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.

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.