All posts by jponalim

Post-presentation thoughts

Paulina’s presentation on lactivism made me want to more about it. Sure, the “scandal” of breastfeeding in public pops up on news media outlets every once in awhile, but prior to learning about lactivism, I hadn’t realized there was an entire movement devoted to the whole breast or no breast debate. What’s more, I hadn’t realized that there was a rather dark history to infant formula. By examining both sides of the argument, as well as bringing in the past, the presentation really brought attention to the movement. It’s also strange, that something so obviously necessary to debate is not as covered in the media as it should be. I’d love to know more about lactivism, because child nutrition is incredibly important.

I think Abhinav’s presentation on sports activism and media presentation taught me the most. As somebody who has a rather adverse allergy to anything “sport”, it was interesting to see that moves like Colin Kaepernick were not just isolated events throughout history. While I had known a little bit about people like Mohammed Ali and Magic Johnson, I had never fathomed the idea that athletes had developed such a role in modern day times. While I may never understand sports, Abhinav’s presentation taught me that high profile sports stars are more than just media darlings, and that they have the potential to influence the perception of social activist movements.

Richard’s presentation on water activism surprised me a lot. Last year, my roommate may have gone on a complete diatribe about my extensive showers (that lasted an eternity of 10 minutes…) and how California was in a drought. My argument, coming from somebody who didn’t grow up in California, at the time was that agriculture was already taking up a large proportion of the water anyways, so why should I bother, and that if Stanford really wanted to cut back on water usage, it would stop watering its grass, and use better watering techniques. But after learning about how much farmers are already cutting back on water-hungry crops, as well as the pressure said local farmers are facing, it’s made me do a complete about face  on my stance on water conservation in California.

Amit’s argument about using religious arguments as a progressive, however, I felt was the most inspiring. A lot of the arguments back where I’m from stem from the Christian Bible. It reminds me of the phrase “if you can’t beat them, join them.” With regards to an older society that sometimes refers to people under 30 as “special snowflakes”, to argue on their level using their rhetoric makes sense from a logical perspective.

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A general thesis moment and roadmap of my current RBA

What are the possibilities and limits of queer activist film?

Films have a “tremendous power to impart information, searing it in a viewer’s brain in a much more indelible way than say, history books can” (Buckley). So powerful are they, that queer/trans activist film has many possibilities, ranging from raising awareness about modern day struggles of the queer/trans community, to actively freeing people incarcerated due to their gender/sexual identity. However, there are also limits to it, such as a lack of audience reception (i.e. few documentaries are presented in movie theaters). As documentaries continue to improve, however, it is clear that the possibilities of these films far outweigh the limits of such film.

Roadmap: I plan to intersperse the limits of queer/trans activist film between the possibilities of queer/trans film. So it would go something along the lines of : introduction, possibility, limit, possibility, (etc.) , possibility, ending. It will roughly follow these topics: how activist film allowed for greater outreach to masses; how film itself cannot change minds; what it can do, in regards to the prison system; what it can’t do, in regards to reaching out to audiences (i.e. film festivals vs movie theaters); and how it has a possibility of recording history that people won’t cover/consider relevant at X point in time.

Link to Infographic can be found here (only valid for Stanford users)

A large proportion of my research proposal was devoted to using examples and anecdotes. While this was effective, it also caused my proposal to lack depth. Something that came up quite frequently in review sessions was the reader asking for clarification about such-and-such documentary that I had failed to describe, or wondering why I had not explored a topic further in depth. This in turn would confuse the reader, wondering, for example, why I would utilize a documentary about killer whales (Blackfish) to connect it to my focus (LGBTQ+ film activism). While I had thought that I had drilled deep into my topic, I had only just skimmed the surface to my readers. Another topic of discussion was that I had too many sources which, compounded with my lack of depth, produced a very broad but shallow research proposal.

Comments on my infographic were better in that they mostly focused on my presentation than the infographic itself. I believe that my research and particular style lent to a good infographic, in that there was a large amount of shallow information that the reader can glance at without taking too much into account. However, there were critiques. As you can see, in the middle part of the infographic, there’s a large wall of names (the names of trans women killed in 2015), that I intended to use for dramatic effect. When initially created, the infographic was simply too visually confusing, a critique that was common throughout my presentation.

These critiques however have helped me shape my research question even better now. My initial question wondered if LGBTQ+ documentaries served as forms of activism for the LGBTQ+ community. After everything, however, I believe that my question is better stated as: Are LGBTQ+ documentaries effective forms of LGBTQ+ activism? By comparing and contrasting with sources such as Tim Jordan’s Activism!, my tentative thesis, is that yes, LGBTQ+ documentaries are effective forms of activism.

On RBAS and Activism

LLAG, and Chescaleigh Ramsey; Philando Castile and Alton Sterling; Obergefell v. Hodges and the Order of Chaeronea ; the movies Blackfish and Stonewall; Jesse Williams and the Black Lives Matter movement; all of these showcase points of activism that are the beginning, the battle, the result, or the culmination of an activist movement. In particular, they each map specifically to one of the following :

  1. Slacktivism: if Facebook and social media helps or hinders social movements
  2. LIVE! : Facebook Live and other streaming apps role in contemporary activism
  3. Why Love Couldn’t wait: homosexuality and social activism
  4. Movies and activism: on films and their relationship with activism.
  5. I’M AWAKE: “Woke”-ness in contemporary culture

*I acknowledge that some of these topics are sensitive, and hope that I have portrayed these matters in the appropriate manner. I apologize in advance, and ask for forgiveness for and corrections to my ignorance should I have gotten something wrong in regards to the above topics.

Of particular interest to me is point 4. Movies and other forms of visual media such as documentaries are easily digestible to viewers, and thus are important to the activist movements. They are capable of causing change, or tilting the paradigm of historical events. For example, Cowperthwaites’ Blackfish, a documentary on the now dead killer whale Tillikum, focused attention on marine parks’ holding of large marine mammals, in particular killer whales. Some might go as far to say that it was one of the driving forces in causing public opinion to change, and caused the marine park Seaworld to begin phasing out its killer whale captive breeding program, as well as its rather popular killer whale shows. On the other side, Emmerich’s Stonewall, a movie about a man who begins the Stonewall riots (uprisings by the LGBT community) has found controversy in that the lead character is a white, cisgender male, who is also straight acting ( Buzzfeed article). The film additionally sidelines the trans POC community, which skews the viewpoint of the audience on the actual history of the Stonewall riots. As such, one can see that there is a need to analyze films’ effect on activism, as well as actisivim’s portrayal by films.

Culture Jamming, Memes, and inverting the norms

Philosoraptor; How should a dog wear pants?; Arthur’s fist; #saltbae. All are examples of memes, elements of culture passed and spread rapidly (Merriam-Webster), typically through the internet nowadays. And, just like cultural jamming, they are subject to predation by corporations, political groups, and other parties in order to gain an advantage. In the fifth chapter of Activism!: Direct Action, Hacktivism, and the Future of Society, Tim Jordan defines cultural jamming as taking a cultural norm, and changing that norm to showcase a different viewpoint, such as Adbusters’ flipping of Smirnoff’s ads to show the negative side of drinking (Jordan, 107). However, just as new memes are constantly being made to replace those that take place in mainstream culture, so too must cultural jamming, as their targets find ways to spin the jamming to benefit themselves. This in turn reflects on contemporary activism’s effectiveness on change.

Just as memes are interesting and have ~a e s t h e t i c~, so too does cultural jamming. It’s fascinating in that those who try to culture jam often have to outwit their targets in order to make the cultural jamming effective. As seen with the “dat boi” meme, as a meme starts to become mainstream, and appropriated by unknowledgeable audiences, new memes are made to replace it in a constant cycle. So too does cultural jamming, as the jammers constantly must find new ideas to highlight their targets, as seen with the 2000 Nike billboard jamming(Jordan, 112), which highlighted Nike’s use of sweatshop, slave, and prison labor to produce its products. Culture jammers would “prefer to be indigestible” by their opposition (113), and thus do their best to counter their oppositions counters, thus continuing an intellectual arms race.

Similarly, when discussing contemporary activism, one must take into account what the activism is about, and how the activists’ ideals best are inserted into the norm. Just as with memes, and culture jamming, activists must find new ways to get their point across in the ever changing political environment. If the populace has become immune to one method of activism, another method must be made in order to keep getting the point across, leading to the point that even those advocating for change must change in order to cause change.