Advertising murder

Carolyn Cooper

By: Carolyn Cooper, Contributor

I really don’t understand why The Gleaner has started up again to advertise our high murder rate every single day. We’ve been there and done that, to little effect. I suppose the editors have decided that dramatic action must be taken to stop the bloodletting. And this is the best they can manage.

Quite frankly, all that the screaming numbers do is to scare the living daylights out of innocent citizens. Murderers are not likely to be frightened by Gleaner headlines. It strikes me that they might even be tempted to take the rising numbers as a dare! In a deadly game of chance, criminals may actually try to see how high and fast they can make the numbers climb. And it is only the murderers who win in this lottery.

On a stop-over in Barbados last week, I was reminded of how different that island’s management of crime statistics is. No national newspaper in Barbados would ever advertise murder figures on the front page in bold face, large-font letters and numbers. Tourism is so vital to the Barbadian economy that the fiction of an unquestionably ‘safe’ Barbados is carefully scripted for international consumption.

Somewhat cautiously, I asked the receptionist at the hotel if it was safe for me to walk alone at night. It was still relatively early, about 8 p.m., and I was just going ‘couple chains’ down the road and across the street to a restaurant. I was assured that it was, indeed, safe. As soon as I got out on the main road, a suspicious-looking man emerged from the shadows across the street. I ignored him and walked briskly down the road, all the while looking back to see if he was following me.

When I got to the restaurant, I immediately told the hostess that I was anxious about walking back to the hotel alone and she readily agreed to have their security guard accompany me. I told him that I wondered if, coming from Jamaica, I was overreacting to the man in the shadows. After all, he could have been entirely innocent.

Prophets of doom

But I kept remembering the experience of a female graduate student from Italy who had come to the Reggae Studies Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona, to do research on Caribbean popular music. When she told family and friends that she was going to Jamaica, everybody’s reaction was the same: Jamaica is so dangerous! Are you sure you really want to go there?

She simply ignored the prophets of doom. She spent about six weeks in Jamaica and didn’t have even one moment’s panic about crime. In Barbados, she was held up at knifepoint at a bus stop in the middle of the day. She was devastated. The perverse moral of this true story is that being a tourist in ‘the murder capital of the world’ may actually be advantageous.

Just think of it: when you visit a ‘safe’ island like Barbados, your defences are down. You don’t expect to be attacked. You stand at a bus stop and you look out for a bus – not a knife-wielding robber. When you come to a dangerous country like Jamaica, you are constantly on your guard. So perhaps The Gleaner is right to be advertising murder. It’s good for the tourist industry.

Tivoli Tourism

On a macabre note, I also wonder if there’s not an unexplored benefit that comes from having a reputation as a dangerous country. I think there’s an untapped market of risk-taking tourists who would enjoy the challenge of surviving Jamaica. These are the types who tackle perilously steep mountains and dangerously deep seas. I can just see the ads: one love, one heart, come to Jamaica and feel … that adrenalin rush.

There could be a Tivoli Tour that would allow the super-brave to try to get a glimpse of that elusive, world-famous entrepreneur whose patriotic story of dissing Uncle Sam has been making headlines in the local and international press. A tour to Bob Marley’s Trench Tour – by the most dangerous route possible – would also be extremely popular.

For the slightly less brave, there could be a pothole derby. This would require contestants to drive at breakneck speed in riverbeds pretending to be city streets. There would also be cross-country excursions in specially fitted minibuses – bald tyres, no brakes – and with a demented driver who hasn’t figured out the basics of overtaking.

Seriously though, plastering murder statistics across the front page of The Gleaner is just like putting a Band-Aid on a deep puncture wound. The nation is bleeding to death and we need major trauma therapy; not gimmicks. We need to get to the very foundation of our moral catastrophe. Why are we committing so many murders? And who is ‘we’?

Some of us like to take foolish comfort in the conviction that ‘dem must mix up into something mek dem dead’. Organised crime is the explanation that puts our minds at ease: ‘we not into nothing, so we safe’. But suppose is not so. What if it’s disorganised crime? Just plain arbitrary violence! How do we cope with the prospect of murder for the sheer wickedness of it? Making duppy.

It’s a basic principle of conventional journalism that bad news sells. But, after a time, sensational headlines have very little impact. Soon, we’re going to stop seeing those murder statistics. If the editors of The Gleaner really want to boost our morale in these dread times, they should consider another strategy: give us more good news, even if it’s bad for business.

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