Monday, July 30, 2012

Bikini, beads, feathers and.....

Since Tribe, Spice and Fantasy launched, I'm tired of critics complaining about the lack of originality in the bikini mas, the loss of "carnival culture" due to the dominance of bikini mas, and the loss of "Trinidadianess" in the production and design of costumes. Now what is mas culture in Trinidad? There's no one representation as culture evolves and becomes different things at different times. The political, social, religious , global, and technological issues of the time influence how a cultural tradition is conceptualized, created and interpreted. Basically our society is changing and it is inevitable that Carnival like almost every other aspect of society will undergo change. However, I'm not saying the we discredit our traditional Carnival, but to accept that it has undergone change.

First of all, we have to accept that our costumes have been bikini based from the 1980s, which means that we have had almost 30 years of this tradition; so why condemn it? It is also a known fact that women have dominated Carnival during the same period, so it is expected that the costumes will remain in the bikini trend. Carnival has always been a site of resistance, mimicry, masquerade, revelry, gender inequality and identity transformation and none of these have changed in the contemporary Carnival.  In addition, modern feminism has moved away from the belief that in order for women to be taken seriously, our bodies must not be a distraction. As such women do not need to feel ashamed about their bodies.  For some, this can be a literal interpretation of a "freedom to the flesh" or " carne vale". What is also important to note is that as women lewdly display their bodies on the streets of Port of Spain, they are challenging their unequal status in everyday life. They ultimately decide who would be the victim of their vicious skills while "bracing" some men, and they are mostly to be found in the company of other women. Then they put on their best business attire for work the next day to continue in a job that paid for this freedom. The power to choose is the most important action here- the choice to display their bodies without fear.

The traditional Carnival has always been scandalous and in poor taste.  For example the pissenlit bands of the 1870s were about men portraying blood stained menstrual cloths which was a sure way to upset the Victorian ideals of the time.  Carnival also never used original ideas. The pre 1980s saw the precedence of sailor, Native American, African tribal, devil, and animal inspired themes; none of which are original. Carnival costumes "portray", so it must be based on an interpretation of a concept, thus it is subjective.  Carnival is a masquerade, thus we adopt an alternate identity. And where is it written that we can't recycle, reuse, revisit and reinvent? Fashion does it all time.  However I do acknowledge that bands need to start thinking outside the box and change up the game.  For years they've argued that the younger masqueraders want the bikinis, but I don't think that this is completely true since we've seen masqueraders supporting non bikini mas.

If you didn't get the memo, we are living a global economy. Ultimately, globalization, free trade, competition, bottom line ( and all the other economics jargon) will affect the business of Carnival, in the same way it has affected other industries.  This era has made many jobs useless, so why don't we expect it to do the same where Carnival is concerned? The fact is that it is cheaper and more efficient to produce costumes in China. Why is it then that we don't have a problem with all our souvenir key chains, fridge magnets, dolls, pens, tshirts, bags, pot holders, cups, mugs, coasters etc being made in China? And yes, there's very little need for wire benders for bikini mas ( i guess if they may be needed with the rise of the cage bra).   But I don't see the outsourcing of costumes as a "loss of culture". The technology of the culture has changed but it doesn't make our Carnival less Trinidadian.  The passion that we bring to Carnival cannot be imported from China or Rio; that passion is purely Trinbagonian. How we parade, wine, grind, let loose and throw our worries away is what we bring to the Carnival and imports have never taken that away from us, and we have not let them.

Whether you like it or not, culture evolves.  Some of us may feel a sense of loss because we are always nostalgic about the past. What is more important is how we use the technologies of change in the interest of our people. We may no longer need wire benders but there is potential for new entrepreneurial and artistic skills. Why aren't we marketing Carnival to tourists? What is wrong with a 2nd Carnival in Tobago? Why aren't we hiring qualified persons without political affiliations to run various Carnival bodies?

And since we are on the topic of the government- they can ensure the preservation of our Carnival history through education in schools, preservation of artefacts, support for re enactments, training, regularizing imports, quality assurance, upholding consumer rights, support for research and documentation, a Carnival institute, and I can go on....

My point is that we can use inevitable change in our favour to create and sustain the Greatest Show on Earth...

***pic of Fantasy's costume from Trinidad Carnival Diary's page on fb

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