Interview with Franklin Lopez of subMedia.tv

(Cross posted from Dialectical Films, with thanks.)

As research for a panel on the subject of ‘audiences’ at the Radical Film Network‘s inaugural conference earlier this year, I spoke to a number of media organisers and radical filmmakers about their work and how they survive while doing it. This is one of two interviews I will publish, with the intention of inspiring, comforting and galvanising those making political work and no money.

Franklin Lopez is an anarchist video maker based in North America (though, as he noted early on in our conversation, he considers himself stateless) and creator of the video site subMedia.tv. He has been producing quality political videos (from feature length documentaries to collaborations with poets and mash-ups) for over a decade, all of which can be watched for free at the site, and he produces a monthly radical newsreel vlog that can be found there and on YouTube.

Franklin kindly took time to answer my questions, and thankfully gave some encouraging answers about the contact he has with his audiences, being fairly compensated for his work, and refusing to give up his political values in the name of ‘expansion’.

it's the end of the world as we know it and i feel fine, the stimulator, subMedia.tv, Franklin Lopez interview

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How did subMedia.tv and The Stimulator come about?

Well, subMedia and the stimulator are two different things. subMedia.tv is a website that published anarchist films me and my friends produce as well as other videos, and The Stimulator is the character of a web-vlog we produce called “It’s the End of the World as We Know It and I Feel Fine” or as we call it “The Fuckin Show”.

subMedia.tv was created as an independent venture, owned and funded outside of corporate media with the goal of broadcasting radical and anarchist films. The Fuckin Show was created to provide radical news and analysis on a monthly basis to an audience of radicals and anarchists, and those who are curious about radical and anarchist ideas. The Fuckin Show is supposed to be funny and provide much needed comic relief to the stuffy real of radical and anarchist discourse.

subMedia wasn’t always radical; we made political films with a liberal left sensibility, but it evolved over the years to be the rabble rousing agit prop propaganda media production house that it is today. So in 2001 while the US beat the drums of war, we felt a need to aid the anti-war movement, came into contact with anarchists and thus began this process that radicalized how and why we make films.

Are you completely independently funded?

150 per cent!

How the hell do you fund this operation?

Mostly small donations from viewers, some from DVD sales and some from screenings.

Is there one activity/source that provides the majority of your funding?

Viewers of our videos.

Do you have another job or source of income aside subMedia?

Once or twice a year I’ll do a gig, usually because it falls in my lap but not out of necessity. Last year I did one video for AJ+, the year before some TV channels bought some of our footage and films. Other people who collaborate with us have freelance gigs or are on welfare.

How many people work for and with subMedia?

Right now it’s three of us. Me on a full-time basis and two others on a part-time basis. We also have about 5 volunteers that dedicate a few hours helping us out with media production – in return, they learn video skills.

You are clearly politically radical. Do you consider your work aesthetically radical?

Sure, but I don’t think we’re breaking new ground artistically. We “steal” most of the footage and music we use, blatantly script in our politics no holds barred, use the language we fuckin want, try new things every chance we get.

Do you consider your way of organising and producing work radical?

Sure, one of the things we do that most people don’t notice is to be connected with movements, so a lot of the media that we produce is done with the hope to aid movements. For example, we take some direction from indigenous groups in so called “Canada” to create videos that will help them further their struggle.

What is your definition of ‘radical’, if you have one?

To get to the root of the matter, to not “sugar coat” or dumb down things, to tell it how it is.

Radical is antonymous to Liberal. Radical is antonymous to reformist.

Do you find any conflict between the work you do and earning money from it?

I’m not sure I understand the question. subMedia has been crowd funding since 2008, and we have never bent our politics in the hopes to generate more income. Sometimes our opinions have cost us viewers, but that’s the price you pay for being honest.

What contact do you have with your audience?

Lots. Emails, Facebook / Twitter / website comments, but my favourite is face to face during or after screenings.

Which social media do you find to be most useful in terms of creating an audience or community?

Unfortunately Facebook. We’ve had some success on Twitter, but we find more engagement on Facebook. It was a bit of struggle coming to terms with it, in terms of FB being a capitalist project with little regard to privacy, but our audience are not purists and I think most of them have fake profiles anyway.

Was there one piece of work or event that led your audience to grow, or has it been mostly gradual/organic?

The 2008 Democrat and Republican conventions. subMedia teamed up with a video collective out of Seattle called “Pepper Spray Productions”, and we cranked out 10 shows in 10 days bringing daily reports from the street protests. People at those convergences would gather to see what was accomplished and laugh a little before the following day of action. Same is true of our coverage of the G20 protests in Toronto.

Do you dedicate time specifically to building your audience, or have you let it happen organically?

We have never had the time or foresight to do a marketing plan, so things have happened organically.

Is it important to you to measure/follow this, or do you just sit back and let it grow?

I think it’s interesting to see where your audience is coming from and yes we would like to grow our audience, but not out of the desire to make more money, or just for the sake of reaching more people. We are more interested in reaching the right people, i.e. people who are most likely to engage and get involved with a movement. We’re not that interested in reaching pensioners who sit at home and watch TV, for example. What we have found is that our audience has shifted over the years, and while we have some hardcore fans, we also have fans that outgrow our content and new fans who are excited to engage with radical ideas.  I think it’s a bit dangerous to try to appeal to a certain group based on metrics in order to get more viewers, because you run the danger of bending or softening your discourse in the name of getting more people, instead of staying true to your “raison d’etre” – ours being to disseminate anarchist and anti-authoritarian ideas and to aid social movements.

Do you have any particular skills or advice to pass on to others starting their own radical media organisations?

Mainly to be consistent, to be true to your ideals, to honor your audience and not short change them, to the make the best fuckin media you can with the resources available to you.

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Follow @subMedia and @stimulator on twitter, and on Facebook: subMedia/Stimulator, and find all their film and video for free at subMedia.tv.

Elizabeth Mizon is a writer, filmmaker and organiser based in Bristol, UK, and recently finished her first feature documentary The Fourth Estate. Follow her @elizabethethird.

Why Expressing Myself is Like Throwing Paint Over Someone’s Money

The Papergirl exhibition has come to Bristol, and the organiser (who happens to be a good friend) asked me to submit something for it. Because I cannot draw, I decided to write some art instead. It’s about having feelings and emotions and hating what other people believe. Hope you like it.

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All The World’s a Stage: Politics in Mass Media

political media tvAlthough many mass media texts and channels are more overtly political than others, it can be argued that all media is intrinsically political. Each media creator, text and channel chooses a form and method for the tone and representation of its content, and thus defines its political significance; even a renouncing of political position makes clear the creator’s political stance: that they deem politics irrelevant or inappropriate in the given context. With this in mind, the increase of mass media’s reach around the globe has profound implications for the influence of ideas and ideologies that affect our global governance in real terms. It is unsurprising, then, that the debate over whether we shape the media, or whether the media shapes us, rages on – and it is interesting in this context to note the dynamics between media that concerns politics as its primary topic, and media that contains implicit political ideas.

 

Alongside the developments in technology that have allowed mass media to be almost instantly and globally accessible, has been a commoditisation of the vast majority of mass media (i.e. media outlets are run as a business; texts and channels are bought by an owner and sold to a consumer), the implications of which on the political economy of the media are many and significant with regards to the dissemination of political ideas, and the integrity of mass media to function as a tool in favour of the majority. News’ valued objectivity is compromised and a lack of accountability arises when an individual (or small groups of individuals) hold so much power over the communication of ideas throughout the global village. Certain political ideas are favoured, and some are suppressed, depending on the political ideologies of the owners of mass media outlets – not only in news, but in entertainment.

 

Interestingly, as the global reach of mass media has increased, political engagement and awareness has not necessarily been impacted positively. Of late, there have been record lows of voter turnout, a general distrust of the integrity of politicians and the democratic process, and a cynicism around the integrity of political media reporting itself. This has gone hand in hand with huge cuts to the journalism industry and public arts funding bodies that have rendered investigative journalism and media almost non-existent in the mass market, and an increase in 24 hour news media and information on demand that has left fewer workers with far more work than previously.

 

News

Arguably the most significant debates around political news media of late have been the ethical implications of ownership of vast numbers of news outlets by media conglomerates, and the challenge to them by grassroots organizations and social media. On one hand, the news landscape is dominated by corporate news organizations, and on the other many believe sites such as Twitter propose a significant challenge via alternative means (for many, Twitter’s user-generated front end obscures its corporate status.) With the introduction of 24-hour news channels that bring a constant stream of global political news to television and computer screens, and the rise in popularity of the Internet as a news aggregation tool, there is also a dominance of competing information and competition to be the first to break political stories. There is a contradiction in the depth and intensity of these non-stop media feeds, in that while the speed and coverage with which citizens are introduced to political information technically increases, an intensity of competition and insecurity is created that prevents lucidity of information, and attention to a full spectrum of occurrences. Alistair Campbell argued that during his tenure in Blair’s cabinet, this directly increased the perceived need for political spin within the government, for which he was responsible, since the demand for political information from journalists became incessant. As a result of the new political news climate, Campbell and his team would have to go into overdrive, further obscuring any organic insight into Britain’s political workings.

 

The ethical arguments concern the relationships between politicians and media barons, the financial framework of news corporations, and the culture of journalistic methods. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation owns hundreds of news outlets on all continents, ranging from television news channels to magazines to newspapers. The global political influence of what is communicated by his outlets, then, is huge. Murdoch publicly maintains that he dictates no editorial line in his papers, yet he is long reported to have had private business meetings with numerous political leaders, and all but one of his newspapers maintained a pro-war line before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Murdoch is the most well known example of this media monopolisation, but he is simply one example of the people who have created these ethical issues in the contemporary landscape of media ownership.

 

Entertainment

Long commoditised, entertainment media has always had a myopic but inextricable relationship with political content. Mass entertainment media could be said to exist on a spectrum of political engagement, ranging from biting satire at one end to fantastical escapism at the other. Again, it must be noted that all stories, representations, and methods of creation contain political values even, and especially when, they efface overt political discussion or engagement.

 

Mass entertainment media on television, in film, in print and now online most traditionally concerns the individual narrative at its core, with a backdrop of spectacle, comedy, romance, violence, or all of the above, to increase its impact. It has also traditionally been, and continues to be, seen as an escape from ‘reality’ and thus a rejection of engagement in favour of respite, though the moralistic values of self-governance and choice ethics of many individual narratives in fact impart some powerful political messages on unsuspecting audiences. (Indeed, were mass entertainment media not so instructive and meaningful, there may be less mass consumption of it.)

 

Campaigning media

Documentaries are perhaps the most overt, and recently massively popular, form of politically engaged and campaigning media. Since Michael Moore’s overtly political Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) became the highest-grossing documentary of all time, and his previous film Bowling for Columbine (2002) won critical acclaim and wide distribution, political documentaries have been climbing for the same heights of box office success as features. Bowling for Columbine and Alex Gibney’s Inside Job (2010), concerning America’s fatal relationship to gun ownership and the individual perpetrators of the economic crisis of 2008 respectively, were both awarded the Best Documentary Oscar, and grossed millions of dollars. Neither shyed away from confrontation, and while lacking an explicit call to arms for specific political action, they certainly made their values towards these political disasters clear. Backed by large companies in the mainstream film industry, both received global distribution and engaged audiences en masse.

 

Some of these films have affected real political change – since the exhibition of Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish (2013), a feature documentary about the violent behaviour of captured orcas at theme parks such as SeaWorld, stocks in SeaWorld have dropped dramatically and animal-rights campaigners have heavily promoted and employed the film as a tool in their fight for change in the industry. This has been dubbed ‘the Blackfish effect.’

 

That said, many of these documentaries specifically refrain from laying down an explicit political objective or trajectory that they would like to see post-theatre (in fact, Blackfish did not call explicitly, only implicitly, for the closure of or withdrawal of funds from SeaWorld by investors.) Many campaigning films that do designate explicit political objectives highlight the individual choices of the consumer as a way to affect change (see The End of the Line (2009). In this way, many documentaries can be seen as manifestations of the liberal political contexts from which they come, commoditizing their political messages in the same way that they themselves are bought and sold to survive in the industry, rather than arguing for fundamental or radical political change to the crises or abuses with which they are concerned.

 

However, due to the rise of the internet, standardised and portable media equipment, and advanced user-centred technology, many grassroots media organizations have thrived in the climate of peer-to-peer connection that have been afforded them. In particular, film collectives and co-ops can organize to produce various screen media, then distribute and exhibit them through sites such as YouTube and Vimeo at little to no cost. The labour issues involved are still difficult to navigate since film production is highly time-intensive and funding is sparse, so many radical filmmakers who cannot find a voice or recognition within the industry have pursued creative ventures outside of regular paid work (as has been the artists’ tradition).

 

Similarly, the rise of blogging platforms and self-publishing networks, not to mention social media, has allowed for independent journalism by all, and thus mass media can be brought to the masses by the masses. The drawback of this, of course, is that the tools and means of media creation are now so accessible that the volume of mass media content that is available is dense, nebulous and unregulated; being heard amongst the cacophony is increasingly difficult. The surfacing of quality journalism and filmmaking is in constant rotation and whether it will ever become financially sustainable for individual creators is yet to be seen. However, the aesthetic of online media has changed alongside developments, so that a rougher aesthetic will be accepted where it wouldn’t in mainstream mass media industries, if its content touches on a popular or relavant topic, or has a particularly appealing style.

 

New media

Currently, the Internet and the new media associated with it (such as social media networks, user-generated media, creative development tools, online software subscription, media on demand, etc.) is changing at such a rapid rate, it defies definition. What is true at the time of writing is unlikely to remain timely. What is certain is that the future of media, political mass media, and the politics of, and within, the mass media is potentially radically transformative for society. There is vast opportunity in this new technology and culture of media for increased transparency of information, political behaviour, and political organisation, especially in the context of investigative political journalism around the world. Corporations who currently own and control the mass media, who have an interest in disallowing political upheaval and social change, however, also have an opportunity to colonise cyberspace in the same way they have done the traditional mass media industries.

 

The vastness of the current sphere of both traditional vertically-integrated and burgeoning horizontally-integrated mass media perhaps dilutes its political implications. The nebulous nature of human societies across the global village prevents one accessible and agreeable message from touching everyone, even before it is impacted by the dominance of huge media corporations and their relationships to political and financial elites. If we can engage with new media aggressively and purposefully, rather than passively, we might well see a new politics emerge, and soon.

6 Reasons Therapy Should Be Mandatory

therapyI can’t shake the feeling that the Gods somehow fumbled the design of our inner character last thing on the Saturday night, distracted by a lack of sleep, and rushing in anticipation of the awesome horizontalness to come. While life on Earth is globally, chronically, and undeniably insane, it is for the most part dull as fuck. Some people appear to deal with it better than others; perhaps you don’t at all mind daily life’s insistence on enacting the inestimable cut scenes from every film ever, from Meek’s Cutoff to A Serbian Film.

But I mind. Meek’s Cutoff was lame.

In 25 years of research in the field, I have, at times, found sharing (privatised) land, (polluted) air and (what passes for) mutual cognition with you all kinda unbearable. For years, I more-than-welcomed a number of short-term-effective coping mechanisms, but once sober enough to process what I really needed, none was so effective as dosing myself up to the eyeballs with psychotherapy. If we were all forced to have a bit of a think and a chat, creating a big ol’ space in our minds for understanding and reflection, we might not do so much political bickering and hypothesizing about other people’s life choices all over the internet based only on our own experience. We might even have a shot at that world peace thing (joke.) Human beings are naturally narcissistic – it’s not your fault. (It’s not your fault. [It’s not your fault.]) So here’s a few reasons why you should be more like me.

1. More and more of us have worsening mental health.

The effects of the global recession are being fully felt; not only financially, but emotionally. Reports of depression and stress have increased four- or five-fold, as inequality and struggle become ever more banal. Statistics from 2007 (the most recent national review) note that 10% of UK adults are diagnosed depressed, and 9% of the UK population meets the criteria for diagnosis of mixed anxiety and depression. (At this point, the global recession hadn’t even happened. Nor had the Con-Dem coalition’s class war. It would be a couple of years of average misery before these public services would be handed stoically to an already glum, highly-strung population.) Luckily, the UK’s National Health Service website informs us that while there are many different types of psychotherapy, the aim of each and every one is to “make you feel better.” While the NHS’s particular brand of PR may be condescending, it is also 100% correct. (US readers: I’d suggest you try our evil socialist healthcare system while it lasts, but we are as ironically averse to immigration as you are.)

(Statistics update from 2011)

Talking therapies are proven to be as, if not more, effective than medication at treating not only serious psychological conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, but also at vastly improving the quality of life of those who are grieving; have experienced abuse; have been made redundant; are experiencing general stress and anxiety; or are not a favoured member of their region’s kyriarchy.

If you don’t consider yourself a member of the 90% of the population described above, then either you’re a human being with few complaints, a master of your emotions who knows instinctively how to take care of yourself and others, or you are the killer/abuser/layer-offer/bully/illuminati emperor and/or member of the narcissistic corporate elite in the dynamic. In which case, GET OFF THE INTERNET AND INTO THERAPY or welcome the death of the Earth you preside over (and/or the uprising of the masses…? Anyone?)

Even though the therapeutic method most often focuses on purging the frightening, frustrating and harmful thoughts and feelings you contain, ejecting this poisonous bile at someone you have to repeatedly give money to starts to feel better and better. It’s a bit like never being able to sneeze or shit, and then learning to expel them one by one, weekly, for approximately an hour at a time, and eventually becoming a wet wipe connoisseur.

2. Most people suck at relationships (including therapists.)

In contrast to many people’s idea of the forced-yet-necessary-stoicism of the therapist, Irvin Yalom, therapist, author and Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford, believes that it is not at all inappropriate for a therapist to acknowledge their feelings and personality within the relationship; it is, in fact, hugely beneficial to the patient:

 

“From comic strips to Hollywood features, the analyst is often portrayed sitting behind a desk or a notebook, literally out of reach and out of sight of the person being analysed. As patients, we perceive that person sitting across from us as a powerful and impenetrable figure, yet we’re expected to reveal ourselves up to their scrutiny.” [Source: psychotherapy.net]

One of the most fundamental difficulties human beings insist upon is creating and sustaining unhealthy relationships. This leads to eventual isolation, the breakdown of families, and at it’s most extreme and macro levels, war and exploitation. There are numerous upon numerous reasons for these dysfunctions; some benign and understandable, some horrific and relentless. The majority involve some kind of abuse, and whether this be serious child abuse or short-lived school bullying, the effects are almost always felt well into adulthood.

Yalom has written extensively, in both fiction and non-fiction formats, about the fundamental relationship dynamic of therapy. He has revolutionized for many the way in which this relationship is viewed, and how it functions for the benefit of the patient. He is “a keen advocate for unmasking the therapist. One of the main reasons that people fall into despair is that they are unable to sustain gratifying relationships. According to Yalom, therapy is their opportunity to establish a healthy give-and-take with an empathetic counselor; one who is not afraid to show his or her vulnerabilities.” As long as ‘vulnerabilities’ is interpreted literally and legally, the therapeutic relationship can be a template on which to measure how, henceforth, one might bounce merrily with ones brethren.

3. You can teach yourself numerous invaluable skills

As noted previously in the shit and sneezes metaphor, talking therapy requires, and develops, persistence. From this painful and seemingly never-ending grind comes an understanding of healthy boundaries, self-expression, reflection, and self-awareness, to name only a few essential personality traits (assuming you consider it essential to be at least bearable.) Further, occupational therapy literally gives people physical skills in order to help them gain the tools needed to participate in society effectively, especially after trauma. It is a lengthy process of progress and slow change to make those who are wounded fully healed, and for them to independently maintain that health. Plus, it would make all losers suck a lot less. (Seriously, stop staring at a screen. Jeez. [I will if you will.])

This ranges from teaching (sometimes re-teaching) people how to dress themselves, to be in public spaces without anxiety and to walk or talk again, to teaching employable skills and tools for expression which allow people to regain enjoyment and pleasure from life. I’m sure each of us could find space in our lives to fill the void that little bit more. (Screw you, void. I’m coming for you with my authoritarian mandatory therapy world domination policy, and you can’t hide from that. Especially once I’ve put it on a banner, and flown it around the sky above you, VOID!)

4. It’s utilizes and transforms your ‘worst’ traits

Therapy basically provides a framework perfect for curing yourself of being a selfish bastard, utilising the methodology of well-focused self-obsession. The key therapist-patient relationship affords you an allotted time and safe space to discuss anything and everything you need to, without judgment. For example, this would prevent people with serious or chronic grievances from over-unloading on friends who likely have as many issues of their own, and time constraints and pressure from elsewhere. Therapists are trained to indirectly provide what a client needs at a particular point and adapt with them (by helping them provide for themselves), bypassing the resentment and frustration that can arise from imbalance in intimate relationships.

If you ever needed an excuse for being “selfish”, it’s improving your own wellbeing. Therapy is completely private, like having a conversation inside your head with someone who understands your thought patterns guiding you away from repeating down destructive pathways. And therapists don’t expect you to be nice to them, or polite about your children, or reasonable about the utter incompetence of people who walk too slowly, and then look at you like that when you righteously barge past them like the glittering hero of pedestrianism that you are, to the raucous applause in your mind. Your superior mind, attached to a body with places to be.

It’s kind of weird – they don’t need anything back! Except money.*

5. It would keep costs low

Vikram Patel of the World Health Organisation says that countries such as Canada, UK and the Scandinavian countries, who have strong welfare systems (!!) and, to an extent, affordable or free mental health care, already offer the best care overall.

In the UK, there is quite a waiting list for free therapy & counselling on the NHS, but it is available to anyone who needs it. We also have a number of nationwide networks which provide free, short term (usually six sessions/weeks) counselling to combat specific problems faced, such as Rape Crisis and Mind. But psychotherapy is generally a long-term, indefinite process with one therapist, aimed at understanding patterns and themes in ones behaviour; thereby unsustainable as a free service.

Private therapy is expensive. Often those who need it most, people who are financially struggling, cannot access it. At best, you’re looking at ~£200 a month. Mandatory therapy would form the basis for it to be made either free or widely affordable, encouraging people to form depression unions and schizophrenic pressure groups. What’s the worst that could realistically happen?

6. Therapy is a microcosm for life.

Therapy prepares us for understanding and making beneficial challenges within and without the boundaries of our societies. We (in the west) live in a culture in which we are increasingly reluctant to fully communicate, or make radical changes to ourselves to facilitate the betterment of society as a whole. This can be seen at both individual and governmental levels.

Unfortunately, when we would welcome change and communication, we don’t necessarily have the time to enact it. In several ways therapy augments and fosters our ability to optimize functioning alongside one another, and maximizes our ability to derive what we need from life and what society needs from us. It is also the starting point (and a relevant allegory) for understanding the boundaries we maintain to keep us from living our lives fully.

In a paper titled Psychotherapy & Politics: Uncomfortable Bedfellows?, The Midlands Psychology Group quotes D. Pilgrim as advocating “the potential for the development of more radical forms of therapy arising from challenges to the reductionism of mainstream therapies.” He “saw psychotherapy as first promising a role in personal and political liberation.” Without being able to commit to radical changes for the better in oneself (however small), it is unlikely that we will be able to radically change anything else.

Christopher Willoughby goes one further, arguing that therapy can shirk its moral responsibility if it doesn’t acknowledge that social determinants are often the source of most patient anguish and disadvantage: “An inability to psychologically tolerate our social circumstances can lead to social alienation through behaviour society finds threatening, embarrassing or uncooperative and inefficient. […] Counselling and psychotherapy are particularly well placed to act as a platform to facilitate social solidarity given that they are faced daily with managing the consequences of social injustice and inequality.”

In the absence of free, mandatory therapy for everyone, understanding therapy as a mutual work that we can work towards together, as a reflective tool for radical change, could be a start.

therapy2

*And boundaries. Also, be nice and reasonable anyway?

Feminism: Connection & Progression (aka What’s Next?)

the-futureIn the twenty first century, what, and where, is Feminism? There are close to 4 billion women in the world now, and the personal is ever political; that’s a buttload of politics. Are we still solid, guys? Would addressing you as ‘girls’ instead be patronizing, or more feminist? (I have many more questions, the masses. Please do not flame me yet. [P.S. How many readers constitute a ‘mass’?])

Aren’t we due another wave? There’s only been a few, and feminism’s totally internet-famous now. Today, internet culture has revolutionized life for everyone, not least those engaged in the gender equality movement which is at once exciting, thriving, and relentlessly, miserably co-opted. Just this week, the #nomakeupselfie campaign, for example, while raising money for a good cause, has simultaneously unleashed the ‘bravery’ of women who briefly don’t wear make-up as a defiant act in the name of freedom and peace and charity or something.* (The date is 21st March 2014. #Progress! [Have you looked at any rape statistics recently? Maybe 2014 could be the year we engage with that via hashtag!] )

Where can we possibly go from here? Is the concept of ‘post-feminism’ still a joke? Do I ignore or denounce Bill Maher’s pseudo-liberal sexism? How feminist is spending all day on social media sharing videos about advancing equality, of which none encourage spending vast chunks of my short life on the internet sharing videos?

As a distraction from the nervous determination for answers and clarity, and the accompanied sweating, I shall conduct some research. This shall be a defiant, strident act in the name of my own autonomy, and of using the internet productively. And of imaginary feminine freshness.**

The To-Do List (?)

In The Factuary’s “What Do Feminists Have Left?”, comedian Guy Braunum concurs that women of America (and of the rest of the world, FYI) have come a long way, baby. This video has a lot to tell us about the mainstream approach to feminism. Not only because of the US-centric, humour-imbued, internet-hosted habitus of contemporary feminism, but also because of its specification, categorization, and foregrounding of particular issues over others. And of white media personalities dropping sardonic lines.

(Typed to the accusatory reflection in my computer screen…)

[‘Media Personality’? Please. – Ed.]

Acknowledgment of equal pay, rape culture, reproductive health, micro-aggressions and media representation is right on. It’s good to have a challenge or five, but really? Five fronts on which ‘feminism’ has to continue to fight? Were we to eliminate these struggles tomorrow, would that be gender inequality checked off the list of Worldsuck? Can any one entity express a finite list or end point for feminism? How many more questions do I need to ask before I get to the point?

To boil it down to one question (oppressive kitchen-centric terminology – Ed.): with ‘internet feminism’ clearly alive and kicking, which ‘wave’ are we in now, and is there an end goal (or five) to that wave – how and who is feminism, what or where should it be, and be doing? *Sweats*

PSYCH! I hid, like, 3 whole questions in there! (So… so many…)

Waves (aka The Officially Recognised Stages of Western Feminism)

First-wave feminism tackled (certain) inequalities in law: we know these baby – wave-makers, broadly speaking, as the suffragettes. They achieved representation, statues outside Parliament, and songs in Mary Poppins; all of which they bloody deserved. They were willing to trade eating, breathing and not being trampled to death for the sake of being recognised as actual human beings with totally normal brains, capable of putting a cross in a box because of some reasons. It was easy to define an end point at which they’d succeed, because what they wanted to change was already written down, listed and numbered: the First-wave feminism to-do list already existed in the laws of Parliament; Pankhurst, Davidson et al would just put their thing down, flip it and reverse it. But this extended, at first at least, only to women over thirty and of a certain economic status. #successfail

Second-wave feminism, in which women rejected de facto inequalities that remained, spanned the 60s and 70s. Between first- and second-wave, everyone was too distracted by some pretty serious international breakdowns in relations to pay attention to the intra-relations of the nation (save for Vera Lynn, who released her much-ignored feminist reggae album Intra-Relations of the Nation in 1943.) The grudge held after women got some legally-mandated equality lasted ages, until… like, right now. Simone de Beauvoir, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan & later bell hooks, amongst others, were the anti-Smurfette Principled Justice League of battling non-legal structural issues, such as unequal family and workplace frameworks, designated and prescribed sexual behaviours, and ensuring women’s reproductive freedom. All they wanted was a holistic recognition of woman’s human being-ness in attitude and belief rather than just mandated lip-service. But society (some ladies included) was all like “…Ew.” #onelovefail

Third-wave feminism (c.1992-?)… is harder to define. One, because it’s not necessarily ‘over’, and therefore lacks a hermetic historiographical place from which to examine it; and two, because its basis is in opening the understanding of feminism to its own far-more-diverse-than-allowed-to-be-acknowledged history and culture, and the nature of gender itself. But is this broadening of discourse and increasing intersectionality succeeding on the ground? And what constitutes success?

The myriad voices and definitions that have created, and continue to form, third-wave, are a testament to its recognition that previously the experience of women of relatively affluent white culture was made paramount, and the infrastructure of binary gender identity had been taken as-seen, ignoring and excluding the continuing struggles of women of colour, transgendered people and those of the working- and under-classes. #seeingpastowneyelidsfail

 Fighting and factioning

Prejudice from within and without feminism persists (often irretrievably embedded in the unconscious); the disparity between those foregrounded and those marginalized rages on in feminism as it does in society. ‘Feminism’ is not necessarily a monolith of progressive energy that women are either in or out of, for or against (and depending on your utopia, if you have one, may or may not need to be); feminism is its own Venn diagram within society’s. We disagree on as much as we agree on – our definition of what makes women’s lives better will never be able to be singular once we specify outside of simply: ‘respect’.

The womanist movement, beginning in the 1960s, throws into relief the long-standing failures of mainstream feminism to fully represent the needs and rights of all women, in a context not simply of gender but of class- and race-based oppression. Womanism is an umbrella under which ‘feminism’ is simply one element, alongside spirituality, and restructuring all relationship dynamics; a clear demonstration of intersectionality and social activism. Womanists delineated this expansion of understanding decades before any activists or bloggers would band together in its name under the label of feminism.

While social movements such as these can be understood as linear processes, insomuch as they exist within linear experience of time, ‘feminism’ is not necessarily a series of ever-successful stages with beginnings and ends. There have been recognized waves of activity, but these constructions aren’t exhaustive and completely omit particular people, struggles and groups. To this day, we still fight for what the suffragettes originally fought for: a recognition of all people as intrinsically equal beings, rejection of oppressive hierarchy and confines, and ensuring our ability to collectively remove the godawful from power. And at no point did those fighting for gender equality stop for decades at a time for rest, or victory laps around Donald Trump and all his acquisitions.

Cyberspace

Are we succeeding at our new, supposedly diverse and inclusive feminisms en masse? Generally, female-centered culture is still viciously twisted and shoved through the funnel of mainstream culture, which has willfully ignored undercurrents of progression in favour of trivializing debate and flogging globally-waning self-worth.

But, the internet! YES! And, unfortunately, sometimes, still no.

The internet is a two-sided, defaced coin in feminism’s utility belt. It’s afforded women huge gains in their ability to communicate, connect and organize. It has provided everyone with self-publishing and distribution platforms, broadcasting previously ignored and suppressed voices and experiences. It is the Room of Everyone’s Own. And thus, the room is also used by the defensive, the ignorant and the sexist; the asshats of the world still have dented egos when logged on and they’re looking to use them. They are packing Angry. It’s the same perilous tundra as the real world, with equally ambiguous intimacy.

ORGANISE

Feminism, womanism, gender equality et al cannot but be foregrounded in, and driven by, intersectionality. It won’t work unless it acknowledges and understands the personal, political and partitioned world that we inherit, and undermines the oppressive structures of individualism, economics and education (cultural as well as academic). Otherwise, we’re gonna have to Van Gogh it. Once dissected and posthumously appreciated, we can move on with the best bits. All collective, anti-oppressive movements by definition need to transcend ego, and require hard graft, structurally and personally. And pithy names, like Intersectionalists Against Kyriarchy or All of Us Hating Ignorance & Violence Together Forever. (HighFiveFreezeFrame!)

Having the cyber-tools to share and debate productively at the touch of a button relies on us actively and consciously doing so. Mainstream culture funnels us to certain places; it operates smoothly on decades of carefully formatted infrastructure and the (morally bankrupt) economic freedom to do so. Solidarity is paramount. Anti-feminist haters, while painful, can be easily debunked, but feminists fighting over feminism is some shit, and particularly tiresome shit to wade through. Fair in-criticism must be embraced and accepted, however difficult; and there’s a fine line between criticism and fighting. I don’t remember the last time someone was called out (calmly) and they just acknowledged it and apologized. Heaven forbid we might learn something from one another.

Can we balance consumption with production? Slacktivism with activism? Challenging with acceptance? All extended hands and discussion, incorporating each others’ needs. (Extend a hand to an MRA sometime, you might surprise him.)

This is how we avoid being defeated by violence, and having to resort to violence ourselves.

* I have no beef with anyone who participated in the #nomakeupselfie campaign. Some of my best friends are people who participated in the #nomakeupselfie campaign. I jest to make a point about perspectives and trends in mainstream culture.

**(On your behalf, Dove approves this message, the whole article, and all of Feminism.)

Connect with:

Feministing – a feminist blog with a diverse staff who write on intersectional feminism, and provide us with the busy-life-friendly Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet.

@feministing/feministing.com

 

KrissyChula – the funniest woman on YouTube.

@krissychula/www.youtube.com/user/krissychula

 

Hartbeat – the other funniest woman on YouTube.

@HARTgotBEATs/www.youtube.com/user/hartbeat

 

LaciGreen – the sexiest and most positive sex-positive person I’ve ever had the pleasure of sensing.

@gogreen18/www.youtube.com/user/lacigreen

 

Paris Lees – journalist, presenter & trans activist and all round sweet and considerate person (it seems like.)

@ParisLees/lastofthecleanbohemians.wordpress.com

 

Writers of Colour – tireless online organisation promoting work by people of colour; very active on Twitter.

@WritersofColour/mediadiversified.org

 

Jay Smooth – video blogger & Hip-Hop radio guru who vlogs on politics, race & culture.

@illdoc/illdoctrine.com

 

New Statesman – British mainstream leftist magazine. Politics, pop culture & several feminist columnists & editors.

@NewStatesman/newstatesman.com

 

Jackson Katz – educator in gender, specifically the construction of masculinity. The first man in the US to have taken Women’s Studies. Check out his amazing TED talk.

@jacksontkatz/jacksonkatz.com

 

ADDENDUM: On posting this article online, one reader pointed out that while she agreed with a lot of the points, the article still read as ‘white-washed’, containing little alternative history to that which I was critiquing. She suggested this reading; ‘Whose Feminism, Whose History?’ by Sherna Berger Gluck, Maylei Blackwell, Sharon Cotrel & Karen S. Harper (which you can read here: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B_HfOnXTgYJoWENoTnpITlM1Ymc/edit?pli=1)

It provides an engaging, complex and well-woven history of some of the womens movements in LA over a number of decades. My article scratches the surface of the problem of mainstream history, whereas this provides a deeper account of many women’s marginalised, intersectional struggles.