Tanisha Henry died last week. She had been at what I understand is called a 'school uniform' party in St. Catherine, and had participated in a 'Dutty Wine' competition. The newspapers report that while taking part in this activity, she fell, was hurriedly taken to hospital, and was pronounced dead.
The tragic circumstances of Ms. Henry's death, at age 18, have prompted much grief. The circumstances have also prompted concern, for, it is argued that the Dutty Wine dance was the cause of her death. Against that background, some persons have publicly called for the banning of the Dutty Wine, while others have said that Dutty Wine contests should be prohibited by the Government.
The sentiment behind the pro-banning perspective is perfectly understandable. From what I have seen on television, the Dutty Wine is a vigorous, strenuous, whirlwind of a dance, in which the head and other parts of the body are subjected to extraordinary contortions. To the untrained eye, this is something that could well cause bodily harm. I note, though, that at least two medical experts have expressed divergent views on whether the Dutty Wine could possibly have prompted Ms. Henry's death, and the autopsy results are reported by The Gleaner to have been inconclusive.
Should Dutty Wine be banned? First of all, there needs to be some care in assessing cause and effect. A man jogs briskly down the street, collapses and dies. There may be a sense in which the jogging may be said to have caused his death, but this, by itself, would be a far too simplistic conclusion. And the mere fact that the death followed the brisk jog does not mean that the jogging had anything to do with his death: post hoc ergo propter hoc is not really helpful in this case.
So then, before we join the calls for banning Dutty Wine or Dutty Wine contests, we would need to be sure that there is a causal connection between death and the dance. Now, supposing for argument's sake, that this way of moving the body really can produce death or serious bodily harm, should it be banned?
Dancing is a form of expression. And the state should be slow to ban forms of expression. In fact, without being too legalistic on the point, the Constitution says that everyone is entitled to freedom of expression, a form of words that suggests, on the face of things, that I should be left alone to Dutty Wine all I want. But the Constitution goes further: it allows the state to circumscribe my freedom of expression if, for instance, this is reasonably required "in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health" or to regulate "public entertainments."
The question then is whether any of these grounds for restriction would apply in the case of the Dutty Wine. Obviously, this dance gives rise to no questions of defence or public safety, and I rather suspect that in most cases, a Dutty Wine will not undermine public order. But what about public morality? This is a tricky category, not least because your general approach to the morality of wining up yourself may well change as you grow older.
The best possibilities, therefore, would be for the dance to be banned as a threat to public health, or as a means of regulating public entertainment. But even these categories are not without problems. On public health, go back to my cause and effect point, for we are not sure how dangerous Dutty Wine may be to the body. And can we really argue that the over-enthusiastic head-spinning in Dutty Wine is inherently more damaging to health than heading a tough football towards the goal, or participating in a regulated boxing fight? As to public entertainment, we should note that this would not allow the banning of Dutty Wine per se, but it might allow a ban on Dutty Wine contests.
But, you know, even if the law could be used to ban the dance or the contests, I have mixed feelings. The state should be reluctant to interfere with individual, personal activity, and should only do so where this activity is unquestionably harmful to others or to the society. I would need to know more about the real medical effects of Dutty Wine before I could support a state ban. But, in the meantime, I would discourage those around me from Dutty Wining.
Discussion on banning the dutty wine dance from the Jamaica Gleaner. He brings up some very interesting points, dutty wine forever.
Friday, January 19, 2007
Posted by James at 2:54 PM