There’s a poster inside the baggage claim at international arrivals in
Im a longstanding fan of PNG popular media, always interested in what, for example, Digicel is trying with its youth and beauty angle (that BeMobile has cleverly responded to by offering pigs as prizes), and why so many Papua New Guineans elicit far-flung kastom markers before their own. Gone are the days when the Manus tattoo was the new pan-PNG accessory. Gone too are the ubiquitous Bob Marley t-shirts, in favor of nose rings and Nippon swag. My interest stems from the days when Greg Seeto openly gagged at an idea I had for a Tarikana video of John Wong and Patti Doi---where they would be walking the boardwalks of old Rabaul in laplaps with guitars for a remake of Under the Boardwalk. Greg won, with his idea of of the man in black steel-toed boot look for John, which went well with Patti's granny glasses. Those days Titus Tilly was making the Ronnie Galama videos that put him on the map---where beautiful Marshall Lagoon men and women made old song-legends into catchy pop---but the vast majority of young people couldn’t find a middle road between jerry curls and meri blouses. Pepsi had a strangely postmodern, marginally demeaning ad running on posters at the Goroka Show around this time, with disembodied images of an old Goroka man, a betelnut, a highlands cap, and a can of Pepsi, saying: My favorite chew, my favorite hat, my favorite drink. You could read the adman and his overseas target right through the camp design.
Haus Boi and other mixed identity kids today have captured the syncretism I was yearning for then, moving their own ironic ‘structure of conjuncture’ into the twentyfirst century. But then there are those efforts by Jahwaiian star O’Shen whose blond dreds, Maori tattoos and gangsta gestures belie what seems to me makes him most interesting, his roots as a missionary kid in Morobe There’s a willed innocence to his image that feels cloying and sweet in equal measures. (Roland Barthes turns in his grave: “The photographic image... is a message without a code.”). His newest album is caled Rebel----and what exactly is he rebelling against?
I myself find it interesting that my two year old grandson can strike a rapper pose as soon as a camera gets raised. That my albino daughter wanted desperately to have her hair straightened, and reviles any freckles that crop up on her skin. And that my daughter in law knows exactly what meri blouse to loan a visitor for midnight mass. That cornrolls are good for a small girl but extensions say more about the Mum. That Kimbe women can bleach their hair but
Now I want to know about how the new Asian wave is shaping self-image. I flew to Cairns recently and found the departure lounge absolutely filled with holdiay-returning (escaping?) Filippinos, Malaysians and Chinese, with barely a handful of Australians and PNGuineans by contrast. These were whole families, wives and children and hand carry rainbow bags filled with gifts for overseas relatives. The last ten years---really the last five years---in PNG has been a cultural revolution, filled with geegaws at the Papindo registers, plastic flowers and cheap jewelry and an explosion of cute brandings everywhere. It travels on trouser pockets, t shirts, handbags and hair bands, and I wonder how it's competing with the pan-Pacific-Caribbean pride that young people are simultaneously demonstrating (and Digicel is fostering). Having been called racist for pointing these things out in the past, I risk it again by saying that these new PNG residents are not exactly assimilants, not themselves inclined to wear bilum bags or laplaps or humm a tune in Kuanua.