Funded by: The Rhodes Trust
Rex Nettleford Fellowship

Marsha Pearce

The documentary’s title image (seen above) is a detail of “The Encounter” by Jamaican artist Carol Crichton. Images in the opening sequence of the documentary are taken from the paintings “Clementine” and “The Encounter” courtesy Ms Crichton.

Wrestling with the Angels:
An Exploration of Caribbeanness

Leading cultural theorist, Stuart Hall describes grappling with theory as “wrestling with the angels.”[1] He declares in his work “Cultural Studies and Its Theoretical Legacies” that the “only theory worth having is that which you have to fight off, not that which you speak with profound fluency.”[2] This documentary takes its name from Hall’s metaphor as it wrestles with such concepts and theories as an authentic self, essence of being, shifting/hyphenated/fragmented identities, creolisation (Glissant, et al.), hybridisation, transculturation (Ortiz), globalisation (Levitt, et al.) and post identity – all within an exploration of Caribbeanness.

The documentary targets the English-speaking (or more appropriately “the Anglo-Creole”) Caribbean as it examines what it means to be Caribbean through one of the most controversial forms in contemporary popular culture: “The music video.” Music videos are at the heart of stirring debates. Is the genre a mini-film or a valid art form distinct from cinematic works? Arguments related to music videos also include labeling the form as revolutionary media offering new ways of seeing and thinking; as a disreputable type of advertising or commercial device; a brand of pornography promoting sex and exploiting women or as a pastiche-styled medium that creates schizophrenic viewers who find little meaning in the sum of rushing images before their eyes and therefore come to possess unstable, fragmented identities. Whatever the viewpoint, music videos have an undeniable global presence: Cable or satellite television broadcasting, local TV feeds, Internet streaming, portable media players (including smartphones and iPods) with digital video playback, online and in-store purchases, party/event audio-visual entertainment features, shopping mall experiences, rentals from the local shop and sales of reduced-price pirated versions from sidewalk vendors have all contributed to the accessibility and pervasiveness of the music video.

With older networks like BET for Black viewers and with such new networks – established between 2005 and 2006 – as MTV Desi for South Asian American audiences, MTV Chi for Chinese Americans, MTV Tr3s for Latinos and MTV Tempo for Caribbean people, music videos create an avenue for people to “see” themselves in an age that has become increasingly “occularcentric” (Martin Jay), that is, in an age where images have great ties to what we come to know about the world around us.[3] When speaking about MTV Tr3s, MTV President, Christina Norman describes it as “a place young Latinos will be able to see themselves authentically represented.”[4] Judy McGrath, Chairman and CEO MTV Networks, says about this new crop of networks: “MTV Networks is committed to identifying underserved communities and creating the most innovative, exciting and authentic channels for them.”[5] The word “authentic” stands out in these statements – it is a word that is echoed in arguments for cultural validity/validity of existence; the word is positioned in multiculturalism thrusts and projects that aim to oppose cultural goods/services liberalisation efforts. The word “authentic” is also linked to cultural essentialism where certain cultural practices may be foregrounded and used in various media as stereotypical or generic representations while other elements of the culture are rendered invisible (Who determines what is “authentic?”). The emergence of such networks, then, points to the critical issue of global cultural homogeneity versus heterogeneity and the topic of what is made visible or remains invisible in the construction of knowledge. Such networks also bring into sharp focus, footholds of power in the audiovisual arena.

WRESTLING WITH THE ANGELS recognises the power of the music video as a medium of cultural re-presentation and circulation influencing among others dance, dress and music – impacting ways of being in the world. Through interviews with a cross section of music video directors, music producers, choreographers, artistes and young adult music video viewers, this documentary grapples with the view of Caribbean intellectual Edouard Glissant who declares: “we should…get accustomed to the idea that our identity is going to change profoundly on contact with the Other as his will on contact with us, without either of them losing their essential nature or being diluted…”[6] The documentary asks: Can there be an essential Caribbean identity – a Caribbean essence – or distinctive Caribbean quality? What is this essence? Can a part of Caribbean identity remain fixed, when again, according to Glissant, we live in a “chaos-world” of complex cultural entanglements with unpredictable outcomes? [7] When all the world’s cultures are in greater contact, meeting and fusing – when, as Glissant observes: the entire world is experiencing the process of creolisation,[8] a process “whose sole law is change”?[9]


[1] Stuart Hall, “Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies.” The Cultural Studies Reader. Ed. Simon During. (London and New York: Routledge, 1999) 101.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Images are playing an increasingly significant role in knowledge construction. In what Clive Thompson calls “our 500-channel mediasphere” (See “Media in the Age of the Swarm”<
accessed 14 Dec. 2006) we have faster and easier access to information from a wide array of sources. In this context, the concise nature of images makes them suitable because they can say more in a short space of time – keeping pace with the speed at which information is now available to us. Mitchell Stephens observes that the new era of video works better at higher speeds. Stephens makes a case for the capacity of moving images (coupled with sound: words & music) to change the nature of our information, thinking and experiences in “The Rise of the Image The Fall of the Word.”

[4] Anthony Crupi, “MTV Tr3s to Target Young Latinos.” 25 Oct. 2006 < content_id=1002276497>.

[5] “Latest Press: Tempo to launch November 2005,” 6 March 2006 <>.

[6] Tirthankar Chanda, “The Cultural ‘Creolization’ of the World: Interview with Edouard Glissant.” Label France 38 (2000). 20 Oct. 2006 < 15creolisation.html>.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Antonio Benitez-Rojo, “Three Words Toward Creolization.” Eds. Kathleen M. Balutansky and Marie-Agnes Sourieau. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida; Kingston: UWI Press, 1998) 55.


Benitez-Rojo, Antonio. “Three Words Toward Creolization.” Eds. Kathleen M. Balutansky and Marie-Agnes Sourieau. Gainesville: University Press of Florida; Kingston: UWI Press, 1998.

Chanda, Tirthankar. “The Cultural ‘Creolization’ of the World: Interview with Edouard Glissant.” Label France 38 (2000). 20 Oct. 2006 < 15creolisation.html>.

Crupi, Anthony. “MTV Tr3s to Target Young Latinos.” 25 Oct. 2006 < vnu_content_id=1002276497>.

Frith, Simon, Andrew Goodwin and Lawrence Grossberg, eds. Sound and Vision: The Music Video Reader. London and New York: Routledge, 1993.

Hall, Stuart. “Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies.” The Cultural Studies Reader. 1993. Ed. Simon During. London and New York: Routledge, 1999. 97-109.

Kaplan, Ann. Rocking Around the Clock: Music Television, Post Modernism and Consumer Culture. New York: Methuen, 1987.

Lalumiere, Catherine. “The Battle of ‘Cultural Diversity.” Label France 38 (2000). 20 Oct. 2006 <

“Latest Press: Tempo to launch November 2005,” 6 March 2006 <>.

Stephens, Mitchell. The Rise of the Image, the Fall of the Word. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Transnational Broadcasting Studies. Culture Wars: The Arabic Music Video Controversy and other studies in Satellite Broadcasting in the Arab and Islamic Worlds. Cairo and New York: American University in Cairo Press, 2005.

Vernallis, Carol. “The Aesthetics of Music Video: The Relation of Music and Image.” Diss. U of California, San Diego, 1994. Ann Arbor: UMI, 1994. ATT 9512916.