“What Brecht asserts is that in idealist works the emotion acts by and for itself, producing what he calls “emotional orgies”, while a materialist poetics – whose objective is not only that of interpreting the world but also of transforming it and making this world finally habitable – has the obligation of showing how the world can be transformed.” – Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed.
Depending on how you look at it, it’s both unfortunate and fortunate that the debate about activism with Richard Stallman and Louis Ng is happening at this time; equally, that my doubts and thoughts about what activism means have coincided with a not-so-covert global campaign against Joseph Kony. Indeed, I was just as jostled by Millbank in 2010, the student protests and riots in 2011 and the Occupy movement. My doubts have also coincided with International Women’s Day, and an event run by Etiquette in celebration. A Malay aunty spoke about the magnetism of facebook – a massive vehicle for the campaign – which she has noticed in her grandchildren. Puzzled, she asked “what is this never-ending conversation? If someone would teach me maybe I would want to join Facebook too!”
So here’s my beef. I believe that the people who have come out with “critiques” about activists, and sudden popular activist movements, are not applying their critical thinking to some of their own positions. I think there’s a tendency, which is just as lazy, to say that the people who are getting involved are being coerced by a slick, well-produced video. Here’s a mandarin proverb which seems so obvious as to be axiomatic: “the participant’s view is distorted; the bystander’s view is correct”. But surely active, thoughtful participation is what we’re aiming for?
The writing in the green box:
“Just like Mary Anderson, the inventor of the windshield wiper, thousands of women have played a vital role in improving our lives by harnessing the power of technology and design. To enjoy a revolutionary education for a [something something] and to build a better world, visit [the website].”
The headline strikes me as a very begrudging – and not at all revolutionary – way of encouraging women to go into design and technology.
Last night I ate my dinner in front of Ghost (1990, dir. Jerry Zucker), starring the late Patrick Swayze, Whoopi Goldberg and Demi Moore. Having endured Almodovar’s Broken Embraces the night before, I was in the mood for some straight-up cinema with a linear plot, a central hero and some good old fashioned resolution at the end – in this case, Swayze’s ascent to Heaven, having just sent the bad guy screaming in to Hell.
But what really got me was Demi Moore’s costume. Lead heroine in a button up shirt? One reviewer points out that “the only thing that is possibly more outdated than the visual effects is Moore’s infamous close-cropped hairdo.” But I thought it was kind of refreshing. After seeing Broken Embraces Housemate A and I sat and talked about the Penelope Cruz Porn that we’d been subject to; Penelope Cruz looks at herself in the mirror; Penelope pouts; Penelope walks down the hall in a tight suit; Penelope has sex; Penelope is crushed to death by a speeding vehicle. Thankfully.
In fact, scrutinising Demi Moore’s outfits and appreciating Whoopi Goldberg’s turn as ‘the store front mystic’ made me think of a show I happened upon last week. It was billed as ‘television’s first feminist tv series’ and aired on channel 4 in 1998. It’s called Big Women. Amazingly, the channel’s Test Tube Telly site has all four episodes available, so I spent two evenings in a bizarre feminist time warp. The series charts the humble beginnings of a feminist publishing house in 1971 and its eventual sale to a giant corporation in 1996. In an interview with The Independent, the writer, Fay Weldon, said:
“The series was [Tariq Ali's] idea. But I go on thinking that anything that is done by men and women together has a kind of energy and life as God intended. Things that women do together tend to be more dutiful.”It’s amazing this is the first drama about feminism there has been on television. But for so long we haven’t been able to see the wood for the trees.
“Perhaps the series will show how dangerous ideologies and isms are … you’ve got women with permission to hate men now and that’s what we have to pull back from.”
Last night I went to see the Vagina Monologues. It is one of those shows that *everyone* has seen; it has entered the feminist canon and become a text through which social change can be engineered. But I didn’t like it.