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.