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You will find updates on my work and other developments in media and communication across the Caribbean, resources, rants, raves and reviews. Glimpse past and current projects, a portfolio of some of my recent work and more....

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Those were the Days, my friend; We thought they'd never end...

George Lamming once opined at a regional media conference in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1986, that civil unrest would most likely erupt should Barbados' national television station remove Days of Our Lives, with its trappings of American upper-middle class conspicuous consumption, duplicitous characters swirling around in a moral vacuum, and storylines that defy pure logic, if not adult reasoning.

The year was 1977. No, make that 1965 - that was the year we were transported to when Days of Our Lives was introduced to Barbados 37 years ago. Yes, the distributor started the daily fix for Barbadian viewers from the very first episode. We had colour television then but everything about the world of the Hortons was black and white. And a nation tried to play catch-up ever since.

No CBC mandarin ever dared test Lamming's theory; many shared it.

Indeed, in the early 1990s, CBC's marketing manager Noel Lynch expanded on the idea with his introduction of The Bold and the Beautiful and The Young and the Restless, when Barbadians were given a daytime distraction from the cruel, daily realities of an IMF structural adjustment programme and the retrenchment of a quarter of the civil service.

We are about to find out if, beyond Chikungunya and Ebola, we now face a bigger national security crisis and test of our national health.

Four days before its final transmission, CBC announced that the syndicator of the saga of the Hortons of Salem, Middle America, has declared the 1999-2000 season (we're still 14 years behind, despite moving from thrice-weekly to weekday to weekday-and-omnibus-weekend airings) unavailable because of music rights clearance issues. Indeed, these days are clearly not like the old days when the soundtrack of DAYS first became cluttered with Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "The Look of Love" (1967), belted out by star-crossed lovers Doug and Julie in their nightclub scenes.

Critics have agonised over the lost foreign exchange; the missed opportunities for homegrown content; the incongruity of a soap opera with occasional steamy sex scenes, boldface killers and even more bold liars well before the watershed. But on it continued with relentless tenacity.

Now, CBC says, even beyond the rights issues, the cost of airing more recent episodes (Australia's Nine Network and Belgium's vijf were five years behind during their run) has proved to be a bridge too far for this public broadcaster, created by Act of Parliament in 1963 to be the electronic mirror of a would-be independent nation.

We shall see if we will be found loitering on these neocolonial premises after closing time.

Until then, an African soap opera is to replace DAYS. True, Nollywood films have proven to be enormously popular among the sons and daughters of Africa who make up 96 per cent of our population, proving yet again that people want to see their 'reality' - or better yet, their unreality projected to them. But the sudden yanking of the umbilical cord to this North American fare - like grease-laden KFC - could lead to a backlash against the African newcomer.

Soaps have a remarkable addictive quality: DAYS, whose viewership has been in free-fall on NBC in the US for a decade, nonetheless counted US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall - yes, he of Brown versus Board of Education who advocated for desegregation of American public education -among its devotees. All through Roe v Wade, I can imagine him dropping everything at 1 p.m.
Oyez, Oyez: Justice Thurgood Marshall, DAYS addict

Indeed, soap opera development offers this sociological if not political economy insight: the lifestyles portrayed in US soaps are those of glamorous upper middle class and nouveau riche folk (Young and the Restless, Bold and the Beautiful, DAYS); the gritty lives of working class Brits play themselves out on screens across the pond (Coronation Street, Eastenders). Pretenders to the throne in every Anglophone country have been hewn from either of those Atlantic rocks, depending on the media ownership culture; highly commercial-oriented television breeds American consumerist concepts (Westwood Park of Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica's Royal Palm Estate), to say nothing of the buffed, waxed and manicured telenovelas of Latin America.

So what do we do now? Barbadians, keener than most to find television the way a thirst speakeasy-goer would find Prohibition-era moonshine, will simply switch to torrents and streams, to get their fix, bit by bit, forgetting, of course, the many thousands of older Barbadians who are not-so-well plugged into cyberspace.

I support the suggestion that CBC say how much it has cost to purchase DAYS - and then commit that sum (possibly between 1.4 and 5 million Barbados dollars since 1977?) to commissioning a Barbadian soap opera. There is nothing new here; CBC Radio, a public broadcaster, created The Brathwaites of Black Rock 50 years ago for what was then known as Radio Barbados. Sure would like to see what became of them since...