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.

Impositionality

After reading about Positionality, I wonder how much of research is imposed upon the “subjects” and if this can ever be eliminated so long as there is distinction between researcher and researched, observer and observed? Certainly it can exist to varying degrees, but there seems to be a certain incongruity in churning out data from people as a necessary component of our own agendas, which themselves are not entirely our own and are almost unavoidably tied up with and driven by rules set through broader status competitions.

How often do we impose our agendas on others, whether as researchers or as people? Aren’t we often trying to expand our territory and defend the borders of our status and identity, or even just pushing our own assumptions and understanding which may have negative effects, even if well intentioned?

What would it look like if we did not have to defend such things and take them as seriously?

This doesn’t necessarily have to do with or mean letting everyone into your life and all information out. There is a reality to the fact that many would take advantage of such opportunities for their own gain regardless of the costs to others. So why should anyone trust researchers? Will their voices be heard because of them? Will their wills triumph or fade as transient echoes? Will they merely be converted into “data,” absorbed into papers and digitized… then perhaps transported behind a secluded cyberspace armored in pay walls? Are we just extracting more information to be used the disposal of those further up in the hierarchies?

Sometimes people have never even been asked what they think, and they may actually be quite grateful that someone, anyone, is genuinely interested. Or they might not mind at all. And there times when there might be no other ways for people to share their stories amidst the dominant narratives, images and paradigms.

But what else can we do to combat such restrictive conditions and transform our relations into those more characterized by mutuality? And what can we do to dismantle the “need” to ‘produce data’ from others that our social relations manufacture? Why don’t our needs for social relations lead to our knowledge rather than our need for knowledge or data lead to our relations?

Turning things Inside Out

Sad joy,
and joyful sadness

Sadness as an insider outsider or outsider insider; pulling and pushing and moving perspectives.

Sadness as an insider outsider or outsider insider; pulling, pushing and moving perspectives.

I really think this film does a good job of showing the complexities of insider outsider positions and how each can have unexpected perspectives that the other needs. Characters even try to impose their own understandings to secure particular positions, which leads to all kinds of breakdowns in communication.

Although outsider dimensions of positionality can lead to information being excluded, being an insider is not universally useful, as this may lead to assumptions regarding what information is important and what the others ought to be doing and care about. We’re not just occupying spaces that shift, there are constant attempts to reproduce and rearrange relations and positions, whether through personal narratives, interactions, communication, or more structural forces.

It takes joy and sadness to bridge the gap in understanding, insider and outsider, literally and metaphorically (they’re actually not so easily distinguished!).

Perhaps working together as insiders and outsiders is the way to go, knowing when to team up and when to separate so that each can do their thing.

Image Credit to Pixar Studios, Disney and all other respective holders.

Imagination of Images

Susan Sontag makes many very interesting points in Looking at War, among them the idea that written accounts will have more of an impact due to the increased attention and detail they require and can provide. I tend to agree with this point as text requires a bit more engagement to make sense of whereas images can leave us without context or coherence.

She also criticizes the sort of grand and perhaps abstract philosophizing of those such as Guy Debord in The Society of the Spectacle. This point left me a bit confused, as from what little I have read of the Spectacle his argument seemed to be more that in western society reality or relationships are inevitably becoming ever more media-ted by images. Almost like we live in an image-in-nation, nation of images. She goes on to state that no one can know what war is actually like: “Can’t understand, can’t imagine.” This seems to be in the same vein as what Debord might argue about the Spectacle and its unreality or mediation of reality via images.

Overall I enjoyed this article but it sort of leaves me aching for further analysis. It seems like she could have gone a bit further beyond culture and individuals to include the state, which is inextricably tied up with war, passivity, consumption, spectacle, and cultures of domination. Without this piece of the puzzle it almost feels like the article inadvertently obscures some of the context for war—the competing rulers’ positions—solely with a lack of comprehension of the true atrocity of war in a way reminiscent of the naivety of the peace movement that has little analysis of private property, wage slavery, borders and centralization of power.

I actually think one of the main problems is our lack of imagination in conceiving of alternate worlds, which is partly due to the narratives and images we are inundated with constantly. Those interested in such alternatives are more likely to search, find and create them, like a fire that has been lit and needs fuel. But those who have no concept of alternative seem less likely to fundamentally question what’s in front of them and do something about it.

Double Crossed

When I was reading The Crossing the first quote really struck me:

The EU is ignoring international laws it helped found as it tries to turn Morocco into a ‘final destination’ for African migrants.”

I just thought of how contradictory this appears to us and wondered: Why do we assume that governments will enforce “human rights?”

A pair of flip flops, left behind by a refugee, lies on the ground in the Sahara Desert near the border of Algeria and Libya. Many sub-Saharan Africans who are caught crossing into one of the Spanish enclaves in Morocco are driven to the Sahara Desert near Morocco’s border with Algeria and dropped there without food or water. This is an illegal form of repatriation under international law. (Reuters)

After all, are these state systems really functioning any differently than they always have? Upon further inspection, situations like those depicted in The Crossing, where people are kept in impoverished living conditions and brutally mistreated, even against the apparent “law” have long been created and maintained by states internally and externally. Governments of various states have a history of suspending “human rights” when such concepts no longer serve the ruling interests. For example, suspension of habeas corpus in the US during wars. Some will argue about legal technicalities and special circumstances, but if even being released from “unlawful” arrest is not a right but merely a privilege then what good are the supposed guarantees of the other abstract rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly, etc… in a prison cell or under threat of being thrown in one?

Furthermore, countries decide who and how many people to admit based on their need to maintain social control and unemployment margins as well as the needs and interests with businesses which desire consumers and abundant cheap labor. Thus we can see that it is both the state and private property system, which have an interest in maintaining such conditions and controlling the movement of people across borders. The histories of colonialism and neocolonialism are very pertinent here as well, as means that increased power for both states and capitalists as well as the church—western organized religious institutions. Not to mention sexism, racism and white supremacy, which both reciprocally reinforce the other systems and act as their own forces.

So what can we do? I think one necessary step is to accurately view the nature of the problem, which means looking at how domination is created and perpetuated through multiple interlocking systems which must all be addressed simultaneously if it is to be undone and replaced with egalitarian relations. The kinds of analyses put forth by intersectional feminists, anarchists and libertarian socialists seem quite perspicacious in this regard.

Rebel against false borders wherever you find them! After all, do we not all tend to reinforce these kinds of borders every day with our adherence to them, from countries to micro-interactions with people and even in our own minds? Think of these borders as being key to the disconnect between how things could and should be and how they are, if you like. If people were free to go wherever they liked, not in an abstract sense of right, but in the sense of real possibility, then the needs of all would become everyone’s concern and site of action.