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!"