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LOW EARTH ORBIT – Tyranny of the Status Quo

Tyranny of the Status QuoThis article ranks as the third in a series that began with “Outside the Box” – April 5, and continued with Wednesday’s “The Carnival Train”. “A Small Place” – April 9, was a bit of a diversion but still connected in spirit with the trend of thought at this moment in the saga of Antigua & Barbuda.

The follow-up column to “Outside the Box” should have been entitled: “More Outside the Box,” but our brief junket on the Carnival Train also led to serious meditation about the tyranny of the status quo in this our tiny twin-island state.

Readers will recall that the discussion in the Wednesday column attributed much of the waste and lack of forward movement in growing our signature national festival to our national tradition of maintaining the status quo: that is, continuing to do what we have always done, simply because that is the way things have always been done “since time immemorial” (another example of our charming local parlance).



“Time Immemorial”: a phrase that rings in my mind since – okay – time immemorial. It is as though Antigua Carnival has existed for so long now (for time immemorial) that people have forgotten that there was ever a time when our greatest national festival was something new: a groundbreaking innovation; a trailblazing synthesis of culture and commerce; an economic masterstroke in the middle of what would otherwise be a long, empty summer.

When Maurice Ambrose and John ‘Ferdie’ Shoul sold the colonial government and the sugar syndicate on the idea of turning the traditional “August Monday” Emancipation Day holiday into a cultural festival to be called “Carnival” such a event had been seen only once before, for the 1953 festival celebrating the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Prior to that, public revelry and cultural expression were basically indulged only during the Christmas/New Year season.

The arrival of the summer festival in 1957 created a huge change in the status quo. In many ways the new activity focused the community’s energy and attention on a joint project of great value – one that called forth all the organizational, management, leadership, cultural and commercial skills available on these islands and beyond. At its inception a unique event, the Caribbean’s Greatest (only) Summer Festival took off like a rocket, seizing the people’s imagination and igniting a wildfire of cultural creativity and entrepreneurial drive. In no time at all Antigua Carnival had become a 10-day festival; a major draw for regional tourism; a mid-summer oasis for a challenged economy; and a super-charger for the development of local talent.

Naturally, during those expansion years when the festival was growing on an annual basis – being politically popular as well as beneficial, economically and otherwise, to a wide spectrum of the population – the government played a major role in financing the developing phenomenon. This was actually the government’s right and proper function during that period. The weak colonial economy, then transitioning from sugar plantation to tourism and services, did not yet deploy a private sector strong and diverse enough to carry the entire festival on its books, although sponsorships played a significant role in making the joint effort work.

Over time a number of related factors conspired to increase and entrench the position of government in operating the carnival festival. Most prominent among them was the immense popular appeal of Antigua Carnival itself, a factor by no means lost on the political directorate of the day. Another aspect of the festival that made it of prime political value can be found in the huge candy-store of perks, privileges and other social goodies the event generates in the advance planning and actual staging periods.

Yet another sweet feature, widely recognized and even more widely winked at, is the Pandora’s Box of opportunities the carnival opens up for “dark side” commercial deals aimed at stuffing the pockets of particular insiders and their cronies. For all the foregoing very good reasons it became imperative for government to maintain an iron grip on the overall operation of the national festival, lest any chance of benefit to the select should go a-begging.

And so for many happy, complacent years matters went swimmingly along, with successive governments ever upping the ante on Antigua Carnival while the business community nimbly stepped up to the plate with sponsorship funds and support virtually as required. At no time has any government ever implemented a cost-benefit study to determine the real value of economic and cultural contributions from the festival: in a purely politicized environment this minor detail is deemed irrelevant.



Here is where the tyranny exercised by the status quo takes over, and works its will on the process. The overbearing presence of the government is allied to the political need to keep a tight grip on the festival for its particular benefit. This political imperative has combined with the residual colonial conservatism controlling the body politic to lock the administration of our signature national festival into a time warp, a sort of stasis where no change of perspective is permitted. All efforts by the so-called CDC to “develop” Antigua Carnival must be pursued only in ways that enhance (or at the very least do not unduly hinder) the interests of the political directorate and their chosen ones.

The inevitable result, of course, is that the Caribbean’s Greatest Summer Festival is in a state of visible stagnation – and this stagnation has become critically visible at a time when government support cannot be as generous as it once was. The same applies to the levels of support formerly supplied by a heroic local business sector. The cupboard is indeed bare: it is high time for a miracle, or at least a change in perspective.

If Antigua & Barbuda as a whole, and our greatest national festival in particular, are to progress and develop, the status quo can no longer be expected to apply. World events are showing us that it is necessary to end the tyranny of the status quo over our approach to solving our nation’s problems. It is impossible to cure the adverse effects of the status quo by continuing to cling desperately to the status quo. If the status quo is the problem, then the status quo must be changed.

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6 Comments In This Article   

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To whom much is given much is expected

#6 Professor » 2013-04-11 20:14

Colin, I know your intellectual prowess and I have seen what you mind is capable of producing, so please do not sell yourself short. You have been arround for a long time and you are carrying a great deal of wisdom inside that thick scull.

You are one of the remaining few of a rare breed of talented Antiguans that have been scourged by the political machinery, but your tenacity in the face of adversity must be graded between comendable and legendary. I said all that to show you that I really know what you are as well as who you are.

Save the socratic style for another time, the nation needs practical solutions to the plethora of problems that we are facing and you have an important role to play in that regard. I know that you have been deeply dissapointed by the ungreatful ones, but chuck that up to experience.

Forget the journalistic trinkets like "bloggers comments and compliments" and speak your truth boldly, because the sensible ones will appreciate it. The truth is that at the end of the day, they are the only ones that really matter, everything else is white noise in a vacuum.
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Professor

relevance

#5 tenman » 2013-04-11 09:57

The article could not help but bring my attention to the SS debacle. Instead of working on transformative solutions, we continue with temporary patches. The patches themselves don't even deal with the central governance problems which has caused this mess. We pretend that confidence can be restored by continuing the same governance practices. The same board, under whom the ship ran aground, is again reappointed. The government then engages in self serving town hall meetings, with already framed self serving solutions. Its all about pretending to listen, just so they can claim they were consultations. Shortly the patches will be applied and then down the road we will lament as usual why there is still a mess.

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tenman

Professor

#4 Colin » 2013-04-11 09:52

Hey,man ... I've got to make a living, okay? You want everything in one bite? Gimme a break ... gimme an aspirin!
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Colin

professor

#3 tenman » 2013-04-11 09:47

Professor, my brethren, the writer did state that is is the 3rd in a series of articles. I take that to mean, more to come. The writer, from what I have deciphered, has always made clear that the best medication is one taken in small portions. Thing you will recollect the many readers who ball murder when an article is too long

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tenman

the training wheel which stymies growth

#2 tenman » 2013-04-11 08:18

Colin I too look forward to this cost benefit analysis. I am also of the opinion that its time for the private sector to take over the major funding and therefore management of this event. The latter I am told, is happening in our sister islands. Time for government to spend scarce resources on things like like unemployment stats and fixing our law enforcement agencies

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Beyond Have Your Say ...

#1 Professor » 2013-04-11 08:13

Colin, very well written article. It adequately adresses the issue of the law of diminishing returns with respect to a carnival product that has truly become an example of the death of innovation.

Albeit, it is encumbent upon a writer who exposes such a critical issue to posit perceived SOLUTIONS of the PROBLEM. The entire general public can talk about the origin, nature and consequences of "THE PROBLEM", but itis the job of the professional journalist to go a little further that the average Joe.

After a brilliant presentation on the tyrany of the status quo it is not sufficient to simply conclude that,
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It is impossible to cure the adverse effects of the status quo by continuing to cling desperately to the status quo. If the status quo is the problem, then the status quo must be changed.
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Professor

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Mr. Colin Sampson

 Mr. Colin Sampson is a Journalist and the host of "The Colin Sampson Show" on Caribantigua TV 

 

 

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