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.