Actors or Subjects?

One thing that I have consistently struggled with when watching works of visual anthropology is how you can delineate between when the people you are filming are being treated (and behave) as actors or subjects, and perhaps which is more appropriate for the medium.  Early documentaries a anthropological documentaries had a tendency to reenact what the film maker felt were genuine cultural practices from the ethnic group they were filming. The major problem with this is that by having the people being filmed reenacting their own cultural practices corrupts how they would naturally perform those practices as they may seek to “put on a performance” for the camera. This also opens up avenues for the film maker to exaggerate and focus on certain customs and traits of cultural groups, unwittingly or perhaps consciously blowing them up for the benefit of the filmmaker and the film. Visual Anthropologists rebelled against this in the late 60’s by adopting long unedited shots and little to no presence of the film makers in the film. This helped add more genuine qualities to documentaries, but the presence of the camera still effects the behavior those being filmed and so this method must still be scrutinized and analyzed otherwise we may become to confident in it’s ability to communicate genuine depictions of human behavior. Another unfortunate product of this transition is the palatability of films to the general public. By treating those being filmed more as subjects as opposed to actors the films become much better tools for academic analysis but at the same time the films become less accessible and so somewhat limit their impact on the general public. So what is preferable, to accept that to some degree anyone being filmed and is aware of the camera is an actor, or to focus instead on capturing as realistic as possible a depiction of those being filmed by treating them as subjects?

Wasteland

Vik Muniz’s work in Brazil is inspiring in the social activist work documenting his efforts entitled “Wasteland.” Muniz himself is well versed in the poverty he captures in his art; he was born in one of the many slums in Rio De Janero and made it to America with less then 3 dollars to his name. Working in a department store, Muniz found he had a pashion for collecting the refuse that people threw out and making art with it. This unique approach to art got Muniz an immense popularity and following that rocketed him to high status in many art circles. Muniz took this fame with him to the trash heaps back in his native Brazil in an attempt to docuemnet the troubles faced by the residents there. I cannot say much on Wasteland past this point that wouldn’t spoil the amazing film, but I will leave this post with a great picture that shows the impressive scope of the social activist art that Muniz undertook. I highly encourage that anyone reading this post go and see this amazing film.

trash

Ethnography and Anthropology in the Modern World/

Anthropology is presently in an identity crisis. The discipline has lost much of its voice in the academic sphere, and in the eyes of the wider public it appears as a subject that is increasingly irrelevant in today’s modern world. The problem of Anthropology’s growing silence is peculiar, as Anthropology has more potential than most social sciences to give us a greater understanding of the human ecology around us. Anthropology gives us the opportunity to look at ourselves and learn something, and more than most any other discipline it gives us an academic means to analyze the effects that the rapidly changing world around us has on our person by evaluating how cultures (and so, humans) cope across the world with increased globalism/interconnectedness and rapid technological development.

Part of the problem may be that the Anthropologist is seen by many as synonymous with the Ethnographer. Ethnography as a method of learning is a powerful tool, and in many ways acted as the gold standard for research in cultural anthropology for many years. However, the great utility of ethnographic methods has led to the term “ethnographic” being used by many other social sciences carelessly to describe their own research methods, hoping to add validity to their studies. Ethnographic research is now used to Positivist ends; a means to acquire data and facts about a certain group of interest. This goes against the very beauty of true Ethnography, as Ethnography performed correctly is not simply a way for a researcher to attain certain customs, traits, or data from specific groups.

Ethnography is most useful as a cooperative venture. One where the researcher and the subject participate together as humans to learn about the human condition. The twisiting of Ethnography is doubly damaging as it is assumed to represent Anthropology, which has pubically remained silent.

Jared Callahan and Compassionate Filmmaking

Jared Callahan has the sort of personality that captures the entire room the moment he enters. He seems to actually listen to your voice and opinions, and makes you feel important when you talk to him. This in itself is not a unique trait, but what is is that his mannerisms come across in his films. I found his short films especially to be compassionate and inquisitive, despite their brevity, and reflective of who he is as a film maker.

What stood out from meeting Jared was his desire to portray his subjects as lovable people. As a person who primarily deals with narrative film, I find this to be difficult because I spend so much time creating flawed characters who are interesting, and taking already flawed people and making them lovable is a totally different approach. In consideration of how to do this, I’ve been thinking about a phrase he tossed out: creative audacity. As filmmakers we need to have the creative audacity to dare to tell stories with sensitivity and capture the humanity of our subjects, rather than focus on the “otherness” that makes them compelling to research. How to be responsible to our subjects while still telling a story that is interesting to an audience is an issue I’m still struggling with, but I appreciate Callahan’s approach of making a story about a person who is or who does something, rather than something that is being done by a person.

Beauty and the Streets

Two summers ago, I travelled to Buenos Aires, Argentina for six weeks on a Study Abroad Program to study the Spanish language and culture. Buenos Aires is a luxurious city influenced by Italian architecture and the cosmopolitan capitals of the world. The people on the streets are beautiful and exceptionally kind. Yet there is a stark contrast in the beauty of this city compared to the beauty of the rest of the country. This difference is not necessarily something bad, yet it turns negative when these differences divide the population in terms of power, status, and opportunities.

Due to the Great European Immigration Wave in Argentina in the 20th century, most of the residents of Buenos Aires are of European descent. The concentration of lighter skinned Europeans being located in the largest city in Argentina led to a beauty standard that resembled more closely the Europeans rather than the majority of the darker skinned Argentinians. When I was in Argentina, even in other parts of the country all of the advertisements depicted light skinned models who looked nothing like the major population.screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-10-55-48-pm

This idolized beauty standard led to noticeable mistreatment of those who did not slightly resemble this image or come from European descent. In order to challenge the status quo, the street artist duo Primo took to spray painting large murals of solely dark skinned and indigenous people on the streets of Buenos Aires.

Primo is made up of two artists, Sasha Reisen and Nicolás Germani, who stand out from other street artists because they exclusively paint darker skinned people which drastically contrast with the abundance of advertisements featuring lighter skinned models. The intended effect of these murals is to not only show that there is beauty in all shades of skin, but also to bring the presence of the darker skinned Argentinians into Buenos Aires in a beautiful way. One piece that I find particularly stunning is the mural of a young dark skinned woman with a pony tail. The image is simple. In this simplicity, Primo is able to show the normalness of having different skin tones. In addition, the angle of the woman’s head is slightly up showing that she is not hiding, she is proud.

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While many people specifically in the street art community praise Primo’s work for the beauty of the portraits, not everyone treats them with the same appreciation. One mural of a black man with a snake coming out of his mouth had not been finished in one day, so Primo wrote “mural en proceso” (mural in process) only to return the next day to see that someone had painted over the image. The vandalizers instead wrote “mural en DESproceso” as well as “Y el respeto?” (and the respect?), “No se tapa, se respeten” (don’t paint over it, show some respect), and drew a speech bubble that said “no respiro” (I’m not breathing) as if the black man was saying that he couldn’t breathe now that the vandalism had covered his face[i]. While it is not clear if these comments are in regards to Primo not having respect, black people not having respect, or just a silly prank, the effect of this vandalism was that the mural was ruined and Primo had to start over in another location. According to the article by BA Street Art, the artist duo commented on the vandalism by reporting that they felt hurt and angry that these people implied a lack of respect and that they wasted a lot of time and resources just to have to start over again[ii]. This act of vandalism could have been a meaningless prank, but it also could have been targeted towards Primo since they are creating somewhat controversial murals by solely painting darker skin people. Since the vandalizer left their street art name “Lake” on their tag, it does seem as though they are directly challenging Primo.

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One critique of Primo’s street art is that since graffiti is a relatively new medium of art, it certainly does not hold the same impact on a community as other longstanding forms of art. People may not attribute the same respect to graffiti artists since graffiti is often associated with rebellious teenagers who are “up to no good.” Potentially, by using a medium that is not well respected, it could lead to these murals not being respected as well and have a reversed effect on the intention to create beauty around darker skinned people in Buenos Aires. Nonetheless, while this street art is not the ultimate fix to racism or changing the beauty standard, it does start conversation about what is art and what is beautiful.

 

[i] “Graffiti Wars as Primo Mural Painted Over Before It’s Finished.” BA Street Art. 2012.

[ii] Ibid, 2012.

Falling in Love with Film

What makes us fall in love with a film?

I found myself asking this question as I walked out of class after meeting Jared Callahan last week. While his three shorts we watched, Janey Makes a Play, American Moderate, and The Many Friends of Sommer Caffarella were all beautiful, well-constructed, and heartwarming pieces of film, none of them immediately struck me as impactful. Not in the way that Homemade or The Burning had – in a way that made me feel moved to action or residually haunted by problems that seemed so grand that they couldn’t filter through the sieve of my attention span. After watching Jared’s films I felt intrigued and impressed, but beyond that they left nothing but a warm aura of an impression.

And then we met Jared. From reading the other posts of my classmates, I know I’m not the only one who felt drawn into his charismatic responses to questions and his infectious enthusiasm. Within minutes of first hearing him speak about his filmmaking history and process, I wanted to see every film he’d ever made and ever film he would ever make. Forgetting the slow lulls in Janey Makes a Play that I had noted the night before, I found myself retrospectively enchanted with all of Jared’s films. I wanted to watch them again, I wanted to tell other people about them, and I wanted everyone to know how great this person and his artwork appeared to me. Suddenly, I felt a certain type of love for these pieces of work and their creator.

While I reacted with cynicism towards other guests we have brought into the class, I found for the first time that meeting Jared made me like his films more. That his approach, one he described as centered on a goal of “having [viewers] fall in love with [the subjects of his films],” made me feel more accepting of the films we had watched and less critical of their agendas. Jared’s films suddenly seemed an extension of himself, someone I found compassionate and charming, making his camera’s gaze seem comparably kind. Knowing and liking Jared made me feel like I knew and liked his film. Like I really, truly loved his films that night before I had felt somewhat ambivalently about.

As I’ve thought about the way meeting Jared tinted my perceptions of his films, I’ve begun to wonder if more important than the question of what makes us love certain films is if in doing so we come to love the people who create them. American Moderate, my favorite of the three pieces, portrays a set of characters who I would imagine I’d find it hard and disagreeable to interact with in person. Liz and her community are different from me – they have different views, different life experiences, and different values in many ways – but through Jared’s vision of them I found them understandable if not even endearing. However, I am unsure if the feeling of warmth that I feel towards Liz is truly directed at her: if I love Liz or if I love the way Jared loves Liz. If I love the subjects of his film or if I love his outlook on them. And if the two are divorceable in the first place.

In class we spoke at length about the ability to like films without liking their filmmakers, alluding to immoral or unpleasant filmmakers, authors, and others. It seemed like many of us thought that while in some capacities knowing an author, or actor, or director may be a “bad” person makes us look at their work more critically – in documentary film, several of us could find examples of films we loved despite their grating subjects. While I wasn’t uniquely drawn to Liz or Janey, meeting Jared made me feel drawn to the way he understood them. Piecing through this experience, I’ve begun to wonder if what makes us love documentaries – something unique from loving fictitious creators – is loving the way they see things.

The things I found enticing about Janey Makes a Play and Jared’s other works were not their stories or even their subjects, and in some sense, I believe that contrary to his objective, what Jared made us love was not these people but rather his relationships to them. Janey Makes a Play is only exciting because of the admiration that Jared expresses when he speaks about his grandmother. The Many Friends of Sommer Caffarella is heartwarming because of the kindness with which we see Jared interact with Sommer and the palpable intimacy and love in their relationship. Liz, a girl from a background that has led her to have beliefs I fundamentally disagree with, is relatable because Jared chose to make her so, omitting intentionally incriminating footage of her and her family saying racist or offensive things. In all of these instances what draws me to these people are never the people themselves but Jared’s choice to portray them in a certain light – I am drawn to his perspective and his mission as a filmmaker.

I believe that this relationship – not just between the viewer and the filmmaker – but between the viewer and the filmmaker’s perspective and intent is integral to the way we consume and relate to documentary film. Thinking back to other guests we had in the class, the significance of this relationship became more apparent. I didn’t dislike Danielle as a person; I disliked the way she related to a family she saw struggling and the way she chose to represent them. While these are examples are anecdotal, they speak to what I believe is a critical component of what makes us love film: an ability to find in film a perspective that appeals to us and resembles our own, people who look through similar lenses and interpret things in similar frameworks. Just like how we find ourselves in characters, in fiction, and in people, we find ourselves equally in the resonance between our own outlook and those of others’. I love Jared’s approach to film because it seems grounded in a set of principles that are agreeable with my own. Even if we can divorce people from their work and their character from the quality of their creations, it is perhaps in the inextricable influence of an artist’s perspective that we find ourselves falling in love with work – with the idea that the frameworks through which we interpret, imagine, and observe the world are shared and given some weight of truth.

Scaaaarrry Post!

A question I would like to pose: can a critique be positive?

In the films we watched there were notable connections from the personal to the political. The way in which you learned about social structures, stigma, and prejudice by being confronted with a living moving image of someone, is brilliant. It’s a sure way to start knocking away at the rigid categories we allow to blind us to the complex realities. Tying personal narratives to larger patterns is pretty cool. I think the play about Sommer perhaps does the best job of this even though it is the shortest film at just over 9 minutes.

I am glad that it is becoming more difficult for me to critique some of the films that we are screening. It means that I have to think more and pushes me to challenge the way I view films and by extension the world.

Janey Makes a Play

Disclaimer: My memory may be lacking when it comes to Janey Makes a Play since I watched 3 other films right before it, so if I’ve forgotten things which may at least partially counter any of these points, please feel free to make them known.

It would have been fantastic to see real conflicts among the troupe that put on the play or even the broader community. As much of a family as everyone seemed in the play, I am almost certain there are at least some conflicts sometimes, but these don’t seem to be shown much. Depicting such clashes would have complexified the people and, depending on their responses, deepened our sense of the bonds between them. Perhaps this may be why I personally felt some distance from the characters in this film and the story portrayed, despite the fact that I thought what they were doing was very cool.

While the debut of the play is certainly an example of conflict and a source of tension, it appears to be framed moreso as a common goal in which everyone is united against rather than provoking conflicts within the group and a plurality of directions in which to go.

I am also extremely curious to see how the group fares after Janey passes away. I think this could the basis of a film in itself. Will they be able to survive the absence of the charismatic energetic mover? Will they grow together in new ways or decay and splinter into many directions? Perhaps sending some toward new avenues and other not so much.

The juxtaposition between the alienating structural pressures like unemployment and other financial burdens with the sense of community and performance nicely demonstrate how our society isn’t necessarily based on what is really fulfilling for us. I kind of wish it dug more into this and how such things might be challenged.

If it is the job of the filmmaker to hone their techniques in crafting a story, then perhaps it is the duty of the viewer (and critic, if we like) to dissect what is presented and go even beyond that vision.

It may be that the way we see art is more of a reflection of ourselves than what is presented. So if we cultivate observation and openness to uncertainty, then we could also bring this investigative practice and awareness to our viewings of film and other forms of art too.

Yet if this reflective/reflexive form of critique can tell us about the social impact of film: that is, how it’s perceived and what consequences are tied with that, (more complex than determined in a linear fixed way) then that seems pretty useful! It can allow us to look more deeply and clearly at our own patterns of creating and consuming media.

I would really like to learn more about the creation of the community theater, of this new setting (Sarason 1972). How did this group figure out how to act (haha) when it first formed? How has it changed and how is it still evolving? How did other institutions and organizations respond to the community theater? Were there any conflicts? We’re told that the first 7 years sold out all of their shows and that there seems to be a rather good relation with the school and students, but there’s much more that must have happened than just that.

It seems like there is a rather zoomed in picture that maybe leaves certain more complex details out. Then again, certain conditions drove Janey to create the group. If part of the goal is to show that such different relations are possible and desirable, then showing the tougher times within the community is just as important as the good times.

American Moderate

I had some thoughts about this film too. The character here does feel a bit more real and I did experience more of a connection to her. It’s definitely useful for challenging some of our ideas and stereotypes about people belonging to certain social groups, including American political parties. It’s even good for questioning our own identities and self-inscribed categories. I enjoyed the part about feminism and also when Liz says “But…I’m a republican, I know I am…I’ve always been…”

However, I felt there were a few missing points that could have complemented the film wonderfully. The first is that it appears rather self-contained and does not locate itself within an ongoing historical context. I think this is actually a bias very present within our generation as well as our world’s media production. It would have been really helpful to bring up similar decisions which people have faced in the past within various cultures and social structures. Mentioning the past(s) while acknowledging their complexity seems doable to me.

I think the inclusion of similar instances from the past would have framed the individual indecisiveness and uncertainty in a very nice way and allowed viewers to possibly begin taking a more critical view at and start questioning our political institutions, society and culture. To start asking questions like: why have we been divided into two groups? Were things always this way? How did they get this way and who benefits from and works to maintain it? I understand this may be beyond the scope of the film and the maker’s intent, but these are the kinds of new avenues that begin to open up when we take a longer view of the issues affecting us today. If you think about it, doesn’t majoritarian democracy inherently foster social relations rooted in antagonism and domination (“winner” take all!) over compassionate understanding and collaboration?

Which brings me to my next point: beyond voting.

People may challenge their perceptions of one another but I do not think this is enough. Small steps toward breaking down prejudices are certainly necessary, crucial even, but they do not go far enough on their own because they don’t have to change our fundamental social relations. We also need to challenge the systems that manufacture and thrive on these types of divisions. The fact is that people gain and maintain power through these divisions. Those who command the majority of the planet’s wealth and resources were never voted in, and they’ll never be voted out either. Whether it’s by pitting megacorp employees against those subservient to ultracorp, people living in other countries, or even each other, the divisions perpetuate the hierarchy.

As Ken Knabb points out:

“The side that takes the initiative usually wins because it defines the terms of the struggle. If we accept the system’s own terms and confine ourselves to defensively reacting to each new mess produced by it, we will never overcome it. We have to keep resisting particular evils, but we also have to recognize that the system will keep generating new evils until we put an end to it.

By all means vote if you feel like it. But don’t stop there. Real social change requires participation, not representation.”

I truly wish that a question had been raised at the electoral system and voting itself. And whether there is legitimate social activity beyond this and who decides that.

Why do we vote for these teams? And why do we vote for others to make whatever decisions they like and think it represents us? And why do we want someone else to represent us or think we need it?

Heh, it sort of makes me think about films. Do we really think they can or do represent reality? Perhaps by seeing them as representations and stories we can better pick them apart and be less attached to them. Then we might even enjoy them more, without becoming stuck as easily in the narratives and assumptions they (re)produce with us. Which means we can participate in the creation of our own lives and worlds.

Can love of a character cause us to challenge these ideas? Can empathy for another portrayed in film enable us to reevaluate assumptions?

Maybe, but the conclusions we leave with can vary as much as our assumptions going in. If we bounce our assumptions off of what we view and project our existential experiences onto others, we can easily view someone like Liz and feel validated in our uncertainties or become more open to and aware of the lives of others. However, in neither case does this necessarily result in us going deeper and questioning where these realities stem from and how they are formed. It can become a way of seeing how others do not really know either, and stopping there. It can also serve as a way of thinking that we just need to try to make our decisions well without questioning the context and strategy laid out for us. Thus, the dominant answers, the narratives which we swim in, continue as if they were natural laws, eternal and immutable.

I do not think we can present a story without our own influence. The only thing that varies is the nature of that influence. Whether we contribute questions or hold off on them, select dialogue, framings and frames, cuts and edits, audio or silence, or present some things or leave things out, these are all a part of the web that our creation contributes to and is made up of, which it impacts and is also shaped by and perceived through. This social fabric woven by so many different forces.

Whether we like it or not, what we leave out, neglect to mention, contributes to the context and content of what we put forth. If we do not challenge what people bring to bear, what they carry along with them, then we cannot entirely say “well, they just see their reflections” as if it were the only possible result. Without challenging the lens people bring how can we expect things not to be refracted through those lens? Film is sort of like substituting one lens (of the camera and creator) for that created by any other source that inevitably filters information. So can we shatter one lens without simply replacing it with another? Or rather, can we change the relationship one has with their lens—the ways we look at and with them?

Positive vision is needed, but that almost never means going along with all of the already accepted ideas, assumptions and norms. We must be inspired by the opportunities for change and visions of where to go. This means seeing the problems for what they are, openness to complexity and discomfort, and a willingness to do everything to change them! It means to critique and go beyond, to use strategy and determination together.

References

Knabb, K. (2016, October 26). Beyond Voting. Retrieved October 31, 2016, from http://www.bopsecrets.org/recent/beyond-voting.htm

Sarason, S. B. (1972). The creation of settings and the future societies. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Call Me By My Name: Stories From Calais and Beyond

This week I looked at the project Call Me By Name, an exhibit run by the organization The Migration Museum Project that focuses on issues of migration and British nationalism. The exhibit’s goal was to share the lives of the thousands of refugees living in the Calais camp with the world.  Through a multi-media, multi-perspective, multi-cultural platform, Call Me By My Name shook it’s viewers with it’s art work that displayed what life really is like as a refugee. From painting,to sculpture, to photography, and written works and auditory pieces performed by the refugees themselves, Call Me By My Name acts as a visceral representation of the migrant experience.

The project humanizes the refugee situation and creates more than sympathy in it’s viewers.  Each piece encourages deep community engagement and reflection and binds the viewer and subject in a way that sensitizes us and nurtures basic human connection. Each piece urges us to show humility, engage with the material, and think critically about the big issues surrounding immigration.  The subject’s voices speak through the art work. One young child living in the Calais camp draws his father and brother drowning during their crossing to the camp.  His drawing is part of Safi’s larger piece that displays work done by Calais’ children.

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Another aspect of the exhibit is the many workshops and discussions held in the art space.  One such workshop took children from refugee backgrounds and American children and had them come together to talk about these issues.  This sort of deeper engagement prevents someone from thinking they have done their part by simply viewing the artwork on display.  I think this unique overlap between subject, viewer, artist, and community allows for the farthest reaching social impact without undermining the integrity or rights of those being “looked at.”

This honest representation of the refugee crisis with a continuing education component really sets this exhibit apart.  Below are some of the most impactful art pieces on display:

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-11-55-36-pmNikolaj Larsen creates the sculpture, Wanderers to display the reach of this crisis.

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-11-56-11-pmSarah Savage created an impactful piece titled The Dignity of Life. This part of the exhibit shows lifejackets that mark the journey these refugees take to get to the Calais camp.

These pieces just offer a taste of the rich exhibit.  With a hugely positive reception, Call Me By My Name goes beyond a rigid discussion of immigration, and rather poses larger questions of human rights, ethics, and humanity.

Feminism can’t be reduced to a “trend”

I decided to do my midterm essay on H&M’s new ad campaign, the video of which can be found here: H&M’s New Advert

Honestly I came across this advertisement on Facebook, as it was part of an article that was actually critiquing the extremely popular and praised ad. The article was by Gemma Clarke who founded this website called “Global Hobo,” which is described as “a space for writers to share original views on destinations, experiences and social trends. Our aim is to open our readers’ minds to fresh perspectives, show them new parts of the world and have a good laugh at ourselves and each other.” Clarke’s article can be found here: Gemma Clarke: Don’t Fall for the New H&M Campaign

Ultimately, H&M created an utterly badass video that people have said is redefining the way we view femininity and ideals of what it means to be “ladylike.” The ad includes a wide and diverse range of models, all of whom go against the social norms of what it means to act like a lady. It’s phenomenal, and if it weren’t for all of the underlying, deep-rooted issues with H&M as a company and their morals in general, I would be just as obsessed with this ad as everyone else is. But Gemma discusses quite a few points that raise the question – does H&M truly stand for women, or are they simply taking advantage of this new wave of feminism as a marketing strategy? Staff exploitation, child labor, and stores failing to actually stock a plus-size range are some of the issues she talks about. How can a company preach one thing but act in a completely different way? Well I guess that’s actually quite easy but it’s also disturbing and disheartening. H&M had the opportunity to do something truly remarkable here, but it seems as though they are just trying to capitalize on the current “trend” of feminism for their own profit.

Honestly, it just blows my mind. It blows my mind that huge companies, famous individuals, and people with such a great deal of power just sit silent on the sidelines. The people whose voices could be most heard are the same ones who fall discouragingly quiet. And I’m not going to generalize that statement to everyone with a great deal of power, money, or following, but for the most part, I’m afraid that this is our sad reality. It’s just so unfortunate because those that could actually have the most impact fail to stand for something bigger than themselves. H&M is just one of many, many examples, but if the company actually cared about gender equality and women’s rights, wouldn’t you think they would first make some fundamental shifts in their morals and actions before presenting this image of “we love all women” to the world? I guess that’s just me being idealistic but I thought, as humans, we were better than that.

I spent 6 weeks this past summer in India, among the most genuine, kind-hearted, compassionate, and selfless group of individuals I’ve ever met – the Tibetan monastic community. Those 6 weeks helped me gain a lot of perspective and gave me some insight on what it being to simply be a “human being.” It’s absolutely crazy to think of the millions, probably billions of people that don’t go about their days in the same way – with a genuine and compassionate heart for every individual that crosses your path. Again, I’m being idealistic and I know how remarkably unrealistic that thought it, but is it really that difficult? Is it really THAT hard to just be a good person? Sometimes I swear I keep myself up at night thinking about things like this, because all of the hate, injustice, anger, and violence in the world just doesn’t make any damn sense.

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