From my diary
log entry from 4th of November
It’s about humans, it’s personal, and it is political. You deal with people, they can be hurt, and you can hurt them with your choices. They need to hear from you that the suffering of the bodies of the women who were attacked by acid, which you make them watch, are real, are not nothing, just material on which you can show shooting strategies. They are real. We are real.
The clips contains what some might see as disturbing and animal cruelty
The documentary contains disturbing images of violence against women
Today we had a class where we learn how to make a movie. The name of the class is Documentary filmmaking for social science and humanities. And when you think about it, it is very nice to have this course in the middle of academia, and piles of syllabuses full of dry articles. And also, it is nice to have it since we in social sciences and humanities really so often lack tools for presenting our topics and usually different social issues with which we are engaged. Well, not necessarily everyone from social sciences and humanities would do so, but most of us are educated to ponder over society and human condition that it seems inevitable. And of course, there are people who have chosen their topics accordingly. Some will work on Roma issues, some on gender issues, some on urban politics and culture etc. It is very nice since you have access to grate equipment also and you learn how to work on it. Lectures are maybe the least useful since anyway you cannot really learn skills this way. And it is mostly about the skills. It is not about academic theoretical approaches to filmmaking. We can say its American school. Here is the camera, it has this and this buttons, here are some movies you should watch and of you go. I mean, my criticism does not go against this in so many ways. There is no time, so this still can be a good way to learn for 12 weeks and produce an actual movie, as people already did, and the films were not so bad.
No value free education
Now, if you are interested in theoretical or also ethical aspects of filmmaking, then you would have to do that on your own and find some other courses to do that. However, no education is free from theory and values. Every choice you make as a person with legitimacy to make these choices which affect the epistemic and, I would argue, psychological states of your students is made from a value laden social position and in that sense is political.
The main tool for modeling your students in different ways is the content you provide for them. It is usually a long list of literature they need to be acquainted with. And in some ideal world professors try to provide some kind of balance between different approaches to the topics and to give you a possibility to choose and make your own opinion. In reality, mostly they are biased, but that is ok, as long as they still mention other perspectives for as I am concerned. It is inevitable, we cannot have a “view from nowhere” anyway. Furthermore, professors would try to keep you interested in the discipline and help you grow in it. In reality, they do that also in a biased way which is inevitable but also more problematic.
They also try not to harm you by teaching you. Well, at least in some ideal world. They express, or should express care for your well-being. As you shall not hurt other people, you shall not hurt your student at some minimal base, and furthermore, you shall care for your students. In reality they do that, they hurt people. Professors are probably well known for their cynicism, sarcasm and oppression, therefore “We don’t need no education”. In their defense, the schools system is one very prison like system and they are put in the position of guardians of it, so as the organization culture is built for centuries, it is a challenge to be anything but the character system wants you to be. Still, there are some teachers who changed students lives for good, and they somehow get from the society this credibility and trust in their humanistic approach. Contemporary theories about teaching indeed suggest not that you should not harm them, but you should care for your students in a holistic sense. It is not just about their brain or hands; it is about their harts also.
The performative content
On this course in the package you can get all mentioned benefits, plus the list of mandatory clips and movies which are required for the class. They are requirements and that means you have to watch them. I mean in any case nobody can put a gun to your head to watch this, but you are obliged to do it. On this list you will find clips and movies which are disturbing also.
Film is a powerful media and engages people. You live through the experiences of the character. The better the movie, the bigger and longer lasting impact it has on you in every sense, including very much your psychological state. I reckon everybody cried while watching a movie at least once. And not just that you cry, you feel tension in your body, you feel your body getting stiffed sometimes, you feel your heart beating faster, you change your breathing, your hands are sweating, stomach “moves”. You may be triggered also by some scenes and you might feel very sad and even hurt after watching a movie, it can also be overburdening, and you might feel sorry you watched it. Except for being seen as a common sense, there are studies which show powerful effects of movies to prove this.
There are many ways how movies affect us, and we count on that when we choose which ones we will watch and when. Even though we can never control what will be in a movie, since we did not watch it, and we always expose ourselves to the risk of being in a way hurt, open to some negative emotions and states, we take these as risks we count to be less than the enjoyment or other kind of benefit we have from going through the situations or lives of different characters and living with them parts of their imaginary or real lives.
So when you watch a disturbing movie it will affect you, but in a way you have a freedom to choose, even though you might sometimes even be angry at the director after watching something you did not want to see and be exposed to.
I reckon this is why usually today there are different labels put on the movies, to lower the risk of you being hurt, but mostly of not being sued on the court, I guess. “Maybe audience should be warned about the program on TV”- somebody was thinking, so there is also a label, usually connected with age, but sometimes you can see also label warning any audience about disturbing images to be rolled. But, in practice you can maybe blame the director of the Tv station, but there, you decided to watch it, so there, sue them.
However, when you do not have a choice but to watch it, and you are in institutionalized setting, it can be more problematic, this issue of responsibility, especially if you felt hurt and disturbed after the movie. Do professors have to take responsibility for the movies portraying disturbing images of women and animals suffering, for example and how?
I would say if directors and TV producers have some duty to warn audience what they are about to see, then surely professors who use some disturbing content where we see protagonists in the position they feel some uncomfort, where they hurt in some graphic or disturbing ways, would need to have it, especially since the professors are the ones who have the power to decide about imposing requirements and who are supposed to be professionals in teaching and care for their student in a holistic way.
The question might be even if this is so, what it means “disturbing? For different people different kinds of things are disturbing. This relativism is quite weak counter-argument for my position since labeling shows we can say that most of the people would be able to minimally at least agree on what is for most of the people disturbing. In society, as we see, even though not on some absolute terms people did come up with the criteria under which they would label some things as deserving a warning.
For example, if you need to watch a movie about the women who suffered acid attacks and physical and psychological violence that might be disturbing for most of the people, mainly women, so you might warn people, especially women, when you ask them to watch this movie as a requirement. You do owe them that much, no matter you want to deal with the movie on technical terms, you still do owe them this much, I argue, since violence against women is the world phenomenon and highly politicized issue. Feminists would say you owe them much more, to name the attacks as violence against women, and have a political stand against it, since from the perspective of many women, if you speak only about it on technical terms, you normalize violence.
In our society we are learned to normalize violence against many groups, women included. One explanation can be that it helps to depersonalize, to detach from suffering and it is a surviving mechanism helping in critical situation, with unfortunate effect of us humans being able to learn detachment in relation to certain groups of humans and habitually exercise it. That happens when you are trained to lack empathy. Military uses this mechanism to help soldiers kill other soldiers, humans. We humans do it all the time to help us eating meet and use products made from their bodies.
I would also say you owe this, if not more, to your students as a human and as a professional you also owe them this, since no matter what you think about ethical stand of the meat eaters who are disturbed by watching animal being killed, as a professional you can keep your own attitudes and emotions, but you make sure you show respect for theirs.
Also, you reasonably and responsibly anticipate the possibility of your students feeling bad about the things you want them to watch, and you accordingly warn them, since you as a human do not want them to suffer unnecessarily and as a professional are responsible for the learning situation at the end and you need to allow them to opt out of the situation. You do not get the right to disregard possibility of them being disturbed and crying, since your choices turn up to be performative and do things, by the film as a mean. You are the one who caused their thoughts and feelings and unnecessary suffering, especially when you have already excluded and disadvantaged people in your classroom. You owe them something extra.
This is not paternalistic approach. It is not the case that they are children and you are responsible for them as a parent for their emotions. You owe them a choice if nothing more, and probably more in ethical terms as these issues are recognized as injustices which need to be taken in political consideration.
If every other women suffered some form of sexual harassment, which meant that her body was controlled by the man, you do not show them a movie about animals whose bodies are exploited and controlled without any consideration and warning.
Let us put it this way also: you do not show a black person being killed by a racist on the screen and not really warn black students what are they about to see, and some would say, without specifying your position on the issue. Otherwise you normalize it.
I imagine it is something like this – if somebody would make a movie about you making a movie about the real life events – racism (and dead black person stands for students real experiences of suffering) and in the scene you stand over the body of the real dead black person (since you are standing over the body of the real experiences of students who really did suffer some of the not real things on the screen and you are intervening in field of their lived experiences by evoking them), and still you speak about the artistic and technical aspects of the scene being shoot (as I said, their lived experiences of suffering and pain), how do you think you might look like to the audience, especially black audience? In the best case as rude and insensitive, in the worse as racist I would say.
Animals are tough topic especially since even human rights activists are brainwashed into normalizing their killing and exploitation. And even if you would be in general against cruelty, you might still eat meat or wear woolen things and leader. All these things mean that some animal suffered or needed to die for you.
However, on the continuum of the attitudes, emotions and practices against cruelty, some might be more empathetic, or more informed, I guess, and more prone to actual acts against cruelty. Probably these would be the ones who had experience of the lack of control over their bodies, who suffered due to bioplotics.
Let us say again, every woman suffered some form of sexual violence, these are the real life events which happened to them.They are in their brains and bodies saved as a memory which hurts.
They do know how it feels to be objectified, treated as an object, as meat. We humans have our way with words, we are so proud of our language. So, as an object, as meat, as an animal, dead animal. I argue that this is why you as a man, highly educated, better of native English speaker, who has cultural and social background, especially man on a power position to make choices about which painful experience and memories about their suffering (mostly by the way, inflicted by the people on better off positions, maybe similar to your own) you will evoke and refresh with a price they will pay in terms of self-suiting which takes their otherwise learning time (for example by writing a blog post). Not that you just take with this their learning time, you stop them from learning also.
The moment you do not do this, do not warn them, or even say you do not see the disturbing effect the movie can have on them as a big deal, they lose trust in you since they learn you are not safe to be around. You are the person carelessly walking around and pushing their painful spots, even arguing that there is nothing to it.
I do not know anyone who eagerly learned from the people who hurt them, to whom they do not really trust. I mean, of course, they do learn, they make a movie, but they do not really eagerly learn, they might not feel any more curiosity, desire and enjoyment in learning, since suddenly they do not feel they actually belong there in a film making class, they might think or feel they actually do not belong to the film making industry.
That is similar to how Roma kids mostly drop out from school. They are constantly reminded they do not belong and that the field of education is not for them. That must be why the film industry had so little women directors (that and the fact that the gear was made in such a way and with such materials that only two or three adult and big man can carry it around as I am concerned). Isn’t that another political issue you should as a human and professional care for?
Lastly, I think it is necessary to introduce some kind of reflection on the issues of violence against people and animals, since as a professor you are responsible for what people learn, which kinds of perspectives and values. If you realize that some men are able to see violent and exploitative acts against humans or, I would argue, animals as soothing and even pleasant, while women cry and mostly feel disturbed, and it stays unaddressed in your classroom since you take this not to be a subject matter of the course, I would reckon there is something you did wrong from your professional, political and power position by interpreting this as not part of learning about filmmaking process, as “private” and “personal” and from the perspective that “everybody sees things differently”. Sure they do. Men who throw acid on women see their acts differently. Sure. Just when you bring this topic in somehow it feels like you need to take a stand on this and make it explicit. It’s about humans, it’s personal, and it is political. You deal with people, they can be hurt, and you can hurt them with your choices. They need to hear from you not just about technical aspects of the movie making, but, I argue, also that the suffering of the bodies of the women who were attacked by acid, which you make them watch, are real, are not nothing, just material on which you can show shooting strategies. They are real. We are real.