Saturday, February 23, 2013

Institutional Turmoil

“It is the mind in us that yields to the laws made by us, but never the spirit in us.”
--Kahlil Gibran

There is so much going on in my head lately. Much of it has to do with being a living contradiction within a living contradiction of a graduate program. Why is it that no one wants to discuss the reproduction taking place simultaneously with the critique and resistance of the status quo within which we reside? How can ideals of change, justice and betterment be professed and aspired to, when at the drop of a hat, the maintenance of oppressive structures are upheld and enforced on Others perceived to be a threat? What happened to conflict resolution; to understanding; to putting in the work that goes toward defying the status quo which means dealing with discomforting things, people, ideas? We talk of disruption as a powerful tool that leads to a multitude of possibilities in ways of being that are possible, yet treat those people, things, and ideas that disrupt as a problematics in need of reprimanding if not removal.

I am constantly struggling with finding my voice and expressing it with confidence. When I experience the turmoil of these contradictions taking place, I am bewildered. I thought the point of the academic endeavor was to become a self-actualized scholar, which meant journeying through the landscape of ideas and issues and emerging with the formulation of one's own voice and way of knowing and doing things. Yet I am a witness to the shaping power of our figure heads, and the reality that these people hold our lives and livelihoods in their hands. It is they who must sign the paper of approval. How can I think that I have the power to become when it has to meet the approval of the powers that be? Yet the powers that be behave as if they have no power; as though we are their colleagues; that is until we are either met with bureaucratic realities of things like coursework, exams, and other tests of measurement, or in need of usually negative sanctioning.

Must I always conform to what is inherently contradictory? I am clearly not okay with this yet feel as though, when attempting to articulate this inner turmoil, that it is the institution that is defended by way of the issue being made personal, rather than effectively examined with alternatives to be considered. The people with power are suddenly powerless to the workings of the institution and those that have a problem can either shape up and conform or just go away. Those that have been treated well by the institution have a hard time seeing things as troubling, reducing responses to critiques of it as a personal problem to be met with individualized solutions. And so the ways of institutionalization continue.  

But I don't want it to be this way! I want meaningful work and relationships to emerge from my journey. For the powerful to be transparent in their power yet open to alternatives to institutional ways of being.  For those around me and myself to be willing to work with and through the troubling for the sake of being all the better for it instead of silencing it. I want a mentor, friend, and collaborator, not just someone to defer to because of their position. I want to be okay with expressing what's in my soul without fear of being shut down. Challenge me, but not for the purpose of belittling. I am in need of much nurturing and realize that institutions don't hug back, but refuse to believe that those that have been institutionalized   have no humanity, no soul, no desire to make things different. It doesn't have to be this way. When will we let our spirits, knowing and feeling what is right, lead us? 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Occupied by someone else's Love: a critical review

Here's my scrappy perception of the film Occupy Love

Firstly the film as a documentary is overtly academic. A question is being asked in a way that assumes that everyone knows what is being asked and why. That question is something along the lines of 'how is what you're doing--as a social activist--or what is going on--with fill-in-the-blank social movement--part of or a reflection of a love story?' or something along these lines. When the film maker mentioned that most people looked at him like he was crazy, no one wondered why. Silly people! Can't you see what this man is trying to say?! That seems to be an exaggerated response but a noteworthy one nonetheless. No one bothered to consider that the idea of love or the romanticizing of a particular aspect of social movements--that they are happening--should be examined or discussed before acting on it in such a universalized manner. No one else felt troubled by the combination of Occupy and Love besides me? The idea of Occupation as a historically problematic phenomenon that is in direct opposition to Love is in need of consideration as I see it.

And that's when it hit me.

This film is part of a trilogy that documents one man's understanding of people's engagement in social movements. Three films that show a progression of one person's understanding of a thing that feature individuals and groups that serve as a conduit through which this understanding is reached and expressed. When approached in this way, my understanding of the film remains that it is one that is academic, because it is a documentary, but one with a deeply personal, borderlining on selfish purpose.  

It would be great if these films were the start of a conversation rather than a giant assumption of the perception of various social movements. In a multitude of ways, he was on to something. Our connection to one another, the love that spurs one to act or react to various crises, the messiness of love.  Yet this messiness is not something that is examined. Only the happening of this lovely thing was celebrated.

Again I must remind myself that this is a documentation of one person's perceptions of a social phenomenon. The documentarian is the star of the story, the people featured are  the supporting cast. The truth of this is well masked by way of film in a way similar to academics and their use of jargon. The picture painted is one that says this is what is happening. Not often does the document express, this is my understanding of what is happening. Such  a monologue should be open to conversation, especially when it comes to love and the occupation of it. I mean, what are we talking about here? What should we be talking about? Should love be thought of in this way? What do you mean by love? No one was privy to this conversation, only the assumption that love has to be what is going on here.

That along with unacknowledged white privilege--as in at times  the film seemed like this  guy's safari experience with social movements, which included some pretty dangerous moments that privilege likely allowed him to escape, in other words, his investment was in the storytelling not in the people with their complex humanity being used to tell the story; indeed he always had a way in and out and no meaningful connections to any place or people in particular, not to mention his anybody can do it attitude about telling these stories with no sense of the politics involved in getting such stories made or heard--were my points of discomfort with this film.  My moments of hopefulness were found in the connections made with the hope that emerges from critical moments in time, our ability to come together and act, and a sense of love and spirit that is the essence of such actions.

It would be cool if a multitude of folks made responses to this film that become a multidimensional discussion about love and social movements--especially those that highlight the messiness, contradictions, and counternarratives that exist as part of these things. There is constellation of truths to be found within a topic that veers dangerously close to overt romanticism.