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Friday, March 8, 2019

View from the Borderlands: The P Words, Politics and Power

View from the Borderlands: The P Words, Politics and Power: Let’s say your crazy aunt is visiting. The one who climbed out the window at night when she was a teenager. Let’s say she’s calmed down no...

The P Words, Politics and Power

Let’s say your crazy aunt is visiting. The one who climbed out the window at night when she was a teenager. Let’s say she’s calmed down now and is ready to lay some good wisdom on you.

Here’s what she has to say about a dirty subject hardly anyone wants to talk about:
The “p” words, politics and power.

Why are politics and power such touchy subjects? We’re really hesitant to learn that close-to-the-heart friend or relative thinks about something important in a different way than we do, and that disappoints us. But this aunt is bringing up both politics and power even if it makes a hairball mess. Maybe some good conversations get started. Also, how well is it working for us by not talking?

A Deep Dive on The P Words, Politics and Power

1.         Begin where you are. Informed political action, whether it’s voting or volunteering should always start with issues, values and concerns we deeply care about.  I learned to write my own Ten Commandments after reading The Happiness Project. The first of the Linda Commandments may be the most important, “Let Linda Be Linda,” which it’s never too late in life to learn. I don’t like salmon because I prefer prime rib and I avoid scary movies because I already studied for years with nuns.  Preferences are a good doorway to understanding politics. We like what we like and don’t like what we don’t. What are a few of the things that matter most to you? Writing a list of ten things that you care about deeply tends to clarify your ideas. Your list could include loyalty, freedom, family, animals, oceans... That list could lead to stepping away long enough from streaming video, Cheetos or what-not to get personally involved in the next election, or just as importantly, volunteering to read superhero comics to little kids at the grade school near you or across town.

2.              Move the focus outward and extend the timeline. This one takes more than a few days or weeks but pays off in big dividends.  Start with the folks that you see most frequently.  Take the perspective of a researcher collecting information by asking questions rather than giving your perspective. Besides, you already know how you feel! You’re trying to find out what and why people think about their lives, their homes, opportunities, their state, country and world. What are their concerns and what solutions do they believe in? What are you learning and how does it stand up to what you used to think?

3.              Check your inputs. What sorts of news, views and opinions are you consuming? Is your information diet skewed toward conspiracy theories and fear-mongering or do you have a news-free diet that helps you control your anxiety? Watch your use of social media, print and TV for a day or two to see if you can identify if your diet is on or off balance. Eli Pariser  offers some help understanding the kinds of political content the Internet feeds us, based not on seeing both sides of an issue, but on our previous browsing patterns, keeping us online, in our bubble and making content providers mulah.

4.              Revisit the Classics. What book or film first took the top off of your mind about politics and power? The ABC’s of power and politics have been laid out for viewing by anyone in books and films that are more than beloved. They are timeless and tireless teachers about we humans and our power plays. Here, in no particular order, are some of your Tía Linda’s favorites that made her the cranky old aunt she is proud to be:
A Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood), Lord of the Flies (William Golding), To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), The Diary of A Young Girl (Anne Frank), All The President’s Men (Woodward and Bernstein), documentary, The Most Dangerous Man in America (POV/PBS) Animal Farm (George Orwell), Brave New World (Aldous Huxley).

5.        Don’t Believe Everything You Think. This is so hard to do when our conversations have become so guarded that disagreeing with each other is often perceived as dangerous. I know Michael Jackson references are tricky right now, but I'm going there. Start with the wo/man in the mirror. Check the validity of your beliefs with these relatively short reads on politics and power: Hans Rosling’s, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World - and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. (I fell in total love with this man watching his great TED Talks) and Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

View from the Borderlands: Around the campfire with Roma

View from the Borderlands: Around the campfire with Roma: It's not surprising to anyone who studies media why Steven Spielberg seeks to not allow certain films produced for Netflix to compete...

Around the campfire with Roma

It's not surprising to anyone who studies media why Steven Spielberg seeks to not allow certain films produced for Netflix to compete in the Oscar competition.

It's expected, then, that a new distribution and production system such as Netflix will provoke alarm from those invested in the traditional systems of film making and exhibition. 

In the 1950's and 1960's, media scholar Marshall McLuhan studied the way a new medium like television will overtake another, such as radio, by adapting and supplanting its parts (soap operas and sports programming) the way all conquerors dominate new territories.

Newspapers and TV, mediums that once held the reins on information supply to their mass audiences also cried foul when the Internet turned their booming business model into a splintered spectrum that offered specialized news and information, in unlimited supply, 24-7, to infinitely specialized audiences. 

Mass mediums such as books, newspapers, magazines and movies are by definition in the business of reaching the masses. In this model information is in short supply (limited pages, movie houses to exhibit in) to its audiences. Netflix, which is also a mass medium, has a different system of supply and demand that guides its business. Digital movies are not housed in warehouses or distributed in trains and trucks. They are easier to store and distribute via streaming.

The Alfonso Cuaron film, Roma, does more than leap-frog cinema's established structures.  By telling a worldwide audience the story of a Mexican household and its struggles in Spanish, and in black and white, it actually returns us to the communal campfire from which all story-telling was born. The need to tell the mainstream story for the you guessed it mainstream audience that was inherent in mass media and which held sway for more than a century, is no longer important.

Roma is an artist's work.  Roma is a highly personal project that is also politically damning as it both rips the bandages from the Mexico's wounds to its college students from 1968 and 1973 while also telling the story of displaced indigenous peoples that is just as timely today anywhere around the globe.  

Are you catching a whiff from the smoke of the campfire yet?  I think we can expect more intimate story-telling in the future if the Netflix model for Roma is any indication.