miércoles, 14 de agosto de 2019

Feminist Surveillance Studies (review)

Edited by Rachel E. Dubrofsky and Shoshana Amielle Magnet. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2015.

This book boldly declares the inauguration of the field of feminist surveillance studies. I picked it up hoping to learn more about our interactions with systems of data production/collection (such as algorithms) and how they shape our sense of identity and subjectivity. 

The authors argue for the need to think critically about the ways that the state collects and manages information. Under the guise of rationality, efficiency and neutrality, the technologies of data collection would themselves be structured under the logic of heteropatriarchy, colonialism and white supremacy. This idea has been circulating already in mainstream media: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/apr/13/ai-programs-exhibit-racist-and-sexist-biases-research-reveals?CMP=fb_gu

To be sure, the authors are not just interested in examining the namely 'abuses' of data collection, but focus on what we perceive as the normal, acceptable uses. They put forward intersectional feminism as a productive site of reflection for surveillance studies, and call for an analysis of how ideologies of gender, sexuality, race, class, etc. foreground the very categories and rationality of technologies of seeing of the state. Part of the project of this new field is to recognize and recover the contributions of feminist media studies, Laura Mulvey's concept of the male gaze, as well as the critical scholarship on women of colour in terms of how racialized bodies become either hypervisible or invisible in their interaction with surveillance systems, both issues that have been addressed in the activist world by #BlackLivesMatter in the U.S. and #MMIWG (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls) in Canada. The editors also recognize Foucault's groundbreaking contributions to surveillance studies through 1975's Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, in which surveillance is studied as a characteristically modern phenomena tied to the development of the nation-state. Foucault was key to understand that part of what characterizes the Western modern form of subjectivity is the internalizing of that state surveillance mechanism into the 'self.' 

In the first chapter of the volume, Andrea Smith points at the need to also look at the state as a settler/colonial state. Smith is concerned with the historical continuities between the colonial surveillance of Indigenous bodies, their racialization, and their production as subjects of a heteronormative order. The production of the Indigenous body as sexually deviant (criminalized and pathologized) and at the same time deemed 'rapeable' is highly dependent on mechanisms of surveillance and regulation. Laura Hyun Yi Kang historicizes the development of 19th century anti-trafficking activists in England relation to modes of surveillance, and demonstrates how the practice of monitoring borders had initially a focus on female bodies in relation to disease, contagion, and morality. These concepts were in turn, already racialized in ways that it expressed anxieties about racial purity. In practice, these modes of surveillance did very little for women actually exploited while it multiplied the modes of surveillance in ways that it imposed multiple barriers and prejudices for women travelling 'alone.' 

Lisa Jean Moore and Paisley Currah provide a great analysis of how birth certificates, the very first interaction between an individual and the state, function as a technology that produces, rather than just records gender by assuming the legibility of the body as a stable marker of sex/gender. Jasmin Jiwani treats Canadian media as a form of surveillance in relation to their coverage of gender violence in racialized communities. Jiwani proves that the media manages to over represent the incidence of these forms of violence in racialized communities. 

It is Dubrofsky and Wood's article on female celebrities on Twitter that lays some of the most interesting theoretical ground for this volume: they build on scholarship on digital cultures in relation to identity, subjectivity, agency and the idea of 'digital bodies,' which are the ways we write ourselves into being online, conveying information abut physical bodies (or at least, the assumption is that our digital bodies correspond with a physical body). Feminist scholarship has demonstrated how the male gaze is masculine as a subject position, as opposed to linked to male bodies.  

Implicit in this essay is a call for feminist media scholars to update theorizing about the gaze and for scholars doing work on technology, digital media, and surveillance to take an interdisciplinary approach to account for the current cultural landscape and the critical implications for gendered and racialized bodies and identities when it comes to practices of surveillance (95). 

miércoles, 14 de junio de 2017

The limits of multiculturalism: Why we need a decolonizing framework for intersectional solidarity in Canada

My name is Manuela Valle-Castro, I was born in Chile and I am a newcomer to Treaty Six territory. I moved to Canada from Chile in 2005 looking to pursue graduate studies, and moved to Saskatchewan in 2014 with my two Canadian born daughters. As an international student and an immigrant, I have faced some social and cultural challenges and financial vulnerabilities; however, I am also aware of how my class privilege, if yet precarious, provided me with the choice to migrate here, voluntarily, and with more relative social and cultural capital than most immigrants in Canada. I was already fluent in English, had two university degrees, and had family financial resources to cover for most of the cost of the move and settling in Canada. Also, I encountered a country familiar with Chilean recent history and often sympathetic to Chileans.

In Chile, I grew up under a military dictatorship until I was a teenager. The year before I was born, a military coup ended with the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, as a result of a conspiracy between the national elites and the U.S. government. Allende had nationalized resources like copper that had long been exploited by English first and U.S. based capitalists later, and Washington saw with horror the possibility of a referent for a democratic path to socialism in the Americas (and the world). So instead of growing up in the socialist democratic utopia that my parents and their generation had fought (and died) for, I grew up in a totalitarian government, with a militarized society that guaranteed the neoliberal experiment of Milton Friedman and his Chicago Boys. My parents were Marxists, so I grew up listening to a lot of conversations about class contradictions, class conscience, fascism, and the exploitation of men by men. I grew up angry and uncomfortable about many things like the militarized culture at school, police repression and violence, and class discrimination. But there was more going on that I didn’t know how to articulate. Today I know it was also the culture of misogyny, homophobia and violence against girls and women that is normalized in Chile. And it wasn’t until much later, after I came to Canada, that I came to understand how my socialization involved also the internalization and normalization of racism. It wasn’t until I was confronted with Indigenous issues here in North America that I was able to better understand processes of racialization in Chile, and the Chilean state as a settler colonial state. It wasn’t until being racialized as a woman of colour myself, that I started to understand how racism really works.

See, in Chile I used to be white. I grew up watching Disney cartoons where Indigenous and Black people were caricatured as ridiculous, anacronic, barbaric, hypersexual, infantile. Popular culture fed me all kinds of Orientalist racist stereotypes. I grew up “looking up” to the North as a site for imagining the future based on Eurocentric ideas of settler colonialism, in which Indigenous people only have a place in a romanticized past. I was taught by popular culture to identify with the subjectivity and the gaze of the colonizer and to view whiteness not only as desirable, but as a goal in itself. Most Chilean mestizos like me think of themselves as white, especially in relation to racialized peoples in neighbour countries like Peru and Bolivia, to afro-descendent immigrants from Haiti and Colombia, and to their own Indigenous peoples (most noticeably Mapuche). The phenotypic features I have allow me to be racialized as white (as having mostly European ancestry) when I travel in the Caribbean and the Andes, where there are more identifiable Indigenous populations. In countries like Cuba, Bolivia, and Peru I often get asked if I am from Spain or Argentina (coded as white). And in the North America, I get to be racialized as a woman of colour, a brown woman, and a Latina, all labels that are loaded with exoticized meanings and sexualized images. People rarely realize that my name doesn’t “mean anything” because it is a Spanish colonial name, imposed by patrilineality, erasing all traces of Indigeneity. I would love be able to say that my name means flower in Guarani (Anahi) or laughter in Mapuche (Ayelen). But I am a colonized person with a colonized name and a colonized subjectivity, daily confronted with her own contradictions.

By moving to Canada, I have become implicated both in processes of gentrification that mean further spacial displacement of the poor and Indigenous, and in discourses of multiculturalism, which are a key component of the Canadian settler nation-building narrative. By embodying the non-white settler and the model minority at the same time (gaining a Doctorate in Canada), I contribute to further legitimize the myths of the multicultural state and of meritocracy. My decision to move to Saskatoon looking for an opportunity to buy an affordable house for me and my daughters, invoked the same narrative of social mobility, betterment, and hard-work that moved Europeans settlers into the New World. Canadian multiculturalism is a function of the settler-state, which is guided by the rationale of extracting wealth from the land via immigrant labor. As Patrick Wolfe notes, the only role of the Indigenous body in this system is to disappear.

But not all non-white bodies are racialized in the same way. Racialized bodies that make it across the Canadian border are classified and perceived around hierarchies of class, gender, sexuality, ability and more. Some bodies are perceived as threats and criminalized, others are commodified as cheap labor, some are celebrated in their compliance with Canadian values, and some are perceived as passive victims. Racialized bodies come here with complicated stories of belonging and unbelonging within their nations of origin. They become people of colour only once they are here. The model of multiculturalism hides these hierarchies by presenting a level field in which all minorities are ‘equal,’ come in unproblematic neat cultural packages and can be consumed in yearly multicultural events by white people. The model of multiculturalism follows the Star Trek model of 60’s social and racial utopia: a crew where you have a representative of every minority, and at the centre, Captain Kirk, representing the persistent centrality of whiteness. We can always add another minority member to the colorful light diversity of the crew, but nothing substantial is unsettled until the assumed (male, able bodied) white center is challenged.

There are some ways to resist settler colonialism and to be allies with Indigenous struggles and other racialized groups who experience marginalization and oppression. None of them includes the narrow understanding of Reconciliation that the state has put forward, as a monumental “move to innocence” (Tuck and Yang, 2009) complete with apologies and spectacles of sentimentality featuring the master of performative politics Mr Prime Minister himself. The issue of land and resources needs to be constantly recentered in discussions about decolonization. Standing Rock cannot be seen as a failure, at least yet. The utopian relationships of reciprocity in difference, mutual respect and solidarity that were fostered during the long six months of the stand-off of the camp with the government cannot be undone overnight. People across the world witnessed water protectors and their allies coming together, following Indigenous protocols, sharing resources and reclaiming relations of spirituality and radical interdependence with the land and water. As the Canadian settler state moves forward its policies that protect a predatory extractive industry, the narrative of reconciliation and all its apologies are nothing but empty gestures. The celebratory tone of Canada 150 is already being interrupted by voices that point at the unresolved issue of Indigenous sovereignty and governance. The anxiety of the settler state in relation to these issues is evident in its rush to declare the Treaties as a thing of the past or museum culture.

When we frame our relationships and actions with others in this land through the lens of decolonization, our responsibilities become more clear. Racialized folks can refuse to be a token minorities that represent Canada’s multiculturalism and instead support initiatives that promote Indigenous sovereignty and governance. To denounce and boycott the attempts of banks and corporations to co-opt social movements. To explore the interconnectedness of our struggles. To establish conversations and solidarity networks between folks of colour and Indigenous and non-Indigenous folks outside the settler state. To me, it also means resisting  the colonizing impulse of the Canadian and Chilean settler states and all of its forms of violence. To understand the (human) forces behind neoliberalism as racist, masculinist and patriarchal practices, instead of viewing the economy as moved by natural abstract forces that make neoliberalism inevitable.

In this way, when multiculturalism gives us the image of the PM crying at the airport at the  arrival of the Syrian refugees, decolonization offers the possibility of connecting the events that caused the displacement of the Syrian people in the first place, with the ongoing imperialist military campaigns of the Canadian state. When multiculturalism defends the right for all religions to be accommodated in public spaces, decolonization calls to resist all forms of religious racism and religious colonialism, and to uphold the proliferation of Indigenous spiritualities that are connected to the land. When multiculturalism is insistently tempting us to become the exemplary model tokenized minority in exchange of the bone of “integration,” let us use that space to raise Indigenous voices and to resist colonialism both in Canada and at home.


miércoles, 15 de marzo de 2017

Feminist Gaming 101: The Havana experience

I had my first introduction to feminist gaming in Havana, Cuba. 

It seems like an odd place for it, but I happened to meet a bunch of interesting characters the day before they were holding their first 'game jam' in Cuba on February 24th 2017. These folks are game designers/artists/geeks who meet outside the commercial circuit of games and are striving to foster creative and collaborative communities around alternative gaming. Thorsten Wiedemann runs the international festival A MAZE with several locations around the world and was there to organize the event with local geeks Rodolfo Peraza and Jommi Barban from Fanguito Estudio. As a curious feminist, I attended without any expectations. And to my surprise, feminist revelations ensued from playing a game called UTE created by German game designer Lea Schőnfelder.

Now, let us be clear: I am not what you would call 'a gamer'. I had a Colecovision in the eighties where I mastered Donkey Kong Jr. and Saxxon, and I played Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter with my little brothers here and there in the nineties. That's it. Then in most of my adult life, I have not been particularly interested in games. My general attitude was shaped by the impression that the world of digital games was a hyper-masculine, hyper-competitive scene within mostly militarized violent worlds. Hyper-boring, to be short.

But THIS game.

UTE has a sort of naive, almost child-like drawings aesthetic, with very simple graphics. The protagonist of the game is a young straight woman who is approached by her grandmother in the introduction. Grandma proceeds to explain that the goal of the game is to have the most pre-marital heterosexual sex with a series of characters that include an insurance salesman, Che Guevara, a Philology student, her teenage pupil, the pizza delivery man and so on. Players score (pun intended) by sneaking out with the characters to have (outrageously kinky) sex without getting caught by the other men.
I was surprised by the exhilarating experience of playing this game. Every time anybody would get behind the controllers, men and women, the folks would immediately gather around the gamer participating as audience, encouraging the player to do their sex moves faster, or helping them beware of another man coming. Despite my previous assumption that games were isolating, this was a complete social/collective experience.

An incredible amount of laughter ensued every time somebody played. 
The revolutionary pleasure associated to this game can be attributed number of transgressions to gender norms around the sexual virtue of women which are pretty explicit, but it also had an incredible significance that we were in Cuba, and that the Che Guevara was represented here as a hilarious character of a sex-themed video game. Playfully subverting the overwhelming masculinist and serious narrative of the heroes of the Revolution was truly exhilarating. If yet the game doesn't feature same sex desires, heterosexual practices such as pegging here are too kinky to be deemed heteronormative:

Feminist Utopias

Inspired by a graduate seminar with the late Jose E Muñoz, I have been thinking for a while about the utopian function of art and about the potential of different art forms in expanding our political imaginations (the ways we envision the world, our lives, our relationships, ourselves), in particular feminist performance. In “Ephemera as Evidence”, Jose E. Muñoz outlines how queer performances and performances of queerness are a kind of ephemeral and invisible evidence that point at the “lives, powers, and possibilities” of minority groups whose existence has traditionally been erased from historical visibility. This idea was already developed in Cruising Utopia, where Muñoz suggests that queer acts and performance already enact the potentiality and possibility of other worlds as well as other temporalities that are not linear. Relying on Bloch’s use of hope as a hermeneutic to combat the force of political pessimism, Muñoz conceived utopia as “a critique of the present, of what is, by casting a picture of what can and perhaps will be.” (Muñoz 35, emphasis original).

Building on Jacques Ranciere's ideas on spectatorship I have argued that our (feminist) political practices are prefigured by our imaginations and our 'cartographies of the feasible' and that some forms of performance and art have the potential to expand our imaginaries and our ideas of what is possible. But I have never thought of the role of digital art and games for the reasons mentioned above. After my gaming experience in Cuba as a joyful, non-competitive activity that does not produce wealth, but just laughter and good times, I am definitely more curious to know more about this culture! Can these art forms be subversive of narratives that exploit and dehumanize women? Can games be feminist, sex/queer/kinky positive, and fun? In what other ways can they challenge our worldviews? 

Keith Stuart from The Guardian recently made the argument for adults playing more games, on the grounds that they are relevant spaces where culture and art are happening. And I would furthermore argue that they are relevant spaces where politics are being articulated as well, as particular worldviews are assumed, or have to be temporarily accepted by the gamer. UTE is a sex-positive game that just makes you accept this world in which a woman's (hetero)sexual pleasure is the goal. It is both undeniable that games are relevant today, and that the mainstream portion of it remains problematic for its connections with consumerism, racism, militarized masculinities and misogyny as frequently exposed by Anita Sarkessian at Feminist Frequency Tropes versus Women. However, it is important to identify and celebrate a subculture of alternative feminist gamers, made up mostly women, though not only.

In the special issue WOMEN of A MAZE. magazine I learned about the high involvement of women in the alternative games scene, and about the political potential of gaming through games such as Consentacles, a collaborative cards game for two designed by Naomi Clark, which could lead to players to re-imagine and in a way, to re-socialize themselves about sexuality and consent. Clark herself refuses to see the game merely as an educational tool, but the possibilities of the convergence of feminist politics and digital platforms for art and gaming seem endless.

Feminist Games are Feminist Art

But the question of what kind of art can be considered feminist art is not an obvious one. Not all art made by women can be considered feminist, while some art made by men that deal with cultural norms around gender (including masculinity), sexuality, heteronormativity and patriarchy should be regarded as feminist art. 

In my curious quest to find games which envision and present feminist worlds, I found Nina Freeman's "How do you do it?" which plays with the eroticism of the very taboo issue of the masturbatory fantasy and sexuality of girls. It is a simple, uncomplicated game in which you play with your dolls, make them have 'sex' and avoid getting caught by your mother. I enjoyed its narrative of a girl fantasizing about something that feels intriguing, exciting, and shameful at the same time.  

Ironically enough, I got busted by my 9 year old playing this game (the reverse situation to the game) and hilarity ensued. She had a 15 minutes giggle fit at the expression of sexual satisfaction of the girl in the game as she doesn't get caught by the mom. 

Similarly, Mighty Jill Off by Anna Anthropy plays around lesbian BSDM themes, and though I haven't got to play it myself yet, has been praised for its representation of non-traditional forms of desire by mediums like Rock Paper Shotgun.

It is not lost on me that I started thinking of the connections between digital games and utopia in Cuba, where my utopian desires had long lived (but were promptly crushed at the reality of authoritarian and poorly managed socialism). Becoming interested in gaming culture has immediately created space for new conversations with my two daughters, who are digital natives and spend many hours of their life playing games, both on and offline. We have started playing more board games and my oldest daughter is currently obsessed with the program Scratch, which teaches kids how to code to create games. I am excited to continue exploring this amazing scene further!

More sources to read about feminist games:
Code Liberation Foundation
Video GamNiñjas
Perfect Woman review in Kotaku

sábado, 12 de marzo de 2016

Performance as Activism and Utopia in the Americas

“Occupy the imagination, before someone else does” read the slogan of filmmaker Rodrigo Dorfman for his 2013 movie “Occupy the imagination: Tales of seduction and resistance.” The film took as a point of departure the book “How to Read Donald Duck”, that Rodrigo Dorfman’s father, Chilean author Ariel Dorfman wrote and published in 1971, under Allende’s government. The book, that Rodrigo calls “a manual to decolonize our imagination,” explored the racist, colonial, and imperialist subtext in Disney’s cartoons, and it was banned after the 1973 coup in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, as well as in the U.S. The slogan “occupy” as a motto for resisting and challenging capitalism has been since its inception criticized by academics of color, most poignantly by Jessica Yee, for its lack of acknowledgment of colonialism, and of the fact that the land where anti-capitalist struggles are taking place are already “occupied” and in fact need to be decolonized. 

The question of what does it mean to decolonize our imagination in the Americas? lingers in my mind and I find no easy answer. As a mestiza, I am a product of Spanish colonialism, and have no original authentic identity, culture or land to claim or come back to. And if our imaginations are colonized at such an early age through means like cartoons, how are our anti-capitalist and anti-neoliberal political projects and practices bound by our colonized imaginations? How can we desire utopia when we cannot imagine it? In contexts of state violence, how can we forge a sense of futurity that does not require completely renouncing the past? And how can we reconcile imagining our future without being asked to forget and stop grieving our dead? These are the broader questions that frame my interest in activism and performance.

Growing up I often came across this image created by the Uruguayan artist Torres García in 1943 called “Inverted Map of South America.” 
The power of this image, of course, resides in the fact that it reminds us of the completely fictional status of maps (space doesn’t have a point of reference to decide which America is on “top” versus “bottom”), and the power they possess for construing and constructing world. Our maps, and the way we understand our place in the world, our “cartographies of the feasible” to use Jacques Ranciere’s concept, prefigure our political imaginations and thus, our political subjectivities, projects, and practices. For example, when we prefigure solidarity across the Americas starting out by the modern Eurocentric map of the world, our subjectivities and practices will be bound by a north-south hierarchy that assumes the cultural superiority of the north, and an implicit logic of “who helps who”. Physical and symbolic national borders shape political projects and define political subjects, as we take nations as points of reference, instead of, for instance, looking at the commonalities of oppressed groups across national borders, and across the Americas or Abya Yala. 
Transnational feminist scholars and activists have been doing exactly this through establishing connections between the precarious conditions for labor of women across the world established by Free Trade Agreements, migration patterns triggered by the imperialist policies of the IMF and the World Bank, and the progressive impoverishment and displacement of Indigenous and peasant communities across the Americas.  

I am interested in exploring practices that aim to decolonize our imagination and foster a sense of utopia in a twofold sense: One, that they contribute to unsettle our sense of space expressed in deeply embedded maps of the world with its tops and bottoms, as well as with national borders. Two, that they disrupt what I call “traumatic temporalities,” a concept I used in my research on the Chilean post-dictatorship, to describe a sense of futurity linked only to forgetting the past and to accepting neoliberal policies. I also apply this term here to the Eurocentric timeline of modernity and progress that defines time as linear, with the racialized past behind us and the (white) future ahead. I will discuss in this lecture, how this model of temporality proves politically disempowering, as it urges oppressed groups of people, whose lives are still shaped by colonialism and state terror, to “move forward,” “get over the past”, or to assimilate. I ask if performance as an activist practice can disrupt this common sense about space and time to enable political imaginations and subjectivities that foster a sense of futurity and utopia in oppressed communities, across Abya Yala or the Americas. I do so from the perspective of a Latin American middle-class cisgender woman, with a hybrid/mestizo identity living in Canada. As Chilean citizen and an immigrant to Canada, I also acknowledge my complicated position within ongoing state colonialism (both in Chile and Canada) and processes of gentrification and reproduction of poverty in Saskatoon. 

This lecture is meant to open a larger and ongoing dialogue to explore the lines of convergence and also of difference between several forms of performance in the context of activism in Latin America and of Indigenous and social justice activism in Canada. I ultimately seek to explore the commonalities and differences of these contexts to reflect on the conditions for building anti-colonial and anti-neoliberal solidarity across Abya Yala/Americas. Like Harsha Walia has suggested, “any serious social or environmental justice movement (and I include feminism here) must necessarily include non-native solidarity in the fight against colonization.” I want to clarify that I do not wish to speak “for” Indigenous scholars and activists here, and that my ground of expertise is not Indigenous Studies. I am rather looking to create a dialogue with Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars and activists on issues of cultural memory and political agency, and to reflect on how performance offers spaces that can be rehumanizing, healing, where collective subjectivities can be forged, and where audiences are interpellated by becoming witness of other's suffering. 

My interest has never been particularly in performance art carried out in venues and institutional spaces sanctioned for artistic purposes, as much as in the use of “performance tactics” within the context activism of diverse social justice movements in urban settings, they are generally carried out in the streets of a city’s downtown, or a commercial centre, where it causes disruption to the normal flow of everyday life. I use Diana Taylor’s definition of performance as an embodied practice that transmits cultural memory and identity, and that can articulate what cannot be wholly conveyed by text, narrative, or discourse. Taylor, who studied the activism of the Madres de Plaza Mayo in relation to trauma and state terror during the “Dirty War” in Argentina, argues that the relevance of performance lies in its possibility for cultural agency, whereby individuals and collectives can become protagonists and politicized subjects of their own social drama. 

Her analysis underlines that the relevance of performance lies in the transmission of cultural memories in contexts of trauma, where text and discourse cannot fully invoke the traumatic experiences, so that a different form of telling is required. Taylor also considers how Spanish colonization imposed the written word as the only valid means of transmitting knowledge, suppressing a long pre-colombine tradition of orality, ritual and ceremony. In my own research on the use of performance by queer and feminist activists in Chile, I argued that activist performance is a practice that invokes cultural memories of our recent past (Salvador Allende, Che Guevara) as a critique of the present, while creating utopian images for an alternative present and future. 

I argued that these performances can be viewed as a contribution to the (re)articulation of political imaginations (utilizing the street as a public space for the practice of democracy) and subjectivities (putting forward the body both as a cultural construct, as a fiction, and as a site of political agency and power). I identified a utopian desire in the cases of activist performance I studied as they stretched their audiences political imaginations in the context of extremely constraining cultural coordinates. They do so by bringing into the scene affective connections to the past or “hauntologies,” based on the rejection of the dominant timeline of transition/ reconciliation/ post-dictatorship, a version of temporality that implies linear progress and evolution. At the same time, the cases of activist performance I studied defy the binary public/private space by pointing at the overlapping of public and private forms of violence. I will then look at these cases in Chile in relation to the uses of performance in activist contexts in Canada by exploring the themes of traumatic temporalities and public grieving, and trauma, performance, and the body.

Traumatic Temporalities, Public Grieving and “Hauntologies”

Early in the Chilean transition to democracy, it became apparent how cultural memory was a site of permanent contestation, and that the performativity of the past—the ability of the past to "do" things in the present—made memory and memorialization, and more broadly, the problem of temporality key for the articulation of political subjects in the present. For example, both the triumphalist discourses of the right and the defeatist/apologetic discourses of the left  seemed to be done with the past, foreclosing any substantial discussion on the model of society and economy that was secured under Pinochet first and under the Concertación coalition later. Throughout the 1990s and onwards, the undeniable "reality" of capitalism, the market, and neoliberalism were presented as the only possible reality, making it imperative to adopt a pragmatic approach to political practice. From this perspective looking at the past is damaging for national reconciliation, unity and progress, as it puts a finger in the wound. The past is deemed conflictive, “political,” and divisive; thus, it needs to be forgotten and overcome. Traumatic temporalities can apply also to the colonizing of our sense of futurity. All across the Americas/Abya Yala, Indigenous cultures, languages, and systems of knowledge were turned into “museum cultures” by colonialism, associated to the fixed past, and presented as barbaric and backwards, while the future became associated with the expansion of European language and culture, of urban centres, capitalism, extractivism, and racial and cultural assimilation. Indigenous peoples and culture are deemed to disappear under this timeline that “naturally” tends to progress and betterment.  

Under the repressive conditions of military dictatorships, protest tactics in the streets through the 1980s, particularly by human rights and feminist activists across Latin America, were profoundly impacted by the gendered performance tactics of the human rights activist group  Madres of Plaza Mayo, in Argentina, after they inaugurated "public grieving and public suffering as political praxis" in the seventies and eighties (Bergman and Szurmuk 391). In response to the state violence of military dictatorships, both the Argentine Madres and the Chilean Agrupación de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos, for decades, have been “performing public grieving” and regularly marking the presence of the disappeared in the streets through pictures, cut out bodily shapes, our through the cueca sola, in which the women (widows, daughters, mothers) literally dance with their disappeared relatives and loved ones. 

The Madres performed motherhood as a way to avoid repression of political practice, and invoked the moral superiority of mothers that was part of the military ideology.  While one could see these performances as marking the absence of the bodies of the victims, I consider whether they are indeed marking their insistent presence. 

In “Theorizing Queer Temporalities” (2007), Carolyn Dinshaw put forward the idea of the existence of affective communities across time, as well as the coexistence of multiple temporalities in the present. Dinshaw considers ghosts as the ontological status of bodies that are not here and now anymore, but whose existence is prolonged by affective connections. I find this concept is useful because, if military violence in Chile used the extermination of physical bodies to extinguish an economic, social, and cultural project, the idea of an ontology of ghosts or hauntology works to explain the affective persistence of those bodies, and of that project. At the same time, Carla Freccero points to queer spectrality “as a phantasmatic relation to historicity that could account for the affective force of the past in the present, of a desire issuing from another time and placing a demand on the present in the form of an ethical imperative” (184). Freccero also notes that the body is conceptualized in Western thought as contained in a linear teleological narrative and a binary logic of presence/absence, and argues for an understanding of the presence of the past in the present in the form of a haunting, of the “cohabitation of ghostly past and present.” Building on this notion of the affective force of the past as an ethical imperative in the present, we can rethink how a diversity of strategies that aim at bringing those bodies to the present—as ghostly presences—can represent not only the mourning of their disappearance, but rather, mark the affective persistence of a utopian project of social justice as a disruption to the oppressive present. 

In Chile, the Red Chilena Contra la Violencia Doméstica y Sexual has carried out the campaign Cuidado! El Machismo Mata (“Warning! Machismo Kills”) since 2007, which puts forward a politicized reading of violence against women that links individual cases of violence to dominant narratives, practices, and cultural norms.

The public installations of this campaign have deliberately tried to establish associations between the killing and disappearance of bodies under Pinochet’s military dictatorship—deemed politically motivated—and male misogynist violence against women—deemed private, or domestic, thus “nonpolitical.” Invoking a tradition of making the bodies of the disappeared reappear through pictures and cut-out cardboard silhouettes, or actions such as the installation of women’s shoes or dresses with tags identifying the victim’s name and age, this campaign marks the ghostly persistence of these murdered women and calls audiences to be witness of the public dimension of this violence. The display of shapes of women’s bodies, pictures, and the project of a “memorial” of women who were victims of male violence, are all part of a strategy to situate violence against women within the discursive context of human rights, to politicize violence against women, and to point to the connections between male violence, gendered cultural norms of self-sacrificing mothers, and violent masculinities that were mobilized (but not invented) by the dictatorship. Cuidado! El Machismo Mata seems highly effective in making such connections between the “public” and the “private,” and has raised the visibility of violence against women by introducing a more complex analysis that shifts the focus from individual personalities, pathologies, and predispositions, to bring it to the realm of state practices, nationalist ideologies, and gender norms.

In Canada, the collaborative project Walking with Our Sisters, initiated by Metis artist Christie Belcourt, features an installation that commemorates the lives of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and of victims of residential school by displaying 1,800 vamps, the decorative tops of moccasins, laid out in a way that takes audiences/participants down a winding pathway. The locations where the installation has toured are mostly art galleries and universities. The process of putting together the installation is significant, as it was a collaborative effort of hundreds of individuals who decorated the tops with beads. The practice of beading is in itself an exercise of putting love and care in every stitch as mindfulness connectedness with others that are not here anymore. The audiences remove their shoes and walk by the unfinished moccasins which are to represent the women’s unfinished lives, following traditional protocols such as smudging and pipe ceremonies indicated by elders. Belcourt actually describes the exhibit as a ceremonial memorial based on Indigenous knowledge and explains that to properly honor the women, we cannot limit to words and pictures but we need the ceremonial aspect to address the value of their lives. The memorial also acknowledges all the women that have been murdered from colonial violence for hundreds of years, not just these last decades.

The audiences participating in the ceremony cannot stay disconnected as mere spectators, neutral observers, but are rather interpellated and transformed. I consider this form of installation as performance as it puts forward the obstinate presence of the bodies of the murdered and disappeared women in a semi-public space. In a similar vein, the REDress project, created by Metis artist Jaimie Black, follows a similar strategy of installing donated red dresses in public spaces that both interpellate audiences about colonial violence against Indigenous women and bring the absent bodies back by marking their ghostly persistence. I see connections between these forms of “public grieving” as they both function like social communal performances that interpellate audiences about our accountability and responsibilities to each other, both in contexts of “reconciliation”. In both contexts, this reconciliation processes are state-led, and have produced TRC reports and forms of memorialization that put violence and trauma as a thing of the past, which thus needs to be overcome. These performances stubbornly assert the existence of bodies that are not present, and refuses the binary of private and public, which only serves to make invisible the connections between our individual and subjective experiences with larger structures and systems. 

Trauma, performance, and the body

If memory is the work of introducing a narrative, or imposing sense and meaning to experience, performance can be understood as what Nelly Richard calls "the conflict of narrating what cannot be narrated," especially when we try to use language to communicate experiences such as torture, dispossession, or the loss of language, which in itself involves the loss of a sense of identity. Transitional politics in Chile have managed to subordinate the practices of memory to their official representation in state produced reports and to its monumentalization in memorials that relegate state violence as something that happened in a faraway past, as opposed to something that continues to happen (state colonialism, poverty, discrimination, police repression, the denial of justice, etc.). While formal political practice in Chile has been constrained by the dominant narratives of reconciliation and of “democracy within the measure of the possible,” street performance has been politically effective, not so much in terms of offering a convincing rhetoric or agenda for emancipation, but as far as outlining the existence of other subjectivities, as well as being able to "change the cartography of the perceptible, the thinkable and the feasible" (Ranciere, 72). Activist and protest performances seem effective as they can generate multiple and scattered “scenes of dissensus” that can open up new forms of political subjectivation. Moreover, since there is always some portion of the bodily experience that resists signification—a surplus, an excess—performance allows these sites of excess, points of discursive failure, and non-sense of experience to be used as points of entry for articulating political subjectivities outside formal politics. 

As Coco Fusco has argued (2000), the body, the very material for activist performance, it is also the material and concrete site where political power has been (violently) articulated, within the particular historical coordinates of colonial genocide, imperialism, and globalized capitalism in the Americas. So if the body is the material site where political regimes are articulated, then Fusco sees performance practices as able to deconstruct particular versions of the body in order to address the violence of the discourses that constitute them. Actions such as flashmobs and round dances offer alternative forms of embodiments of subjectivities, political projects, and political imaginations, based on the “interconnection of bodies,” rather than on their individual rights and bodily sovereignty. 

The Chilean secondary student’s movement erupted during Michelle Bachelet’s first government (2006), emerging as a political and social movement whose claims for a free, universal, quality education system fell completely outside of the measured agendas of the governing Concertación center-left coalition. The use of performance as protest deployed within the student’s movement had the ability to both intervene in the present while changing or keeping dynamic the readings of the past. Making the “past” (the project of socialism) a utopian project again, the past becomes the future (is not necessarily “behind” it). The students’ movement has managed, since then, to completely change the collective imaginaries of what is possible. The student movement embodied a new generation that disrupted the illusions of continuity of reconciliation and national unity of the post-dictatorship. As part of the varied and creative range of the student movements’ protesting tactics, take for example their flash mob of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in June of 2011. They interrupted and stopped the regular circulation in public spaces, occupied them with their bodies to express a political message in a pleasurable, collective way (coordinated dance), and suffered, in their bodies, the repression that came as a consequence. We should not dismiss the significance of the spectacle of 4,000 adolescents pretending to be raising from their graves across La Moneda to demand free public education: It is not only as if the dead and the disappeared were rising from their (non-existent) graves, but also they were bringing back the project of public education and consciously opposing the main core premise of neoliberal ideology, profit (“el lucro”), since the students were protesting the educational model installed under Pinochet’s rule that made it possible to profit with public education. 

Additionally, performance can also work as communal rite of healing, such as the dance troupe Butterflies in Spirit from Vancouver, in the unceded Territory of the Coast Salish. This troupe is formed by family members of the MMIW but does not follow traditional protocol: the dancers will perform choreographed dances to the music of Beyonce and end up performing the Warrior Sing. They bring their dance to interrupt the oppressive normal flow of cars, capital, and business in downtown Vancouver, and tell the story of the missing and murdered women with their bodies, while using dance and movement to heal from the trauma of colonial violence. Perhaps the function as a rite of healing and coming together is even more poignant in the flashmobs carried in the context of INM activism, which is based on establishing alliances between Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies to challenge ongoing colonialism. By pointing at the continuity of collective bodies, the performance of flash mobs and round dances challenge where one body begins and another ends. Despite the narrative of the self-sufficient body, humans have no chance of developing subjectivity or even of physically surviving without connection to others. Our bodies are also connected by eyes, mouths, and hands, sometimes through remote devices, sometimes through touch, speech, sight, etc. While the modern Western idea of the body defines it as a realm of the private and the individual, the performances I have discussed make evident the public dimension of bodies, and in Jose E. Muñoz’s words, “allow us to see our numbers and our masses.” They point at the limits of traditional political practice at imagining alternatives, as well as to the impossibility of language in conveying trauma in contexts of state terror and colonial violence. 

Looking at the use of performance tactics for activism across America/Abya Yala, illuminates the ways that social movements and activists are challenging deeply embedded ideas about temporality, and about the gendered division between public and private space, as they mark the presence of utopian projects and subjects. I hope that these thoughts can raise some questions and trigger further conversation between activist and scholars that can contribute to decolonizing our imaginations and building anti-capitalist and anti-colonial solidarity across our continent.

miércoles, 2 de abril de 2014

"Cara de nana"

The French-Chilean female rapper Anita Tijoux was performing at a sunny Fall afternoon of 2014 in Santiago at the Lollapalooza festival, when from the audience she heard male voices yelling at her “cara de nana” (“maid’s face”), and calling that she “went back to the fresh market (la feria) where she came from.” Known for her politically charged lyrics, Anita Tijoux was born in exile to her Chilean parents, and upon her return to Chile has succeeded in becoming one of the most acclaimed female musicians in Latin America. While she has been received with enthusiasm abroad, she has been rather despised in Chile, much like Violeta Parra before she became fetishized as a consumable folklore product for snobbish middle classers in Chile. 

She responded to the Lollapalooza incident in her twitter account the next day stating that far from feeling insulted, she felt honored to be compared to those brave and hard working women, and later, reflected that “I am that maid’s face, that face that looks like you, small, black hair, I am that face with features that make your class-ashamed class uncomfortable.” Her reaction, in turn, sparked yet another debate about classism and racism,  especially since the Lollapalooza festival is marketed to upper class young adults with enough income to become indebted, with tickets that start from Cnd $107.6 for a one day pass, to Cnd $470 for a two-day “VIP pass.” A letter titled “Open Letter to the Boss’s Son” was published in social media by Emmanuel Ortega Villagran, who identified himself as “the son of a maid,” and spoke about the hard work, love, dedication, loyalty that his mother, as well as most maids in urban settings in Chile, has given to their employer's family. He described how other members of his family that had worked as maids had taken care of their employer’s children as their own, only to be treated as a second class human beings who can be showered with paternalistic kindness, but denied basic labor rights such as a pension.   

What do all these comments tell us about power relations and subjectivities in contemporary Chile? Why are “nanas” seen as somewhat at fault, and why does it become so crucial to defend them upon the grounds of their morals and values, to restore their respectability? How did they lose respectability? And what made Anita Tijoux seem so out of place in this site of modernity, status, and cosmopolitanism, as to become the target of verbal aggressions from a middle and upper class audience? As poor, mostly rural and/or indigenous women, "nanas" or maids embody class, race, gender relations that go all the way back to colonial racial hierarchies, to the institution of “derecho a pernada” of the landowners over the women of their fundos. Domestic workers have been historically racialized and sexualized as “easy” and “available.” When I was a teenager many of my male classmates of my very arribista highschool would brag and compare stories of becoming sexually initiated with a young live-in maid. And even though it is possible to trace those narratives and images that have represented poor and racialized female bodies as sexually licentious in many other contexts, such as the Canadian, there seems to be something else here at stake: Anita’s politicized body at the center of this cosmopolitan spectacle becomes an unbearable confrontation for the male audiences members that yelled at her. Her frequent references to the Popular Unity project, the figure of Allende, of Victor Jara, are at the core of her abjection for the sons of the boss. Racialized women’s bodies are acceptable in the context of domestic service, or selling at fresh markets, and that is where Anita’s body belong according to them. 

lunes, 27 de enero de 2014

Sabor Latino and the militarized male gaze

Between 1981 and 1982, amidst economic recession, state of siege and repression, before even the first public protests against Pinochet, the successful but short-lived variety show Sabor Latino under the direction of Sergio Riesenberg was broadcast on national television, showcasing performances of a number of vedettes mostly from Argentina and Spain. The show reached record audience ratings (80 points) but lasted only a year on the air and was abruptly cancelled under pressure of the Catholic Church. In 2005 the Chilean series “ExpedienTV” dedicated a whole program to Sabor Latino, in the context of a number of television programs that have begun to make public their archival footage of the last forty years (see for example, “TVN 40 Años” and “Chile. Las Imagenes Prohibidas”). In it, Sabor Latino’s director Sergio Riesenberg admits that the junta, anticipating the economic recession, gave him the order to develop a “high impact” show. Pinochet and his advisors had realized about the broad reaching power of television, after the unprecedented success of the telenovela “La Madrastra” by Catholic Television Station and the Festival Internacional de la Canción de Viña del Mar. The latter had been particularly instrumental in providing the military dictatorship with an image of international credibility, normality, and economic prosperity within and outside of Chile.

It is also important to mention that in 1981, Chileans’ context was of seven years of sustained curfew, and people in Santiago had stopped attending variety shows such as the Bim Bam Bum (the most popular theatre/variety spectacle in 1970), bars, and even movies. The street as the space outside the house became signified as dangerous, as a space in which one could be suspected, or blamed for transgressing that boundary that divided domestic respectable family private life from outside suspicious political subversive activity. At the same time that the streets had become dangerous, and the house was supposed to be the proper place for decent family men and family women, conservative gender ideologies were mobilized and reproduced by the Centros de Madres. What could possibly be the relationship between the interests of the junta and Sabor Latino as a sexualized spectacle? One key to understand this relationship is the admitted fact that the junta was supportive of the broadcasting of this show, not despite, but because they were acutely aware that it would stir a public debate and controversy. Not surprisingly, the day after the first emission of Sabor Latino, which featured a close-up shot of Maripepa Nieto’s monumental buttocks, there were head titles in all newspapers announcing the Chilean destape. This word, which translates as “uncovering,” had been initially used to refer to the end of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain.

The result was then a nationwide public debate on what should be the limits of this destape understood as a sexual liberation. For historian Sergio Durán, who has recently published his research on the transformation of television during the seventies and eighties, while the sexual destape in Spain was seen as antagonic to the Franquista dictatorship, in Chile the dictatorship saw these spectacles as somehow instrumental to them. Instead of signifying the end of military rule as it did in Spain, the supposed Chilean destape that Sabor Latino announced seems retrospectively more as a simulacrum of freedom during one of the most harsh periods of dictatorship. Let us not forget that in 1979 the Plan Laboral had completely restructured labor relations, and that in 1982 the economic recession provoked by the Chicago Boys shock treatment of Chilean economy abruptly put millions of Chileans in poverty and extreme poverty. In fact, Duran sees the broadcasting of Sabor Latino as sitting in the point break between the extreme neoliberal policies that created the short perception of an economic boom, and the economic recession.

It [Sabor Latino] was a milestone. It was the peak of a moment in television because the dictatorship was going through a good moment economically and could promote itself that the model was working out, people had more access to consuming goods, and television was reflecting that with the millionaire budgets of these shows, broadcast live from luxurious venues with very important international guests. Sabor Latino represented the highest point of this, and also the point in which this begins to change. By 1981 there was not enough budget to produce such shows at the same level than before, and that lead to seeking out vedettes from Argentina and Spain. 

The historian explains the apparent contradiction between the strict sexual morals of the military and the contents of Sabor Latino as something that the junta was willing to allow only because it was such a commercial success. While Duran still attributes to Sabor Latino, along with other television shows produced under the Pinochet years, mostly a role of evasion or distraction, I argue that the specific contents of the show are key to the disciplining of subjects under neoliberal Chile. Sabor Latino is instrumental to the dictatorship not only in terms of its implicit narrative of sexual liberation, but also in terms of what they do sanction as acceptable kind of desires, what do they say about gender roles, about class and race, about heterosexuality and homophobia. From the point of view of feminist cultural studies, there is no piece of popular culture that does not lend itself to the analysis of gendered cultural norms and desires in a particular context in time and space. Under this light, the contents of Sabor Latino need to be considered in its productive relationships with the practices and narratives of the military dictatorship, as well as in its convergence with the neoliberal order.

Moreover, I argue that the show can be seen as a screen where fantasies and desires about a national project were projected, as Sabor Latino enacted a militarized male gaze. In a 1975 article entitled “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Laura Mulvey uses a psychoanalytic framework to understand the gendered politics of looking, 

In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/ male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female figure which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness. Woman displayed as sexual object is the leit-motif of erotic spectacle, from pin-ups to strip-tease, from Ziegfeld to Busby Berkeley she holds the look, plays to and signifies male desire. 

In the context of a complete lack of options for entertainment and television programs, the emergence of shows like Sabor Latino can be read as the sanctioning of a militarized male gaze over the terrorized and feminized population. Additionally, Festival de Viña, Sabor Latino, Vamos a Ver were all shows in which Chile appeared connected to an international circuit of high level foreign artists mostly from North America or Europe rather than Latin America. Paradoxically, while the name “Sabor Latino” (Latin Flavour) exploited a tropicalizing sexual imaginary, the vedettes invited were usually from Spain (the most immediate European referent for Chileans) and Argentina (the country that prides being “the most European,” along with the “whitest” within Latin America). In this sense, the show could have been reflecting some fantasies about the whiteness of the country, the desire to “whiten” the nation, as well as male desires and fantasies about a particular version of femininity. Given the fact that Sabor Latino was launched by the National State Television (TVN) in a period in which the country was under strict military control, we can begin to see the lines of convergence and mutual benefit between this show, and the accompanying narratives of “freedom” (of the Market) and “liberation” (from Communism) sustained by the military under Pinochet.

Conducted by Antonio Vodanovic and directed by Sergio Riesenberg, the variety show, recorded in the Casablanca hall of the Crown Plaza Hotel, aimed to broadcast a similar show to the ones offered by teatros de revistas. The goal, especially taking into account the political situation in Chile, was quite transgressive but could result in a success. Sabor Latino, through time, became a real cult space and a synonym of transgression and audacity amidst an extremely repressed social and political climate. Today, many remember [Sabor Latino] nostalgically since announced the more liberal times our country would live, from the 90’s onwards, with the arrival of the recovered democracy. (My translation and emphasis).

The broadcasting of this show at the beginning of the 1980’s is often read in terms of (sexual) transgression in a political context of absolute political repression, and explained as “announcing the more liberal times of democracy” as in the quote above extracted from the website “Guioteca”. Discussions about Sabor Latino frequently associate dictatorship with repression and prohibition, and democracy with sexual “destape.” I argue that this association of "free market" with "(sexual) freedom/liberation" seems to be at the core of neoliberal democratic legitimation in post-dictatorship Chile. Considering, additionally, that the main star of Sabor Latino at the beginning of the 1980’s, the Spanish vedette Maripepa Nieto, was romantically linked with Alvaro Corbalan, chief of the CNI, the broadcasting of the show did not necessarily represent a threat nor went against the economically neoliberal and morally conservative agenda of Pinochet’s regime: quite the opposite, because it was functional to the military domestic ideology, to the illusion of economic boom, but mostly, to the illusion of a Chilean destape, during the dictatorship. Riesenberg openly admits that the show could have not benefitted more from all the publicity that these national debates about a supposed destape. Additionally, it presented the appearance of a more democratic military government, as they seemed to be facing something that they did not approve, but were lenient enough to allow it to be discussed in newspapers. The show tried to be reinstated in 1987 but after three episodes, this time faced the firm opposition of not only the Movimiento Teocratico, but from the wives of the junta and their associations.