Thursday, February 28, 2013

Inocente wins Oscar

Inocente is a teen artist, who also happens to be homeless and undocumented. A film about her won the Academy Award last Sunday as "Best Documentary Short." The making of Inocente was funded in part through donations to the Kickstarter project.  

Saturday, February 23, 2013

saving the savior: Africa for Norway

The following post was written by Lester Andrist and originally appeared at The Sociological Cinema.

The broad claim that certain groups have power over others—that racism, sexism, and classism exist—is hardly controversial. Yet mention privilege and tempers flare. But privilege is simply the other side of the power coin. Just as some racial groups are systematically oppressed and marginalized, other racial groups are systematically privileged, and just as forms of oppression vary, so too do forms of privilege. For instance, a white privilege might simply be living in a world where one can count on being paid more on average than Blacks or Latinos. While pay gaps may be easily quantified, forms of privilege that are less amenable to statistical analysis exist as well. Consider the male privilege of being immersed in a media environment that consistently depicts men as important and powerful. Or consider the white privilege of living in a media environment that assures audiences that white heroes are nearly always capable of transcending adversity. The above clip is from "Africa for Norway" and parodies the narrative typically deployed by Western charity organizations in their campaigns to secure funds and drum up support. It draws attention to a kind of Western privilege, a privilege both forged from and bound up with the experience of colonialism, the application of the rule of colonial difference (i.e., representing the 'other' as inferior and radically different), and Western racism. Whether it is the Kony 2012 campaign or the 1985 song "We Are the World," the story being peddled to publics is of a compassionate West saving the 'other' from unbearable poverty or some other grave injustice. Author Teju Cole famously named this dominant cultural narrative and the practices it calls forth the white savior industrial complex. While the components of the narrative can be spotted in the viral videos of these NGOs, Cole points out that it can also be found in countless Hollywood films, such as Out of Africa and The Constant Gardener. Time and again, moviegoers and YouTubers are asked to consider a rather narrowly defined hero. He's a compassionate white westerner, who stands apart in his uncommon ability to recognize the basic humanity of the many black and brown foreigners he has encountered while on his journey through an unfamiliar land; and against the advice of civilization, he heroically commits himself to the mission of saving these people from their plight. Although the perception that it is a criticism against charity will likely be a point of contention with viewers, the real critique, which is aimed at neocolonialism and the privileges it supports is incisive. It is a peculiar kind of Western privilege to be able to wade through the media pool each day, soaked by the various incarnations of this narrative, a day full of subtle reminders of one's intrinsic goodness and extraordinary abilities.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

as black as we wish to be

Hear a fascinating audio documentary about a county in Ohio where racial identity has been historically defined by place of residence and exceptionally ambiguous for generations. This State of the Re:Union story is comprised of interviews about local racial formation practices and attitudes, where physical features and ethnic identity often do not match. The interviews are set within a historical narrative on racism within the locale. In this area
"...residents have shared the common bond of identifying as African-American despite the fact that they look white. Racial lines have been blurred to invisibility, and people inside the same family can vehemently disagree about whether they are black or white. It can be tense and confusing. As a result, everyone’s choosing: Am I black? Am I mixed race? Or, am I white?"

Friday, February 15, 2013

American Experience: biographies of wealth

PBS' American Experience recently broadcast documentaries on the life and times of John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford. Made in 2000, the 3+ hour treatment of Rockefeller and family is now available online, as is a new 2-hour examination of Henry Ford. Both documentaries include extensive supporting articles, clips, and interactives. Unfortunately, the first part of the early-capitalist trilogy by American Experience, that on Andrew Carnegie, is not available online, although many of its clips and supporting documents are (one of the more interesting ancillaries is an article on Carnegie's relationship with the Social Darwinist, Herbert Spencer).

Sunday, February 3, 2013

why change? aren't we the best?

Ethnocentrism is universal to all societies, but we Americans are particularly given to assuming that our nation and way of life are superior. However, as suggested in the above clip from a recent episode of HBO's The Newsroom, our nation fares rather poorly in comparison to many others on numerous indicators of life quality, and the reasons it does so largely seem to be linked to social and economic inequality. In related vein, this recent article by Mark Santow places the notion of American "exceptionalism" into perspective as he describes the various ways inequality exacerbates life for many of us.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

shades of gay

Dominant conceptions of sexual orientation are both inaccurate and destructive, according to this excellent TED presentation. iO Tillett Wright describes her unique personal experiences with gender and sexuality, critiques mainstream notions of gayness, and previews her photographic project to document variability across the LBGTQ population.

This video dovetails nicely with scientific treatment of sexual orientation that goes back to the work of Alfred Kinsey over 60 years ago (see/take Kinsey Scale).