smiled and looked around for an exit. So lest I alarm any more innocent passersby, here I go.

A few days ago, I went with some friends to see one of our local reggae bands perform. Their set was mostly covers of Sanchez covers, Beres Hammond and other usual suspects. Women were screaming in the front (I suppose Sanchez has that effect under the right circumstances and with the proper amount of alcohol), guys were vibing in the back, the place was nice. Then I heard a familiar riff and thought "No. They're not going to sing that. This must be something else." But sure enough, out came the lyrics to the infamous Boom Bye Bye.

Now, even as Buju sits in jail in Miami on cocaine trafficking charges, news coverage of the arrest invariably ends up in a discussion of the various ways in which this song was not the best idea for an artiste who wants to maintain a career outside of Jamaica. Yet, a Barbadian band, which let's face it could very well get by performing for a local audience without inciting hate and murder, opts to cover this song. I've been out before, recently actually, where DJs played songs with homophobic themes, and even while I yelled at my friends "What are you doing?! Don't dance to this!" (I know. I'm lovely), it was a sight easier to ignore than a live band inches away from my nose making gun signs and with a smile, encouraging me to kill gays and lesbians. The song got some forward, as we say: people cheered during the opening bars more, I would desperately like to think, out of nostalgia for younger days than because they endorse its message. But ultimately, it doesn't matter. Given that as responsible citizens we have to interrogate our own prejudices and privilege, it's no longer enough to say "but I just like the beat." And even though there were those who cheered the first few notes, even they quickly realized how uncomfortable it is to actually sing the lyrics of that song out loud, assuming you're not in fact a murderer of gay people. The song is very slow, the hate is unmistakable, and though we sadly know all the words because this is the music with which we grew up, most of the room still found themselves by the first chorus mumbling uncomfortably into their beverages as tourists drifted toward the exits. I'm not sure the band picked up on that, because they sang verse after chorus after verse for what felt like a thousand minutes, until finally the torture was over.

But that wasn't the only part of the performance that soured the night. As they went on, there were increasingly more and cruder references to women's genitalia, and even a charming joke in which one of the lead singers equated beating cancer to "beating nookie", the latter of which he thinks should earn him equal congratulations with someone who has done the former. He reminded me of this charming fellow, and also made it clear that I was not his target demographic. In fact, I, along with several other people there that night, was invisible. Because in all his homophobic ranting and simple-minded drooling about how much nookie he violently assaults, he's assuming a heterosexual, cisgendered male with criminal tendencies as his default listener. And the rest of us simply aren't there or don't matter. Or worse, and since he did acknowledge the women present in the first part of his set by repeating "this one's for the ladies" a bajillion times and then launching into syrupy sweet lover's rock tunes because clearly all women want is to be romanced by tired lyrics, he's expecting us all to be a party to our own invalidation. Yes, you're here, I see you. But you like it when I refer to you as your genitalia, right? No? Welp. Sorry. Them's the rules.

And what bothers me about this band is that clearly they have no philosophy. There's nothing they stand for. The fact that they could never engage in this mess at a national show, and they don't, means they acknowledge that this kind of performance is not for popular consumption. So they're clearly dialling up the stupid for an audience they perceive as base and rabid, which not only insults the people there, but even assuming this was the nature of their audience, also misses an opportunity to help people move beyond. These parts of the show, though highly distasteful, were small. Their set could have worked without them. So this image of the weed-smoking, gay-killing, nookie-plundering, one-love-promoting (ha) Rastaman that they're trying to perpetrate on an audience they assume is aspiring to nothing more is a fraud and is unnecessary.

So here begins my solitary boycott. I shall not return.
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