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The Rihanna model

Shantal Munro Knight

The Rihanna model

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I was in Jamaica recently for a regional conference examining the fiscal policy responses of government in the context of the ongoing economic recession.
In the midst of a discussion about central bank policies, a Jamaican university professor of economics began to speak about the “Rihanna model”.
I must admit I was completely confused at first.
My understanding of a model, especially within the context we were discussing, is of a conceptual framework used to describe or explain an occurrence or series of occurrences. I could not put the two together.
I could not understand how the oft-times “no-clothes wearing, much tattooed, suggested heavy-partying but also Grammy Award-winning and immensely popular Rihanna” could be considered a conceptual framework – used to describe what? How to entertain or how not to be a role model?  
The discussion actually revolved around how Jamaica could learn from the success of Rihanna, her mega musical stardom and her status as a fashion icon. More importantly, it became focused on how Jamaica government policy could help nationalize such a model so that the gains from such success could actually be retained in the local economy.
This professor, who had moments before presented what was to me (and perhaps to me only) a quite confusing mathematical equation, was now speaking passionately about the economic benefits of the “Rihanna model”.
Jamaica, which gave the world Bob Marley, Shabba Ranks, Beenie Man and many more, was now looking critically at the success of our Rihanna and thinking about how not to grow other superstars who leave the country and only come back for vacation, but how to make them want to stay and invest their money.
I am aware that we are currently in the process of finalizing a Cultural Industries Bill, which should make provision for incentivizing the sector, providing tax exemptions and other necessary provisions. However, the discussion above has caused me to wonder how strategically we think about how we maximize the benefits of the cultural assets we do have.  
I would be the first to admit that I perhaps am not clued in to all the right debates, but the only national discussion I have ever heard about Rihanna is her importance as cultural ambassador. Of course, no one knows what that actually means, except that we expect her to mention Barbados X number of times whenever she opens her mouth.  
Tied to that is her importance to the tourism market. Apparently, there are droves of people who sit at their dining room table and decide to come to Barbados because Rihanna is from here. This is something we are not, as far as I am aware, able to measure unless one of the questions on the exit forms for tourists is: Did you decide to vacation in Barbados because of Rihanna?
We have a megastar and other rising megastars, Shontelle, Livvy Franc and others who, for the most part, reside outside of Barbados and for which the country’s only benefit perhaps is to hope for a watermark of the Barbados Flag floating around somewhere in a music video.
It’s business for them; we need to also approach it in a business-like fashion. The “do it for the sake of national pride mumbo-jumbo” clearly is not working.
I would hope that the final promulgation of the Cultural Industries Bill would allow for the establishment of a cultural foundation that would encourage our megastars to invest a minimum 0.5 per cent of their income to support cultural development activities.
I hope it states that we will not give land to cultural ambassadors to build personal mansions, but rather we will bestow an endowment in their name when they invest in the cultural infrastructure, in whatever form they choose.
I hope that it allows for the formation of an international community of Bajan artists, which will be provided with incentives to invest in the local economy.
Moreover, since some of my tax money was spent so that the Royals could remark “Oh, what beautiful sidewalks and gullies you have”, I would permit Government to take another portion of my hard-earned money and actually pay Rihanna or Shontelle or whoever to wear the best clothes from our local designers. At least that might give us some long-term benefits.
• Shantal Munro Knight is a development specialist and deputy coordinator at the Caribbean Policy Development Centre. Email [email protected]