The Caribbean region is a peculiar one. It boasts a heritage merged from various colonial powers, indigenous roots and an African and Asiatic diaspora. In the case of the Anglophone Caribbean, it has inherited values, government, language and traditions from the former British Empire while being at the doorstep of the superpower that is the US with its globe-spanning media influence. This has given rise to unique, varied yet familiar identities regionally. In his two books; Microtrends and Microtrends Squared, set roughly a decade apart, author Mark Penn takes a look at how ‘microtrends’ in America gave rise to long-term social evolution, sweeping changes and considerable impacts on the ‘modern America’. In the same vein, how has the Caribbean’s microtrends shaped our current state and where could it lead us?
Digital Cultural Revivals
In the early 90’s and 2000’s many were concerned about the Caribbean losing its inherent ‘identity’ to the barrage of US media and greater access to it that development brought. However, in much the same way US society has generated unique social media spaces so too has the Caribbean carved out its own niche in cyberspace. This peculiar microtrend has actually led to a cultural revival of sorts. Viral social media has led to influencer posts, memes, or general dialogue about traditions, folklore, norms, local quirks, sayings, cuisine and jokes being a constant in the lives of regional users. As a byproduct, this has led to greater pride in what’s readily available at home as well as the continued evolution of both regional and unique territorial identities.
Challenges To Traditional Systems and The Household
In his book, ‘Microtrends’ Mark Penn notes the evolving relationship dynamic of the US. In it, many women are now employed and high earners in skill-based corporate positions while many men still dominate the ‘working class’ unskilled professions. This has created a problem for women who seek to ‘marry up’ or find partners in a similar bracket to them. In some cases, according to the author, women now opt for younger men for more superficial purposes while in others, according to further findings from ‘Microtrends Squared’, household roles are now swapped with men being secondary earners or homemakers. This has led to radical changes in the traditional ‘nuclear family’ model.
Though not as extreme, similar phenomena are taking root in the Caribbean. The International Labour Organization notes that 26 million jobs were lost in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region due to COVID-19 while the UNDP pointed to an increase in domestic violence in the same year. In the more traditional and conservative Anglophone Caribbean, longstanding gender expectations of males and females still persist wherein the male is expected to be the economic lynchpin of the household while at the same time, many women wish to be financially independent professionals. This growing economic disparity and difficult to reconcile clash in outlook may prove problematic. Especially in a region already plagued by a crisis of single parents households lacking functional male models. It may worsen or introduce new social issues unless given immediate attention.
The Evolving Social Psyche
Globalization brought on by social media and increased development has led to changing attitudes towards prevailing systems. Many are exposed to Western media and see a considerable disparity between their own lives and those in more well-off countries. Not only this but they also become more prone to questioning things and ‘blow the whistle’ on activity they deem unethical or unacceptable. This has inadvertently led to a younger generation that both want more for themselves and is less restrained in openly challenging institutions they believe don’t have their best interests at heart. This can range from religious institutions to even the government. Author Mark Penn also observed a similar transition in the US where the acceptance of various sexualities and alternative family models has led to more people leaving or challenging religious and state establishments.
In the Caribbean, this has not been as virulent but the same seeds are already planted and in a landscape where basic employment and thereby financial security is harder and harder to come by, frustrated younger minds may be less likely to accept their status quo.
Blurred Lines And Polarization
Consequently, the greater access to information and opportunities to air views have condensed discourse into an extremely polarized landscape. Views are now no longer simple but are now complex, varied and highly scrutinized. For better or worse, this has influenced social and political events, even if, at the surface, they seem to remain bipolar and split down the centre. For example, a view no longer needs to hold ‘critical mass’ or be held by a majority in order for its proponents to hold sway. Viral campaigns, aggressive marketing and constant pressure has shown that the ‘digital’ landscape can carry over into the physical world as well. Now the ‘perceived’ loudest voice can carry weight and influence all the same.
An ideal example of this in action would be local attitudes vs changing state policy towards minority groups such as homosexuals or towards the use of substances such as marijuana. While a ‘street’ assessment from a Caribbean territory may yield a heavy concentration of extremely traditional and conservative views, online and media platforms with their respective user bases may reveal something else entirely. As a result, some Caribbean territories have taken varying steps towards decriminalization.
In short, it’s apparent that the modern world has ensured the Caribbean is subject to the same forces as other major nations. However, while the vehicle may be the same, the destination may be similar yet also entirely different. Although some of these evolutions are purely social and cultural, this does not mean that leaders and policymakers should dismiss the long-term power of a trend. Not only will they lead to new conundrums but gradually result in a radically different landscape in years to come.