Caribbean Identity Essay

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We have standardization of eating habits, dress and cultural products resulting in growing similarities in the living conditions of societies. On the other hand, diversification strives to preserve the multiple facets of society by promoting access to the diverse features of world heritage. Moreover, faced with the wave of homogenization of lifestyles, communications, language and cultures there is resistance in the economic and political field, as in the cultural field, to preserve identities and defend the rights of minorities.

Nettleford is of the view that like imperialism before, globalization in its cultural dimension is likely to fail, for the natural antidote to the poison of homogenization, which is what cultural globalization threatens, is the retreat to areas of specificity where people feel secure because they control the processes that make them viable.

This is in reference to such areas as religion, the arts and private philosophies about self and society.

Caribbean Identity

Caribbean society, he writes, retreated to these areas with rich results in religious expressions and the creative arts (visual and performing) as well as home-spun philosophy to be found in their oral literature which houses the collective wisdom of the ordinary people. Carolyn Cooper (1995), specifically locates reggae music within the framework of cultural resistance because of its longtime association with the Jamaican underclass and history of suppression by bourgeois cultural institutions.

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Resistance, it must be highlighted, is a recurring theme in a number of reggae songs. But it is to the technological dimension of globalization and its effect on Caribbean culture/identity that I want to return. Global society and international politics have been transformed by developments in telecommunications technology which have revolutionized the speed and conduct of all aspects of global interaction, political, social, and economic with the potential to change irrevocably, all aspects of human life.

It is culture that binds societies together and ensures that social interaction is practised on the basis of commonly accepted norms and behaviour patterns. The accompanying homogenization of ideas and behaviour patterns reduce cultural diversity particularly evident in the youth who are the most exposed to global media, and who consequently exhibit a remarkable sameness in taste and consumption patterns.

We cannot insulate ourselves against the media and further integration into a global culture but we do not have to succumb to an homogenous global culture. The Caribbean region has been continuously exposed to international media in the form of books, magazines, periodicals, radio broadcasts and in more recent times, a bombardment of television channels, particularly those originating from the USA and transmitted by satellite technology.

Indeed, we find that events in distant locations are often more readily available on television in the Caribbean than information originating in our own rural areas or neighbouring regional capitals. This has had a profound effect on Caribbean lifestyles, consumer habits with a corresponding threat to Caribbean identity, as by osmosis, external influences begin to permeate all aspects of life and threaten the uniqueness of Caribbean identity. The danger posed is that of a society even more fragmented by externally acquired behaviour patterns and cultures.

The vast majority of electronically transmitted material, writes Aggrey Brown of CARIMAC, is made up of entertainment- the vehicle for advertising messages- the bulk of it originating in the USA. Studies conducted in the Caribbean by Hosein and Brown respectively in the mid 70s and 80s revealed that an average of over 70% of television programmes transmitted in the region originate from outside the region; as of the early 90s Latin America and the Caribbean together were found to account for approximately 10% of the world’s television audience.

Consumer choice in the CARICOM region is determined by a number of factors which include the region’s proximity to North America which permits easy access to domestic satellite transmissions; the sharing of a common language and by extension, culture in its narrow sense; the ease of travel between North America and CARICOM also has had an impact on the consumption of media technologies in the region. Tourism as a major industry in the region facilitates further interaction with Americans and since many West Indians live in the USA, linkages are further personalized.

There has been much debate in international fora, in academia and among media professionals over the question of the potential threat to indigenous Caribbean culture by the unprecedented global penetration of the new media technologies resulting from the enormous capacities for information access, transmission and retrieval, referred to by Rex Nettleford as ‘the hijacking of the region’s media, the invasion of the Caribbean people’s intellectual space and the cultural bombardment of the entire region by every means possible from North America….

‘. Some researchers have challenged the idea that the media are agents of domination and that locally produced programmes can and do exceed the popularity of the imported programmes. Others have argued that it is mainly the elite in the developing world who had access to foreign media; this however, has been countered that it is the elite who determine policy hence would be at the greatest risk as Nettleford argues, ” of cultural conditioning away from a national or regional ‘sensibility”.

It has also been argued that there is evidence in the Caribbean that the imbalanced flow of cultural products from the North has been countered to some degree by the success of Caribbean music with overseas audiences (Dunn), most notable reggae an calypso (Nettleford,McCann). Hilary Brown in her article on American Media Impact on Jamaican Youth: The Cultural Dependency Thesis, reports on a study around the question of whether the Jamaican Youth are the subject of a massive cultural assault from the unending flow of American television, magazines, books, films and music which bombard them daily.

Here, culture was defined as ‘ a learned system of meaning and symboling which defines the unique identity of a people’. Brown describes certain trends which were identified in Jamaica as evidence of cultural dependency: the desire to emigrate to the USA among certain groups in the society, the brain drain among the professional classes, the demand for consumer products not realizable for many in the context of a developing country and the extreme popularity of the day time soap operas.

In addition, there is the tendency of those who work in the tourist industry to imitate the American accent, the love of American music among the upper and middle classes, and the disdain for local traditions. This is within the context of the fact that the media in Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean have a history of foreign ownership which goes back to the days of colonialism. This introduction of the media by external forces resulted in the adoption of radio and TV technology with its reliance on commercial enterprises for revenue which are not in abundance in most of the Caribbean countries.

So without the productive capacity and resources it is almost impossible to get out of the cycle of dependency. Despite the region’s rich cultural heritage which does fuel a thriving theatre industry, certainly in Jamaica, there are still factors such as high local production costs as against the cheaper foreign import, limited resources and the lack of an industry which would keep producers and talent gainfully employed. The findings of the study supported the urgent need for more culturally relevant media products for consumption by the people of the region and in particular, the youth.

The images shown are irrelevant to the Caribbean reality and the region’s media are not fulfilling the storytelling function which will contribute according to Nettleford, ‘ to cultural certitude, continuity and survival in language, religion, kinship patterns, ethnicity and artistic manifestations’. Nettleford contends that the network of national television and radio stations throughout Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas need to propagate material created by African people about African people so that ‘the people of Africa and the Diaspora can interpret themselves faithfully to themselves and to the rest of the world..

‘ He points out further that even the US has understood the urgency of creating and projecting its own expressive cultural forms. In some third world countries the leaders have expressed concerns about national identity and cultural sensitivity in the face of the emergence of the new technology, mainly in the form of satellite television. The complaint is that US cultural and political influence globally has gained strength from the dominance of American programmes in their countries.

It was against this background that a study was undertaken in Trinidad and Tobago to assess the Americanization of the youth of this twin-island Republic. Trinidad and Tobago was the first country in the English-speaking Caribbean to have introduced television technology, with one television station in 1962, to provide public service information, education and entertainment. Along with some local information, education and entertainment, programming has been dominated by American programmes. With three television stations now, the availability of American fare is even more significant.

Studies (Skinner) have revealed that television viewing in Trinidad and Tobago is positively related to US values, appeal, dependency and appreciation. William Demas is reported to have made the observation that the Caribbean has a rich treasure of not only cultural heritage but also cultural achievement; however, more and more of the region’s cultural identity was being undermined by foreign programmes, many of which were of an extraordinarily poor quality, with a negative impact on the societies.

Lynette Lashley reporting on the study carried out in Trinidad and Tobago, concluded that there is a fairly deep influence of American entertainment programming on the Trinidadian youth. The youth longed to live the life as seen on American TV. In response to the argument for more locally produced fare it was said that it would not make much economic sense; economics explains the deluge of American programming in Trinidad and Tobago.

Yet, some of these technologies can offer important opportunities to address productivity, as well as the developmental and communication needs of our people. Technological applications in the provision of distance education and the availability of inter-active self-teaching facilities can enhance the quality of life in our societies. In addition, the communication technology revolution has served to intensify and expand the influence of Caribbean music, notably reggae.

Jamaican music, says Nettleford, has always been competitive. Reggae is part of the vocabulary of every working pop musician. Whether it is Harry Belafonte with his version of ‘island music’ or Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, and of course. Bob Marley, music from the Caribbean has always dominated the airwaves. He says further that, Jamaican music has had a chance to test its mettle and develop myriad variations not only in the beat but also with enough social message to stir on the people of Zimbabwe and of South Africa to freedom.

This, he writes, reflects part of both the globalizing phenomenon of the present and the future as well as the countervailing retreat into the specificity of individual and group experience. Along with the international success of the reggae, a reggae category is now included in the prestigious American Grammy Awards, is the development of the only 20th century musical instrument, the steel pan, a significant cultural milestone, in the early 1940s in Trinidad and Tobago.

Jamaica’s annual Reggae Sunsplash and Trinidad and Tobago’s annual Carnival attract thousands of visitors from all over the world and the region’s artists, novelists and poets receive international acclaim for excellence in their respective fields. So, if Caribbean culture is in fact demonstrating resilience in the face of adversity/competition, then it seems only appropriate that the media should seek to reinforce it.

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Caribbean Identity Essay. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Caribbean Identity Essay
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