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The Issue of Posters, pt II

Everyone,

(I decided my reply was a much needed bit of background and context information. Hope this helps.)

First off, thank you all for your input. It’s nice to put something out there and have people give you genuine feedback on it. I really appreciate it. Your comments have really help me put my thoughts and feelings into words.

Let me see how to go about this…

Okay, I should apologize for not initially presenting the posters onto the blog with more context. I can see how coming across them from your standpoint would be confusing and possibly offensive. I easily forget that only a handful of people who read this actually live in the same world as me. I’m really sorry about that.

I can also see how, from reading the blog and not having much contact with us throughout PC service, anyone might see these posters as more integral to my “peace corps work” than they really are.  I only make one of these every month or so. Jess and I are involved in all kinds of other projects and activities, as well as being a part of our local community.  Perhaps these have been underrepresented here on the blog (and the posters and my favorite music/movies overemphasized). We will attempt to represent what we’re doing and the culture better from here on out.

Some context…

Jamaica is an overtly sexual nation. From the music lyrics to the dancehall videos to the way 80% of the women dress… sexuality is at the forefront of life here. You wouldn’t believe (or understand) the lyrics of all the music you hear on the radio. They are far more offensive in content than any of these Maxim-esque women I’ve attached to these posters. I won’t go into the details there. The videos are… well, when you make a video for a song with these types of lyrics you can imagine the result. These aren’t reserved for adults at night in secret. These are everywhere. Half the videos for sale on the street are straight porn (and not the soft kind). And, in my opinion, other than housewives who’ve been doing laundry and cooking all day, most women (not all, of course), regardless of age, dresses to impress. BIG TIME. I’m talking skin tight this and cleavage that and you name it. The men go gaga over them and “pssssst” at them and “hey baby” this… and these women wouldn’t have it any other way. If the men behaved in a more subtle and conservative manner, the women wouldn’t know what to do.  So the guys go after as many women as they can and have babies with 6 different women (at any given time) and the women go off and get the education (they’ll be running the country in 20yrs). Obviously not all Jamaican men and women act in this manner. That would be an exaggeration. However in my observation, this is the gender power struggle that most Jamaicans face.

I’m not saying this is the picture of a sexually advanced utopia, but it is the way it is. I can’t change it. And I say that with the heaviest heart possible. But that is the reality: I can’t change Jamaica. I certainly can’t change it if I’m not a part of the things that need changing.

It’s like Marcus said, if I go around holding strictly to my “higher” moral standing, not giving an inch, I will be extremely ineffective as an US and Christian ambassador. This whole concept of being IN the city but not OF the city has frustrated and challenged every bit of me since day one.  No, I shouldn’t compromise my values as an American or as a Christian just to get people to like me, to integrate.  That’s become the majority of my mission here; to lead by example and show what a real white Christian American is like. But if I don’t step back with a more objective view about all these things, I’ll never be in the mix. I won’t be a part of anything. People won’t care that I can make posters because I won’t be producing anything they care about or that even makes sense to them. Essentially, I won’t even have an “in.” I drink rum in public even though I’ve heard from many people that Christians here don’t drink because “the Bible says not to.” Well, I don’t believe drinking is wrong. I’ve never seen that in the Bible. However, I also don’t drink to the extent of drunkenness (which I have CLEARLY seen in the Bible). So if I didn’t drink at all, how would anyone take me and my opinions about drinking seriously?

Jesse has a tattoo. Of course, we have no convictions that a tattoo goes against the will of God. But Christians here think you aren’t supposed to have tattoos. So it almost acts as an icebreaker or conversation piece. I know I’ve had several conversations with older Christians about drinking just as Jess has gotten to talk to children about her tattoo.

Another example… I go out and DJ whenever I can; usually once every two or three weeks (sometimes more sometimes less). I play a lot of Hip Hop and R&B. Do I agree with all the lyrics in that type of music? Hell no. It’s typically overly prideful, violent, misogynistic, etc. However, with enough time and effort you can find lots of Hip Hop that isn’t disgusting or offensive. Maybe you don’t agree with every line of it, but what really could live up to that standard (in the realm of secular music)? So by finding this common ground with what they love and what I find acceptable and enjoyable to listen to, I’ve created an “in.” I’ve developed a way to integrate, to be taken seriously and not just looked upon as the “rich” white guy down the road. Does that make sense? If I didn’t “expand” a little, I would remain “outside the city”.

Trust me, I realize that this is the finest line in the world to walk. I get that. It’s tough and dangerous and I find myself wandering off both sides of it every day. But I think that’s life. It’s just that my life isn’t in the US cultural “frame” right now and that makes my walk even more difficult at times.

Sam, I agree with what you’re saying. Simply being the lesser “evil” is not a good enough reason to carry on with. I knew that when I wrote it. I guess I just thought it worth mentioning. Like a bonus or something :)  And Benita, I certainly appreciate your input too. I’ll be interested to see how your thoughts change over your service. All of these things I’ve mentioned so far are things I should not have assumed people would instinctively know. I think after a few months here a lot more of this will make sense. Once you catch school children (of all ages) watching hard core porn on any given public computer or even smaller children imitating blatantly provocative dances they couldn’t possibly even understand yet, you’ll realize that my “woman in bikini” posters are but an insignificant blip on Jamaica’s “gender issues” radar.

So to answer your question, Sam: How do the posters contribute to our mission? Well, the posters (like the DJ-ing and showing movies every Sunday) are simply a method of integration and an opportunity to join in and play a part but also bring my culture and my values to the table to share. I don’t get too many of those opportunities. There are countless chances to go fix someone’s computer or whatever or give a talk about washing your hands, but as a married man, there are very few real “get in there” opportunities that don’t include sitting around drinking and smoking (and spending time away from my wife).  So the posters are just a chance for me to get involved and be a part of things.

However, as far as representing and sticking up for a healthy view of women, Jess and I are always out in public representing what we consider to be a positive and mutually respectful relationship (not one of yelling and fighting). I think seeing us holding hands, speaking lovingly of the other, helping each other out with household chores, and simply not cheating on the other one does far more good than these posters do bad.

Do I think my involvement in this hurts my position as a PCV/teacher/ambassador? No. I don’t think any Jamaican on the planet would be offended or put off by my work. Would it be “safer” to just abstain from poster making? Sure. I guess it depends on the definition of “safe” though. Also, these posters are far from all I do. It just happens to be one of the things I enjoy the most. So part of it is selfish. You quickly realize that 90% of what you were hoping to accomplish here in Jamaica is never going to happen so you cling to anything and everything that makes you and others happy and helps develop your relationship with them. Simple as that.

Last two things… One) The only reason I even brought this topic up was because another volunteer passed through the grapevine that they didn’t approve of my doings. This in turn got me thinking about said doings and yada yada yada, here we are. While I was initially put off by their comments, I was never angry about or offended by them (I mostly felt misrepresented). Nor am I upset about any of your thoughts you shared with me (so I hope none of this reads as such). I mean, I asked for them. (So forgiveness won’t be necessary, Sam!). However, I’m sort of glad the other volunteer brought it up. I would’ve hated learning later on that everyone was disapproving of this the whole time simply because of a lack of explanation on my part. You may still be disapproving, but at least I feel like I’ve done my best to fill you in.

And Two) Want to know the part of all this that actually bothered me? Using someone else’s images (the women) on the posters. That just feels wrong. Granted, I’m not profiting from these posters and I’m almost positive all of the images I’ve used are straight out of magazines. But I’d still prefer I’d taken them myself.

I guess from now on I’ll limit the display of posters on here. Which is disappointing because I love sharing my work with all you guys. However, I’d rather restrict them to the culture they belong in than risk further misunderstandings and people being upset with me. Not to mention Sam could be right. I would hate for these to end up being embarrassing to me or someone else later on. So I guess just one more for the road? Here’s my re-revised birthday poster. I think it’s a lot of fun (with my two new favorites: Helvetica and the Grid System.. and circles)

The word bashment refers to Dancehall music or in this case, a par-tay. Most always a party will have a title (i.e. Forever Young). This is typically a song title or lyric. I think Jess came up with this one (referring to the Alphaville and Jay-Z song). I thought it was pretty clever considering it’s a birthday. Double Barrel is my friends’ sound system… label. So the three of them transport the wall of speakers to different parties and DJ for pay. So when the poster says Double Barrel Headquarters, it’s referring to their place on the road where they live and play music most often. And rum is a drink :)

PS – I meant to include this in the last one but forgot. These are the typical page(s) I go off. As you can see I’ve got a lot of “flexibility” in where I can take it. (VDay and BuildBackFriday, respectively)

Well guys, I hope that helped put this whole topic into perspective. If you’re still upset with me or disapproving of, I guess that’s okay. I still love you and am always happy to hear your thoughts. It lets me know you care :) Enjoy your weekend.

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4 Responses

  1. Hey there, like your blog

  2. awesome explanation josh. :)

  3. Josh,

    I, for one, have your poster in my “wallpaper backgrounds” on my computer. I’m even tempted to be there on the 5th! People tend to get easily offended by anything they can stress themselves to be vocally offended by. At some point people have to realize that girls have hoohas, guys have woohas, and everybody poops.

    p.s. drank a LOT of coffee this morning

  4. Hey Josh n’ Jess, been lurking your blog and I dig the posters… Always remember that as an independent volunteer you are charged with developing strategies that make it possible for you to succeed in your environment. If I did everything by the book during my service, my world would have come crashing gloriously down around me. Go with your gut, and welcome any challenge.

    -Chris Robinson
    http://fitru.wordpress.com/

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