Indoctrination and bewilderment
This is the second of a three-part essay describing Bermuda’s cultural crisis as it moves towards becoming a dysfunctional society
We have been showered by American culture that we have adopted, which is not surprising since the United States is a geographically close and very influential superpower with a huge population.
From the 1940s, Bermuda was a culturally British and largely conservative society that was learning to reap the rewards of a tourism industry that catered to an elite clientele.
The US base presence with personnel stationed here, along with tourism, were soft cultural exchanges allowing for interaction with Americans and the adoption of their values. These were also being transmitted through media so that by the 1980s we had been subjected to American influence encouraged by the mass production of goods, and is where today’s culture of consumption emerged.
The increasing popularity of TV with its US content meant that Bermudians came under the influence of American values shaped by powerful images. Their cumulative effect strengthened our cultural alignment with dominant American culture, especially with regard to our consumer orientation as well as with our shift from conservative to liberal.
It was from tourism dollars that increases in disposable income enabled us to participate in the growing culture of consumption. The wider shift towards liberalism in America was mirrored in broadcasting and other media once censorship began to be viewed as a limitation on freedom. So as networks competed to improve ratings for advertising dollars, there was a liberal shift of the parameters of acceptability.
But these broadcasts also served to indoctrinate its black viewers in the victim mindset because those white, dominant-culture, racist values that had served to marginalise blacks for centuries were able to do so through this new, powerful medium.
Tourism allowed participation from all segments of society. Bermuda’s unique success with tourism in the 1970s and 1980s, which allowed low-income earners to increase their standard of living, seemed to run counter to the notion of our marginalisation. Many Bermudian parents worked hard, sometimes working two or three jobs, and made sacrifices.
Families moved up the social ladder and acquired the trappings of material success from those tourism dollars. People saved but also spent their money on consumer goods that were becoming more widely available. Our unique tourism success and our growing affluence in the Seventies and Eighties led Bermuda to be ranked as one of the wealthiest countries.
Your economy helps to shape your identity, but education creates purpose and focus. Bermuda College with Stonington Hotel was the pinnacle of our move towards service-industry orientation. We appeared to be friendly and students were encouraged to give up their seats to adults and tourists alike. We collectively recognised where our bread and butter came from.
People had jobs and incomes were rising. For a short while, it helped to dismantle the idea that education with all its costs and sacrifices was necessary. One just needed to be industrious.
Our tourism success also led to postponements on discussions on race and also helped to scuttle the idea of injecting meaningful “black” studies in education. There was a mighty reluctance to reopen the historical wounds of slavery and racism, since it appeared that we were “arriving” as a people.
Over a relatively short period of time, Bermudian culture was transformed into a more liberal and “American-like”, consumer-oriented one. But these transformations had consequences for the children of those hard-working parents. The children could see but didn’t fully appreciate the sacrifices that had been made along the way to a higher standard of living. They merely received the rewards of their parents’ disposable income.
Unfortunately, when parents believe they want the “best” for their children but fail to effectively inculcate those values that are required to achieve success, and if there is materialistic pandering to status notions by providing the trappings of material success, parents unwittingly allow a false notion to set in young minds — that success is easy, quick and painless.
By this enabling, combined with the weight of materialist indoctrination from media that supports this premise, we have created generations who have high-status expectations without the understanding of the requisite time and sacrifice it takes to acquire those things.
These youth have all the “end result” desires and expectations of their parents, who, ironically, had subscribed to the traditional way to improve status through steady, long-term generational accumulation. But the tourist dollar “gold rush” seemed to go counter to the traditional approach, which has been abandoned by our youth, for the notions of “I want to be rich today” and “I’m not willing to wait for it at some far-off future date”.
What’s even more distressing is their search for identity is based on an urgency to acquire and settle for an “image” of success now. Unfortunately, trying to maintain a high-status lifestyle comes at a cost. If we do not have access to the requisite supporting networks or income to maintain that lifestyle, then a disillusionment that combines with a “sense of entitlement” manifests as resentment.
This is precisely what was shaping up by the late 1990s as tourism was beginning to decline from other jurisdictional competition and the rise of international business, which overtook the tourism industry by 1996. This international business sector, which continues today as an outlier economy, was responsible for supporting our economy and transforming our milieu from their huge disposable incomes and demands.
This industry is driven by international competition and buttressed by networks of highly qualified international professionals. Not only is it unlikely that one will enter at the bottom and rise to head the company without some qualification, but a small minority of our society will be able to participate in this industry.
We are essentially outsiders. Bermuda by its very demographic minuteness cannot qualify many for roles in this industry — unless we completely transform our education to this end. Those who qualify will be limited in number and less so when advanced computing comes into play.
But I digress. Tourism’s decline effectively diminished access to income streams previously available to those hard-working parents. As the economy shapes identity, many parents began to realise that education or their children’s education was the means for further socioeconomic advancement. This resulted in greater overseas college enrolment to seek academic qualifications and led to the decline of traditional artisanal/skilled trade professions, which ironically had been moving us towards a semblance of self-sufficiency — ie, fishing, farming, shipbuilding, etc — and not towards a gross import dependency like in today’s situation.
Today, we have a generation aspiring to the glitz, glamour and the dysfunction of imported culture that promotes tolerance for hedonistic lifestyles and tolerance towards drugs. In fact, there is a temptation for those who are frustrated with their ability to improve their socioeconomic status through the available channels to participate on the sales side of the drug culture.
Moreover, for those who do, there is a resentment and rationalisation for “black” historical justice, which transforms into a sense of personal entitlement that serves to justify actions.
“I need to able to get back from the system what has been taken from us. I need to get what I am owed ... what I deserve.”
So over the course of the past 40 years, a transformation of community has occurred. Our tolerance for drugs has become an accepted cultural phenomenon, which is island-wide, crosses class lines and has helped to increase crime statistics and encouraged us to lock our windows and doors both day and night.
My neighbour is not looking out for me. He may be trying to exploit me by removing my possessions and selling them to feed his habit. Our response is a collective “sense of frustration” towards this cultural shift, which has moved to include the unacceptable. And our response has been to demand increases in punishment, which amounts to tackling the symptoms and not the disease of misplaced identity.
Today, our modern capitalist culture, embedded with an ever-expanding liberalism, is the common cultural thread connecting us and shaping every facet of our lives. Our search for identity is exquisitely moulded by this relationship.
From an early age, we go to schools to get an education that will enable us to pay for those things we need in order to survive. Strangely, our education never teaches us how to survive, to be self-sufficient, to save and invest or to be capitalists, for that matter. Moreover, our education system does not really address our longing need for identity. We are left to grope for identity through lessons that teach and direct us to find a job worthy of our skill set.
So, we find and do our jobs. Then we spend our earnings on products and services that “promise” to improve our lives, which we believe we need in order to fulfil our desire for meaning that has been shaped by capitalist indoctrination. This relationship is so culturally inclusive that even our “leisure” activities, which represent a means of escape, are not exempt. They are marketed and controlled by whole industries such as the movie, sport or music industries.
These all serve to further entrench and validate our relationship to a capitalist culture embedded with liberal impulses that shape us. But our identity is ultimately defined by the level of “subscription” we have to this relationship. If our “subscription” is high, we become superficial-status chasers and mindless consumers locked into a spiralling materialistic obsession.
If our subscription level is low, we are regarded as either backward, nostalgic or, at worst, heretical (anti-capitalist) lunatics. This indoctrination is all-inclusive and effective in shaping our identity. There is almost no escape from it.
• Anthony Crichlow has been an educator for 30 years and is keenly interested in the cultural transformations taking place in Bermuda and globally
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