“First Position” by Bess Kargman

My midterm essay was on a documentary film by Bess Kargman called First Position. This documentary explores the lives of several young dancers who participate in an internationally known, highly prestigious ballet competition, the Youth America Grand Prix. Through this film, Kargman set out to defy certain stereotypes about ballerinas and educate a larger audience on what it really means to be an aspiring professional dancer, exposing the blood and tears that are shed in the process. Through her use of characters from different backgrounds and identities, she illustrated that not all ballerinas are white, not all skinny ballerinas are anorexic, and not all male dancers are gay. She sheds light on existing racial and socioeconomic differences and captures the most mundane aspects of these dancers lives. She shows the pain and struggle these young dancers endure and unveils the realities of this overlooked community.

Bess Kargman (center) with two of her film’s subjects, Michaela DePrince (left) and Miko Fogarty (right)

Her characters each have their own unique stories. One is an adopted war orphan from Sierra Leone whose parents were killed by rebels right before her own eyes. Another is a Colombian 16-year-old who moves to New York by himself in order to pursue ballet professionally and raise money for his family back home. Amidst these and other characters, Kargman still manages to include what we would perhaps consider your typical ballerina: a tall, blonde American whose favorite color is pink. First Position truly reveals the diversity that exists within the ballet world and how this worldwide art form touches the lives of so many different youth. I appreciate the ways in which Kargman makes the film not about the competition itself but more about her subjects and how the competition affects them and brings them together. She stays away from too much dramatization and conflict and rather films what these dancers go through off stage.

Through film, Kargman does a beautiful job of portraying the realities of dance to an audience that may not know much about the art form—a job that, as a dancer myself, I find can be rather difficult. However, that being said, Kargman focuses only on one facet of the dance world. Dance as competition can vary greatly from dance as art, and in this case the film is about dance as competition. This does not in any way undermine dance’s value, and in my opinion dance in either form should be both appreciated and respected. However, some people do in fact look down upon dance as competition. Although Kargman’s objective was to expose this one specific subculture of dance, I only hope that non-dancers are aware that competitive dance does not dominate all dance forms and that this film was in fact more about the grueling lifestyles and struggles of being an aspiring professional dancer and not as much about the competition or about dance itself, since dance comes in so many different styles and modes.

Burning Thoughts

I really liked the rough cut of this film so far and am interested in seeing how it develops. Some of my thoughts on it are organized below.

I really like the main characters and would like to hear more from them and perhaps others about certain things. For example, why do they think that people fight them so severely to stop them from crossing? There was some mention of racism, but do people think there are other factors? (Neo/colonialism and capitalism come to mind, though others may not use these terms). What and who do they think caused the situations they are trying to get away from? What do they feel should be done? Do they ever hear from people who cross? And what do they do during the day—much of this is probably trying to get food and find some work to get money—but they also do have times when they are not doing this stuff. Here I’m mainly thinking of the kids at the camps, since we see quite a bit of characters in the living areas.

It might also be useful to draw on comparisons to previous periods of policing of borders, and historical patterns of fear and oppression. The one I know most about is when Irish, Italians, Catholics and others were feared in the USA in the 1800’s and 1900’s (and also not considered “white”). The modern day counterpart is the US would be Mexicans/Latinxs.

I also think it could be interesting to hear from the film makers regarding their thoughts and experiences. Though I am not sure exactly how this would fit in, I do think it could be done in ways that don’t distract from or crowd out the story that is being shown.

One point that was very interesting was this constant use of human rights rhetoric by various people in the film.

Is the system illegitimate because it does not grant us rights or because it cannot?

Are “rights” even the best way to think about things? What about in terms of needs and ability to meet them? Doesn’t the fact that these governments are breaking their own laws show how meaningless those laws are?

Laws exist to control other people and resources. Those with power set and control the laws. Any law that becomes a threat or nuisance to them will soon be thrown out. Any reform can be taken away just as easily—no, far more easily—than it is accepted.

I do think this stuff about rights is a bit more than just semantics and shows some underlying foundations in how we conceptualize the world. We think about States as being necessary to secure our livelihood, well being, and “rights” even going so far as to conflate them with [all] “society” itself (Clastres 1987). These words, categories and meanings shape the ways in which we think, feel and perceive.

At one point a policeman says “Morocco is a sovereign country.” What does this mean? What is the reality? This is a very interesting word: it indicates a kind of “authority” but just whose authority is it exactly? I wonder if the actions of the guardia, government and seemingly indifferent golfers and rich[er] people really represent the views and wishes of everyone in Spain and the EU?

Instead of buying into this rhetoric about “sovereignty” and “rights” and “the will of the people” we should see these for the smokescreens that they are used as to deflect attention from who really holds power, controls resources and makes decisions about our lives and world. We should think in terms of human needs and desires, and our actual ability to meet them so as to get directly to the point.

Finally, there are some questions I think this film can hone in on to magnify its impact:

Why do we have borders?

It seems like such a simple question, but do we ever really ask it without assuming the answers are obvious?

In whose interests are borders really manufactured and policed?

Are we really separate from everyone else? Do we have different interests? And is that why we have borders? Or… are borders what cause us to believe we are separate and have different interests than the rest of the people–and living beings–on this planet?

Perhaps it’s the borders themselves which are problematic, and indicative of much deeper flaws in our society, thinking and ways of living. Like the border between those who can make decisions and everyone else. The borders between those who have money and those who do not. Those who “own” things which they do not themselves use, and everyone else who must then sell themselves bit by bit for access to a means of getting what they need to live and enjoy life.

An interesting point is raised about how discourse about the Sub Saharan Africans’ precarious positions on the Moroccan Border is absent from the media, unlike the plight of Syrian Refugees. I imagine the attention given to the Syrian crises over the Sub-Saharan African migration reflects American and European political and economic agendas. The middle east is an oil rich area with many regimes that are potential enemies to western States and multinational corporations. Drawing attention to the region can also be used in part to justify further intervention and control over the region. The lack of coverage to Moroccan & EU borders not only hides problems and defects inherent to the system and protects governments’ reputations, but demonstrates how these and other areas which lack resources desirable to these entities are ignored, regardless of the suffering that results. (Why USA didn’t go into Rwanda during genocide, as admitted by Bill Clinton, for example).

Who and how are people resisting borders and oppression? What is being done? What can we do?

There are people resisting, calling and acting for “no borders” [2, 3] who recommend donating not only supplies like food and clothing to people who need them, but also film equipment so that people forced into these desperate situations can tell their stories and document what is happening [4]. Some also engage in more directly confrontational tactics to aid migrants and break down borders.

Here you can see some images that people took of the remains of their camp after a raid

This is another video from an October 2015 raid with some dialogue. The person filming describes what used to exist there and what it was like to experience the police raid.

References

Clastres, P. (1987). Society against the state: Essays in political anthropology. New York: Zone Books.
[2] http://noborders.org.uk/aboutnoborders
[3] http://noborders.org.uk/news/no-borders-manifesto
[4] https://beatingborders.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/we-need-support/#more-1329

My Take on the History of Visual Anthropology Films

The various excerpts watched in class today really helped me get a better understanding of the actual transition and evolution underwent in the process of film and its relation to anthropology, more specifically the changes that underwent the creation of visual anthropology. One really important thing that I thought was kind of an overarching theme was this idea of converting from written ethnography to visual as a means to better expose the masses to anthropology through the use of visual media. There was also the use of maps and long introductory text within the films at the very beginning that served as an indicator as to the visual medium being an anthropological film.

nanook-of-the-north-poster The first film or excerpt that we watched by Robert Flaherty entitled “Nook of the North” was actually really compelling. I enjoyed watching it and part of the reason why would definitely be the fact that it was like a picture book, with text then the video. The boat scene in particular was very amusing and the fact that there was no talking or sound but just the music kind of reminded me of a Charley Chaplin movie and again was amusing and compelling to watch. Yet one has to keep in mind that he did in fact have staged events and scripted scenes but they were that of the Eskimo’s everyday lives.

Another film that struck out to me was the one by Margret Mead called “Bathing Babies in 3 cultures”, which I thought was a great concept to compare 3 different cultures with regards to one single act. I really enjoyed the comparative approach between cultures and the way in whichmargaretmead she used her voice to give analysis and observation especially with regards to the treatment of babies and the connection to their mothers. It clearly emphasizes the strong cultural differences. Yet, I feel like there seemed to be a little bias in the way in which she referred to other cultures as opposed to the American, especially in the African case.

 

The other piece that really stood out to me was the “Reassemblage” by Trinh T Minh Ha in which she uses sound and cuts in an exaggerated manner which made the entire piece feel more like a sort of collage or art piece as opposed to a documentary. It gave off a minhhamore artistic vibe like “poetry on screen” with the disoriented scenes that she intentionally wanted to do in order to criticize documentaries. It really guided the focus on her as the creator as opposed to the entire film, which was greatly due to the fact that the audience was not presented to a linear narrative but rather chunks with her voice over.

“Imba” Means Conflicting Feelings

After viewing “Imba Means Sing”, I was left with mixed feelings; I consciously know that enabling African children to get an education is a good thing, but while watching the film, it was hard to shake the feeling that something about this path to education was wrong. During several parts of the film, I felt distinctly uncomfortable but I found difficulty trying to attribute my discomfort to one specific thing, especially when the organization being filmed is supposed to be a beneficial one. I thought that my feelings would be refined and clarified after the the subsequent interaction with the producer, Erin Bernhardt, but I left feeling even more confounded by the duality of emotion the film evoked from me.

The African Children’s Choir is doing work that is positively impacting the lives of the participants. The legacy of the Choir is one of prestige, and obviously the alumni valued the program, because they continue to return in order to contribute it.

And though that legacy is one that should not be overlooked, it is difficult for me to ignore some of the details of the film that were quite strange.

The experience of these African children is directly bound to American churches. Pretty significant parts of the film showed the children performing (in stereotypically “African” costumes) for a largely white congregation. The juxtaposition of the simple churches the children attended in Africa against the massive churches they performed in were shocking. These children lived with members of the church during the days they stayed in the town; even this interaction seemed like a novelty for the people housing the African children. The members of the congregation seemed to know very little about the cultures where these kids came from. They dressed them up in play-clothes and played with Barbies. I know that those activities gave the children joy, but there was something so absurd about young girls using African children as a means of dress up. Maybe it was the sense of exploitation?

That was a sense I felt from a large part of the film. The children were repeatedly told not to “disappoint” anyone; there was an immense pressure upon the children to deliver the performance these Americans wanted to see. This idea giving the people what they want was directly tied to the costumes they wore. The costumes looked almost tribal in nature, and very much subscribed to the western perception of “Africa”. The children never wore anything of a similar nature whilst in their home environments in the actual continent. The children were always asked to smile as big as they possibly could, and enunciating their english well was of importance. It’s as if the performance was aimed at presenting the exotic appeal of the African continent while attempting to separate the poverty and danger that accompanies living there.

In a way, I know that the children’s physical presence elicits more money from congregations. However, it’s difficult for me to understand why these children specifically have to dance. I wonder if its more of a formality; if the american public, specifically people in protestant christian churches, expect people to have to work for charity.

My most important question about “Imba Means Sing” is tied to the bigger picture, and the relative ignorance of that picture by the majority of Americans supporting these students. If children in Africa cannot afford an education, is there not a bigger issue? If these kids have to sing and dance like puppets in front of white people to be considered worthy of schooling, isn’t there clearly a systematic problem? While the African Children’s Choir is attempting to solve an issue, it seems as if the solution needs more than 20 kids who have to sing.

The bigger question is, how do we deal with systematic issues that require solutions that may not show progress in the short term? What is the way in which the US, as a nation of privileged people, should get involved in solving these problems? Are programs like the African’s Children Choir distracting people from getting educated about much bigger issues? Or is it better to have something like the ACC to solve problems in the short term? Can long term and short term solutions like these coexist?

Imba Means Sing Reaction

The images of the village in Uganda compared to the homes in the United States are interspersed throughout the film to undoubtedly show the stark contrast between wealth in the two countries. This technique of going back and forth between images of Uganda and images of the United States creates feelings and sentiments like “how lucky these children are to experience this opportunity” and “what a great cause.” While these sentiments are valid, they are only half the story.

Imba Means Sing did a great job of emphasizing the benefits of the African Children’s Choir in that it gives African kids an opportunity to come to the United States and pursue an education. However, this documentary felt more like an advertisement for the African Children’s Choir rather than a complete narrative of this organization. After meeting Bernhardt, I realize that this documentary was made because she loves the organization who she volunteered for and wanted to show audiences in America (specifically younger audiences) about the organization as well. While all documentaries have some sort of narrative or side taken by the filmakers, I felt as though Imba Means Sing only addressed the American view of the benefits of the African’s Children Choir.

I would imagine that not everyone in Africa supports this organization because not all of the kids in the village are given this opportunity, which can lead to potential problems in status and power, and it creates a community dependence on the United States to sponsor their children. While the benefits, such as giving impoverished children an education, teaching American youth about African song and dance, and allowing African children the chance to pursue their dreams, of the African Children’s Choir as seen by the Americans are evident in the film, I would have also liked to see how the community in Uganda perceives this organization. The intended audience for the film is clearly Americans; however, I think it would have benefitted from addressing potential problems of this non-profit such as community restructuring in villages in Africa who have many of their kids on this program. I wonder that if this other side to the picture was presented, they could offer suggestions for how to make the successes more sustainable for the communities in Africa and not just the individuals.

A Reaction to Imba

I felt rather intensely disappointed at the end of Imba Means Sing, perhaps unfairly. Is it unfair to critique art on what it could be, rather than what it should be? But if we do not engage art critically by asking questions and challenging its hidden assumptions and biases then there is surely no reason for it to exist.

I didn’t take issue with the storytelling or editing, which was beautifully done. I didn’t struggle to find to message and purpose of Imba-it was quite clearly to draw attention to the poverty in Uganda and the empowerment of the children through the African Children’s Choir. I was also not necessarily disappointed by that message but, rather, by its myopia.

From the stark contrast between the Ugandan homes and the children’s American host families to the rhetoric of the program’s aunties and uncles, the film was entirely uncritical of the message of neo-liberal prosperity through consumption. It didn’t question how colonialism and capitalism had caused Uganda’s crippling poverty in the first place. It didn’t spend much time on the White Savior complex inherent in the sometimes sickeningly patronizing attitudes of the Western megachurches or even the concept of prosperity gospel and the connection Christianity has to neo-liberal economics.

It feels unfair to critique Imba for failing to address issues that were outside of its scope but its uncritical stance allows for the normalization of these socially structured problems and therefore fails to make a meaningful social change. I know that many, many people donated to the African Children’s Choir after watching Imba; I probably will too because, for all of its problematic aspects, it does fund the education of children in need. However, if Imba had been directly critical of capitalism, colonialism, and the dubious logic of prosperity gospel, perhaps some of those many, many people would have become aware of the hidden messages in this otherwise inspirational stories and done more to combat their root causes.

Imba Means Sing and Dan Eldon Reaction

When I first was watching Imba Mean Sing I found myself having a very joyful experience. Considering that I’ve been feeling down lately, it means that the documentary was very successful at transmitting the children’s feeling as they discovered a new world and explored their own potential. However, regarding the content, I was constantly thinking about the contrast in life-styles that the children would experience once they went home. These children were taken out of a low socio-economic environment and taken to a totally different one, then expected to have a vacation in the former. This displacement of conditions can have big effects on a child. Moises was told he was American once he got back home, but then Nina was happier to be back than at Disneyland. It’s a very complex situation but it seems like the organization has had success in education many African children in the past, so it is hard to judge the overall effect of the initiative. Is it more worth it to break a nuclear family for the sake of a future hope of breaking the poverty gap? I am not sure, it is a subjective experience depending on each child and family, and whether they do actually succeed through the pressures of school.

Speaking about something else, I found (and I’m sure that was the point) Dan Eldon’s story absolutely inspiring. More than that, I felt understood. I have experienced a long frustration with not finding a way to channel my observation of social issues and not finding a community who would support film/photography as a medium for social activism. Yet, now I know that there’s a whole world out there where people find that music, dance, and visual art are powerful tools to open people’s minds and hearts, and push for change.

Imba Means Sing & the 72 hours that gave me clarity

This past week has honestly been a crazy mix of emotions. Within 72 hours, I went to the Nonprofit Networking night, watched two powerful documentaries Imba Means Sing and Audrie & Daisy (incredible documentary about sexual assault), and got the chance to meet the producer of Imba Means Sing. I’m the type of person who usually loves to have a game plan and a schedule but have been consistently unable to put my life after college down on an agenda pad – and it has been beyond frustrating. Everyone is constantly asking me what I want to do with my two majors (Human Health and Anthropology) after I graduate, or what field I want to go into after college. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve said “I’m not sure yet, just kind of doing my own thing and seeing where it takes me;” I also can’t tell you the amount of disappointed looks I’ve gotten from that response. I mean I’m a junior… I’m supposed to have my life together right?

All of my friends have awesome internships and summer jobs lined up, and all of my friends who have graduated are living in big cities, loving life, and working for great companies. And then there’s me. Unless you count babysitting and “interning” for my dad’s financial services company as work experience then I literally have none – yep this is terrifying, I know. Part of this is because I’ve always been consumed by basketball (I was on the varsity team here at Emory for my first two years) and part of it is because I just didn’t want to get a job, I didn’t want to grow up and have to “be an adult.” So yeah, in the end I’m the only one to blame and I take full responsibility for my lack of work experience but I also take full responsibility for my desire for life experience. I crave new cultural experiences. I crave the feeling you get when you go to a place you’ve never been before. I crave the independence that rushes through my body when I’m traveling without my mom by my side or the perspective I gain by going to different parts of the world that are so different from what I’ve learned to label as “home.”

If one thing has been a constant in my life, it’s how much I love to do nonprofit work. I know I’m kind of going on a rant here but I promise it’ll all add up in the end. I’ve been involved with volunteer work for a really long time and it was never something “I had to do” but always something “I wanted to do.” But still, I’ve gone through high school and half of college with absolutely no idea of what “I wanted to do” career-wise. Then this past week happened, and everything started to make sense. I should probably mention an event that I went to the week before – the all-anticipated Career Fair – and I should probably mention, sorry if I offend anyone, that it was literally the worst thing I have ever been to… ever.

Stand in line. Have multiple copies of your resume – wouldn’t want to run out. Smile! Wear lip-gloss. Look pretty. Shake their hands firmly. Make sure you get a $40 leather portfolio to put all of your freshly printed resumes in! Compete for a spot in line. Don’t let someone else come by and take over the conversation. Assert yourself. Be confident – but not too confident, especially if you’re a woman talking to a man, I mean you wouldn’t want him to think that you’re full of yourself (don’t get me started here…).

 So yeah, I absolutely hated it. Because of that experience I almost didn’t go to the Nonprofit networking night because I was so drained from how ridiculous the Career Fair was, but I changed my mind last minute and went. The contrast was immediate and extremely refreshing. It was everything the Career Fair wasn’t and it was everything I could’ve hoped it would be. I had some amazing conversations with incredible people running/working for inspiring organizations and I loved every second of it. This is where 2 + 2 was finally starting to equal 4. I want to work with a Nonprofit – or start my own! Duh! It was so obvious, why hadn’t I thought of it before? Well, a number of reasons, but I can address those some other time.

Then, we watched Imba Means Sing and I just fell in love with every aspect of it. To be honest, I’ve always loved documentaries and although I’m not extremely talented with a camera, I’ve always enjoyed making mini-movies for class projects and things of that nature. Not only did I love the documentary but Erin was such an incredible person to have the chance to meet and her work is truly inspiring. I didn’t even know The Creative Visions Foundation existed and this past weekend I stalked every component of their website and signed up for anything/everything I could through them! I honestly can’t say what exactly it is, and I’m still immensely confused/scared about my future, but something clicked for me this past week and I’m so excited to move forward with this newfound inspiration and potential life goal.

In regards to Imba Means Sing specifically (sorry I digressed from the questions), I think one of the main strategies that made the film so accessible to young audiences was its focus on the children. A lot of individuals in my generation can more easily empathize/connect with younger kids versus adults, at least in my opinion. With their focus on the children, and a focus on 2-3 in particular, the filmmakers were able to elicit an emotional response from the audience. Young audiences were able to develop relationships with the “characters” and as the documentary progress; we wanted to see them succeed.

Moreover, I think that this increase in social practice art is due to the characteristics of the world, or at least country, we live in today. The US is defined by its technological advancements and our generation is equally defined by our reliance on/proficiency with all things “social” via technology. That being said, videos, pictures, and documentaries are a very successful way to relay messages to our generation, as those are three platforms we are familiar and comfortable with. So, linking social change to art inevitably increases the change’s potential for success. It also makes social issues or concerns more accessible. Sometimes issues taking place halfway across the globe don’t impact people because they don’t seem relevant. But I believe that once someone creates a tangible piece of art to almost bring that issue “to life” it becomes more accessible and in turn more impactful for the general audience. I’m not saying that this is how things should be – we should care about the world that we live in and want to take part in something bigger than ourselves everyday – but I think it’s how things inevitably are.

Imba means cha-ching!

I couldn’t resist! I won’t resist!

This post is dedicated to creating to expanding our vision, to creating new visions, even if that means destroying some visions and imagining others. It’s meant to show a glimpse of the potential that awaits when we start destroying the lenses we mistake for our own eyes. Destructive Visions, yeah I like the sound of that!

One of the first things that came to mind when I watched Imba Means Sing was the cultural appropriation by the Children’s Choir organization right from the beginning: commodifying aspects of a culture and stripping them of local, historical and personal context so as to present them in a profitable way within consumerist society.

As I watched this film I felt a certain constellation of sensations.

Only a few kids get out.

Read that and think it over for a bit…

Do you like that fact? Why does it happen? And why don’t we really pay any attention to this fact?

I felt angry for all those who will never get out and never have gotten out.

But come on, what could be wrong with raising money for kids to get an education? That’s got nothing to do with any of this stuff you’re speaking about, right?

Well… are you so sure?

But before I get started.

Is it better than doing nothing? Well maybe… but I think this is a trap question, or at least one we shouldn’t limit ourselves to. What we should really be comparing our actions to—if we truly care to make the greatest difference—are other actions. Not: film vs. no film, but film vs. different film, and even film vs. other actions or film vs. film and other actions, and so on….

The film has been praised for showing the conditions that the children and their families live in. This is a good first step, certainly better than hiding or ignoring them, and it needs to be followed up by more.

Why do the conditions that these children live in actually exist? And why do they persist? You could make hundreds of documentaries and just scratch the surface of this question, but couldn’t we at least include the question? Otherwise it’s as if we accept it as a given, and this is certainly the assumption that slips in if just you watch the film, even more so if you’re a kid, I think. Such assumptions are not characteristics inherent solely to this organization or film, but rather reflect the prevailing assumptions of our society and culture.

I grew up for years wondering why the world was the way it was and no one seemed to know the answers. I think it would have been amazing for this film to even dedicate 30 seconds to raising questions about the nature of society and the situations these children and their families find themselves in: “how did things get like this? Why do they stay like this? Why has it not changed? Who is really in control of what’s going on?”

Of course, there are probably limits to what an organization like this will allow a film maker to include about them before closing up or losing interest, just like advertisers and information sources (people, groups, institutions) do with media stations [2].

But let’s ask ourselves some more anyway.

“Why hasn’t anyone changed all of this already?”

The answer is: they can’t.

I can see no other reason. Can you?

Why can’t they? Because society is not run by just anyone but by those with power and ownership, and all who obey and reproduce such an ordered disorder. And no amount of petitioning others to act on our behalf will ever change the fact that we are pleading for others to use their power to remedy the ills caused by structures of concentrated and coercive power. No one will ever offer you the freedom to act as you see fit because no one can—not any politician or product pusher.

I do not find the prospects of the education system all that hopeful either. For one, it fosters a competitive separatist mentality over false scarcity (grades, ranks, status) just like the capitalist and state structures. It also prepares people to assimilate into the current social system and work on its terms rather than challenging the status quo. So you get your schooling done, go get a job and then perpetuate the whole system whose foundations and effects you just needed help to escape from.

Whoever can offer a wage to those who need it determines what should be done and how. Schools are an extremely efficient mechanism for absorbing dissent and channeling energy to support the institutions that control the schools and dominate the overall culture.

Again, our comparison should not be to “nothing, aka no education” but to other forms and to seriously question what we consider to be education [1]. Most schools will never raise serious concerns about the institution of private property (aka absentee ownership backed up by threat and use of violence), let alone any alternatives.

Why are we still accepting the neo/liberal ideologies and disseminating them? Like the idea that we just need to increase some vague notion of equal “opportunity” so people can better compete for positions within the fabricated and arbitrary hierarchies that serve to subordinate everyone for the privileges of a few?

This is the whole point: by not drawing attention to these assumptions in our media, they become embedded in and reproduced through the viewers.

Even though these issues are beyond the scope and perhaps purpose of this documentary I wish it at least acknowledged them rather than becoming another voice perpetuating the dominant narratives.

It does not explicitly or likely even intentionally do this either, which is what makes the whole process so insidious! No fundamental alternatives exist! We are pretty much never taught to question these things in any school. These societal and cultural assumptions are so pervasive it’s as if they were the fabric of reality itself.

What makes me so angry is that so many films seems to uncritically accept and reinforce the state-capitalist-consumerist trifecta that relies on a hidden history of (neo)colonialism, racism and other systems of exploitation. Even ones that try to challenge this often rely on the same fundamental activities and often support the nonprofit industrial complex [3]: vote your way out, consume your way out, focus on a becoming a professional and making a career.

In creating certain visions, we also destroy others. By bringing attention to select aspects we create certain narratives and distract from details which do not fit it. This is the paradox of filmmaking and perhaps all narrative and art. These are all just as much about what is not included, and what does not make the final cut as what does.

So we should look at our films, our art, our narratives, our stories, and ask ourselves: what is missing? What is not being said? And why? And whom does it benefit?

One may counter that these perspectives have no bearing if the intentions and goals of the film are different, but I find these notions lackluster and evasive at best. Can creative visions not be expanded? Must they be limited by denying critical engagement? I do not think so.

So what am I doing about it? My point is to point out that what often seem like innocuous details in fact re-establish fundamental paradigms that support the problems and status quo we are seeking to change.

If we cannot see the problems, then we act as if there are no problems. If people start with the wrong assumptions they’ll never get to the roots of the issues they wish to change.

It would be quite interesting if someone—perhaps the authors themselves—made a documentary critiquing and expanding on their own work and engaging critically with it, really critically. Has anyone ever done that? Follow up their(?) own work with a critique of it? I think that would be pretty cool.

References

[1] Haworth, R. H. (2012). Anarchist pedagogies: Collective actions, theories, and critical reflections on education. Oakland, CA: PM Press.

[2] Herman, Edward S, and Noam Chomsky. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon Books, 1988. Print.

[3] Incite! Women of Color Against Violence. (2007). The revolution will not be funded: Beyond the non-profit industrial complex.

The Crossing – Reaction

Honestly the quote that began this article truly struck me. “ In the Congo you grow up thinking about escape. When I was little, no one asked me what I wanted to become. They asked me where I wanted to go.” Can you imagine being 5, 6, 7 years old and having your friends and family asking you where you wanted to go? I was only ever asked “So Mikaila, what do YOU want to be when you grow up?” and I would respond eagerly with, “I want to be a veterinarian and open up my own animal shelter, Grandma!”

Sometimes it’s just absolutely crazy how disconnected we are from the rest of the world, let alone our own world. It’s crazy that we don’t know about some of these life-altering events that take place right next to us. It’s crazy how much of a bubble we allow ourselves to live in – and not only live in but be content with living in. This is not how it’s supposed to be, this is not how life is supposed to work. We weren’t put on this planet to go in one direction for our entire life and individualize the world that we live in to the extent that we have become so naïve about the world that we actually live in.

Upon some of the boys showing pictures of their “heroes” Dr. Alexander writes, “One wears the uniform of his “good job,” where he works as a prep cook in an overcrowded kitchen. Another is standing beside a cement mixer on a dusty construction site. “They are living our dream,” I hear one boy say over my shoulder.” Is this not unimaginable? The fact that most people in the U.S. would look at these men in Europe and accredit their situation as poor or lower class, and there are boys who consider these men their heroes, living the dream of many, is absolutely absurd to me. Why do we have such extravagant, outrageous definitions of success and life in general? This is one of the many questions of the world that just blows my mind. The fact that the majority will define success monetarily or materialistically is something that I’ve been struggling with more and more. There are these men in the world who just want to cross over into a better life and would be extremely content and even ecstatic about a job as a cement worker and we are concerned about what new sports car we’re going to buy next? I simply cannot wrap my head around this idea.

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Picture taken from Dr. Alexander’s article “The Crossing”

I’m sorry – but is this picture real? The contrast in this image is so shocking but also something I’m vaguely familiar with. You have a group of men – beaten, bruised, and painfully abused emotionally and physically, climbing over a razor-wire fence as the backdrop to an image of a gorgeously groomed and bright green golf course, where two individuals are fully dressed, playing a game of golf. It’s actually unbelievable. When I was in India this past summer I experienced a very similar situation. My class was taking a field trip to the Dalai Lama’s temple, but in order to reach it you had to walk this mile-long path along the mountains.

Of course we were all ecstatic to be visiting the temple and everyone was laughing and smiling until something stopped us dead in our tracks. I’m not sure if you can tell from this picture but impoverished families lined the path we had to walk. Naked children held babies in their arms and all at once they came to us asking for money. They poked us with their fingers as they pleaded, “Ma’am money, money please, money hungry, ma’am money.” But our professor told us that we weren’t allowed to give them anything because if we gave to one we would have to give to all and it would end up turning into an aggressive situation.

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View of Himalayan mountains from path to Dalai Lama’s Temple

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View of the families that lined the path to the Dalai Lama’s Temple

So we walked. We walked with our hands around our bags and ignored these children for an entire mile. I walked away from these kids that I desperately wanted to help. I bring up this example because on this path to the Dalai Lama’s temple is the backdrop of the most incredible view I’ve ever seen, the Himalayan mountains, and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, the Dalai Lama’s temple, alongside the most crippling poverty I’ve ever witnessed.

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Front view of the Dalai Lama’s Temple

It’s just so hard to wrap my head around these things; it makes me feel so ignorant and naïve about my world – it also makes me feel so confused. It’s absolutely crazy to think that stuff like this happens every single day; it’s even crazier to think that not enough people care to do anything about it…