Whose Media Is It, Anyway? Representation on the Caribbean International Network

November 16, 2014
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CIN websiteThis post is part of a partnership with the International Journal of Cultural Studies where authors of newly published articles extend their arguments here on Antenna.

The Caribbean International Network (CIN) prides itself on being the only television service that specifically targets West Indian communities situated on the east coast of the United States. As a dominant diasporic media, CIN not only entertains, but provides the texts, scripts and discourses that potentially shape the way West Indians conceive of and present themselves in the U.S.; it disseminates information that can help these immigrants to reimage or sustain themselves and their place in the cultural and socio-political milieu of their new home. Admittedly, CIN is an empowering factor for West Indian immigrants as it fosters a mediated space in which one of their languages and accompanying sensibilities are privileged and celebrated. However, the network simultaneously enacts its own hierarchies, and perpetuates the essentialization and commodification of peoples from the region.

First, CIN simplifies and flattens the Caribbean. Despite its claim to Caribbean programming, as suggested by its name, most CIN programming is created by and addresses Jamaicans. The prominence of Jamaican televisual fare on this “Caribbean” network reproduces and sustains the “Jamaican-ization” of the Caribbean so prevalent in the global imagination; it reinforces the idea that there is little distinction among the countries and that the islands embrace a singular belief in the Jamaican mantra of “one love.” Rather than helping to problematize and deconstruct this singular image of the Caribbean and the West Indies, CIN instead becomes a part of the media that reinforces it. In fact, even as the network attempts to ameliorate the “symbolic annihilation” of West Indians in the U.S., it perpetrates its own eradication of the Caribbean and West Indies by focusing almost exclusively on Jamaica.

Second, CIN’s practices reflect an economic neoliberal agenda that prioritizes profit. The explicit, self-defined purpose of CIN, as presented in its promotional material, is to create a market for companies. Through promises of connecting viewers to their cultural heritage, CIN entices West Indians on the east coast of the U.S., and secure “eye balls” which it then offers to advertisers in exchange for sponsorship. This market imperative of CIN diminishes the network’s ability to truly address the diversity of the West Indies, and limits its potential to act as a platform for advocacy for the community. In this sense then, CIN has abdicated its role in constructing informed citizens and empowering communities.

In addition to its operational structure, the content of CIN is also problematic. Specifically, it presents programming that underscores the socio-linguistic power structure of Jamaica. All the programs are broadcasted in English that bears the particular phonological characteristics of educated, upper-class urbanite Jamaicans. The prevalence of this lilt throughout the network not only privileges the speech of the Jamaican elite in the diaspora- explicitly importing and reinforcing the social discourses of Jamaica in the diasporic space- but it also underscores larger colonial hierarchies. By proffering programming that showcases this signifier of the (white and brown) Jamaican upper class, CIN perpetuates the class divisions fostered under colonial rule, which continue to plague contemporary Jamaican society. These neo-colonial discourses constantly remind the CIN audience of their original social positions, making it more difficult for them to shed their pre-migration positionalities, and placing limits on the diasporic subjectivities that West Indians in general and Jamaicans in particular can imagine and develop in the U.S. Therefore, even as it creates a space for the cultural voices of (some) West Indians, CIN simultaneously reinforces dominant hierarchies, replicating, preserving and promoting the position of the elites.

Individual programs on CIN also contribute to the network’s problematic position in the West Indian community. Take, for example, FiWi Choice Top Ten Chart Show (FiWi Choice). A highly rated program in the CIN line-up, it is a weekly half-hour program that highlights the most popular reggae and dancehall songs in Jamaica for the week. As one of the quintessential programs of the CIN catalogue, FiWi Choice exhibits the characteristics observed across the spectrum of CIN programs (that is, it addresses a Jamaican audience and privileges the accent of the Jamaican elite), but it manifests other significant features as well. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these is its transcultural purview; the hosts and guests routinely include and make references to extra-Jamaican (particularly American) popular culture, moving seamlessly between local and American content, and fostering the impression that there is no barrier to access and participation in American culture. The show engenders a transcultural sensibility that encourages viewers to look outwards, and to participate in a multicultural sphere where the culture of their homelands intersects with other cultures introduced through mediated or direct interactions.

This ideology of world-traveling is problematic in several ways. First, the non-Jamaican content in the show is predominantly from the U.S., with little reference to neighboring islands. By engaging in dialogue with the U.S. instead of other developing countries of the Caribbean, the program reflects and reinscribes structures of economic and political dependency that characterize the relationship between the West Indies and the U.S., solidifying rather than deconstructing hierarchies. Second, it perpetuates the myth of the “global citizen,” the very white Western conception of cosmopolitanism and transnational mobility, which ignores the fact that black and brown bodies do not move as easily around the world. By highlighting a sensibility that undermines the challenges that real West Indians encounter as they cross cultural and national boundaries, FiWi Choice producers exposes their disconnect from their immigrant black audience.

CIN’s current practices do not promote the welfare of the West Indian community, and undermine its ability to effectively allow West Indians to see and be seen in the U.S. By circulating the hierarchies and ideologies of the West Indies into the diasporic space, CIN reminds West Indians in the U.S. of their pre-migration positionalities, and impels them to reproduce it. Furthermore, by presenting the ideologies and hierarchies fostered by Euro-American powers, CIN promotes the interests of the global north to the neglect of its own community.

[For full article, see ” ‘Fiwi TV:’ Ethnic Media and The West Indian Diaspora,” International Journal of Cultural Studies November 2014, 17, 6 (603-617). http://ics.sagepub.com/content/17/6/603]


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