For the past week or so, Jamaica has been howling with outrage over a two-year-old video posted on social networks showing students of Magotty High School demonstrating their proficiency in the most explicit of dance hall moves, including daggering – a move involving violent thrusting emulating sexual intercourse.
The problem is, the sight of students in uniform daggering each other, throwing themselves onto their backs with legs waving and underwear flashing, getting down onto their knees with skirts pulled up around their waists, bottoms pumping in the air, stripping down to bra (while daggering), girls clinging to boys by their legs – wrapped tightly around the waists of said boys (all while daggering away) – was never likely to go down well. And it has not. From the Education Minister who said his Ministry “deplores the behavior” of the students, to the Children’s Advocate who expressed concern about the students’ lack of self-esteem, to horrified callers to talk shows and shocked letters to the newspapers, the message was clear – Jamaica was aghast. The downward spiral to societal destruction was complete. Nothing like this had ever happened in previous generations of students.
So what are we really upset about?
- The students were in uniform: this seems to be the greatest source of concern – that the students disgraced their school. This feeling seems pretty much universal and is understandable. School children, and children in uniform in particular, are extended special care and protection in this and other societies. In return, society wants to see them behaving like children.
- The dances were vulgar: here’s the rub – anyone familiar with the dance hall environment, or who chooses to watch a couple of videos will easily recognize all the moves the students were doing. Dance hall is sexually explicit and provocative. Many of us are uncomfortable with that. And that’s ok. Just watch it that you’re not looking down your nose at the dance hall gyrations but have no hesitation in “getting on bad” in New Kingston once the instructions come with a Trini accent and soca beat.
The thing is, we have a wide and seemingly unbridgeable chasm in Jamaican society between those who are a part of, or accept dance hall as Jamaican culture, and those who declare “that’s no culture of mine.” Our children are falling into that chasm. Which message are they to believe? The reality is that there is an umcomfortable fault line running through the dance hall that breaks along class and community, which we have never reconciled. So how do we expect teenagers, many of whom have grown up seeing dance hall dances, to process the mixed messages we’re sending?
- Teenagers never used to behave like this: if you really believe this – get a grip. Teenagers in every
generation have always pushed the envelope to its very edge with dances that horrified their disapproving parents. In the eighteenth century the waltz was considered shocking and immoral because it required the man to hold his partner around her waist! Am I saying that we should shrug and accept it as ok that teenagers in school uniform are mimicking sex acts in the form of dance ? Of course not. That’s part of raising children. We have a duty to explain the difference between acts that consenting adults can engage in and those appropriate for children. We need to talk about the problems they could be creating for themselves. We have to find effective ways to explain that casual nudity is not appropriate, that learning and displaying self-control is an important part of growing up, and to state clearly what we expect of schoolchildren. And we simply must find a way to communicate that as sophisticated in the tech world as they consider themselves, most young people still haven’t really processed the fact that their 30 and 40-year old selves may end up bitterly regretting what they allowed someone to record them doing at 15. They key is to talk, communicate, listen. Berating them shrilly won’t help.
- And most importantly, don’t expect that children who grow up exposed to the wildest of dance hall moves aren’t going to try them out. That’s what children, and teenagers in particular, do.
Having said all that, kudos to the board of Maggotty High School, for not succumbing to the growing hysteria and calls for public lynching, and sensibly electing not to go the draconian routes of either suspension or expulsion but to carry out some counseling with the only girl in the video remaining at the school. I wish her, and the school, all the best. We seem to be learning, after all.