Letters for the week of August 24-30, 2005 

Close 2 tha Edge catches flak; Doctors, patients, and critics of overmedication weigh in; and Chris Thompson wins one.

"Beenie Man Catches a Fire," Close 2 tha Edge, 8/3

Don't baby Beenie Man
I am grateful to Eric Arnold for covering the debate around Jamaican dancehall music and the appearance of Beenie Man in Berkeley, despite the article's profoundly ungallant tone, and despite Mr. Arnold's swift dismissal of the violence some dancehall stars advocate against queers. I would like, if I may, to correct a couple of inaccuracies.

First, I did not advocate "mass protest." My e-mail merely suggested that Mr. Beenie get all the publicity he deserves for his "homophobic lyrics and his cynical apologies." I urged people to call the club and register their displeasure in a "polite and firm" manner. This is hardly a stirring call for mass action, or am I missing something?

More to the point, Mr. Arnold did his best to downplay the climate of homophobic violence in Jamaica. This has been documented not only by Amnesty International, but also, and in considerably greater depth, by New York's Human Rights Watch. A November 2004 Human Rights Watch report entitled "Hated to Death: Homophobia, Violence, and Jamaica's HIV/AIDS Epidemic," issued several months after the OutRage truce, details at least two murders and numerous violent homophobic incidents directly attributable to antigay prejudice. Far from being unable to pinpoint dancehall as a factor in murderous antigay violence, the report comments, "Dancehall reggae's celebration of antigay violence reflects views in Jamaica that seem to be shared by government and police."

It is not as if the problem has gone away, as Mr. Arnold appears eager to suggest. The latest Human Rights Watch press release calling for an end to violence and homophobia in Jamaica is dated June 5, 2005. Mr. Arnold should know this because I forwarded him a URL to the HRW site, for which he thanked me. One wonders if other musicians known to have called for violence against other groups of people would have received such gentle treatment.

I am pleased that the Shattuck Down Low posted a disclaimer indicating that Mr. Beenie would not be performing songs that "promote hate and intolerance." Perhaps they might have thought of that before they booked him. It is also possible they booked him in all innocence, as did the bookers of Capleton at Reggae in the Park last year. At least now they know about Mr. Beenie's history.

By the way, gay-bashing actually has happened in Berkeley -- albeit several years ago -- and it was hard to tell if they hated me more for being a punk or a queer. But they did yell "faggot!"
Tim Kingston, Oakland

You asinine cretin
I resent, first and foremost, the tone of this article, and secondly, what a pathetic paper the Express has become since being purchased by New Times publishing. Did you intend the tone to be controversial?

Your advertising must be incredibly cheap. The content of the paper is laughable, as evidenced by this article, and numerous prior articles. Refer to your recent "Fun" issue, just to provide one example. There are many others.

You just lost an entire market segment, and I will do my best to ensure it. The choice of wording used in this article when describing Community United Against Violence, regarding Tina D'Elia "trumpeting the queer cause." ... Hmm. I believe what they "trumpet" is nonviolence against many people, not only gay people.

If I were to declare open season with weapons on writers of New Times publishing, and extol the benefits of a future without bad journalism from people like yourself, would you think it good showmanship, especially if I said what a wonderful show it would be, and tried to present it as balanced reporting?

I can't imagine Tim Kingston is impressed with the content of your writing. I hope he has the self-respect to find other freelance jobs than the Express, formerly a wonderful paper genuinely serving the East Bay. Unfortunately, it has become so pathetic it's no longer worth reading. Especially this article. It appears you are trying to create some "irate" gay "community," implying we were unable to stop this concert from happening. What we should stop from happening is writing like this. Your career should be over for this article. You asinine cretin.

I saw Beenie Man on Conan O'Brien one evening -- he was absolutely AWFUL. Conan O'Brien is by far a more important venue than the Shattuck Down Low. There are other artists I don't particularly care for, but I can see their appeal. He was an exception. He was so bad I pitied him for having no talent. I wasn't predisposed to dislike him: I was more curious to hear him and I kept an open mind. HE WAS AWFUL. It appears he is being sold mainly on the value of his controversy.

Good for OutRage; apparently the British are more understanding of the potential impact of hate lyrics. As you write in your article, "OutRage's media-assisted propaganda campaign, dubbed 'Stop Murder Music,' whipped its supporters into a zealous frenzy ... by dredging up quotes from old or obscure songs."

I don't give a shit where his singles were released, whether in Jamaica or elsewhere, it is offensive, explicitly hostile, and it does inspire listeners to commit violence, whether directly or indirectly. At the very least it approves of prejudice, which is the foundation of violent acts against gay people. Does time passed lessen the offense?

Yes, I'm sure gays do find it offensive when people sing the glory of a world hell-bent on murdering them. If I were to write a song advocating murdering you, members of your family, or the publishers of your lousy paper, would you think it humorous? Then I could dehumanize you for being a writer who stoops to the lowest form of sensationalism (you belong on Fox News with this article). Is this the demographic you are attempting to appeal to? I'll play in San Francisco. Just because my show isn't in the East Bay, it couldn't be that offensive. You may, and most certainly would, find out about it. Would you take it personally?

The listeners could think, "Gee, what a catchy tune, it didn't offend me personally, therefore it couldn't be that offensive. ... I could dance to it." Do you begin to understand what I am saying, or are you that clueless?

I can assure you if the lyrics which you reference in your article -- "come to execute all the gays" -- replaced the word "gay" with a derogatory term for black people, it would have created a decimation of your circulation and advertising revenue, as your advertisers fled in fear of guilt by association. Would you have published it? Would you have extolled the stage charm and showmanship of the performer? I can be certain you, and your publisher, wouldn't have dared.

Tim Kingston was accurate when he said Beenie Man's lyrics "don't contribute to social equanimity." An understatement, to put it mildly. This article was the height of offensive insensitivity. Shame on you, and shame on New Times. You reap what you sow.
Jonathan Burrows, Oakland

"Off Their Meds," Feature, 8/3


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