BitDepth 717 - February 09

If those charged with running Trinidad and Tobago's Carnival celebrations wanted to destroy it, what could they possibly do differently?
Don’t step in the Carnival leadership

This is the general idea. Masqueraders and imagemakers in happy synergy. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

It’s rare for a political apparatchik to surprise me, but I actually blinked while I watched Howard Chin Lee on a news clip saying, and I am not making this up, “We cannot stop the media from covering Carnival on the streets.”
Did the NCC Chairman feel the need to double check that statement with his legal advisors or did he feel absolutely certain that the media still retains some rights in Carnival?
This remarkable statement came from the man whose tenure as Minister of National Security has only faded in the face of Martin Joseph’s capacity for leadership, and I had to wonder...if the nation’s political leadership wanted to slowly crush the life out of the “Greatest show on Earth,” what could they possibly do differently?

Let's run down the checklist of recent Carnival works by the Ministry of Culture and the NCC.
Destroy the decades-old nexus of Carnival, the Grandstand in the Savannah. Check.
Replace it with nothing, shoving masqueraders off a stage into the street while celebrating that as a major advance in the festival’s development. Check. 
Build a massive, underutilised concert hall that has left even seasoned theatre practioners confused by its capacity for nonexistent audiences while rubbing the nose of mas people in their leadership by hosting the big show in the street right outside of that facility. 
Yup, check.

One has to imagine that there must have been heated discussions at the top levels of Carnival’s management to find out what might have been missed in this steady razing of tradition and value in the festival.
What prior absolute failure might have been forgotten that might usefully be resurrected to destroy the remaining enthusiasm that the people of Trinidad and Tobago might hold for Carnival?
Someone, somewhere, must have remembered the utter debacle that happened the last time that the government-owned television station was put in charge of handling Carnival accreditation and decided that terrible mistake was worth repeating. Gilding this brown, smelly lily was the decision to ‘respect’ Carnival’s stakeholders by burdening their overworked executives with the additional responsibility of reviewing every application for general Carnival coverage.

The reason for this brilliant move?
The perceived need to cut down on the numbers of duly accredited media practitioners covering Carnival. Um...what? You want less publicity and circulation of information about the national festival?
This was pretty much the point at which I had to make a choice. Either Carnival is being run by hopeless incompetents who have no idea what makes the festival interesting, engaging and fun or there is a conspiracy to kill it off slowly and decisively.
Since, I am sure, the leadership of Carnival must be drawn from experienced professionals with a deep commitment to a tradition more than a century and a half old, it’s the only reasonable conclusion is that there must be a plot to kill Carnival.
Let’s put this bluntly for the slow of wit. There is no such thing as too much photography or video of this festival.

Despite the explosion in mass media over the last 15 years, large Carnival bands now employ their own photographers and video crews and produce their own magazines for their fans. And I have never, ever heard a masquerader say, “Don’t take my picture.”
For decades, it seems, Carnival has been shaped by the way it has been covered as much as the coverage has accommodated the nature of the festival. Notable examples include the way that masqueraders behave when cameras are around and the slow disappearance of aspects of Carnival which weren’t covered particularly well by the media, like Midnight Mas on Carnival Monday, regional venues on a Monday and Tuesday and slow moving individuals and traditional masqueraders.

While all this leadership hits the fan, I see an opportunity for the kind of brinksmanship that actually drives change during Carnival negotiations.
Let’s throw something new into the mix and create a new stage venue along the Carnival route that’s optimised for the needs of visual reporting. A space where all the video crews, photographers and online publications will have access to high speed broadband, space for live video transmission, well-designed lines of sight for capturing masqueraders and the biggest surprise of all for working journalists at Carnival, decent food and bathroom facilities that are regularly cleaned.
No judges, no spectators, and security charged with only one mandate. Keep the mas moving from entry to exit. Notify every bandleader about the new venue and let’s see where they go on Carnival Tuesday.

Whose Carnival is it anyway?
BitDepth 718:
A Carnival of consumption
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