“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” This famous, but often misquoted line, was spoken by the actor Gloria Swanson playing the role of Norma Desmond, an aging big screen star in the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard. Like Desmond, we want to be certain that we’re camera-ready, when our big moment comes to step into the limelight. So, every morning of our lives, every time we’re about to step out and be seen by people in the wider world, most of us on the planet, take considerable time to make sure, like Norma Desmond, that we’re radiant and ready for our “close-up”.
We are careful to do a series of self-checks, before we commit to meeting with others. Those of clean habits brush our teeth, shower, deodorize, dress; many add a spritz of cologne. Women, and nowadays a lot of men (although you guys try to hide your primping), spend considerable time doing hair and applying makeup. There is also the check for cash, credit cards and keys.
Then, there is the long, last look in the mirror—the survey of various parts to be confident that our appearance is picture perfect, enough to attract lustful looks or envy. Those looks are the external mirror, the mirror that the evil queen of the fairytale Snow White needed to tell her that she was still the fairest in the land. I have even watched people looking into their car mirrors, making frequent checks and adjustments as they drive, rather than paying attention to the road to avoid collisions or erasing a fellow human being from existence.
The extensive external self-scrutiny is common, but how many of us examine the condition of the most important part of ourselves—the quality of our thoughts, our integrity, our people quotient—our humanity. If we did, there would be fewer conflicts, less bullying, fewer mass shootings as there was heartrendingly on Saturday, 28 October 2018 at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, a city I love and have had to visit many times over the past ten years. I actually lived on Pocusset Street in Squirrel Hill. Many is the time we drove past Tree of Life and marveled at its tranquility, which monstrous bigotry and hate have shaken. I am confident that love is stronger than hate in solidarity, and though far away now, my brethren of a different faith but the same God will sense mine across the miles.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, US Attorney Scott Brady said, “The actions of Robert Bowers (alleged shooter) represent the worst of humanity.” There is that word—“humanity”.
The perpetrators of mass killings, the promoters of hate have probably never conducted an internal audit. Honest looking inward is a frightful proposition; it is likely to reveal a venomous, encrusted store of greed, inadequacy and self-hatred. If they reflected too deeply, the “Maleficents” beyond the page or film would find themselves looking at the head of Medusa and turn to stone. Instead, they keep the nightmare covered in a thick coat of self-justification. The killers are righteous, engaged in a glorious and self-sacrificial crusade to clean up their neighbourhood, city, country, world, to make them ‘great again’, Edenic again. On the other hand, those they kill or otherwise obliterate from their ‘paradise’ have been put on trial and found guilty of sin—the sin of being of the wrong faith, the wrong colour, the wrong gender, the wrong ethnicity from which stain, the only cure is being shut out, shut in or erased.
There are those who still care enough about their public image, about how people perceive them and worse still—whether people will buy into their corrupt rhetoric or doctrine enough to vote for them in the next election—this lot hires press secretaries dedicated to selling snow in snow-covered lands or oil to OPEC countries. When the snow job melts, revealing the ugly, then they resort to war or ‘ethnic cleansing’. Others, who usually end up being labeled ‘terrorists’, go straight to backing up their gospel of hate with instruments that are described in calibres.
How does The Bahamas stack up in this topsy-turvy world? We have our terrorists. According to the Inter-American Development Bank Citizen Security and Justice Programme loan document for The Bahamas, the homicide rate in this country has more than doubled in the last decade. In 2013 the homicide rate was 31.5 per 100,000 people. The report noted:
…An important portion of homicide victims were young (37% under age 25), males (87%), killed with a firearm (82%), and retaliation (33%)… The Bahamas shows a worrying trend when compared to other Caribbean countries with either stable or declining homicide rates.
This is terrorism and it seems that young men fit well the description of terrorists. The insecurity that all too many New Providence residents experience is one of the standard products of this worldwide distemper. It is easy to believe that little success in our schools, a greater likelihood of becoming unemployed or discouraged, the resort to violence for conflict resolution in many low-income homes, rather than religion, are the push factors that lead many young men to embrace our brand of ‘radicalization’.
We have other ‘terrorists’—We call them politicians, whose righteousness and power are founded on a wealth of sycophantic followers with well-greased palms. Never mind the fine suits or the absence of public gun discharging—too many parliamentarians lack the saving graces of integrity and humanity.
They also kill but with the vote and with careless pens signing ill-conceived legislation and multimillion dollar projects, which yield more for personal pockets and well-being. They kill with lack of commitment to the jobs and responsibilities for which they were elected—care of the people, and looking after their best interests and needs. How else could one explain the active campaigning for the next election just after the ballots have been counted.
How else to explain using the floor of the House of Assembly to lobby for official sanction of a doubtful claim to ancestral acreage, instead of pressing earnestly for gender equality, for fairer and more efficient immigration policies and processing. Isn’t it severe neglect of duty when you squander your words to express bile, rather than cry earnestly and constantly for women and children’s rights to their own bodies, better access to low-cost housing, more and better homes for orphaned or distressed children or for eradicating hunger in our less-than-half-a million population or for economic and social equity for Family Islands?
Sadly, New Providence, the site of the nation’s capital, could use a deep facial and a high colonic. We are all guilty, either by sins of commission or omission. We need to raise the bar on education and training by several notches. We need to end the cycle of dependency. Let’s plan strategically, using all the assets we have. The first order of business is to energize citizen power to create local government on New Providence supported by active community development boards, drawing on the wisdom and skills of recognized community elders. We must reach back into our history to identify those wise and beautiful aspects of our culture and traditions, including neighhourhood porch watches, environmentally conforming architecture, planting food gardens, building water cisterns into every new house. We must make use as focal points the modern community centres government is building for gathering, discussion, decision-making and recreation.
It is urgent, however, to make a herculean effort to get unlicensed firearms off our streets and out of the hands of young people, whose close-ups mostly bear numbers while many are still in their teens. We are good at aping the manners of our near neighbours—but it should be imitating the best of their good. We don’t want to go any further down the road of Dodge City of old. Whether we have Earp brothers and a Doc Holliday ready to spring to our defense, too many will fall in our O.K. corrals, before the island is ready for Academy Award stardom. We want to stand in solidarity with all the Columbines, Sandy Hooks, Orlandos, Las Vegas and Pittsburghs, and all the places that have sustained the fiery blows of the monsters who arise across the globe—in Germany, Rwanda, Congo and those who waged the “Dirty War” in Argentina between the mid-1970s and early 1980s. Know, however, that peace and prosperity are not gifts. They bear a hefty price tag; they must be earned with thinking, creativity, innovation and, yes, sacrifice and prayer.
When this country stops flying integrity and democracy at half-mast, reefed instead of hoisted aloft, unfurled and free, then we can call in one of our brilliant, rapidly rising filmmakers and say “Mr Mortimer” or “Ms Govan”, we’re ready for our close-up.