AMERICAN TV AND JAMAICAN CHILDREN
Written by Christophe Simpson
We hear about invasions of foreign countries by US troops, but we never really hear about invasions of foreign minds by the US media. Slavery and colonialism have already planted a sense of inferiority in the minds of Black Jamaicans, and we have very Eurocentric standards of what is considered to be ‘acceptable’ or ‘civilised’ styles of grooming and dress for individuals, much like what African-Americans have to deal with in schools or the workplace. However, this was a result of an old psychological warfare waged on us by the British when they colonised us. The mental invasion by the US media is a modern form of psychological warfare, which moves from having everyone focus on the position of the self in society, and into having them focus on the society and environment.
Eurocentric standards of beauty were a part of the old colonialism, where Black people felt inferior to white people and wanted to try to look like them; this new form of psychological warfare is neo-colonialism’s equivalent, as it makes some of our children want to be American. No longer does someone only think that “Maybe if I fixed my hair, life would be easier for me in this society” though this is problematic already. Instead, one now thinks “This society is not working for me, and another society would work better.” Of course this does not apply to everyone, but it has a significant impact on our country. At a point, roughly 85% of university graduates were migrating each year.
It is not uncommon for unskilled persons to also try to leave to go to the USA; it is simply easier for university graduates and certified skilled workers. If Jamaicans were not trying to leave so badly, the USA would not have such strict immigration regulations for us. Whenever we travel, we are interrogated about our income, where we are staying, why we are traveling, how long we intend to stay, and so on. It’s as if they expect all of us to just try to run away in their country as undocumented migrants, and that is possibly because it happens so often. Even getting a visa to visit the USA is sometimes treated as an accomplishment, and we stand in long lines at the US embassy for this. We want to see this great country, America, in person.
When many Jamaicans end up in urban ghettos in the US, we wonder where they got the idea of the American dream, and if what they found is exactly what they were thinking of or looking for. My own relatives in the US have had somewhat comfortable lives since moving there, so I find it hard to believe when I hear that people are literally suffering as they do in Jamaica. But what can one expect me to believe? The USA that I know is the USA that I watched on TV growing up, and the one everyone else is desperate to get a visa to go to.
We really have two main local channels, and almost everything else we watch is from the USA. Even our two main local channels broadcast mostly foreign series when not showing news or sports, and most of the cartoons are American. When people have cable service that shows more than our local channels, most of the channels are American. It is not too uncommon to hear any middle class child (or any child with cable at home instead of only local TV) with an American accent despite being raised in Jamaica; walk into a private school for children up to Grade 6, and you hear it yourself. So why does all this matter?
Well, again, there is a particular image of the US that is painted in the cartoons and other series that children watch on Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and Disney’s channels. We see middle class families in suburban homes or good enough apartments, whereas suburban homes like that in Jamaica are for the upper middle class. The households we see on TV usually have both a mother and a father, not a single mother who doesn’t have time to argue. Children have their own rooms and their own beds in well-decorated rooms that they have sovereignty over, not having to share a bed with 1 or 2 other siblings. Food always seems readily available and inexpensive in the USA. Safety seems to be a non-issue at home, and persons seem to be able to walk safely on the streets at any time of day or night. Police are shown as trustworthy figures. Beggars are adults, not 8-year-old children. Students spend a lot of money on some expensive “prom” event, and drive by the time they are 16. Issues at school are usually about a bully, bad grades, or a harsh teacher, not about a lack of furniture or lack of school funding. Roads are always well-paved, and there are nice parks and other social areas that are aesthetically-pleasing.
I don’t expect kids’ television to necessarily be showing graphic violence, but there are subtle things that together have an overall effect of presenting the USA as this ideal place to live, in comparison to our Jamaican realities. However, it is not just about the cartoons and other series. While children watch these cartoons, they watch the advertisements that pop up between them. They see all the nice things that are sold in America, and they see the cheap prices and the supposed ease of getting these things; these ideas are again reinforced when the channel cuts from the commercial break and back into the series where entitled middle class children are able to get almost anything they want. Sometimes the parents make a fuss about not being able to afford it, but end up somehow getting it anyways. What a disappointment it is when Jamaican children can’t even get some of their needs, not to mention the useless luxuries that American children are able to be entitled to.
Growing up, a lot of young people simply don’t see a future in Jamaica. Our children don’t want to grow up to be hotel maids and beach attendants; they want to grow up to be engineers. To them, life in the USA is presented as easier and happier, and they take that as they see it. They want to live in a nice suburban home on a paved road, not one full of potholes, a collapsing or non-existent sidewalk, and patches or piles of marl in random places. This is not just about experiences; it is also about comparing the actual image/aesthetic we see on TV with what we see in the real world, our local real world.