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.

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

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.