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Trinidad & Tobago Has ‘Carnival Mentality’. Is That Necessarily a Bad Thing?

"Carnival Beauty"; photo by Quinten Questel, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

“Carnival Beauty”. Photo by Quinten Questel. Used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Many things come to mind when you think of Trinidad and Tobago Carnival: soca and steel pan music, costumes, fetes, and the spectacular street parade on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. But some people argue that the passion Trinbagonians have for their national festival is exactly what contributes to the society's ills, via a condition dubbed “Carnival mentality”.

Don't laugh it off; it really exists, and there have been several studies that examine what many believe is a debilitating cultural and behavioural albatross. A research paper by H. Maharajh and A. Ali described the phenomenon as “having two dimensions”:

During the carnival season, carnival mentality has been viewed as a ‘time to free up’, ‘time to break away and get on bad’ or take part in every carnival activity or event and indulging in alcohol, immoral, vulgar, and promiscuous activities without thinking of the consequences.

Outside of the carnival season, carnival mentality refers to the ‘non-stop party mentality’ that is practiced throughout the year; where every event or occasion is treated as a excuse ‘to lime or party’. Some respondents have regarded carnival mentality as ‘extreme liming’ or ‘continuous fun in the sun’. Carnival mentality was also seen as having filtered into the workplace where individuals have a very slack, laid back or ‘don't give a damn’ attitude towards work. Carnival mentality was also referred to by a minority of respondents as mindlessness […]

Over the years, social media users and bloggers have expressed concern that this Carnival mentality has moulded Trinbagonians into their own enablers, tracing the roots of the problem back to colonialism and slavery — the “deep-rooted results of forced submission, and the effect it has had on the psyche of its victims”:

What we have is a country that is more than capable of greatness, but the only thing holding us back is our approach to change and challenges.

This Carnival, however, blogger aka_lol turned the “Carnival mentality” phrase on its head, explaining why he can no longer buy into its negative connotations:

For too long the term Carnival Mentality was used in a very derogatory manner to describe the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. When someone is described as possessing a Carnival Mentality it means that person is lazy, carefree, unproductive, promiscuous and prone to smiling too much while having the ability to enjoy oneself in the most genuine of ways. It meant the person or country with this mentality can achieve nothing meaningful in life even though they showed true signs of real happiness. […]

Trinidad and Tobago is now a world Carnival powerhouse and to do so requires the country to be productive all year as such an event can not be created in a couple months. Carnival involves so many people from nearly all sectors effectively planning and producing in now what seems like second nature to the country.

His post cites several examples of such industriousness — from the meticulous planning it takes to successfully pull off Carnival parties and concerts, to the fact that big Carnival bands “are now million dollar companies operating throughout the year and survive and grow using prudent and innovative business skills and not laziness as previously advertised.”

Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago is an industry in its own right, but is it actually profitable? Vernon O'Reilly Ramesar is “not entirely convinced that Carnival should be considered an economic value to T&T”:

Some of the figures I am seeing suggest it generates $100 million US in revenue, but government is spending over $50 million US on Carnival which is a 100% ROI on the face of it, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Ramesar suggests that taxpayers are actually shelling out a lot more than they think to fund the festival, thanks to costs like police overtime. He also notes that much of the Carnival costume production is outsourced to countries like China, that not all ticket revenue is declared and some of it is funnelled to offshore accounts, and that “most of the big hotels are US managed”, so the revenue ends up abroad.

He concludes:

Then consider the disruption to normal commerce that occurs as a result of a lack of productivity and the country being shut down for several days. I haven’t seen that being quantified.

My conclusion is that Carnival is an investment in keeping the population distracted, and claiming it is an economic boost to the economy is really not true.

(As a contrast, Toronto’s Carnival is estimated to attract over 1.3 million visitors and generate over $400 million in revenue from a combined Toronto and Province investment of $1 million. That’s a respectable ROI in terms of taxpayers money.)

To Carnival lovers, however, that may not matter. aka_lol explains:

Without Carnival and the new Mentality it produces we would be just be another island in the sun selling rabid boredom to the rabidly boring.

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