Thursday, September 23, 2010

Baltimore & I

This is a divergence from my usual method of posting anthropological-related material. After diving more into cultural studies and applied anthropology within the past weeks, I realized I needed to change the orientation of this site. It is impossible for me to maintain the objective authorship I initially set out to do. My goal was to post chiefly academic critiques of scholarly work and analyze media sources that I found interesting and influential in the anthropology or cultural studies field. Now, my involvement in the Racial Dynamics Project (which STILL desperately needs a new name); my interest in joining LBS to practice fieldwork and cultural studies methodology; and my emotionally charged beliefs as a black teen have stopped me from calling this an objective blog. I do not expect to write rants, but as I begin posting material about inequality, racism, hegemony, White supremacy, and several other cultural studies keywords, there is no doubt that they will be full with emotion and biased influences.

I wanted to specifically write a post regarding my recent feelings towards Baltimore City which experiences almost every problem that applied anthropology and cultural studies attempts to correct. Recently, the professor in my "Ethnographic Field Methods" class addressed the students about whether or not the ethnographer has an obligation to fix societal problems that is apparent in her or his own work (at the basic level). I answered yes. While there is merit in cataloging information and publishing data about the correlation between juvenile crimes and deteriorating school systems, for example, this work largely remains in academia. The same disconnect that occurs between wealthy, greedy CEOs and bottom-level employees is similar to the disparity between academia and "street life," or "the real world." However, a CEO who has the ability to relate to the "little people" of the company will enact policies that will provide more benefits and a better work environment, thus creating a better company. The same goes for applied anthropology and cultural studies methods that aim to obligatorily address and correct for the many defects in society. Maybe (most likely) it is my experience as a black teenager who has experienced these social inequalities that makes me predisposed to make such a claim. My question to the cultural studies or anthropology student is that, "If you have the ability to challenge and correct racist, sexist, xenophobic, and other hegemonic factors of society, why wouldn't you?"

Until a few months ago, I was completely ignorant and unwilling to learn about the other side of Baltimore. This is the side that has been systematically ignored by great landmarks, big business, and gentrification. This is the side of blue lights, loads of black people, boarded up homes, homeless men and women, and vandalism. The side that upper class folk will never venture to. The side that looks like a zoo of chaos to the suburban college student. I traveled through these parts of Baltimore on a regular basis (my Dad owns and manages a small piece of property), I made assumptions, created and reinforced stereotypes, and presented a particular amount of arrogance as we rode through in a Lexus ES 300. I saw a down-to-earth connection with these people because I was black (my skin color would somehow allow me to understand the black, urban poor); the property that we managed was far from extraordinary (an excuse not to accept my somewhat elite status and lifestyle); and my mother was raised in similar, unfortunate conditions (the relationship between my mother and I, in congruence with her experiences, allowed me access into this imaginary space). At the same time, I would make jokes about the "blue light district", the crime rate, crazy homeless people, and other problems that weren't frequent in places I grew up. I didn't take Baltimore's urban problems seriously until getting deeply involved with my Racial Dynamics Project. Long story short: at this time I was also taking an African-American literature class and let's just say several other factors in my life came together at the right time to guide my focus into wanting to fix societal problems in Baltimore. First, I had to realize that although several features could allow me to "pass" as a black kid who grew up in the city, my economic and social identity is a large barrier in truly relating to these people. Additionally, the goal is not to create a way (in the current hegemonic paradigm) to relate to these people, but to understand the social inequalities that prevented me from being able to relate to them. Once these are understood then they need to be deconstructed and abolished. Utopian work? No, it's a deeply embedded White supremacist structure that will take immense effort to tear down.

Monday, September 20, 2010

'Making Scary Kids' & 'Stupid Policy Tricks' in "The Culture of Fear"

In pages sixty-eight to seventy-four of The Culture of Fear, Glassner sheds light on how the media has altered society’s perspective on childhood violence. Highly covered media stories in the 1980’s and 90’s become markers in American history that suggest the beginning of these so-called epidemics. Thus linking ideas that rising and gruesome violence committed by preteens and teenagers has led to a new age of degeneracy and lawlessness. After these markers, the public becomes oversaturated with a redundant amount violence that is happening everywhere (even in the suburbs)! When one looks at 1950 advertisements and solicitations of the suburban lifestyle with the cliché “white-picket fence,” there is an absence of crime. It appears to be a safe-haven from booming, industrial cities where one can safely raise a family of two and a dog. There is still evidence of this suburban dream as reporters summarize the recent event. Glassner quotes the New York Times description of the area as, “a quiet neighborhood of neatly tended bungalows” (1999:69). Another paraphrased description states, “journalists stress that violent kids live not just in the South Bronx or South Central L.A. but in safe-seeming suburbs and small towns” (1999:68). From the perspective of an American who has freedoms and rights, one will most likely feel that his or her life and property is in immediate or possible danger. However, as Glassner states, if one closely analyzes the way the media tells (or chooses to tell) these stories, that particular American would realize there fears are dramatically exaggerated.

The constant and vivid retelling of teenagers and their crimes, the dedication of reporting on the anniversary of these crimes, and the so-called evidence that shows increases in violence are all methods of deception. Glassner notes two elements of journalism that are always present when referring to crimes and children. This being, “vivid depictions of the young criminals and their crimes, and numbers showing dramatic increases on some dimension or other” (1999:70). This can be seen in photographs, surveillance tapes, 911 dispatches, courtroom sketches, screenshots of MySpace pages, photocopied letters, and an entire slew of material that will intensify the audience’s experience and the magnitude of the crime. This bombardment of images and sounds, one might argue, is sensationalistic nonetheless, but still tells the story in a truthful manner (depending on the story). It becomes largely problematic when deceiving percentages of increases of crime are attached to sensationalist stories. Thus, leading to excessive fear mongering and an inaccurate response by local authorities, parents, teachers, and children themselves. Glassner identifies this as society’s unacknowledged guilt and inability to face the reality of societal and individual problems. For example, instead of funding programs and creating pathways for educating youth in Baltimore, officials have plans to build a $100 million (roughly) juvenile center for the city’s deviants. Not only does this overlook deeper problems, it doesn’t take into account that prison (or any anti-rehabilitative model) fosters crime rather than purging it. Additionally, going back to the actions of the media, it is important to look at what the media does not cover. At the time that correspondents were reporting on the anniversary of the teens who were shot while trick-or-treating, the city had a successful outdoor carnival without violence and violence in Pasadena had dropped 20 percent. However, that won’t get the New York Times higher ratings...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Final Stages of Editing & Amateur Lessons

I met with my advisor-professor, Dr. Durington, so he could watch the rough cut of my Racial Dynamics Project (which needs a new name--an appropriate video title) and great headway was made. Prior to editing I believe the rough cut was around 38 minutes. It is now down to 26 minutes and I still have a day's worth of work before we can evaluate it again. A large cut was made from an entire section I had reserved for opinions on "Affirmative Action." This had gradually stemmed from conversations with my roommate that I felt would be interesting to add in what would become an immense digression from the initial starting point--the context of Allen Zaruba's firing. (Perhaps with the release of the film I will reveal my interview questions so all who are interested will be able to see how this occured.) Dr. D paused the film a few seconds into the affirmative action section and made note of the digression. At this moment I realized that I had a lack of structure and organized methodology surrounding this project that most likely weakened the larger potential and orientation of the film. Luckily I am currently taking a methods class that should better help me organize future films. Although I will never know how much stronger my film could have been if I had more structure, it is in no way problematic, rather more of a learned lesson for an amateur ethnographer.

In this prescreening session we also identified that I could begin to add the glitter and the glam. A voiceover, screenshots from The Towerlight, and music will all be added in the next few weeks. Not much to talk about there until I draft a voiceover, find the right pictures and newspaper clippings, and the right music.

Jean Rouch & Editing

As I finish editing my film this has been a huge inspiration in the editing process.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Raw & Passionate Speech

I came up with this term to define what I, an aspiring ethnographic filmmaker, wanted to see from subjects who were being interviewed or observed. In the midst of finishing last minute edits on my rough cut of the Racial Dynamics film, I realized that true feelings and anthropological data was best achieved when participants spoke passionately about a particular topic. This might happen in several ways:

1. The individual may become frustrated or confused with how to approach or respond to an interview question in an academic/scholarly manner thus she/he will attempt an alternate method that allows them to get out the most basic (raw) emotions, values, and opinions regarding the subject matter.
2. The individual will have deep connections with a particular topic of discussion and will respond with accented speech, maximized hand gestures, high amounts of body language, and will most likely be very vocal using the most highest forms of speech

Of course, this is just a theory and I'll have to put it in motion in my next film. I do believe there is truth in this. Think of this as psychological anthropology (i may be completely incorrect with that statement) that attempts to bring out inner thoughts and cognition--an anthropological Freudian slip perhaps.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Editing on Final Cut Pro...nevermind, wait let's do FCP...maybe

I have been editing since the beginning of the summer and I am not yet finished. For the record, it does not and should not take this long to edit 5 hours of raw footage. I've just been taking it in stride, sometimes going 2-3 weeks without looking at the footage, simply because I had other things to do or I just didn't feel like going through all of the interviews. Also, it took longer than expected for me to collaborate with Dr. Durington, a Towson professor and producer of Record Store. We had plans to use the department's iMac to utilize Final Cut Pro (iMovie's big brother) so the production and editing would be, for the lack of a better word, awesome. Basically, there are more options and the quality is better. Once we finally got together we had problems with the computer. To make a long story short I ended up finishing a rough cut on iMovie and we will be collaborating within the next week to close the editing process.

There is still much to discuss about the presentation of the movie (i.e., where it will be held, how should it be advertised, who is my audience, etc.). Ideally, I want it to be huge and I want it to impact a lot of people from different multicultural backgrounds. I decided that while I love academic material I want to go way outside of that box and engage in applied anthropology that has an effect on the lives of not just anthropologists and culture studies scholars, but also the average woman or man.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What if everyone had a camera?

I am kino-eye, I am a mechanical eye. I, a machine, show you the world as only I can see it. Now and forever, I free myself from human immobility, I am in constant motion, I draw near, then away from objects, I crawl under, I climb onto them. I move apace with the muzzle of a galloping horse. I plunge full speed into a crowd, I outstrip running soldiers, I fall on my back, I ascend with an airplane, I plunge and soar together with plunging and soaring bodies. Now, I, a camera, fling myself along their resultant, maneuvering in the chaos of movement composed of the most complex combinations.
- Vertov 1923

What's behind the camera?
Not only is there speculation and concern about reflexivity, but there is an equal amount of curiosity about the landscape, atmosphere, and depth perception of what the lens does not capture. Think about the first time you started driving. You had little to no perception of the parameters of the car. You feared backing up and hitting the car behind you, you raised your body to see where the front bumper ended, the right side of the car was a mystery when pulling alongside a curb, and to make it worse "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear." Although there were many things you were unsure of, you had somewhat of a vague idea of the car's body. The same goes for the parameters of the camera. The audience is aware of the activity that takes place within the frame, yet they only have a vague idea of what may be behind or to the sides of the camera. The filmmaker may pan to the left or to the right, and may even do a full 360º, but the environment is constantly changing as well as the expressions of the filmmaker. The Vertov quote above shows the extensive mobility a filmmaker possesses. This style of filming works to reveal as much as possible, but it does not reveal what is directly behind the camera.

Imagine being in an interview and having a camera recording you as you record the interviewee. There wouldn't be much need for reflexive methodology since the there is a camera from both cultures. This would be improbable to do with a larger group outside of 3-4 people, unless you are willing to spend the money to arm everyone with a camera. My thoughts are that it will alleviate the problems of representation and reflexivity, while fueling collaborative film. There is still a great amount to think about, but it is a start!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Musings about the Theft of Culture from Anthropology - good read

I didn't think I was going to have anything interesting I wanted to write about today until I checked my Twitter. @Ethnography61 posted something VERY interesting!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Nigger" as a social condition

This video touches on a bit of what I speak about as far as "nigger" being a word that can be changed and transformed as people see fit. This particular scene doesn't focus on "nigger" as condition (although Adam does talk about that too).

The idea of nigger-as-condition never really occurred to me until I read a paper by Emily Yeh entitled, "Hip-hop gangsta or most deserving of victims? Transnational migrant identities and the paradox of Tibetan racialization in the USA." In this paper she speaks about the racialization, a way of designating generalized characteristics and attributing these behaviors to another ethnic group or race, of Tibetan-Americans. When young Tibetans embrace aspects/subcultures of black culture, they become (often negatively) associated with low class black Americans who listen to and create "gangsta rap." The appeal of gangsta rap comes from transnationalistic feelings of Chinese oppression and displacement from the Tibetan homeland. Although many black Americans would most likely disagree with Tibetan-Americans using the n-word, one should acknowledge the similar relationship of feelings of historical oppression and inequalities. This explains why "nigger" and all of its variations are used by a wide array of people from different backgrounds, but who share the same social status. This is also seen among Middle Easterns who may be called, or refer themselves as, "sand niggers". Also when speaking on social constraints, it is understandable why John Lennon referred to women as niggers of the world since they were oppressed by patriarchal systems of domination. Even racialized Tibetan-Americans may call each other "tiggas." In recognizing the word "nigger" as a condition, one can begin to see how "nigger" is perceived by other minority cultures and how they have dubbed this word into something they can relate to through lived experience. For the sake of addressing those who wish to argue that "nigger" is not just an explanation of a social conditon, I will say the following. "Nigger" has many other meanings and forms of expression, for example, the n-word can be used as an insult, it can be spoken in ignorance without knowing the implications, and a may be utilized without the attachment of low-class statuses (upper-class blacks saying "nigger"). However, I wish to concentrate on the idea that "nigger" relates to condition.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Digging through old files

This is really interesting because I was going through papers I had written Freshman year of college and I stumbled over this. As my interest in culture studies developed, I started thinking about doing an ehnography or research regarding the n-word. It is interesting to see how some of the same ideas and interview questions overlapped with that of my Racial Dynamics Project. In looking at this information I think that I may start working on an ethnography that solely focuses on the n-word. I will still finish the Racial Dynamics Project film for the Fall.

- On Nov. 1 2008, I was riding in the back of the bus (irrelevant) when I heard a fellow band mate of European descent repeat lyrics she heard from a rap song of some sort using the “n” word. I was uncomfortable, furious, and sad all at the same time. I said nothing to her to avoid making a scene in front of her friends who encouraged her and let each articulation of nigga hit me like a blow to the gut. Whoever said sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me was an optimistic that lived in a fantasy world. I began to ponder the reason why this simple word did so much damage. I separated my attachment to the word and attempted to imagine how she viewed it. It became obvious that it was just a word to her, and to me it was a reminder of past sufferings by great grandparents and conflicts in my personal life. The attachment I have to the word is uniquely different than her attachment.

- As I write this I began to speculate the reasons she uses this word. A way to approach this was to observe the influencing factors in society’s media, which is a breeding ground for the “n” word. For example, rap and hip-hop music, YouTube videos, cartoon shows like The Boondocks, movies (American History X), etc.

- Among the black community, the word nigga and its variations can be a strong, unifying theme. Like nationalism between World War I and II in Germany, Italy, and other European countries, the word is so strong it gives a sense of unification, power, and a feeling of belonging. The question I would like to explore is “Do black americans say the “n” word solely (or partly) to feel like they need to belong, and branch out to others that say the “n” word because they feel misplaced in White America.

Questions to ask during informal and formal interviews to white americans:
- Have you ever said the “n” word? If so, why?
- If you have said the “n” word in a leisurely manner what is your justification for doing so?
- Have you ever said the “n” word to verbally abuse someone?
- In a general statement, what do you think about this word? black americans:
- Have you ever said the “n” word? If so, why?
- If you have said the “n” word in a leisurely manner what is your justification for doing so?
- Have you ever said the “n” word to verbally abuse someone?
- Where did you learn/ hear the “n” word?
- What do you think about white people who say the “n” word?
- What does the “n” word mean to you?
- What do you think about non blacks and whites that say the “n” word?
- Are some people allowed to say the “n” word and others are not?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Racial Dynamics Project update

  • I am currently watching and rewatching footage
  • Taking notes on philosophies, perspectives, and experiences of the interviewees (I am not speculating or analyzing statements and ways of thinking yet. I am simply noting their views about racial issues)
  • I have yet to take notes on the classroom discussion since I will have to analyze far more than individual perspectives, but also reactions to comments, particular ways of speaking, body language reactions, etc
  • Beginning to notice correlations between interviewees and their views
  • EVERYTHING they say is important data, even if it is incorrect/invalid or "different"

Thursday, May 20, 2010

An argument against disturbing culture

Several anthropologists and ethnographers have stated that once you begin recording an event or person, you are interrupting, disturbing, or altering everyday life and culture (Pink 2007, Ruby 2000, & Rouch 1973). They state that a filmmaker cannot film based on the premise that he or she is invisible. In other words, the belief that you are filming what would normally happen without the presence of the camera is an incorrect notion. I agree to a degree. Yes, there are scenarios in which recording may be a social taboo/inappropriate or it may attract self-indulgence and 'acting.' This is likely to experienced when filming indigenous people, filming an event where people use cameras instead of video cameras, filming a group of people that may feel insecure about their looks, filming someone who wants to impress the camera, etc. However, this is not always the case. Americans, especially those who live in a large metropolis, are increasingly accepting to the presence of media and hypermedia. Of course this depends on the amount of exposure one has to media forms and other electronic capabilities. My argument is not that the camera now has the effect of being invisible in certain, rather it does not provoke a drastic behavior change among people who are 'hip' to technology. Once again, yes, there will always be the 'attention whore' (for lack of a better word) that may change his or her behavior to impress others, but this does not categorize most individuals who end up in front of a camera. Additionally, filmmakers have experimented with direct observation and other methods that allow the subjects to become indifferent to the presence of cameras and film crews. Obviously, this is not a sound argument, but my main reason for bringing this up is to criticize those who believe that the camera always changes one's behavior.

Edited film versus raw footage

As I started to review and take notes on the footage I had gathered from interviews and the class discussion on race, I noticed great benefits in raw, unedited film. Since nothing had been changed from the original footage, I could study every aspect of the film in its entirety. Also, because I knew of circumstances that cannot be determined solely from the footage (i.e., in depth personalities, social backgrounds, conversations outside of the frame, and my relationship with certain individuals), I immediately understand more than an audience would. This is not to say that I cannot add a voiceover to explain these aspects. However, without additional features, the film may be misinterpreted by an audience. Even with additional help audiences may still misunderstand the meanings in/intention of my film. So what's the point of showing this to an audience when all the data, in its unaltered form is available?

First off, no one wants to see unedited footage (unless you are conducting scholarly work). This hi-tech generation is very impatient and unsatisfied with long films that fail to entertain or stimulate the brain. As stimulating as topics on race are, my raw footage is probably not as captivating to an audience who knows nothing about me, Towson U, or my interviewees. And it doesn't help to be in the ethnographic/documentary genre since many people associate these films with words like boring and dull (however, creative filmmakers are experimenting to change these views). Nowadays, people expect to be entertained. Raw footage simply does not live up to those standards.

With that said, what type of film is more beneficial in respect to what I am trying to accomplish, edited or unedited? I started this project (after the firing of Allen Zaruba) with a few questions that can best be summarized into the following: Are there racial issues on Towson's campus between white students and black students? This question branched out into topics of racism, discrimination, affirmative action, etc. However, the main reason for conducting the interviews was to understand the extent of racial issues on campus. In this case, it would make more sense that I should use the acquired raw footage to simply analyze and make discoveries. At the same time, creating an edited version that is a detailed summary of all my footage, allows an audience to also understand racial dynamics on campus. Although I really want to create an edited ethnographic film, I will need to evaluate the reasons for doing so. More later...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

AAA's video on race

I see this as a good educational video, but nothing more. They have obviously set out to make race seem as if it this horrible evil (notice the narration style and the omniscient music). There are several problems with race, but is it evil? In other words, do these problems produce only negative side effects of race?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gil Scott Heron & the Flobots

When I first starting writing about the relationship between these two pieces I didn't think I would be posting it on the blog. However, I saw ideas of anthropological theory, globalization, and themes relevant to culture studies that prompted me to post my analysis. Expect more analyses on culture and literature!

“The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal/ The revolution will not get rid of the nubs/ The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner/ The revolution will not be televised, brother/…The revolution will be LIVE.”

“There is a war going on for your mind/ Media mavens mount surgical strikes from trapper keeper collages and online magazine racks/ CoverGirl cutouts throw up pop-up ads infecting victims with silicone shrapnel/ Worldwide passenger pigeons deploy paratroopers/ Now it's raining pornography, lovers take shelter/…We are the insurgents.”

The latter quote is the intro song to the Flobots’ debut album “Fight With Tools,” a highly charged political album that confronts issues of government power and the “nightmarish side of globalization” (Appadurai 2006). I present this song in analyzing Gil Scott Heron’s poem since the song resonates with a modern-day audience in relationship to themes of revolution in the 1970’s. The bombardment of media montages is viewed as an oversaturation of popular culture that is corrupting the minds of individuals. In Heron’s poem, he provides an overemphasis of this collage of popular images. In doing so, the reader becomes conscious of the mass production and advertisement of American culture that so many Americans ingest in everyday life. One might be motivated to believe that this is actually a revolution against “white culture” when Heron speaks about police brutality, soap operas, and Rare Earth. However, he also mentions several popular representations of African-American images like Julia, Willie Mae, and Watts. The revolution is not a revolution for the black man or woman—it is a revolution to regain consciousness from media montages. This revolution, however, is designed to systematically overthrow and undermine images of popular culture, thus reclaiming power over one’s own mind. The relationship between the two pieces is reinforced by the last phrase in each piece. In Heron’s poem, the phrase, “The revolution will be LIVE,” indicates the rejection of televised images and the reality of live actions that will take the media by storm. In an identical manner, the Flobots fight against this attack on the mind by proclaiming to be the insurgents. Insurgency and revolution go hand in hand in this context of destruction of media influence and the rebirth of psychological self-efficacy and individuality.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Tibetan Diaspora: The construction of several Tibetan identities

From the moment the Dalai Lama stepped foot into exile, the Tibetan identity was uniquely challenged in response to the migration of Tibetans who followed the Dalai Lama into exile, those who migrated to Western countries, like America, and others who stayed within "China's Tibet". These three main groups categorize subcultures and alternate outlooks of the Tibetan identity. They often critique one another on not being Tibetan enough or assimilating to Sankritization, Americanization, or Sinicization. The rejection or fusion of other cultures upon Tibetan culture characterizes certain notions of authentic Tibetanness. Westerners are often seen romanticizing Tibet as a magnificent Shangri-La, frozen in time, and kept away from the fast-paced globalized world. However, Westerners are not the only ones who participate in romanticizing. Many scholars argue that the criteria of diasporic identities contains a great amount of imagination in constructing "mythico-history" (Malkki 1995) and "nostalgia without memory" (Appadurai 2000). In other words, the path of "becoming" Tibetan is, in part, forged by imagining the history and lifestyle of Tibet prior to 1959 and how one's identity becomes consistent with these views. Thus, romanticization is a necessary part of culture and should not be seen just as a Western phenomenon. In turn, this way of remembering Tibet also explains the creation and replication of Tibetan holidays and local events in places such as Dharamsala and California. While there are several commonalities that mark "Tibetan" as one identity, (i.e., tsampa-eaters, ancestry that stems from Tibet, and the recognition of the Dalai Lama as the spiritual leader) the lived experiences of Tibetans differ from region to region, creating subcultures of Tibetan identity. In congruence with mythico-history and "nostalgia without memory", certain aspects of culture that are uniquely Tibetan almost always take a different shape within the political, social, or economic milieu in the particular country of residence. Boellstorff explains this framework as "dubbing culture". "To 'dub' a discourse is neither to parrot it verbatim nor to compose an entirely new script. It is to hold together cultural logics without resolving them into a unitary whole" (2003:226). This paper will provide an analysis of the degree to which Tibetan diasporic identities have been dubbed and the reasoning for constructing this particular type of dubbed Tibetan identity.

(Paper is forthcoming...)

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Constitution & Manifestation of Culture

Click the "View FullScreen" icon represented by the 4 arrows extending outwards from the center.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Chris Rock & An Indirect Critique on Race & Comedy

(1:37 - 2:46)

I found the Chris Rock clip while reviewing my footage of the classroom discussion and I believe it sums up ideas of jokes about race. This theme is centered around the difference between a white person making fun of a black person versus a black person making fun of a white person. The class seemed to be in agreement on this particular topic.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Aggressive & Failed Assimilation: Discourse on Les Jeunes

Click the "View FullScreen" icon represented by the 4 arrows extending outwards from the center.

My eyes are separate from the camera

While I am very influenced by Jean Rouch's philosophy on how the ethnographer-filmmaker should behave with the camera, I have several independent views, one in particular that sprouts from how I was brought up as a child. My parents were very persistent in demanding that when I speak to someone, particularly an elder, I look them in the eyes as a sign of respect and attentive listening. For the most part, I have always looked someone in the eyes when talking to them about a serious matter or in an attempt to understand what they have to say. When I first starting filming (before my interest in visual anthropology) I would look through the viewfinder or the LCD screen. I believe that this can be attributed to feeling as if this was that right thing to do. Outside influences showed that this is how professionals were always portrayed, so I naturally mimicked those behaviors. I continued filming in this manner until I was assigned to create my first ethnographic film freshman year. This time, when interviewing the subject, and only when engaging in dialogue with the subject, I would remove my eyes from the camera to make eye contact with the subject. In addition to this stemming from childhood habits, I found that eye contact relaxed the pressure and intimidation that the camera lens often places upon the subject. Occasional glances at the camera were necessary to make sure my hand did not get lazy and cut off the top of his head. In other words, I had to constantly make sure the frame was situated in appropriate parameters. However, when I was recording and Sam wasn't talking, my eyes focused on camera. One might ask, what happens when someone or someone interacts with/distracts you outside of the frame while you are filming? I noticed that this happened frequently and proved to be very problematic in some cases.

In filming the video above, there were times when active movement or conversation of others around me, who either paid no attention to the camera or demanded attention from it, briefly solicited my own attention. In the scene (4:37) where Sam is speaking to an experienced DJ, there are people everywhere who are preparing for the show. Emcees, DJs, sound engineers, and stage designers were moving in and out of the frame. Some minded their own business and others took an interest in the camera. The most notable "interference" with the footage is when the young emcee stands in front of the camera (6:12) and says "Ay, Mr. Cameraman. Old Lil Wayne, not new Lil Wayne. New Lil Wayne is garbage." In this situation I paid little attention to him because I felt as though the real conversation was going on between the other performers. This was perhaps an ill-conceived move. I often wonder if I should have devoted more attention to his comment, but at the same time when one is listening to a conversation, one does not always turn to listen to secondary influences and background noises. I quote Rouch in this respect to allow one to understand my reasoning for choosing to half-heartedly acknowledge the "interruption". Steven Feld quotes Rouch,

To return to the terminology of Vertov, when I make a film I "film-see" (ciné-vois) by knowing the limits of the lens and the camera; like wise I "film-hear" (ciné-entends) by knowing the limits of the microphone and the tape recorder; I "film-move" (ciné-bouge) in order to find the right angle or exercise the best movement; I "film-edit" (ciné-monte) throughout the shooting, thinking of how the images are fitting together. In a word, I "film-think" (ciné-pense). [Feld 1989:234, in original emphasis]

I know I mentioned earlier that my a few of my views were independent from Rouchean methodology, however this quote best explains what happened and why I made the decision I did. For the moment I press record, I am capturing and ingesting the recorded material. At the same time, I am also figuring out where I want to point the camera in the context of the conversation.In "thinking of how the images are fitting together" I felt the comment about Lil Wayne was inconsistent with the dialogue about dancing/club music versus non-dancing/club music. In what I had conceptualized, his comment was irrelevant. This is an avenue I have certainly not mastered; "film-think". My detachment from the camera, insofar as not looking through the viewfinder or LCD, influences how I "film-think" and questions how I can properly capture what is ethnographic.

Tibetan "Niggas"

After reading an essay by Emily Yeh on Tibetan racialization in America, I have learned that marginalized Tibetans, that ingest elements associated with low-class black culture, may refer to themselves as "niggas". Personally, I feel as though the n-word should not come out of your mouth unless you are black or within the African Diaspora. On the other hand, since the n-word describes the condition of oppression and suffering, ethnicities who become racialized and grouped with blacks understand what they believe to be a similar struggle. At the moment, I am going to refrain from debate on the usage of the n-word and whether its usage is "wrong or right" for non-blacks to use (some would even argue blacks shouldn't say "nigga"). I will focus on the racialization of Tibetans and how this may allow young Tibetans to structure their identity around black culture, specifically "gangsta rap". Gangsta rap in this context as music created by low class black Americans who live a life of violence, drug dealing, and other elements that are prevalent in low-income housing projects. As a sidenote, gangsta rap does not characterize hip-hop, it is only a subgenre. This analysis is forthcoming in addition to other themes in Tibetan Diaspora.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Racism & Comedy: Where do you draw the line?

There is a spew of quotations that express the importance of being able to laugh at yourself, insisting that laughter is the best medicine. But are there times when laughter and comedy begins to encroach on personal sensibilities? I'm sure most people would agree that comedians have come dangerously close to boundaries of distastefulness, insensitivity, "racist" remarks, and provocative shock humor. Comedians (from the Kings of Comedy to your funny next door neighbor) tell jokes about some of the most tragic events across the globe, such as September 11, suicide bombings in Iraq, Pearl Harbor, the Holocaust, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and so on and so forth. While you wouldn't make a joke about a concentration camp inside a Holocaust museum, as you move farther away from the museum, mentally and physically, the taboo of joke-telling is relaxed. The same phenomenon is prevalent in jokes that rely on a stereotype of a particular race, ethnicity, or religion. My argument is not definitive, nevertheless, I believe this phenomenon is associated with a detachment from the original milieu, which increases desensitization. This theory serves to confront the prevalence of "racy" jokes, and in combination with "groupthink" and sociological theories of group behavior, the reason for the acceptance of these jokes can begin to be understood. I am not attacking the methods of comedians and their routines, but I find it interesting that the horrors of slavery are funny (I have laughed at slavery jokes too). This particular skit embedded above can definitely be a way to laugh at common stereotypes, the one below...not as widely accepted as funny material. The video below shows a white man dressed in a KKK outfit harassing blacks. This is not his only video. He picks up day laborers/illegal immigrants and then drives towards an ICE (formerly known as INS) building. He walks into an Asian restaurant and harasses the patrons saying, "What kind of Chinese are you?" Think about it. I will be sure to revisit this. There's way too much material to analysis tonight.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Arizona immigration laws explained through Appadurai

Click here to see, in its entirety, the new immigration bill, or as it has been campaigned, "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act".





The four excerpts above highlight notable changes that reflect "problems" Arizona seems to be having. The first two, in light of Appadurai, I argue, represent the anxiety of incompletenessfrustration, fear, disappointment, anger of a minority presence and the wish to create a "pure, untainted" majority—by expelling them from the country or incarcerating them where they cannot be seen by the public eye and do not share the freedoms that legal Arizona citizens do. The last two excerpts directly target day laborers and those who hire them. These are methods that also serve to get rid of minorities and to arrest legal citizens who aid them.

Appadurai speaks on the globalization of terrorism and the process towards genocide between majorities and minorities. It would seem that comparing Arizona immigration law with acts of genocide cannot be compared in any form. However, his theories of how the majority identity acts towards the minority is reflected in the state's legislation. The people of Arizona have not developed "predatory identities" (Appadurai 2006) because they do not see themselves as one ethnic singularity. However, the anxiety of incompleteness appears in the "we/they" factor which can generate "solutions" to this "problem". Appadurai explains this sociological theory, "The creation of collective others, or them's, is a requirement, through the dynamics of stereotyping and identity contrast, for helping to set boundaries and mark off the dynamics of the we" (2006:50). Not only is this often based on ethnicity and race, I argue, that the minority problem is also connected to an immigration problem. Discerning the illegals from the legal citizens is at the heart of this immigration bill. There is a presence of illegals in Arizona, but who are they? They are of Latino heritage. Are all illegals Latino? Certainly not, but illegal immigrant and Mexican have almost become interchangeable in the last decade. So in this "we/they" factor there is a dual representation: White Arizonan/Mexican and Legal Citizen/Illegal Immigrant. (The majority are white Arizonans, but that does not mean all white Arizonans express an anxiety of incompleteness.) In reconceptualizing the "we/they" question and the anxiety of incompleteness, one can see how these concepts have actively become a part of state legislation with the hope of expelling the Other.

Arizona's controversial legislation

In the past week, Arizona has passed legislation allowing officials to ask to see legal papers from suspected illegal immigrants. Also, a new proposal that may potentially come into law would ban ethnic studies from being taught at public schools. Racial profiling and assimilation anyone? For the most part, I am against laws that shelter illegal immigrants, businesses that hire illegal immigrants, and in general illegal immigrants being in the country. Yes, there are companies and people that exploit illegal immigrants in methods of unhealthy conditions, cruel work hours, low wage, and abuse. While I am strongly opposed to exploitation and abusive practices, I am equally opposed to immigrants who do not a visa or green card. I understand that the allure of the United States is so attractive compared to political unrest and economic disasters in developing countries across the globe. However, illegal immigrants pose one main problem for me...they are ILLEGALLY here. The very basis of being in a country without going through the process of the legal system is a problem. Unfortunately, I do not have an alternate proposal on how to assist immigrants in obtaining a legal status that is easier and less discriminatory than the immigration laws in place now. I may be against illegal immigration, but I am 100% against racial profiling and forced assimilation. More on the story here.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Camera Upgrade

Either May 4th or the 6th I will be filming my culture studies class, "Global Perspectives on Culture". Prof. Baker has focused the course on terrorism, minority identities, ethnocide, and ideocide. Although much of our syllabus is centered around these topics, we talk about everything under the sun. Topics we have discussed: sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, racial and ethnic stereotypes in popular movies, new Arizona immigration laws, the firing of Allen Zaruba, the concept of abolishing race, Chinese censorship, the earthquake in Haiti, so on and so forth. With this environment, students are open and conscious to a wide array issues on culture, so this is a great place to film a discussion on themes in my film. As of now, I have 1) a 35 mm Panasonic camera on a tripod (pictured below) to capture the classroom from a corner of the room and the 2) Flip Video which I will use for more closer, intimate shots. One might ask, "Why do you need the Panasonic? Why not shoot with the Flip?" and "What's the purpose of filming a classroom discussion?"

The Panasonic:
The Flip is a great camera for filming subjects within a few feet, which is what I have been doing for my interviews. Now, since the parameters are larger in the classroom, a more sophisticated camera with better audio and visual quality is necessary. The boom mic is probably my favorite feature. The audio for the Flip is very nice for such a limited camera, but it cannot compete with the ability to clearly record a distant voice. Not only is the audio sensitivity higher than the Flip, the directional feature helps to cancel out any noise that is not in the direction the microphone is aimed.

Goal of the classroom discussion:
As of now, my footage is comprised of interviews. Since I am trying to understand the dynamics of race on campus it would be beneficial to witness the dynamics between students who speak on race. Do they become shy when speaking on race? Are they hostile when provoked? What kind of examples will they bring up? How do classmates react towards black jokes? How does a white individual react to hearing the "nigger"? These are all questions that, when especially spoken about in a large diverse group, will produce different types of gestures, reactions, looks of expression, and changes in tone of voice that can be evaluated and analyzed. The point is to see rather than hear the way racism affects students on campus. I could tell you all day about how white students react when hearing a racial slur, but I argue you cannot fully comprehend the affects and reactions of those students until it is physically seen. There is a difference between listening to a radio advertisement and seeing that same advertisement on TV.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tibetan sand mandala ritual

I was walking past the Glen Woods when I recognized the the Tibetan monks that created the sand mandala earlier in the week. Click here to see information on the sand mandala event at Towson. At first I was upset that I didn't have a camera to take pictures or video, but I realized that I had been carrying my Flip Video on me all day. I rushed to take it out of my bookbag to capture what you see above. Luckily I came through at the right time to record the last 5 to 6 minutes of the ritual. These Tibetan monks are pouring out the sand from the mandala they had created and destroyed into the stream. I cannot say with accuracy what chants they are performing, but I will look into it and post another entry soon.

Rouchean Methodology

"The editor is the second spectator—the person who sees what's in the image. I saw everything around it. That's very important, and it's why, I think, you can't edit your own film. If you edit your own film you're aware of everything outside the frame. Whereas, the editor sees only what's on the screen." - Jean Rouch

After watching Jaguar and reading several papers on Jean Rouch and his methodology (opposition to film crews, the use of a 16 to 25mm lens to capture the similar experience of the human eye, and the distraction of theatrical music for instance), I have since become a Rouchean follower. His film practices were natural for me to adopt because he called for intimate interaction with objects and people situated in the viewfinder and independence from large film crews. My personality fit perfectly since I prefer to work solo in composing and situating the environment around me. My solo work allowed for intimacy between persons in front of the camera and myself, rather than MacDougall's direct observation. Additionally, the Flip cam, which was issued to me in my first visual ethnography, resembled a feature that Rouch advocated, such as insignificant zooming capabilities that force the filmmaker to move about with the camera as if it is an extension of the human eye. However, it wasn't until recently that I understood the chief reason for his methodology, especially concerning editing.

The quote at the beginning of this post states the need for a second set of eyes and ears to evaluate the footage. The filmmaker's knowledge of what happened outside of the frame can create problems that would be unrecognizable to him or herself. The goal is to have a second set of eyes to evaluate what is happening in the frame. In a way the editors become a reflection of the audience. The audience was not present during the footage and neither were the editors, so it only makes sense to allow someone else to edit your film so it can be understood within the context of what is happening within the frame. With this revelation, I most likely attempt to have someone else edit my footage of Racial Dynamics on the Towson University Campus. I will still be right beside him or her to make sure my intentions are correctly portrayed, but the fresh set of eyes will allow for a connection with the intended audience.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A peek into my ethnographic research

An update in the ethnography

I had my sixth interview with Adam Jackson, most notable on the Towson campus for his involvement in student organizations and being the columnist of "The Adam Jackson Report". I'm not going to comment too much about my thoughts on the interview and his ideas because I'm still developing my degree of objectivity and reflexivity. Because I am a black American, I have very, very, very strong issues concerning race and who should and should not say the n-word. I actually have spent the last 3-4 years of my life refusing to say the n-word after an epiphany in high school. In talking to these six men pictured above, my ideas have been both challenged and reaffirmed. So at this moment I am trying to find a good boundary between being a young black adult in everyday life and striving to be an anthropologist. As an ethnographer-filmmaker my goal is to create films allowing you to see the "big picture" through individuals and their lived experiences.

Additionally, representation is something I have struggled with since the beginning of this project. How many white people should I interview? How many women? What about other races and ethnicities that aren't black or white? Are interviews too limited? Should I film a classroom? Does representation even matter? It seems almost obvious to declare, "Yes, representation matters!" However, how can I acquire full representation on these racial issues? The answer is, I can't. I'm not going to be able to easily find someone who has ideas that greatly counter Adam Jackson or someone who's political views differ from Alex Peak. But to some extent I should try and have a wider range of voices from various backgrounds. I'm still scratching my head about this, but it will become more clear as I analyze the current footage.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Racial Dynamics on TU Campus: an ethnography

[top right to left: Alex Peak (member of College Libertarians of Towson), Chris Reed (psychology major), and Deverick Murray (president of Black Student Union]
[bottom right to left: Kyle Bavis (Resident Assistant) and Robert Smith (member of Caribbean Student Association)]

This ethnography was sparked by the firing of Allen Zaruba who said "nigger" when referencing a quote in his class, which gained a significant amount of media coverage (SEE The Washington Post, The Towerlight, and MrSoulInblack on YouTube). To me, racial epithets and incidents seem to be unusually high on the Towson University campus and this incident, specifically the aftermath, confirmed it. In the four semesters that I have been a student at Towson, accusations of racism has never been an outright problem, until racial slurs were written on doors and whiteboards in the dorm rooms. However, racism doesn't appear to be openly prevalent and I believe that not all actions of vandalism are racially motivated. Thus, I noticed racial tensions presented themselves in commentary and evaluation of these actions with peers, through Facebook statuses, comments on the Towerlight, and occasional discussions in classrooms. Of course these were my opinions so they were hardly an accurate representation of the racial dynamics on campus. As an anthropology major, I was self-motivated and felt like I had somewhat of an obligation to begin an ethnography that would allow ethnographic accounts to reveal macro phenomenon. Since that spark, I have conducted five interviews (pictured above), educated myself on the socio-historical aspect of Nigger, read Black Anxiety, White Guilt, and the Politics of Status Frustration, spoken with professors regarding my work and help I may be able to receive, and I have monitored the Towerlight website when an article is published regarding race or ethnicity. I am working to interview more people who I believe may have an interesting perspective on race, but other than that the project will be over soon. I will edit in the summer and I hope to be able to feature my ethnographic film in a film festival in the Fall. The presentation of this film does not mean it is finished. I plan to continue interviewing and branching out into different aspects of race in general. This is only the beginning of my interest in racial issues in America.


A well assimilated individual does not stand out. He or she blends in with society by whole-heartedly adopting its culture, being familiar with its national history, and having an overall sense of nationalism. In a society that encourages assimilation, the majority (in this case Frenchmen and women), may immediately feel threatened by the Other (mostly North African immigrants) who attempt to live an alternative lifestyle. In France, it is a problem when anyone or anything stands out from the rest. In a sea of green apples, the red one becomes a target for criticism, scrutiny, racism, discrimination, socialization, and a host of negativity that stigmatize the culture on a macro-level. Rather than being acknowledged as disadvantaged youth in a disadvantage neighborhood, the police, media, and judicial system appoint blame to cultural differences and family dynamics in immigrant families. The irony is that France is legally void of attributions and legal framework regarding race.
"Since the end of the racist policies of the World War II Vichy period, it has been illegal in France to collect data on ethnic, racial, religious, or cultural origin or to track racial or ethnic distributions in jobs or institutions. With the goal of rejecting racial categorization and institutionalized discrimination, public bodies have refused to permit any official recognition of racial or ethnic difference" (Terrio 2009:25).
In other words, they have adopted a color-blind society. This has proved to be the foundation for an aggressive means of assimilation. In order to promote a color-blind society, one must make sure that no one stands out as being different. So, how does the French judicial system cope with multiculturalism and immigrant populations who are proud of their ancestry? They demand that these immigrants fully ingest secular French culture. However, this is a failing agenda as Terrio notes the high overpopulation and representation of juveniles and immigrants in French prisons. By being legally void of race, the French judicial system is only masking the high correlation incarceration statistics of juveniles and immigrants.

I will post the rest next week.

Discourse Among "D'origine Etrangere"

This was going to be my blank canvas to construct and develop my thesis for a paper regarding the French judicial system and its effects on non-French immigrants. However, since I have such strong aversions for ethnocentrism and negative stereotyping, this may seem more like an opinion column out of some newspaper. Personally, I am partial to rehabilitative models, as opposed to strict penal systems, especially in juvenile matters. Maturity has yet to reach a number of young children who commit petty crimes, like stealing a cell phone for instance, so how will incarcerating these individuals advance their maturity? In fact, that seems to be the focal point of my argument. Every government, whether it is France or the United States of America, encourages and polices an extent of public order and maturity. In other words, you will be reprimanded if you are a menace to society. The debate here is not in the idea of reprimanding deviance, rather how the deviance is reprimanded. If a fifteen-year-old boy steals his neighbor's car and crashes it into a stop sign should he serve time in prison, or should he experience an alternate form of punishment that corrects his or her behavior? Understand that both systems strive to eliminate deviance, but rehabilitative models "accept that a minor's criminal misbehavior is symptomatic of factors beyond his or her control--such as bad parenting, nefarious influences, and underprivileged living conditions--rather than a conscious and deliberate will to break the law" (Terrio 2009:48). The lines begin to get blurry when speaking about serious offenses where a minor is involved in manslaughter or rape. Even in serious offenses previously mentioned, the minor may have suffered or been influenced by factors beyond his or her control. The point is that juveniles are still very psychologically immature and have yet to fully develop the set of laws that society sets up. With this premise, I acknowledge and argue that the current French judicial system, which advocates and enforces sanctity of public order and social etiquette, induces alienation and social rebellion. Thus, the relative lack of a rehabilitative option creates an environment where deviance is not corrected, but reinforced in prison and/or temporarily suppressed around figures of authority.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Intro to Computers & Stupid, Naive Mistakes 101 for Non-Majors

Long story short: after, messing around with several features in Google and wanting a Gmail account so I could use my Mail feature on my Mac, I deleted my blog when I deleted my Google account (which wasn't actually Google, it still had the yahoo domain name, but it functioned like a Google user....whatever). Anyways, I lost everything. Instead of attempting to recover lost posts and remember some of the posts I blogged about, I'm just going to start new. It's a shame that some of that stuff was lost. My last post about Tibetan diaspora was my entire thesis for my most recent paper topic...and now it's gone.

To summarize, back up everything you have on another hard drive, handwrite it, or post it to another program like Word. As they all say, "I didn't think it could happen to me!"