New Orleans – Mi companera and I are not looking forward to the new Netflix policy about password sharing. We’ve been using our son’s password so long on our TV that we no longer have any idea what it might have been. He was a Netflixer forever. Passing his house, we still sometimes see a red envelope CD waiting for the mailman. We just click the picture that says Mom and Dad, and away we go. The company is trying out its new rules in Spain, Portugal, and New Zealand, so it’s coming our way. We’re not ready, but we’ll roll with it in a bit. We’re not wastemen.
Not sure what I’m saying? That only proves you haven’t joined us as aficionados of the “Top Boy” show on Netflix and its addictive combination of British and Jamaican patois. The show follows various drug gangs hailing from a council housing project under redevelopment called Summerhouse set in the London borough of Hackney. I like the connection, having done a meeting with a local community-based organization some years ago about organizing and hung out in the local library and coffeehouses before staying there overnight at a friend’s house. We’re finishing the last episode now of the second season and find ourselves adding some of slang to our daily conversations. We think we’re hilarious.
The slang must be something of a hit in England as well. A recent comrade from there staying at our house for a couple of days, asked us if we could follow the slang. Absolutely, say no more. I did have to look up “wagwan”, a greeting equivalent to “what’s happening” or “what’s going on” and “mandem” for a group of male or female friends. Some of it just makes sense, “youngers” for “youngsters”, “yout” for youth, “init” for isn’t it, “p’s” for pounds or cash, since this is set in p-land or Britain.
All that is fun stuff, but what really interests me in this violent, crime-filled drama is their obsessive commitment to shared values. They not only use “fam” frequently enveloping their connections as “blud” and “brudders”, but because their belief and commitment to family as a value almost overwhelms any other consideration or in the refrain from many characters in different situations that “family is all.” These folks can kill without regret in minute, but the care they take for their mothers, sisters, and brothers is categorical. The gang also has created a deep code of sorts that regulates their behavior for good or bad. Breeching loyalty means death. A shrewd trick setting up the police on a rival is “as wrong” to one character as being a traitor to the gang is wrong. The internal social capital is amazing, even if warped in a modern culture where individualism and money is the common measure.
I’m no TV critic, but trust me on this, fam. Put you hands over your eyes when the shots are firing and the blood is flowing, but pay very close attention to the bonds of steel that hold the gang together. There’s a powerful message there.