Social media provides a valuable platform to challenge conceptions disseminated by mainstream media and education that are assumed to be the complete story. However the motivations and integrity of many supposedly political posts can be questionable. One of the most important pillars of capitalism is privilege. The creation of layers of privilege is what divides us and it has become engrained. The result is an aspiration towards superiority over other people. So that sometimes even when we know something is wrong with the system under which we live, some of us (especially the middle classes) use our ‘awareness’ to demonstrate superiority over others.
I can’t help feeling that this is what is at work in the criticism of the Ice Bucket Challenge. It’s as if an (understandable) distaste for the social media narcism sometimes at work in posting-for-likes (often without donating) is driving many towards public denouncement. However, the information used to support this criticism belies the reality of the situation.
Memes are being circulated showing how people in the underdeveloped world are deprived of clean drinking water, suggesting that engaging in the IBC is in itself a demonstration of privilege. My immediate reaction is to question how much water conservation these critics actually perform in their own everyday lives. However, even if they do, the reality is that however much water you conserve here in London or other cities in the western world, it won’t make a jot of difference to the position of those short of clean water elsewhere. In the underdeveloped world poor people fall victim to industrialised manipulation of the eco-system, the transfer of water from places most in need to those that already have plenty, war and the outright immorality of water privatisation. This film (http://youtu.be/egtKx24dat8) should be of interest to those genuinely concerned.
In Gaza the “Rubble Bucket Challenge” is a political statement about how the Israeli government is reducing Palestinian homes, schools and hospitals to rubble and disrupting the water supply. In parts of India and West Africa, Coca Cola (and/or their related companies) owns water supply systems and is charging significantly more for a bottle of water than for a bottle of Coke! In Bolivia a catalyst for the revolution between 2000 & 2005 was the criminalisation of collecting rain water - yes it was a criminal offence to collect rain water! This was legislation enacted by a right wing puppet regime to prop up the US company that installed a privately owned water system and was selling water to a population at prices way beyond the means of the paltry wages they earned. Local wells were filled in and troops used to enforce the law. The Bolivian people’s solution? - Revolution and the (re-)nationalisation of the water system under distributed local community management. This is why the current President Evo Morales (a working class native-American and former trade union leader) has been dubbed a “dictator” by the US media. Here in the big capitalist nations that are home to the offending corporations struggle for political change seems too much of a challenge. So instead many indulge in the smug but futile self-righteousness of deriding well intentioned people that “waste water”.
To date I’ve simply shaken my head at this and moved on, but now we’re seeing people going to the trouble of manufacturing false claims about the charities behind the Ice Bucket Challenge in a further attempt to condemn others as fools and reinforce a sense of superiority. A recent article I saw on Facebook is this: http://bit.ly/1tSdmwy. Notice how their pie chart doesn’t actually match their claims? Further investigation (which is easy to do because they’re, …er, charities) will reveal that every claim in the article is false. I can’t help feeling that the time taken over this falsification could be better spent doing real research and watching films like the one linked to above.
So what of the Ice Bucket Challenge in the scheme of things? MND (or ALS as it’s called in the US) was until now a little known disease which didn’t enjoy the patronage that the many cancer charities, for example, do. Important gains have been made in the fight against cancer and HIV/AIDS as a result of awareness, and, consequentially, priority raising. I know from personal experience that MND/ALS is an extremely cruel, wasting and inevitably terminal disease that, because of lack of awareness, is usually diagnosed extremely late. In addition to misdiagnosis, professional ignorance generates conflicting palliative care advice and support which compounds the suffering of victims and their families. Even those that are just having fun with the IBC without donating have contributed to transforming this situation. As for those that have donated, according to the real figures 72.4% of the ALS Association’s budget during the fiscal year ending January 2013 was used for ‘program expenses’ — that is the programmes and services the ALS Association delivers to the ALS community according to its mission such as professional and public education, research into ALS treatments and cures, and patient and community services.
With regard to water - well that requires credible research to build genuine political awareness, real political engagement and action. Snobbery is just part of the same old shit that privilege is built on.
1 Figures taken from Charity Navigator, one of many independent charity monitoring services.
P.S. The following may not offer a permanent solution, but you could of course also donate to Oxfam’s current emergency water appeal for East Africa. I’m sure they’d rather have your money than the water you’re saving from not doing the Ice Bucket Challenge.
Getting my toolkit together for some early stage concept development on a new transmedia project, I recently re-visited the website of Conducttr, a transmedia development platform. There I was drawn to this strap line for a project created by Hip Hop artist and author Jonny Virgo:
“Dan Brown meets Harry Potter … with more black people”.
Virgo’s reference to the cultural landscape of a particular literary sub-genre also resonated with me as a self-confessed “afro-geek” who finds the sphere of digital creativity somewhat lacking in cultural diversity. This is an industry centred in an urban milieu that simply doesn’t reflect the make up of its populace. In the following podcast Jonny Virgo, author of the “interactive novel” City of Conspiracy and creator of the wider transmedia project of the same title, makes reference to this phenomenon in describing his experience of attending various transmedia and ARG (Alternate Reality Game) events in London. However, he goes on to describe how through making work out of “the things that I like, the [cultural] elements that I bring to the table […] rather then targeting any specific group” he has been able to create a transmedia project that reaches beyond what he calls a “white urban professional demographic” that hitherto have been the medium’s exclusive participants. What’s of equal interest is that, impelled by his position outside of the world of opaque funding structures and venture capital, Jonny Virgo has managed to achieve a sustainable self-financing and potentially profitable model for transmedia by importing much from the entrepreneurial culture of the ‘urban’ music scene. His honest and sometimes self-effacing telling of his journey with City of Conspiracy makes for some compelling listening.
For me documenting the role of people of colour in the emergence and development interactive multimedia and digital communications is vital. The lack of visibility of Black figures instills in a potential new generation of Black creative talent the idea that, albeit as early adopters, they can or will only ever consume new technology as passive respondents to corporate brand marketing. That young people of colour may acquire iPhones in large numbers, but making an app is somehow beyond them. This despite important historical milestones such as the invention of email by VA Shiva Ayyadurai at the age of 14 and John Henry Thompson’s invention of the Lingo scripting language (for Macromedia/Adobe Director & Shockwave), which made possible most of the interactive digital art/media of the 90s. The digital sound sampler was created to facilitate near realistic recreation of a range of acoustic instruments on an electronic keyboard, but the appropriation of the sampler by Black Hip Hop pioneers such as Mark James (aka 45 King) redefined the sampler’s primary role in music production. Then there’s the work of Digital Diaspora including the Digital Slam in 1995 (directed and co-produced by yours truly) - the first ever event to utilise telematic technologies to facilitate real time inter-continental collaboration in live performances. Digital Diaspora and its off-shoot Displaced Data took a lead in discourse around virtual identity and the codification of ethnicity and gender; the (digital) reframing of the aesthetics of ethnicity, and the potential consequences of a digital divide between global hemispheres in a knowledge based economy. These histories serve as mere examples of important contributions that have so quickly been forgotten, or worse, ignored.
The ongoing engagement with transmedia that I referred to at the beginning of this post includes my involvement with transmedia training organisation Crossover Labs as a mentor on Indigenous Crossover in 2010. Early on in the first of two labs a break through was achieved when I pointed out that the group of Indigenous Australian creatives we were mentoring could teach us more about cross-platform creative practice and interactive storytelling from their traditions than we could likely teach them. The same goes for African cultural traditions.
The more I reflect on these themes the more I realise that to help maintain vigour in an industry that at its more esoteric end has arguably little social impact and at the business end is loosing participatory edge, we should mine and re-invest in a narrative that is culturally “afro-geek”. By bringing to bear his lived cultural experience, Jonny Virgo seems to have injected a socially inclusive relevance and vitality into the transmedia landscape that all can learn and benefit from.
1 My first encounter with the term “afro-geek” was in Digital Diaspora: A Race for Cyberspace by (auth) Anna Everett | pub. Sunny Press
2 Jonny Virgo interview podcast courtesy of Conducttr at Transmedia Storyteller.
The debacle over the Tricycle’s decision to place a funding condition on hosting this year’s UK Jewish Film Festival (UKJFF) left me atypically wavering on celebrating what some viewed as a courageous stand in opposition to Israel’s crimes against humanity and what others viewed as an act of anti-Semitism. Having spent time reading and discussing with proponents of both arguments I’ve come to the conclusion that neither is the case.
I think that by the time I’ve come to write this most will have got passed the deceit of the UKJFF in accusing the Tricycle of banning or censoring the festival, but many may still question the point of the Tricycles’ position. To be honest the slightly disappointing and ambivalent interview that the Tricycle’s artistic director, Indhu Rubasingham, gave in the Evening Standard last week failed to enlighten me on that question. However, one clear statement has to made by me right off the bat: If it was my venue I would have asked the same of the UKJFF and a week later, unconstrained by any need to seem ‘impartial’, I haven’t changed my position. This is why:
I view claims of anti-Semitism against critics of the Israeli government as part and parcel of the strategy to muster support for its criminal actions. By this I don’t just mean in the way in which it attempts to guilt people into silence. When Israel breaks international law in the occupied territories, when Israel publicly humiliates the subject populations whose land it has seized - but then responds to its critics with loud cries of “anti-Semitism” - it is in effect saying that these acts are not Israeli acts, they are Jewish acts: The occupation is not an Israeli occupation, it is a Jewish occupation, and if you don’t like these things it is because you don’t like Jews. This does nothing to counter anti-Semitism, in fact the recent rise in anti-semitic attacks serves the Israeli government’s interests. Many joining the condemnation of the Tricycle point to the fact that the Israeli embassy funding imposes no constraints on the programming of the festival or its content, suggesting that the embassy’s funding is apolitical. This is at best naive, at worst disingenuous. Financial support from the Israeli government/embassy for diasporic Jewish culture is entirely politically motivated and that motive is to brand all Jewish culture as Israeli culture. It is part of a Zionist agenda to claim that the Israeli government represents all Jews in its actions, including the brutal oppression, dispossession and displacement of Palestinians. Therefore the Tricycle’s action might be best viewed as a challenge to the UKJFF to declare its position in relation to this important question.
An argument used to suggest disingenuity in the Tricycle’s offer to replace the embassy’s funding invokes arts professionals’ understanding of the critical value of hard won long-term relationships like the 20 year old one the UKJFF has strived to maintain with the Israeli embassy. That simply doesn’t stack up when you weigh the paltry amount in question here - £1,400 - against the atrocities being committed by a government that claims to be acting in the name of all Jews.
Those decrying the Tricycle cite as ‘evidence’ of ‘double standards’ the Tricycle’s Arts Council funding as funding from a government that is complicit in the onslaught on Gaza. As a British public service I would expect organisations like the Tricycle to access money provided by the British tax payer to provide cultural services that we want. The issue with UK government arms dealing is that we have demonstrated every Saturday, and on other occasions, for the past few weeks that we don’t want our money spent on slaughtering the inhabitants of Gaza. The ludicrous suggestion that the Tricycle’s position is hypocritical suggests by extension that every benefit claimant, every NHS patient, every beneficiary of the public services that we pay for is complicit in Israel’s actions despite our actions in calling for an end to selling arms to Israel. If the UKJFF is a British Jewish film festival then it should be prepared to deliver a cultural service to us without Israeli government branding.
One of the problems I’ve had engaging with this specific debate is the celebration of the Tricycle’s actions as a major contribution to the ‘struggle’. Such grand claims come from the problematic area that elevates individual boycotts against apartheid South Africa (with many citing the anti-apartheid struggle as exemplary) above the mass industrial and direct action of millions of Black South Africans. I find this petit-bourgeois self congratulation at best a naive ignorance of the pacifying role that advocating boycotts as an ultimate solution plays, and at worst disrespectful to hundreds of thousands of self-determining Black South Africans who gave their lives. There’s a reason secondary strike action is illegal in this country while we still enjoy the luxury of consumer choice. This, however, is not to devalue the personal moment at which our political consciousness moves us to the first step of taking an individual (moral) stand. That said, you only have to read the quote from Indhu Rubasingham in the headline from her Evening Standard interview to conclude that the Tricycle isn’t making any such stand. Perhaps it’s with the UKJFF that the onus to declare a position lies. If so then they appear to have taken a position that implies a questionable allegiance.
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