Listen to this now.
By Anthony Joseph
Judging has been a perennial problem in the Toronto Caribbean Carnival. The system that is being used is one that has been around since the early 1900s when Carnival was in its infancy. It is now completely outdated.
First of all, there are built-in biases in favour of large bands. So much so that it was felt, and justifiably so, that a small band can never beat a big band. So to solve that problem the mas’ organizers established two categories of judging – large bands and small bands. However, only four bands qualify in the “big bands” category, the rest – the majority – are placed in the” small bands” category. Unfortunately, it is impossible for a small band to ever win the coveted “band of the year” competition because only the big bands compete for that honour.
Then there is the problem of “tribalism.” Someone recently told me: “You know a certain band does (sic) make the best quality mas”. If a person subscribes to that idea and if that person was a judge, who do you think they would vote for in the competition? That person doesn’t even have to see the “certain band.” And there are some mas’ aficionados who feel the same way about all the bands in the parade.
One mas’ man told me that the Dragon that won in the recent junior king and queen competition, had no smoke. But was he aware that the youngsters in that competition were not allowed to carry pyrotechnics? Clearly, the contestant with the smoke would have been disqualified. That mas’ man had no idea of that rule.
Subjectivity and ignorance of the rules are inherent in judging. For instance, in the 1980s, I arrived in Toronto to compete in the king and queen contest with a costume called “African Man of Fertility” – “Fertility” is the operative word. So, while the crowd saw this costume as a butterfly, two University of Toronto professors saw and recognized the intricate male and female reproductive systems embedded in the costume. Their perceptive comments highlighted the fact that costumes need to be judged by people with knowledge of art not by people who see the butterfly wings but not the message on them.
The competence of the judges was brought into question at this year’s Carnival when one contestant was judged to have won the competition and then about two weeks later the decision was reversed. To compound the problem, the “band of the year” decision took five days to be announced only to be met with an outpouring of complaints and disagreements.
On the Saturday before the grand parade, a band leader told me that the results of the competitions with one hundred percent accuracy, saying that “the writing is on the wall for this year.” Implying that the outcome was predictable. I didn’t pay much attention to him until I got the official results. He called it correctly.
So what should be done about the judging? That is a decision for the board of the Festival Management Committee, owners of the Toronto Carnival. They must change the system – and the sooner the better.
First of all, they must develop a comprehensive and transparent rubric that outlines specific criteria and performance indicators for judging. This ensures that judges have clear expectations and guidelines to follow when evaluating competitors. The rubric can cover areas such as creativity, originality, technical skill, presentation, and adherence to the contest theme.
They should assemble a diverse judging panel comprising experts from the varied elements of making mas. This diversity would ensure a well-rounded assessment that considers various perspectives. This is a carnival costume contest, so having artists, art educators, and art critics as judges can bring a multifaceted evaluation approach.
Prospective judges should be given training sessions before the contest, focusing on the rubric, evaluation criteria, and the overall judging process. To ensure that judges have a common understanding and can calibrate their assessments to reduce subjectivity.
The organization can drag itself into the twenty-first century by implementing electronic voting. This can streamline the tabulation process and reduce the chances of errors or bias.
This is how it can work: The FMC can use a dedicated digital platform or software that allows judges to submit their votes electronically. This platform should have the capability to securely collect and store votes.
Ensure that judges are authenticated before they can cast their votes to confirm their identity and prevent duplicate or fraudulent voting.
Define a specific voting period during which participants or judges can cast their votes electronically. So that all votes are collected within a designated timeframe.
Utilize encryption and secure communication protocols to transmit votes from devices to the central tabulation system. This will protect the integrity of the vote.
The electronic voting system would automatically calculate the votes in real-time, eliminating the need for manual data entry and reducing the chances of errors.
The system will implement an audit trail feature that records each vote and any changes made to the votes. This would provide transparency and accountability, allowing organizers to trace address any issues or discrepancies that may arise.
Communicate clearly with participants and judges about the electronic voting process, including how their votes will be collected, tabulated, and used to determine the final results. Before the actual contest, conduct thorough testing and dry runs of the electronic voting system to identify and address any potential issues.
Implementing a well-designed electronic voting system can certainly improve the efficiency and accuracy of the tabulation process, ultimately contributing to fair and transparent competition.
To salvage the reputation of the Carnival and reshape it as a beacon of fairness and integrity, a radical shift in the judging paradigm is imperative. By integrating these transformative measures, the Festival Management Committee can reinvigorate the contest, and leave behind the biases of the past and embrace a future where all participants are evaluated solely on their creative prowess.
The time for change is now; only through modernization can the Carnival truly shine as a celebration of art, culture, and equitable competition.
Anthony Joseph is the publisher of the Caribbean Camera and a long time mas man