The Political Power of Music in Chile

In this blog entry, J. Patrice McSherry, author of Chilean New Song, explains how this music revolutionized Chile’s cultural scene.

Can music be a testament to, and record of, a historical period? Can it be a motivating force in the mobilization of people for a common cause? Can music speak to, represent, and translate the dreams and hopes of people for progressive social change?

Chilean New Song_smIn Chilean New Song, I show how the Chilean New Song movement did all of these things. The music was born in the 1960s, blending traditional Chilean and Latin American folk rhythms, indigenous Andean music, and classical influences with original songwriting, new forms of harmony and chord progressions, and ancient indigenous instruments. Many of the young musicians were talented songwriters and poets, and in Santiago during this epoch there was much interaction, experimentation, and collaboration among them. A major contribution of New Song was the wealth of original music and beautiful poetry produced by the artists. The music of New Song revolutionized Chile’s cultural scene at the same time as large numbers of Chileans were actively engaged in a peaceful political and social revolution. Social sectors long excluded from political participation were demanding, and winning, more social justice and a larger political voice. The New Song movement was born of, and expressed, the struggle for the deeper democratization of Chilean state and society. These popular movements, of which New Song was an organic part, converged and grew stronger, and in 1970 succeeded in electing democratic socialist Salvador Allende as president.

Violeta Parra, Víctor Jara, Patricio Manns, Ángel and Isabel Parra, Quilapayún, Inti-Illimani, and so many other groups and soloists were well-known and beloved figures of the musical movement, and their songs embodied the ideals and the hopes of millions. As Víctor Jara said in 1973, “It was song that was born from the necessities of the country, the social movement of Chile. It wasn’t song apart from that.” The New Song movement inspired masses of people to visualize alternative possibilities and act to achieve them, helping to create, and not just reflect, the social mobilization of the epoch. The musicians’ singing, their performances on street corners, at festivals and political rallies, at campaign stops, before gatherings of unions and students: all these musical events became part of the political mobilization of the era in Chile.

Ángel and Isabel Parra had founded la Peña de los Parra in 1965 as an intimate venue for the new music, which was met with indifference by most major media and industry outlets. Students in universities and popular organizations quickly followed with their own peñas from the north to the south of Chile. Peñas and the new music appeared in schools, community centers, working class neighborhoods, small municipalities, and union locals, moving beyond intellectual circles and into the popular sectors. The peñas were the first innovation from the grassroots that allowed the movement to supersede the blockages of the mass media.

The Allende government, committed to reducing social inequalities in the country, instituted new social programs and nationalized large monopolies. The administration faced increasing enmity from the upper classes, industrialists, and the military. The Nixon administration had tried for years to prevent Allende’s election, and then worked to undermine his government. The Chilean armed forces staged a bloody coup on September 11, 1973. Tens of thousands of Chileans were “disappeared” and tortured, some 3000 killed, and hundreds of thousands forced into exile. The dictatorship outlawed the music and even the indigenous instruments associated with New Song. Its acts to silence, exile, torture, and kill the musicians demonstrated the military’s fear of the political power of music.

Víctor Jara was one of the regime’s first targets. Jara was taken with thousands of other government supporters to Chile Stadium, where he was tortured and killed. The perpetrators of that crime, which horrified the world, have never been tried or sentenced. Only in the past few years have Chilean judges issued warrants and detained suspected perpetrators. In April 2015, a U.S. judge ruled that one officer, Pedro Barrientos, who has been living in Florida for decades, should stand trial for the torture and extrajudicial killing of Víctor Jara.

The artists of the New Song movement, through their music, honored the lives and struggles of ordinary people, communicated their hopes and aspirations, denounced unjust power relations and the stark conditions of the vast majority, and challenged the prevailing system. The 17-year Pinochet dictatorship was unable to erase New Song from the hearts and minds of the people of Chile. Tens of thousands of students—young people not yet born in the 1970s—sang the New Song anthem “El Pueblo Unido” during the massive 2011 marches to demand quality and free public education. New Song is alive still because it continues to express through its stirring and beautiful music the solidarity and determination of social movements, and continues to evoke dreams of a different future. Perhaps most important, it conveys a profound commitment to the lives of el pueblo, the vast number of people who still experience social injustice.

What happens when the protests end?

In this blog entry, Harold McDougall, author of Black Baltimore, looks at growing civic infrastructure from family and neighborhood connections to show the “powers that be” that little people matter

Recent events in Baltimore are a reminder of the need to build “civic infrastructure” in inner-city communities like Sandtown, the neighborhood in which Freddie Gray lived, a neighborhood I studied closely when writing Black Baltimore, more than twenty years ago.

Sandtown then was home to many community-based, self-help efforts that provided examples of what participatory democracy, on a small scale, should look like. News reports from Sandtown in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death show they are still there—Rev. A.C. Vaughn’s Sharon Baptist Church, the New Song Community school, the Sandtown-Winchester Improvement Association, ”helicopter” parents and grandparents, trying to guide their kids through the maze.

black baltimoreI celebrated the indigenous social capital of these small-scale efforts in the book, calling them “base communities” because they reminded me of the Christian study circles organized by liberation theologists in Latin America. Groups of no more than twenty, seminar-size, where people could connect, reason together, figure things out and take action.

Friends and colleagues challenged my idea, arguing that while intimate and powerful, these small groups were not scaled to solve the problems they could see. Employment? Education? Police misconduct? Environmental damage? How could a group of twenty people respond to such large-scale issues?

So I went back to the drawing board, trying to figure out how to take base communities to a scale large enough so they could impact the issues people in neighborhoods like Sandtown face without sacrificing the intimacy and trust that made them so powerful, so important, so precious.

It was quite an undertaking, assisted by serendipity and caring people as much as by scholarship and hard study. It’s taken a long time.

The process started at a National Civic League annual meeting I attended, where former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley gave a speech comparing American society to a three-legged stool. There is a government leg, a business leg, and a community leg, he said. Bradley got the audience’s attention by declaring that the government and business legs are very long while the community leg is very short, making the stool—and the society—unstable.

How can community be lengthened, strengthened, so that it can balance business and government? Episodic flare-ups, through demonstrations, protests and other forms of mobilization, are not enough. Once grievances have been addressed, or the protesters silenced or co-opted, activity tends to subside. Civil society needs an ongoing civic infrastructure if it is to impact government beyond periodic elections, and business beyond individual consumer choice.

But how to build that infrastructure, how to knit those base communities together?

Then I met Don Anderson, a lawyer and social activist who was also an African-American descendant of Thomas Jefferson. He had come across some of his ancestor’s writing on “Citizen’s Assemblies.” The assemblies were to be sized to a Congressional district, and would select their Member through a series of caucuses. The Assembly’s most intriguing aspect, however, was its structure, and its potential to do a lot more than elect a Member of Congress.

The building block of Jefferson’s assembly was a neighborhood council of seven families, comprised of one representative from each family. Each council in turn selects its own representative, and these seven people meet as a “conference” representing seven councils (49 families). Finally, each conference sends a representative to an assembly representing all the conferences in the congressional district. The assembly conveys information—and instructions—from the constituent base to the member of Congress. (The model’s democracy was apparently a bit too direct for the Founding Fathers, and it never left the drawing board.)

This was what I was looking for.

Today, Sandtown numbers approximately 9,000 people. A Sandtown Citizen’s Assembly could aggregate families directly, and empower the people of the neighborhood. Such an Assembly could hold local government more closely accountable—schools, the police, elected officials—not from the distance of the voting booth but up close and personal. The Assembly could also perform some functions parallel to government, such as community mediation. (I called this the “politics of parallelism” in Black Baltimore)

The Sandtown Citizen’s Assembly could also check businesses and banks engaging in exploitative or high-handed practices. Past examples include the boycotts and selective buying campaigns of the civil rights movement, and labor’s boycotts and public shaming campaigns. Co-ops such as those Gar Alperovitz has described [http://democracycollaborative.org/] could round out the Assembly portfolio, creating “social” businesses, micro-enterprises, and other “off-the-grid” sources of income.

Protests emerging from the hassles people in neighborhoods like Sandtown face every day have erupted all across the country.  These protests are, at bottom, about a political and economic system that just doesn’t care about little people until, like Lilliputians, they get organized.

Addressing the dynamics of bullying on screen and in schools

This week in North Philly Notes, Laura Martocci, author of Bullying, pens an open letter about the recent film A Girl Like Her about teenage bullying. 

To Whom It May Concern:

Bullying is hardly a new topic—in fact, it is so well-worn that most teens roll their eyes at the word. They know what we want to hear, and what answers they need to give before we’ll let them go back to their iPhones.

Perhaps this is because we try to speak, without ever really having listened.
Amy Weber, writer/director of A Girl Like Her, listened—and it is obvious in the movie she made and the characters she created.

downloadAvery (Hunter King), Brian (Jimmy Bennett), and Jessica (Lexi Ainsworth), cast in the roles of bully, bystander, and victim, respectively, bring complex, often conflicting motivations to their characters. As viewers, we get to watch the drama unfold from each of their perspectives. Ms. Weber garners sympathy for the “over-the-top” behavior of her antagonist (bully) through a plot device that puts a video-diary in her hands. We not only get a glimpse of how Avery sees things (mostly, her narcissism doesn’t allow her to see them at all) but also come to understand her choices through the context of her family. While this may not be enough to exonerate her, it does make her much more than a mouthpiece, and situates her choices as important “talking points” in the movie. 

Do her choices ring true?

What would the bully at your school do?

Similar questions surface around Brian, Jessica’s supportive friend. Brian not only listens, he enables Jessica to take actions that document the bullying. Hidden-camera videos at first help sustain Jessica by preventing her from slipping into denial about the abuse. However, Jessica ultimately cannot negotiate the onslaught, and takes drastic action. Attempting to come to terms with what Jessica has done, Brian is torn between his loyalty to her and a community desperately seeking answers.

Bullying_smBystanders do not need to witness a drastic action in order to wonder what they should do, whom they might tell, and what/how much they should say. How they think about and sort these questions is another important talking point that is facilitated by the film. Is telling someone “tattling” or “supporting the victim”?

Finally, there is Jessica, the victim. We see her torment, and in itself, this is a talking point. Would anyone at your school ever be victimized like this? (Hint, the ready answer is, of course, “No.” “No” is the start of the conversation.)

A Girl Like Her understands that bullying is not only—or even primarily—about specific bad behaviors, but about the dynamics that support these behaviors, the conflicts that paralyze action, and the nuances through which teen dramas are played out.  Our children cannot engage bullying as a topic unless the conversation around it is authentic. Weber’s film captures the complexities that signal authenticity, making it a very good place to start that conversation.

This is an important movie, one I would not only want my daughters to see, but to see in an environment that would facilitate discussion around it.

Sincerely,

Laura Martocci

Reflecting on Vietnam

This week in North Philly Notes, as the world reflects on the 40th anniversary of the Vietnam War ending, we reflect on some of our books on Vietnam.

This Is All I Choose to Tell: History and Hybridity in Vietnamese American Literature by Isabelle Thuy Pelaud

In the first book-length study of Vietnamese American literature, Isabelle Thuy Pelaud probes the complexities of Vietnamese American identity and politics. She provides an analytical introduction to the literature, showing how generational differences play out in genre and text. In addition, she asks, can the term Vietnamese American be disassociated from representations of the war without erasing its legacy?

Transnationalizing Viet Nam: Community, Culture, and Politics in the Diaspora by Kieu-Linh Caroline Valverde

Vietnamese diasporic relations affect—and are directly affected by—events in Viet Nam. InTransnationalizing Viet Nam, Kieu-Linh Caroline Valverde explores these connections, providing a nuanced understanding of this globalized community. Valverde draws on 250 interviews and almost two decades of research to show the complex relationship between Vietnamese in the diaspora and those back at the homeland.

Inventing Vietnam: The War in Film and Television edited by Michael Anderegg

The Vietnam War has been depicted by every available medium, each presenting a message, an agenda, of what the filmmakers and producers choose to project about America’s involvement in Southeast Asia. This collection of essays, most of which are previously unpublished, analyzes the themes, modes, and stylistic strategies seen in a broad range of films and television programs.

Songs of the Caged, Songs of the Free: Music and the Vietnamese Refugee Experience by Adelaida Reyes

The Vietnamese refugee experience calls attention to issues commonly raised by migration: the redefinition of group relations, the reformulation of identity, and the reconstruction of social and musical life in resettlement. Fifteen years ago, Adelaida Reyes began doing fieldwork on the musical activities of Vietnamese refugees. She entered the emotion-driven world of forced migrants through expressive culture, learned to see the lives of refugee-resettlers through the music they made and enjoyed, and, in turn, gained a deeper understanding of their music through knowledge of their lives.

Ordinary Lives: Platoon 1005 and the Vietnam War by W.D. Ehrhart

In the summer of 1966, in the middle of the Vietnam War, eighty young volunteers arrived at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island, South Carolina, from all over the Eastern United States. For the next eight weeks, as Platoon 1005, they endured one of the most intense basic training programs ever devised. Twenty-seven years after basic training, Ehrhart began what became a five-year search for the men of his platoon. Who were these men alongside whom he trained? What Ehrhart learned offers an extraordinary window into the complexities of the Vietnam Generation and the United States of America then and now.

The Vietnamese American 1.5 Generation: Stories of War, Revolution, Flight and New Beginnings  edited by Sucheng Chan, with contributions by students at the University of California

The conflict that Americans call the “Vietnam War” was only one of many incursions into Vietnam by foreign powers. However, it has had a profound effect on the Vietnamese people who left their homeland in the years following the fall of Saigon in 1975. Collected here are fifteen first-person narratives written by refugees who left Vietnam as children and later enrolled as students at the University of California, where they studied with the well-known scholar and teacher Sucheng Chan. She has provided a comprehensive introduction to their autobiographical accounts, which succinctly encompasses more than a thousand years of Vietnamese history. The volume concludes with a thorough bibliography and videography compiled by the editor.

Treacherous Subjects: Gender, Culture, and Trans-Vietnamese Feminism by Lan P. Duong

Treacherous Subjects is a provocative and thoughtful examination of Vietnamese films and literature viewed through a feminist lens. Lan Duong investigates the postwar cultural productions of writers and filmmakers, including Tony Bui, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Tran Anh Hung. Taking her cue from the double meaning of “collaborator,” Duong shows how history has shaped the loyalties and shifting alliances of the Vietnamese, many of whom are caught between opposing/constricting forces of nationalism, patriarchy, and communism.

America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975, Second Edition  by George C. Herring

First published in 1979, America’s Longest War has been highly regarded both by scholars and general readers. Extensive and yet manageable, this assessment of our national tragedy provides an accurate and objective analysis of the hostilities at home and abroad. This second edition of America’s Longest War becomes more timely as we commemorate a decade since the end of the war and attempt to reflect dispassionately on its effects on our national character and policy.

Searching for Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro

This week in North Philly Notes, it’s “Carnaval in Rio!” Philip Evanson, co-author of Living in the Crossfire, pens an entry on this year’s annual celebration in Brazil.

CARNAVAL is a summons to enjoy ourselves. It is supposed to bring easement, at the very least a few brief days to forget personal and collective worries. It’s out with the Apollonian, in with the Dionysian. Above all, Carnaval means dancing. So what does an old gringo like myself do in Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval? The easy and obvious thing is to be an observer and to watch the televised transmission of the escolas de samba or samba schools as they parade in the Sambodromo of Rio de Janeiro. If you follow the selling of Carnaval in Rio, especially to tourists, the Sambodromo is where it largely takes place. This venue is a couple of long city blocks of viewer stands (there are also VIP boxes), and parade grounds designed by Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012), Brazil’s master architect and designer of the buildings of modernist Brasília. The complex was completed in 1984, expanded in 2012, and has space for 108,000 spectators. They come to watch 12 schools parade, each of which will be graded on the quality of its performance. Two nights starting at 10 pm and finishing at dawn are necessary so that each school gets 90 minutes but no more to perform. The school with the highest score is the champion. These 12 belong to the “Special Group” membership in which is by no means permanent. Each year the two schools with the lowest scores will fall out to be replaced by two from a group that strives “for access” to the Special Group. Competition between the samba schools in the Special Group, and among schools striving for access is fierce.
Layout 1As a friend pointed out, a samba school parade is a great dancing opera. A visual wonder of luxurious costumes and floats, with dancing and music making provided by several thousand participants. Every year each school offers a new production. There must be a new theme, and a new theme song. You need not join a samba school to participate. Anyone including a foreigner can buy a costume and take part in the performance. But this entails months of rehearsals including at the Sambodromo.

The samba schools and their parades in the Sambodromo have been marketed as the glory of  Rio de Janeiro Carnaval, and they go a long way to allowing the city to claim it has the greatest celebration and party in the world. But there have been troubling issues. A recurrent one has been sponsorship. Many  schools are sponsored by gamblers or bicheiros who virtually own them. Bicheiros originally organized a version of the local numbers racket. However, people bet on animals (bichos) rather than numbers. Everyday there is winning animal. Winning bettors bring their receipt and leave with their payoff. No wait, and no bureaucracy. There is more to gambling in Rio de Janeiro than this popular betting game which though illegal is nonetheless allowed partly because it is said to be rooted in Brazilian culture. However, illegality has led to a corrupt relationship between bicheiros, police and public officials. So it is that gambler sponsorship of samba schools, and the purported influence of bicheiros on samba schools becomes a reason to criticize and even investigate samba schools. There is also an issue of foreign sponsorship. In 2006, Venezuela led by its president Hugo Chavez sponsored the winning Vila Isabel school with the theme “Soy loco por ti America.” It was a  Spanish, not Portuguese title which some people questioned. But sponsorship money and the popularity of Hugo Chavez spoke louder. Nor was Spanish an obstacle to winning. Vila Isabel was judged as having the most original and best realized parade performance, and became that year’s champion. This year the Beija Flor (Humming bird) school, a perennial favorite to win the competition, was criticized for accepting money–an estimated $4.5 million at the current exchange rate–from oil rich Equatorial Guinea. But Equatorial Guinea is governed  by a decades old personalist dictatorship widely condemned by human rights organizations though now striving  to improve its image. Beijo Flor spokespeople argued its script was meant to celebrate west Africa, not Equatorial Guinea, and that the importance of west Africa for Brazil long preceded Equatorial Guinea’s appearance as an independent nation in l968. Would this sponsorship prevent Beijo Flor from being selected once again champion of the Special Group? In fact, Beijo Flor won the prize with a characteristically impeccable parade performance enhanced by sumptuous costumes and imaginative floats (carros alegoricos). However, the contradiction of a substantial gift from a notorious dictatorship to a samba school where participation and creative freedom are supposed to be prime examples of popular democracy was glaring, and the controversy has continued.

While always enjoyable, even astonishing as spectacle, anyone who only watched the Special Group samba schools on parade would miss much, even most of Carnaval in Rio. With all their opulence, artistry and creativity in choreography, samba schools are only part of the party. A bigger part is mass participation in blocos. These are community organized street dancing groups that materialize during Carnaval. In fact, as the famous samba schools have become more commercialized, so have blocos grown in importance and number in reaction to excessive commercialization. Sambodromo commercialization works to exclude rather than include popular classes among the spectators. The high price of admission can reach a thousand dollars and more for the best seats if purchased from scalpers. The samba schools on parade at the Sambodromo are no longer within easy reach of middle and lower class wage earners.

There are currently more than 94 registered blocos scattered throughout Rio de Janeiro and its suburbs, and still more uncounted “rebel” groups not yet registered. Blocos are easy enough to locate by consulting listings in newspapers that state where and when they will gather. Each day of Carnaval, thirty or more will be on the street. Participation is open to everyone, and it doesn’t cost anything. Carnaval for me finally became a matter of seeking, finding and participating in one, then another, then another bloco.

Braziliancomprevgreen_071008.indd

If you are interested in Brazilian music, check out this related Temple University Press book, The Brazilian Sound, by Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessnha

Each bloco at the very least has a band, a male singer (some version of a tenor), and a sound truck. Everyone seems to wear some sort of costume (fantasia). None of my blocos required a fantasia which can be as simple as headgear, perhaps a wig, feathers, a pirate’s hat or a king or queen’s crown. I wore an old pink and green hat of the famous Mangueira samba school. And not without some trepidation. The hat is at least 30 years old, a relic that might be better off in a display case. Given its age and good condition, might it not be coveted by a fanatic follower of Mangueira recognizing the hat as something  different from today’s Mangueira paraphernalia, something from the past, and therefore of special interest. History counts when discussing the samba schools. Might someone snatch this cherished hat off my head? As I walked along the street on my way to the first bloco, one car slowed and people cheered this gesture celebrating Mangueira. Other people noticing the hat smiled, gave the thumbs up sign, waved. Nothing untoward happened.

The bloco prepares to move and dance down the street. The musicians and singer warm up, the revelers or foliões keep arriving, and the loud speaker primes us: “Just five more minutes, and we’re on our way.” Finally, there is movement. I decided I wouldn’t shy away from strenuous dancing if I fell in with others who were doing it. I was soon to be tested when a handful of young people dressed as harlequins placed themselves at the head of our bloco and danced with vigor and imagination, and with some improvised steps I had never seen. Some of us picked up the enthusiasm wanting it to continue. Suddenly I was dancing with an energetic woman in her mid, or perhaps late 30’s. Certainly she was much younger than myself. Could I keep up? You watch and match the other’s steps. I even tried to incorporate a step of our dancing  harlequins. This stimulated my partner, and we danced on for a while. Great fun. Finally, I found what I was seeking in the joy and participation of the bloco. 

The neighborhood blocos are more and more becoming the heart and soul of  Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval. They are magnets that attract large numbers of revelers all over the city. They have I think added vitality to the Rio de Janeiro carnaval, as they are doing in other large Brazilian cities notably São Paulo. Some occupy a special niche such as the Cordão da Bola Preto which was said to attract a million people on the early Friday morning in downtown Rio, even in sun drenched 100 plus degree heat. At the other end of the spectrum is the bloco of Carmelitas (Carmelites) much smaller, but the object of growing interest. The bloco pays homage to the cloistered nuns in the local Carmelite convent with a simple, highly appropriate story that has captivated followers. A Carmelite nun suddenly flees the convent to join the revelers. People start looking for her including the Pope. The bloco does this part of the story on Friday, the first day of Carnaval. On Tuesday, the last day of Carnaval, the bloco is on the street for a second time when the nun returns undetected to the convent. Of course, the bloco is largely celebrating the escaped Carmelite nun and wishes to protect her identity. How?  With their fantasia: a veil of the Carmelite order. “Genial” (ingenious) as Brazilians might say.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go (as a Temple University Press author)

This week in North Philly Notes, Laura Katz Rizzo, author of Dancing the Fairy Tale, describes “a crazy couple of weeks” in her life as she promotes her book at various events. 

On March 5, I will speak at the Pennsylvania Ballet’s annual Luncheon and Dress Rehearsal, which is being held at 11:00 am at Estia restaurant, across the the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. The event is an opportunity for dance enthusiasts to have a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the world of ballet. Emceed by CBS 3’s Jessica Dean, the luncheon includes a presentation of my new book, Dancing the Fairy Talewhich concentrates on the important contributions women have made to the development of American classical ballet. I hope that Arantxa Ochoa, the principal of the company’s newly established school, and former principal dancer, will be there so she can hear what I have to say about how women bring the heart and soul to American ballet schools and companies. The lunch will be followed by a dress rehearsal of Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake at the Academy of Music.

Dancing the Fairy Tale_sm

Soon after this event, I am taking a group of 10 undergraduate and 5 graduate students to the Northeast Regional American College Dance Festival, at Westchester University, where I will be teaching ballet, partnering and variations…obviously from The Sleeping Beauty. With the research I did for my book on that ballet, as well as the accumulated experiences from my own performance career, I want students to dance the solos I write about. In embodying the protagonist role of Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, students will get a great entry point into understanding the arguments at the heart of the book: that performers infuse life into characters, and that without the agency of dancers, the roles of the classical ballets would never come to life.

LKR1I will also present some of my new research on “The Architecture of Space as embodied in Neo-Classical Dance Choreography,” work that has emerged from my organization of an interdisciplinary workshop and exhibition featuring the work of New York City Ballet’s photographer, Paul Kolnik and former dancer, Kyra Nichols. This event will take place at Temple’s Center for the Arts on April 16th.  Part of my job as the Temple representative at the American College Dance Festival Association will also be driving a van full of students from North Philadelphia to Westchester, running rehearsals, checking in on students, and making sure the theater crew has all of the needed technical cues from our students.  Honestly, as long as I don’t have to call any cues, I will be OK.  Calling cues is my least favorite job in the theater!

Barbara WeisbergerAfter returning from ACDFA, I have a quick trip to the Society of Dance History Scholars’ Conference at the Peabody Institute at John’s Hopkins University where I will discuss the life of Barbara Weisberger, (in photo at left), the founding matriarch of the Pennsylvania Ballet. She was at all the right places in all the right times in order to be part of many of the significant developments in American Ballet throughout the 20th century.

Baltimore will be followed by a trip to New York City to see the finals of the Youth America Grand Prix and conduct a recruitment audition for any competitors interested in studying dance in higher education!  In the meantime, I am trying to keep up with teaching my classes at Temple University (my favorite activity) as well as work on new research in which I am exploring the intersections between ballet and entertainment wrestling. This semester I am teaching a repertory class where senior jazz musicians and sophomore dance majors are creating a collaborative piece together. I am also teaching a graduate seminar for master’s students about best practices and strategies for teaching dance.

LKR2My new research topic, that of entertainment wrestling, has taken the shape of both a performed wrestling match en pointe in concert dance venue (so much fun to both float across the stage and body slam my partner in the same ten minutes) as well as a book chapter in an upcoming volume entitled Wrestling and Performance. If you had asked me five years ago if I though The Sleeping Beauty had connections to the WWE, I’d certainly have had different answers and a changed perspective from how I see the practices today. Go figure…the world of dance studies takes me to unexpected places each day!

North Korea’s response to The Interview, the Charlie Hebdo shootings, and school violence—is there a link?

In this blog entry, Laura Martocci, author of Bullyingconsiders shame in our culture. And watch this video, where Laura Martocci talks about the relation between shame and bullying. 

Why’d they do it?

Why did Islamic radicals go on a rampage at Charlie Hebdo?
Why did the North Korean government threaten ‘merciless’ action against the US if SONY released The Interview?
Why have American students brought guns to school and opened fire on their peers?

Shame.

A quickly-posted on-line account of the Charlie Hebdo shooting stated:
“MOTIVE: Charlie Hebdo had attracted attention for its controversial depictions of Muhammad. Hatred for Charlie Hebdo ’s cartoons, which made jokes about Islamic leaders as well as Muhammad, is considered to be the principal motive for the massacre.”

EspritdeCorps tells us that “the basic plot [of The Interview] centres on two American journalists acquiring access to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, and that rare opportunity prompts the CIA to ask the reporters to assassinate him. Not surprisingly, when the North Koreans learned that this film ends with the death of their actual leader and that the movie is considered a comedy, they took offence.” (italics added)

Comprehending Columbine compRalph Larkin [Comprehending Columbine, Temple, 2007] cites a report claiming that “people surrounded [Harris and Klebold] in the commons and squirted ketchup packets all over them, laughing at them, calling them faggots. That happened while teachers watched. They couldn’t fight back. They wore the ketchup all day and went home covered with it.”

Shame is the common denominator between these acts of violence, perpetrated against those held responsible for the degradation, humiliation, and loss of face.

Most analysts would hesitate to lump students who have gone on rampages with these two recent acts of terrorism. School shootings are not politically motivated, nor can their perpetrators be situated in a ‘shame culture.’ By positioning American culture as vastly different from both Islam and the Juche-influenced culture of North Korea, and by accounting for recent aggressions in terms of this difference, any similarity is easily obscured  A homicidal privileging of pride and honor seem a stark contrast to Occidential ‘guilt cultures’ steeped in rationality, individualism, free speech and the Christian value of forgiveness.

Unfortunately, this oversimplification denies the legitimacy of shame in American culture, and precludes an ability to fully understand the motivations behind our own ‘home-grown’ acts of violence. Simply put, even though America is not considered a shame-culture, shame may still drive acts of violence within it. In fact, denial may inadvertently promote such acts, because there are no cultural templates that instruct individuals on the processing of acutely distressful states of humiliation. While ‘shame-cultures’ may require individuals to seek revenge / restore honor, guilt cultures remain silent, offering no recipe to ease the degradation that gnaws from the inside, destabilizing a sense of self.

Shame is integral to human nature.
Embodied, it burns into and brands the psyche, even as it inscribes the social flesh.
Shame bears witness to the perversion of the self that I, and others, believe me to possess
As a moral emotion, it is linked to the exposure—and judgment—of who I am.
(That is, transgressions—perhaps merely ‘differences’—are not isolated acts that can be detached from self and remediated).

Viewed this way, the ridicule of one’s deeply held religious or political beliefs, on the world stage, can be  as deeply felt as any humiliation  in the cafeteria.

Rage against those who belittle and denigrate a foundational “truth” that anchors and sustains a cultural or social identity, and/or an individual’s sense of self, is not unexpected. Shame lives in the body. It has a somatic nature, and rage is an equally visceral response to the distress, agitation, and felt threat to identity; to belonging. It is the body’s resistance to psychic annihilation.

The violence prompted by rage marks an attempt to manage the (social and psychological) devastation prompted by shame. By its very ferocity, this violence demands that respect be restored. It promises to mitigate the agony of humiliation and rejection by (re)asserting both agency and authority, reclaiming dignity. It is bodily begotten social redemption—and socially begotten bodily redemption.

Bullying_smAs I argue in Bullying: The Social Destruction of Self, it is precisely the possibility of redemption—or its lack—that drives these acts of desperation.  Shame denigrates, but it is the inability to atone, to make amends and have respect restored/be readmitted to the group that looms large, and comes to overwhelm a number of our youth. Trapped in the fishbowl of their schools, unable to reclaim dignity and restore ‘face’ on a social level, and unable to negotiate the twisting, withering sense of inadequacy on a personal level, they seek only to make it stop.

And in order to do that, they may resort to the same extreme behavior that militants of shame-cultures embrace. This similarity of response is likely rooted in the neuro-firing of our brains.  Recent research and fMRI imaging has shown that the social pain linked to shame and rejection register in the same pain centers of the brain associated with tissue damage. And, when we are hurt, when we are humiliated, ostracized, and excluded, the pain (the threat to our social bond/personal well-being) may be so primal as to override any ‘rational’ responses.

In other words, not unlike physical pain, social pain interrupts cognitive functioning.
It impairs an individual’s ability to process information and self-regulate. 
This neurological response, likely a consequence of the interdependence between emotion and cognition processes, suggests that shame, whether experienced in relation to cultural values or to taunts in cyberspace, can debilitate, even incapacitate, the ability to think and act ‘rationally.’

And, it is the need to alleviate this pain—to restore face and redeem oneself (or one’s culture/religion)—that makes the tragedies in our own backyards not  dissimilar to violence occurring on the world stage.

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