Not for nothing do I hesitate to refer to the idiosyncrasies of my youth. Obviously countless years have since passed. And yes, too well I know that after a time one’s recollections tend not to be trustworthy. Nevertheless, trust me to remember clearly the reverence reserved by my schoolmates and I for our cricket heroes. Yes, there was actually a time when I fantasized about spinning a ball like Sonny Ramadhin and batting like Everton Weeks and Clyde Walcott; a time when I saved every newspaper account of their performances and could rattle off at the drop of a catch the number of wickets they had taken or runs scored in test matches, whether in the UK, India or Australia.
My closest friends were all serious collectors of cricket memorabilia. Our proudest possessions were bats, gloves or pads bearing our particular hero’s autograph. When we argued, a regular occurrence to be sure, our disagreements more often than not centered on cricket-related issues. Alas, my unrequited love for cricket left me vulnerable to the ephemeral attractions of football, boxing and wrestling—until I found true love (self-love?) in bodybuilding.
Needless to say, I had pursued all of the above-mentioned activities with a religious zeal that waned but slightly over the years, despite that my actual participation has long been restricted to the spectator stands. Nevertheless, whatever I am or have achieved, I owe to the lessons of sport. I refer here to my approach to chosen endeavors; my ability to focus despite tempting distractions; my unshakable belief in myself and in the principle that you get out of life only what you invest in it.
Many things are different today. Sure enough we still have football, cricket and the other above-mentioned disciplines but I suspect the attitude of players in our part of the world is indiscernible from how most of us feel about our work: a means to an end from which we would at the first opportunity readily retire. Too often the embarrassing evidence suggests what binds us to what we do on the playing field or at the office is money. Not
passion. To be required to work hard for the money is for many of us next door to slavery!
It is this sobering reality that confronted me this week after I had written and submitted for publication in Wednesday’s STAR a somewhat nostalgic piece entitled From Watergate to Grynberg . . . A Leap not too far! It had occurred to me that while in my article I had expressed personal regrets about the state of journalism in Saint Lucia today, I had given little thought to the reasons why our print and electronic media had more or less turned into inadvertent conduits for political exhalations— why we learn more about ourselves from the regional press than we do from our own!
True, in the not so distant past some stories had gone uncovered by certain sectors of the local media but then, as was underscored in my earlier mentioned feature, the same had been true of the U.S. in 1972: it had taken several months before the American media took any interest in what Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were writing about the Nixon administration.
Back in the day the Saint Lucian media had also ignored stories prominently featured in the STAR. But that did not prevent them from doing their own stories about other developments. There were straightforward news reports, informed commentaries and in-depth analyses, whether or not universally welcome. I write here of the writings of George Odlum, Nicholas Joseph, Guy Ellis, Irving Reid, David Vitalis, Mikey Critchlow, Willie James . . . there were others. Alas, I do not now recall their names (see first paragraph).
We may often have disagreed about the importance of certain events, even about their relevance, depending on our respective sensibilities. Quite often George Odlum took on STAR articles he disagreed with, and vice versa. We certainly did not exist strictly for the effective promotion of mediocrity—as seemingly is the case today. There was more to journalism than press releases from party headquarters.
Those were the days of theater groups and Roddy Walcott and audiences appreciative of local talent; those were the days of well-attended sports meets and dedicated athletes; those were the days of the St Lucia Forum—a self-described apolitical organization comprising mainly UWI graduates (they referred pompously to themselves as “intellectuals”)—that contributed much to the nation’s political education and its self-awareness.
It was also a time of protest and public demonstrations against bad governance; a time of marches in the best interests of education, and Black Power. Not all the mentioned activities were productive or long-lived. But they excited the people. They inspired hope and visions of better days not dependent on political largesse. Most of the good things we enjoy today—and, yes, some of what now plagues our society, such as hard drugs and AIDS—were born in the 70s and 80s.
So what the hell happened? For one, more than a few of the pioneers earlier mentioned or hinted at, have passed or are past their prime. Doubtless they had expected future generations of journalists and others with social consciences to continue their march to the mountaintop. Alas, it appears the people have lost their passion, evinced in our attitude to competition, whether related to sport, music, work, or our nation’s future. We live in a time of handouts and subsidies and assumed entitlements. We have become as sheep, passive and passionless, ever ready to forget our troubles and dance, forever hoping for miracles!
Some of the old heroes are to blame, having proven to be too human: some had stumbled and fallen to temptation. Perhaps conveniently, some had declared the enemy finally invincible and joined their oppressive ranks—at great cost to self and country.
If in today’s Saint Lucia we are in any way united, it is in our belief that swimming upstream is only for sucker salmon. The alleged nation’s best brains, seemingly bereft of new ideas, fall over each other in the down-stream rush to the near exhausted political trough. Everyone, it seems—church leaders, lawyers, educators, doctors and businesspeople—wants to be a politician, or a public servant or a fantasy-mongering party hack—even as the so-called generator or growth, the private sector, grinds to a halt for lack of sustenance. Meanwhile, the press—the people’s watchdog—is in a self-induced, head-in-the sand coma.
It’s not enough that our newspapers and electronic media have sold out to devil politicians and their surrogates at large. We seem to have sold out, period. All of us, including our once revered institutions. When did the Christian Council, the Chamber of Commerce, the collective church lose their voices? Whatever happened to CAFRA?
We can hardly wait to repeat, publish and broadcast as public information the day’s party propaganda—none of it verified, edited or analyzed. Our questions at press conferences, or when on occasion we bump into our political leaders strutting out of comic parliamentary sessions, have less to do with official accountability than with perpetuating unfounded rumor. No one is anymore prepared to acknowledge the emperor’s nakedness. No one will be first to say stop de carnival!
Evidently believing in nothing, we flip-flop with the political tide. In the process we guarantee a free ride to both our government and the opposition—whose
salaries and hefty entertainment and travel allowances in these austere times are funded by the largely unemployed and broke taxpayer. Welcome to Alice’s Wonderland!
Our talk shows have become dumping grounds for slanderous accumulated bile, where the right to speak foolishly is afforded greater respect than the right to a fair and speedy trial, and where the efforts of human-rights advocates are re-mixed to sound like criminal complicity. No one is accountable, not even for taking the life of another. Suspicious killings regularly go unresolved, as do reported rapes and other serious crimes. Never before was dangerous ignorance more widely encouraged. In short, judging by what their silence encourages, the people’s watchdogs—the media and the church, lead among them—have effectively turned on the people. They have become the people’s worst enemy.
It is no surprise that what once was considered evil and abominable and feared to speak its name now appears naked on our TV screens boldly demanding our enthusiastic endorsement and our respect. We have become a nation of wimps, waiting to cower in silence before the next abomination. Small wonder our children mock us!
“I am a firm believer in the people,” said Abraham Lincoln. “If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” Hopefully the local media will discover before much longer that there is in the quoted words as much truth today as there was in the time of Mr. Lincoln!