Constructions of Violent Jamaican Masculinity in Film and Literature
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Greg Dimitriadis and Cameron McCarthy sketch out what they see as an emergent postcolonial aesthetic percolating in the postcolonial artist's imagination. According to their analysis, postcolonial artists make meaning in their work through three critical motifs that help shape this aesthetic: "counterhegemonic representation, double or triple coding, and emancipatory or utopic visions" (19, italics in original). Counterhegemonic representation "rework[s] the center-versus-periphery distinction . . . to look beyond its strictures to new histories, new discourses, new ways of being" (24). Double coding combines "two or more fields of reference or idiom in any given work" pulling images from places such as "the East and the West, the first world and the Third, the colonial master and the slave" (26). And utopic visions are about "imagining possibility even when faced with impossible barriers" (30). My project is fundamentally interested in constructing healthy (masculine) identities and its arguments are ultimately guided by their first and third motifs. Using feminist theory, masculinity studies, cultural studies and postcolonial theory, I focus on the representation of black Jamaican men as violent criminal beings in three films (The Harder They Come, Third World Cop and Shottas), two novels (The Harder They Come and For Nothing at All) and one ethnographic travelogue (Born Fi' Dead). I argue that "real/reel" Jamaican masculinity is ultimately connected to gun violence and the most popular films out of Jamaica over the past thirty years only perpetuate this image. While not the only source for role models, visual images play a significant role in the lives of young men (and women) who are trying to live up to social standards of masculinity. With limited access to social mobility, they often emulate the shotta (gangster) glory that they see sparkling on the screen. Through close readings of these texts, I show how hegemonic masculinity is reinforced and reveal that non-violent models of masculinity do exist, despite being overshadowed by violent "heroes." I call for that "utopic vision," to excavate the vulnerable and intervene on behalf of peace to help young men and boys find alternative models of masculinity and ultimately create sustainable communities.