August 31, 2007
Posted by WildlyParenthetical under Alcoff
, body politic
OW much would he hate that, huh?? Well, no, not really, but I think the idea of applying a vaguely Derridean concept to the Grond Moister of Genealogy might be somewhat insulting. Still… if Hacking’s happy to do it, then me too! me too! (not that I claim any originality in this move.)
I’m in the midst of writing a paper, and this is bad procrastination before I get back into it. Nonetheless, I feel badly for a) no posting and b) no posting of anything actually… actual. You kids deserve more that frou-frouha. And thus: some of my minor conclusions for this paper. Nothing new, really, if you know my work, but nonetheless, I figure most of you don’t (what with my… what’s the opposite of stellar?… extraordinarily earthy publications record!).
Between biopolitics and anatamopolitics (the management of the population and the disciplining of individual bodies), Foucault’s biopower provides a rich analytical framework for denaturalising the function of medicine and locating its role in the political sphere of a normalising society. Yet for all of his understanding of how bodies are disciplined, he fails to interrogate in any detail the political and fundamentally normalising structure of contemporary phenomenological experience. Alcoff’s work has permitted us an understanding of the way that racism—so key to contemporary power/knowledge (I’ve discussed this earlier; Foucault positions racism as a technique for fragmenting the population into superrace and subrace, and thus as not simply attaching to what we might otherwise, in more everyday use, call ‘race’ but I think to a range of other ‘attributes’ including homosexuality and disability)—functions not only at the level of institutions, managing a fragmented population, or the attempt to discipline bodies to the sustaining of the ‘supperace’ and through the whittling away of (sometimes the attributes of) the ‘subrace’. It occurs and is reiterated through racialised ways of being in the world, which shape not only the interraction between people, but embodied perceptions which gain their veracity by appearing to be neutral observations of what really is.
These perceptions, then, are actually whole body experiences of the world, making it clear that the bodily reactions that may accompany racist (in Foucault’s broad sense) ‘observations’, on the part of those (un)marked as ‘super-racial’ (read white, heterosexual, cisgendered, able-bodied, male)—reactions which may include anxiety, nausea, fear and anger—are not reactions that ‘come after’ the perception, but are bound up with and constitutive of it. This demonstrates that phenomenological experience, however slippery and uncertain it is, provides a rich source for analysis of the function of power. Given the centrality of suffering to medicine’s legitimacy and function in our normalising society, the place of this phenomenological experience within the techniques of biopower needs to be considered.
Actually this isn’t the conclusion so much as the argument that gets us to considering suffering as (deep breath, potential further loss of anonymity) a somatechnic—a technique of biopower that invests embodied experience (which, no, I don’t take as separate from ‘cognitive’ experience*) alongside the well-established techniques of population-management and individual bodily discipline. If you’re all very good (or careful, or good at it) I might post some of my stuff trying to explicate the role of suffering in the circulation of power and the normalising of the ‘subracial’.
PS Do any of my (critical race, especially) readers have a response to Foucault’s configuration of racism as something that attaches more generally to the fragmenting of the population (into, I think, the normal ‘superrace’ and the abnormal ‘subrace’)? I don’t think he’s claiming that these all function in the same way, and thus that he’s trying to ‘flatten-out’ different forms of discrimination, and besides, I think there’s something significant to the fact that Nazism (which he takes as an example) wasn’t just about positioning Jews as ‘subrace’ but a whole range of other forms of ‘difference,’ including other minority races, those with disabilities and homosexuals, a configuration I think we continue to live with. I also think that characterising the fragmentation of the population that biopower enacts as racism helps us to see that race (in the narrower, more contemporary-usage sense) isn’t a neutral and naturally occurring ‘observation of the fact’. Nonetheless, I occasionally have anxieties that I’m reproducing a problematic conflation… thoughts?
*actually I suspect that I should write something soon on why I think the distinction between ‘cognitive’ or ‘rational’ or ‘conscious’ and ‘bodily’ is, well, a problematic, Cartesian-left-over piece o’ crap (which, I should add with a nod to NP, doesn’t make it any less efficacious in contemporary self-perception (and beyond.))
August 29, 2007
EAD it. Where lies the guilt again, and how does it adhere? How to compass this kind of taking advantage of the APEC laws…?
Forgive brevity/superficiality. Mind-grapples wearied by teaching and slow-burned horror (these domestic ones, and the wondrously rendered brutal ones of Dead Europe.) I hope for sharpness again soon.
August 24, 2007
HAD a troubling conversation with a friend of mine recently. Trina left her old job at the beginning of this year, where she had been working in HR doing stuff related to OH&S (Occupational Health and Safety for the iggerant) and Work Safety claims etc. She started work at a big corporate firm, one which specialises in Human Resources stuff, having tried to find an opening in the community service area and then giving up (I think it’s rather telling that there’s actually a lot of competition for community service jobs: it seems to mean there’s lots of people who want to support other people, and not enough funding to create the jobs that are, it would seem, actually needed!). Rather foolishly (especially for someone who works in HR!), she didn’t read the contract before she signed it. Happy with how much she was being paid, she skipped over the bit where she would need to work 8 til 6, 5 days a week. Ugh.
Those are pretty nutty hours. She’s a serial hobbyist, picking up new hobbies left right and centre, doing courses in cooking, massage, drama and so on. In some sense, I think, she has to supplement the work she’s not entirely happy doing with other things in order to feel like she’s at least a bit balanced, that her job isn’t the definition of her. The new hours has necessitated the cutting back of these hobbies; her evenings are impossible to do anything in, and weekends wind up so chockers there’s very little time for just resting. It’s meant that she’s been ill a lot more frequently than she otherwise would (well, I reckon she’s still doing pretty well, but 3 times so far this year is more often than she’s used to having coldy-flu things). Having thought about it for a while, she recently decided that it wasn’t sustainable, and that she should resign. Her manager was a little horrified when Trina articulated this, and they had a conversation about it.
Trina outlined her reasons, saying that she didn’t think that the current work-life balance was sustainable. The manager, already worried because she’s recently lost a number of staff members, agreed to let her cut back to 4 days a week, taking mondays off. Trina was happy with this, and agreed to revisit the question in a few months. It was, though, made clear to her that it wasn’t a permanent solution as far as the company was concerned. She would, eventually, need to go back to 5 days a week. Since Trina’s not really planning on sticking around forever, though, it didn’t matter so very much to her. She felt like she’d been listened to, and that a workable compromise had been reached.
Then the manager did something truly terrible: she sent an email to the entire team explaining that Trina would only be in for 4 days a week ‘because she’s sick.’ Trina received calls and messages both knowingly sarcastic and sincere, asking after her health. Some people have assumed she has cancer. These conversations were really quite perturbing, understandably. Trina mentioned that she wasn’t happy about this, and her manager explained that ‘if I’d said anything else, everyone would be asking for the same thing! Besides, my manager won’t be happy with flexible working arrangements; he’s old-fashioned.’ (How extraordinarily many sins does the claim to being ‘old-fashioned’ permit?!) The concerned questions about her health increased, and eventually she emailed her manager explaining that she wasn’t happy about the justification that had been offered, and that when people asked about her illness, she was responding with, ‘I’m not actually ill, it’s just a work-life balance thing.’ Her manager is visibly irritated by this, and this week called a meeting…
In the meeting, it became clear that the increase in illnesses had become the lens through which all the other reasons Trina had offered for being unhappy with the way her job had been going were being understood. Not only this, but the manager had shifted the ‘check-in’ meeting from being ‘in a few months’ to ‘in six weeks,’ once Trina’s had a chance to ‘rehabilitate herself.’ Trina’s refusal to work crazy hours that really didn’t work for her had slipped sweetly and simply into nothing more than a pathology, an illness she would need to get over. In fact, the manager even expressed her own dislike of how hard she had to work, but pointed out that she did it anyway, so why couldn’t Trina? (That last bit was implicit, but nonetheless).
Okay, so to me what’s going on here is pretty clear, but I’m just briefly going to spell it out. The exploitative aspects of this workplace are being covered over by marking Trina’s unhappiness with them, and more, her unwillingness to tolerate them, as an individual pathology. The therapeutic and fundamentally normalising approach to our lives that this culture seems to engender permits her manager to assume that with some ‘curative’ time, Trina will be able to take responsibility for ‘getting better,’ and return to being a perfectly normal worker, uncomplaining and cheerful. It allows her manager to refuse to think about the issues with her workplace, and the fact that it’s probably just not a sustainable workplace. And of course it demonstrates precisely what other workers who aren’t happy with the situation are putting at stake… Who wants to claim illness, especially when it winds up functioning as the mark of a worker who is somewhat unreliable? (‘Oh, she was always getting sick, you know, just not healthy. I mean, I know it’s not her fault, but… well, you have a business to run…’ And the reference winds up with the rejection of the potential employee. Fabbo.)
Perhaps one of the yuckier aspects of all this is that there are a number of people on her team who are from overseas, and the company sponsors them. According to Trina, if they were to resign (as she was planning to do) they would not only be out of a job, but would have to pay a large sum of money to the company. Awesome! With such vulnerability, how exactly is negotiation possible? Particularly when any intolerance of the vulnerability and exploitation of workers is marked as pathological… ugh! Medical discourse has an awful lot to answer for in the entrenching of liberalism! And of course the Australian Government’s undermining of unions.
August 22, 2007
NCE more, with feeling:
Something spoilery this way comes…
Back off, buddy, lest you learn that which you seek not.
This is England: so you probably know from the outset that a movie about how a kid gets caught up in a skinhead gang in England is probably not going to be the cheeriest of fil-ums! Surprisingly, then, there’s a real sense of humour about this movie, and because it pulls no punches, really, about the hideousness of what goes on, the humour feels sincere and adequate to the situation, rather than undermining it (yes, I’m referencing this). The movie is semi-autobiographical, based on director Shane Meadows’ teenage dalliance with skinheads. And it is this, I think, which enables the evocation of the extraordinary situatedness of his story, which is what makes the movie successful.
We start with 12 year old Shaun, who is being teased at school (it’s casual clothes day, that source of pain for all those poorer than their context, I think!) for wearing flares. It’s pretty solidly the eighties, and there’s many enjoyable moments just checking out the gear some of them get around in (I’m just a little too young to have participated!) He retorts, and the jibe’s good enough that his antagonist goes for the throat: his dad was killed in the Faulklands, and not so long ago. This is important, as it seems to be a source of loneliness and the ‘in’ for the racism. The day doesn’t get any better, and he’s heading home through an underpass looking mope-y when Woody and his mates say hello. They’re friendly to him, in a fairly believable way: vaguely condescending because they’re older, but sincere enough in their interest in him. Woody’s the head of this group of I think five, and there’s ‘Tubs,’ who is worried that little Shaun’s going to take his place in the gang, there’s Milky (Jamaican heritage which becomes important, obviously, later), ‘Pukey’ and another kid whose name I can’t quite remember… Gadget, maybe? Woody talks Shaun into sticking around, defends him against Tubs and they share a beer with him.
The scenes in which Meadows sets up the binding ties of these friendships are extraordinarily evocative, both wild-edged and tender. From rampaging through an empty set of flats destroying things to the group hug (complete with Woody’s “alright, whose hand was that on my arse?”), to setting him up with ‘Smell’, and of course the gradual, not straightforwardly friendly inclusion of him in the gang, signified in his looks: Shaun tries to get Docs (they’re too big for him), the girls shave his head, roll up his jeans and Woody gives him a Ben Sherman shirt and enviable red braces. And he’s part of the gang. It feels like it rings true, capturing the euphoria of belonging, and the sharp willfulness of Yoof.
It’s the arrival of Combo that throws this warm squabbly little space into chaos. It looks like Combo, sizeably older than the rest, took the fall for something Woody did once, and was sent to jail for three years. He’s just out, and he arrives spouting angry racism. He’s an aggressive man, and angry, though Meadows doesn’t go for the easy two dimensions here either, as he has moments of uncertainty and warmth in amongst the nutso aggression. He’s going to recruit from amongst Woody’s skinhead-more-in-looks-than-acts gang for his ‘troops.’ (There’s some interesting stuff about the history of skinheads that Meadows is trying to get across in demonstrating these two modes of skinheadedness, but I’ll leave you to read about that on the ‘this is england’ site.) When Woody refuses to go along with what Combo’s saying, Combo tries to make him out a hypocrite for not standing up for Milky when Combo was being racist. Woody apologises to Milky and they leave, along with Lolo (Woody’s girl, though this is a wee bit more complicated, as we’ll see). They try to take Shaun with them, but he’ll have none of it—Combo’s connected his father’s death with his racist politics, and Shaun believes that the way to avenge his dad is to join up. What follows involves graffiti, new clothes, new tatts, bullying and intimidating immigrants (kids and adults) with machetes, no less, and attending a National Front meeting (this is, I gather, about the point historically when they started recruiting from amongst skinhead gangs). Pukey gets chucked out for questioning Combo: ‘did you really believe all that shit?’ There’s a scene where Shaun goes into the local milk bar (is that too Victorian a phrase? I don’t know what the Brits call ’em: you know, the local store, the deli in Adelaidean, I think the corner store in Sydnish!) and demands from the Indian (?) owner cigarettes, booze and sweets, which of course he’s refused. Shaun refuses to leave, and the owner winds up trying to haul him out. Combo arrives and (my gut clenched horribly at this) pulls out a machete. He menaces the owner, they steal a whole load of stuff. It’s scary stuff. But in the midst of all this, while Combo’s underlying aggression comes through, so does his warmth to Shaun, who he sees as a younger version of himself. He promises to always be there for Shaun, and even (interestingly, given the hard-edged masculinity at stake here) promises to ‘cry’ with him, if he needs to… clearly heady stuff for a lonely kid without a dad!
The big moment in the film follows Combo’s unsuccessful attempt to get with Lolo, who he slept with in ‘the best night of my life’ whilst she, 16, was completely pissed. He tells her that he’s spent the three years in jail remembering that night; she says she’s spent that time trying to forget it. He’s angry, and goes off seeking Milky. When he finds him, though, he’s friendly, looking for weed. Milky gets some for him, and they all go back to Combo’s place, where there’s a rather endearing moment of them all getting cheerful and Shaun’s laughing his head off. At this point Combo asks Milky various questions about his background; his family and ‘their’ music. It seems friendly for a good long time, and then abruptly, with Milky (and us) reaching the sickening conclusion that he was lured here for precisely this reason, Combo uncoils and beats him up in a fairly brutal fashion. The rest run off, but Shaun hides in the bathroom, hearing Combo ‘come to himself’/realise what exactly he’s done, and sob and get angry again, and sob some more. Shaun’s loyalty forces him back into the room with Combo, who is both beside himself and trying to pull himself together for Shaun’s sake (after all, he’s just a lil kid!) and to get Milky to the hospital. The sweetness of the space is gone for Shaun, and in a (slightly kitschy but forgivable) symbolic moment, he throws the St George’s cross into the sea (which personally I want to know how he did because it’s damn hard to throw cloth anywhere!).
I’m sorry to recount the story like this, without much real consideration of the political issues at stake, but I actually think it’s a deeply political movie precisely because it is so engaged in evoking a particular time, place and social setting. I don’t think it falls for cliches of racism (though it might have been good to have spent a bit more time with Milky, for example, given that he’s really the only fully-developed character who is marked as raced), so that although Combo’s a bit of a monster, he’s not purely awful, and he’s clearly felt disenfranchised for much of his life. That said, the politics of the time (Thatcher’s) do clearly and often explicitly shape how they feel about the world. It does feel a little bit of a shame that there’s no explicit counter to Combo’s racism, especially given that between Woody standing up to a guy who he owes for taking the fall for him, and Pukey standing up to Combo once it’s clear the man is more than capable of violence a the drop of a hat, both would seem to have reasonably solid views about how and why Combo’s wrong (though perhaps Meadows felt it might have been too moralistic to do this, which it could have been…) Nonetheless, I think it’s interesting to see how deeply local, deeply specific this story is, even as, doubtless, stories like it occurred across the UK at about this time. The anger and distrust which seem to characterise many of these Yoof is beautifully set alongside their warmth and generosity to each other without it being ‘underlying heart-of-gold’-y. In the end, it testifies to a time, a place and a people, permitting the depiction of the politics to arise out of that rather than the other way around. So few movies manage to bind together specificity and national politics like this that I would recommend it for that alone…
August 21, 2007
Posted by WildlyParenthetical under body
POILERS again… Consider yourself warned…
Sicko: After all of that, I’m not going to say much about this movie, because, you know, the entire world has. And I’m not simply anti Mike Moore. He’s not simply right, but he’s very far from being George Bush and, y’know, that kinda appeals! But there’s something interesting that seems to characterise the whole thing: and that’s a sense of competition. Yeah. Competition. I understand why he continually, throughout the movie, pointed out the mismatch between the richness of America and the healthcare and mortality rates etc, but doing it with reference to those supposedly terrible and terribly poor countries—Cuba, El Salvador and Serbia come to mind—in there alongside richer but still terrible in some way (according to the US) countries including France and England, feels to me like an entrenching of nationalism. “We’re not measuring up,” could have been the catch-cry of this movie. It might be to a ‘good’ end, but I can’t help but be a little bit horrified by his willingness to reinstate what is already problematic about America (and American foreign policy more particularly, perhaps) in order to achieve his ends. In the end, it felt a little too much about what America and Americans ‘deserved’ (as if there really might be people out there who didn’t deserve health care!).
This was particularly bile-inducing when ‘the best’ of America—ill 9/11 rescue workers—were set up against Guantanamo Bay ‘detainees’. The overt astonishment-bordering-on-disapproval that Moore expressed about the medical facilities at Gitmo was pretty awful, and the rhetoric of ‘look what we’ll do for terrorists and murderers!’ made me a little sick, along with the shots of an orange-clad detainee apparently cheerfully kicking a ball around contrasted with the depressed sick American citizens. As my companion pointed out, there was no reference to the fact that part of the reason that such high level medical facilities are required might be because torture’s on the cards. And the implication, whether or not Moore intended it, was that when resources are spread so thin, we need to decide who deserves it… and we all know how America would make such decisions, given a choice between terrorists and citizens. As if it were ever quite so simple.
I think this was what bothered me the most, in the end: instead of just saying ‘we have the resources, let’s universalise health care!’ his comparisons wound up implying that ‘oh my god, the rest of the world and even the baddies who try to kill us, and the people we disapprove of, get a better deal than we do!’ And that, I humbly submit, attempts to use capitalist market competition to motivate universalising health care. If this is the premise upon which the USA were to actually ‘universalise’ it, how long do you think it could maintain actual ‘universality’? Perhaps for as long as the competition lasts?
And one last point: I’ve seen a lot of people expressing disgust at the American single mother who traveled to Canada to attempt to get free health care. Wow, the vitriol really surprised me; I can’t help thinking it was partly because she didn’t demonstrate her poverty in nice, obvious ways. Yeah, she doesn’t pay taxes in Canada, that’s true. But I’m not sure that I’d be happy to argue that the only people who deserve health care are those who pay for it… hmm, coz hang on, that seemed to be the problem in the first place! Besides, the richness of Western countries, for example, is guaranteed by the poverty of poorer countries, and I wouldn’t want to suggest, therefore, that health care should be only a national responsibility; if exploitation gets to be trans-national, why not justice? (:-)) I get that that’s how the system works now, and that an argument could be made that the nation’s first responsibility is to its own folks , but to me it feels like disapproving of a woman making decisions like these only reinforces the way the system works: that you need to be, or potentially be, a contributing citizen (read tax-payer). Health care on the basis of exchange for money/contribution to society? Hm. Would we want to deny all comers from other countries access to health care, especially given that their ill health may not be as unbound from the richness of Western countries as we might like?! If not, then I’m not sure why we would be so very grumpy at a single mother whose vulnerable situation might send her across the border. I guess in some sense I think that hiding behind the idea/l of a nation-state is just a bit disingenuous, given that the West cheerfully crosses all kinds of borders in seeking, say, cheap labour. I’m not positive about my stance on this, so forgive the rant-y-ness, but I was taken aback by the willingness of so many to attack her. Consider this my knight-in-shining-armour-leap-to-defense!
August 19, 2007
UCKY Miles, Sicko and This is England. Three movies: my thoughts. Spoilers galore, sweet thangs, so if you’re planning to see any of them and are phobic like me, consider yourself warned.
They are coming!
Lucky Miles: When I saw the trailer for this movie, I was intrigued. An Australian movie that didn’t fall into the terrible and terribly depressing ‘comedy’ category, but without diving straight into the ‘so sober no one even laughs’ category; what an astonishingly unique concept! Given that I am in love with the Whedonesque style of humour-in-the-dark, it seemed promising. Not just that, but an Australian movie that wasn’t primarily about white people with brownish ones thrown in just for contrast. One which tangled with the dreaded ‘boat people’ without simply demonising them; a rare occurrence in the current climate. So yes, intrigued.
It’s the tale of a bunch of people, some Iraqi, some Cambodian, dumped on the West Australian coastline. Soon the Indonesian crew of the boat that delivered them to the middle of nowhere find themselves swimming for shore after their boat burns and sinks. Most of the Cambodian group are picked up in next to no time; ditto for the Iraqis. One of the Cambodians, Arun, one of the Iraqis, Youssif, and one of the Indonesian boat crew, Ramelan, find each other in the midst of the scrubby desert and together—with many squabbles and risky lack of water—aim for any kind of civilisation whatsoever.
Is it funny? Yes. There’s little doubt about that: it intends it, and sometimes it achieves it. There’s three Army reservists in the area, for example, who drive around randomly looking for the three asylum seekers, and their combination of semi-trained professional officiousness and matter-of-fact casualness made me smile. But there are a number of things which are depicted as humourous (at least if the audience I was watching with were any judges, and I suspect they were pretty close to the ‘ideal’ viewers the filmmakers envisaged) which I was really troubled by. I think the problem I had with the things that were made funny was that they seemed to depend upon covering-over the precarity of the position all of the asylum seekers were in: it’s not humour-in-the-dark so much as look-away-from-the-dark-and-this-situation-looks-hilarious! It might be vaguely amusing that when the Iraqis and Cambodians reach the top of the dune from the beach they were dumped on, the road the Indonesian captain promised would have a Perth-bound bus coming soon in fact doesn’t exist; or it could be a frightening depiction of the extraordinarily vulnerable position asylum seekers are placed in because they have to rely upon those who might not (be able to) really care about them so very much. The risk of not having enough water, for example, might have been continually raised as an issue, but the effects of dehydration were minimised so that it could be amusing that one character is reduced to using a plastic shopping bag as a water container. Or when Youssif’s desperation is articulated as eloquent and proud anger at Arun and Ramelan, it becomes amusing because it’s characterised as an over-reaction, relying, then, on obscuring the fact that they are actually incredibly vulnerable: out in the middle of nowhere, with little water and food and little possibility of a) getting out, b) being found and c) actually being granted asylum if/when they are.
It’s not that the precariousness of their position is altogether disappeared: peeling lips, exhaustion, the dangers of being shoeless and so on are kinda depicted. But none of these is permitted the weight of mortality which actually characterise it: Arun and Youssif come across Ramelan, who has collapsed from dehydration, but after a quick drink, he’s up and ready to ‘lead’ them to Perth. At one point Ramelan is attacked by a goanna, which leaps up onto his back; the shot is in silhouette against the top of a hill, and we see him jump around trying to shake it off, but that’s about it: there’s no consequence, except for his later (hi!lar!i!ous!) description of ‘the devil’ who attacked him to his companions—he’s not bitten or scratched, at least not that we see or that he complains of. I’m not even sure that goannas do such things, though this film is supposed to be based on true stories, so perhaps I’m just not knowledgeable enough. Perhaps even more oddly is that in all the trekking around that they do, they never encounter snakes, and none of them falls and badly hurts themselves. I mean, they’re pretty noisy so theoretically that might have scared snakes away, I guess, but Ramelan’s wearing thongs the whole time and there are moments when they’re scrambling down scree-y hillsides etc, so to me it felt like a fairly selective depiction of the risk of the Australian environment to those unaccustomed to negotiating it. Moments when Perth, as it turns out, is not just over the next hill slip by without much of a consideration of the fact that without a real sense of the distances they’re working with, they can’t even plan their water rationing properly. And all of this seemed to conceal their vulnerability—that these people are risking death to come to Australia—mostly to make it funny. For Australians. Hm. Ugh. Am I being too harsh?
More troubling than all this is that the movie ends when the three Army reservists find the three friends and the captain of the Indonesian boat who has caught up with the three. Arun, who has been trying desperately to get to Perth to find his father, has been avoiding the Army who rounded up the rest of the Cambodian group, yet he seems to have forgotten his concerns about that by this point; Youssif cites the relevant passages of the UN Convention on Refugees. The reservists are kind of bemusedly amiable about this (educated) claim to refugee status, but there’s certainly nothing which hints towards the fact that whilst the three may have escaped their vulnerability at the hands of an unfamiliar environment, they remain, in the end, probably equally albeit more predictably vulnerable at the hands of a fairly hostile government. Given the concern to actually depict the situation of asylum seekers, this absence feels significant: the vulnerability which leads to the humour is OK, it seems to suggest, because it arises from the ignorance and naivety of the three ‘foreigners’; this obscures both the fact that that vulnerability is also a product of a particularly stingy and problematic immigration policy, and that ‘the authorities’ and the policies surrounding the treatment of asylum seekers are such that ‘being found’ may also be a threat to them.
Interestingly on this point, the movie is set a while ago—1990. Is this an attempt to avoid having to depict the effects of the policy of mandatory detention, introduced in 1992? If so, then this functions in two ways: it both attempts to ‘humanise’ (ugh!) the usually (in our media) faceless ‘mass’ of refugees without appearing ‘political,’ (the accusation of which is of course a key technique for dismissing particular (read: non-right-wing) stories in the current Australian discursive space) perhaps thereby getting around this particular difficulty and encouraging sympathy in those who might not otherwise feel it—a position I disagree with, though also am sympathetic to. Yet this move also depoliticises the issue, enabling a distance between our three heroes and the current system, between refugees and the precarity they live with; and thus it fails to draw attention to the fact that the three heroes are both more vulnerable than they are depicted to be, and probably less vulnerable than current asylum seekers, not to mention the fact that under current circumstances the amiability of their interactions with the representatives of governmental authority—the Army reservists—is unlikely to still occur. To leave this out feels like the filmmakers not only pulled their own teeth to some extent, but may have produced the grounds by which the ‘stories’ may simply be dismissed as tales that matter not.
In the end, I was unhappy with it: however much I liked parts of the story, the covering-over of the vulnerability made me feel awkward about finding some stuff humourous (though I’m perfectly willing to accept that that may be partly white guilt; I do have a tendency to be uncertain about how happy I am to be amused about, say, stuff to do with race which I haven’t thought through the politics of… though that said, this isn’t always the case—I don’t have to agree with the politics of some stuff to find it funny, but if I find the politics offensively dodgy it gets in the way of me finding things amusing, and so I wonder if my instincts are actually reasonably political in this regard. Euh. Complex. In other words, perhaps it was just that this crossed a line into offensive for me, and my discomfit with it arose from that.) By the same token, my thoughts on it remain uncertain and unformed, so if you have a different response, tell me about it in comments: I think part of me wants to ‘rescue’ this film because it’s such a rare creature, being an Australian movie about refugees.
August 18, 2007
URY AND LOSS.
I can’t think of much to say about the fact that the Senate has passed the legislation permitting the ‘intervention’ in the Northern Territory. It sickens and angers me, and I feel like I can’t capture the multitude of ways it is wrong in any way adequately, least of all in words.
Still. How can it be that political dialogue in this country has reached the point that the moment when indigenous land rights are being utterly undermined, the only response the discursive space of the media will permit is that it is ‘misguided’. Misguided? Yes, if you believe that child sex abuse is actually the target. If not, it’s a precision missile. A racist—oh, no, sorry, so long as *whites* are saying it’s for their benefit, it escapes (the legality) of that label because what *whites* intend is all that is—precision missile.
Tangentially, but relatedly, I was deeply grateful to a man I thought I’d never be grateful to, yesterday: Cameron Stewart took me for the law course that nearly killed me—property law which was seriously the most tediously boring course I’ve done (and which makes me sad, now, because property’s so fascinating!) But at the seminar [pdf] I attended yesterday, in response to Catherine Waldby’s great paper on the commercialisation of biomaterials, Stewart roundly and—this was part of what astonished me, actually—passionately lambasted the government and the courts for their failure to rethink, to reconsider, to reorganise our conception of property, and worse, to fail to recognise the injustices that are being committed in the name of that failure. He spoke at length about the conservatism of Mabo, and the way that that has permitted the gradual undermining of native title; and he decried the astonishing lack of public interrogation of this latest erasure. The conversation that was prompted I’ll post some stuff on later, because it too was interesting, but his swift demonstration of the ways that the rights of indigenous people, of ‘donors’ of organs to biotech companies, and so on are undermined in the name of a deeply conservative notion of property (that conservatism a substantial disavowal of its rather fluid history, I might add!) was inspired and inspiring. I had feared that the day would pass without reference to indigenous rights at all, and this seemed wrong. Then I got home last night, and discovered what had transpired…
… and grief. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. My heart hurts; and the grief and suffering of those involved slips swiftly beyond my imagining.
Next Page »