When I was a kid a visit to family or friends was always surreal. It inevitably started a bit awkward as I got used to another kid’s world. And it could well stay awkward, but I’d eventually end up either saying or thinking stuff like ‘jesus! They can toss each other into the walls?”, or `”this pasty, cold skinned, emaciated girl is dead. Or has something I don’t want to catch.”, or “alright, they’re 11 brothers and sisters, but 4 of them sharing a room?.. Really?”
Those visits were always a glimpse into a whole other way of living, or a way different enough from my own to start my lifelong appreciation for context. Sometimes it ended with “do we have to go?” (at the labyrinthine country mansion), or “come and get me now or I’ll tell everyone your darkest secrets” (during a sleepover that suddenly felt like it was happening at the overlook hotel). However it ended, I never walked away saying to myself “hey! They’re just like me!” More like a feeling of gratitude that I lived in my weird little world and not someone else’s.
Directly and indirectly it seems to me that those formative year happenings are a big part of why I see the world the way I do. Without that particular level of experience I might not be able to look at material and see something that I can stretch beyond the confines of how it might have been shot. Hell, it might even explain why I’m naturally friendly with some people, and naturally suspicious of others.
I got to thinking about all this at a supper the other evening, where my kid and four others were happily sitting around a table together staring at their respective phones, tablets etc. I started wondering (after thinking “goddamn kids!”), Just what does it do to a person when what surrounds doesn’t ask those natural questions? I’m not even talking socially, just ways of seeing. Like remembering that cousin Billy’s sofa is way better for building a living room fort with. Or how Philippe’s basement is open turf where anything goes. Or how renting a movie at so and so’s will make the time fly by way faster than arguing through a game (even if that does mean watching a live U2 tape. Again.) If instead you end up playing the same game you play every day, what does that do to your story?
As it happens, the events of Ferguson were and still are highly visible at the same time as this supper was generating all these questions in my head. The optimist in me was thinking “alright, this must be the dam that opens that’ll get the conversation happening. Here’s a map from Gwynn Guilford at qz.com that shows just how hard the conversation hit globally on twitter, via the hashtags #HandsUpDontShoot , #BlackLivesMatter , and #ICantBreathe
It’s hard to imagine that level of interaction without the tech to back it up, much less the ability to put it into context so fast. There’s an unprecedented conversation taking place, and everyone’s invited. It’s a beautiful story full of hope.
That story, however, is incomplete unless you look at the context. Emma Pierson, also from qz.com, prepped a chart that not only followed the tweets, but put them in their respective camps. Very generally, the red dots are conservative, and the blue are liberal. The reds “sided” with the cops, the blues with the questions of unnecessary force and police brutality. (a far more detailed and worthy description can be found here.)
I’d say that two conversations are happening, and that the one is barely aware of the other. Less a conversation really than two opposite sides of Speaker’s corner. How can there possibly be a conversation if these folks don’t visit one another and build forts with each others sofas?
Naturally that gets me thinking about how I tell a story, as a writer, editor, whatever, specifically in documentary. I mean it’s not as if you come across a lot of documentary filmmakers who say “global warming is a goddamn myth!” or even “maybe that dictator had a point.” There’s a clear moral thread that runs through most doc, and that makes sense. But I don’t know that it’s the best thing for it if it means not telling the bigger story and getting some context.
I’ve got an end of the world project that I’ve been semi-developing / semi-neglecting for some time now (I don’t mean I’ve been planning the end of the world, just a project about it.) My knee-jerk is to think “get back to farming, shut down industry and when the big die off is over the planet and its survivors will be better off. How many skills and how much forgotten information would we need to relearn just to make a go of it, was the basic premise behind an early draft. Now I’m wondering “do we need more tech instead of less? Do we push the envelope as far as it’ll stretch and whatever hybrid mutant species comes out the other end is what’s meant to happen? I don’t know. Hell,
I don’t even know if I could survive without a wi-fi signal anymore. But I’m happy that the kid in me is building those forts and asking those design questions. It’s why I wonder and worry about what comes out the other end of the “device” grinder, and what kind of stories those kids will be able to or interested in telling.