From practical cultural change to broader ideological change and back again

I’m just rewriting a draft teachers’ agreement and editing my teachers’ agreement template for dance events. This is my new favourite bit:

Teachers’ expectations of organisers:
– Provision of safe, clean teaching environments without unnecessary crowding, and including head mics (where necessary), sound gear, venue coordinator to manage the workshops.
– Will teach workshops of no more than 80 participants.
– Will teach classes of no more than 30 participants.
– Will teach for no longer than 1.5 hours without a 15 minute break, and a minimum 1 hour break after 3 hours of teaching.
– Flexible workshop hours to allow for nursing and care of infants.

I’m not there yet, but it’s looking pretty good.

The nice thing about working with teachers who are nursing mothers (this is my second time), is that their needs (eg breaks for nursing, being flexible in class start times, asking students to work independently, or while teachers are nursing/caring for infants) translate to good conditions for everyone.

If we make nursing mothers’ requirements our ‘norm’ for teachers’ requirements, we end up with much better working conditions for everyone – students and teachers!
I’ve found the same when managing DJs’ working conditions, when working on safe space policies, and band’s conditions.

The invisible straight white able bodied cisman norm doesn’t really benefit anyone. Not even straight white able bodied cismen without dependents.

I’ve also found that asking teachers to prioritise self-care (eating real food at regular intervals, taking rests, taking time out, drinking water, having at least 3 hours between classes and parties, going home when they feel like it, only dancing at parties when they feel like it, etc etc) models good stuff for students.

This is especially important for women, where we’re seeing a bit of body dysmorphia coming into play: young women who don’t eat enough for their high-impact lindy hop and solo jazz dancing. When we see women teachers eat well, with enthusiasm, and with great pleasure and none of this ‘I’m being naughty’ talk, we see that eating well and self-care are part of being a professional dancer. Something we owe ourselves, and our bodies.
It’s also important for young men to see men practicing self-care, and to see women practicing self-care, and prioritising self-care above the interests of others.

You can see how this all feeds into a safe space policy, right? And how I build safe space stuff into an OH&S policy?
And of course, it all comes under our statement of intent at Swing Dance Sydney: Take Care of yourself, take care of your partner, take care of the music.

If you tip this list of points upside down, you’ll see that a way to get to safe space policies is to begin with:

A value statement (or statement of intent).

Then to see how this translates to general policies like ‘good working conditions for teachers’.

And finally to practical, real-life actions like ‘teach for no longer than an hour without a break’ or ‘we all sit down together for a meal’ or ‘if you don’t want to dance when someone asks you, just say no thank you.’

I think that this last practical level is where we do cultural practice (ie actual practical cultural change), whereas the two higher levels is where we do ideological change.

The real challenge then comes in keeping track of all these policies and processes. I can remember most of them, but the person who comes after me might not know why we instituted a ‘classes are no longer than one hour’ rule. So we need to document.
And of course, to be really good at this, we need flexibility. Iterative design. So after this Jazz with Ramona 5-7 Oct 2018 weekend, I’ll get some comments and feedback from Ramona, her partner John, peeps in the classes, etc, and I’ll rewrite these guidelines again.

Slavery and Australian economic history

This article Colonial Australia’s foundation is stained with the profits of British slavery by Paul Daley is pretty much a review of bits of Clinton Fernandes’ book ‘Island off the Coast of Asia: Instruments of Statecraft in Australian Foreign Policy’. I haven’t read the book.
This article talks about slavery’s contribution to the developing colonial economy in Australia up until the 20th Century.

It’s also a good place to start if you want to start thinking about the white Australian history of blackface. If whites think of people only as having value as objects to be bought and sold, then they have no qualms about wearing a costume that presents them as objects.

If you’re a lindy hopper thinking about dance history (and the way it is bought and sold in dance classes), then you should probably learn a bit about slavery in colonies (especially in Australia and America), and colonising nations (especially European countries).

The myth of Australia being ‘built on the sheep’s back’ is central to Australian history and to current political PR. Think of the white mainstream support for ill-conceived and executed economic aid for farmers in this moment of drought (and political leadership spills). White farmers are sacrosanct.

Fernandes writes, “There was no industrial revolution in this period, but rather a burgeoning agricultural export industry that helped create a group of wool-rich rural elites. An industrial business class appeared after the discovery of gold in the 1850s. In the 60 years before this, however, there is a largely unknown source of wealth: slavery.”

The mythic history of white Australia goes like this:
– white explorers ‘discovering’ the Australian land,
– white farmers occupy the land, ‘taming’ it, and producing lots of stuff
– white businesses sell that stuff to other people and we all get rich and prosperous.
This history leaves out…. well, pretty much everything. The genocide and colonising of _people_. Of course, the idea of ‘terra nullius’ (nobody’s land) at once made Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders not _people_, and justified white invasion and occupation.

This dehumanising is what makes slavery possible.
It’s also what makes the current government’s utterly cruel refugee concentration camps possible.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Fernandes’ book is his careful unpicking of the authority of ‘objective’ references like the ADB (Australian Dictionary of Biography). While the ADB presents as a ‘list of facts’, this list is incomplete, and therefore entirely subjective.

I guess Fernandes’ point is this: ‘objective’ histories that overlook some facts or misrepresent them contribute to contemporary oppression. eg he writes in the book, “The dictionary of biography mentions that Macquarie’s first wife Jane Jarvis was “a West Indian heiress”, but doesn’t note her inheritance: Antiguan slave plantations.”

“The Australian Dictionary of Biography is Australia’s pre-eminent dictionary of national biography. In it you will find concise, informative and fascinating descriptions of the lives of significant and representative persons in Australian history.” (http://adb.anu.edu.au/)

A calmly objective listing of ‘facts’ in the format of a dictionary is a useful tool for refuting ‘hysterical women’, ‘angry blacks’, and other overly emotional voices.

Echoes of Sophiatown

I’m a bit lax in promoting this, but the South African Echoes of Sophiatown project is VERY exciting.

I saw a documentary film about Sophiatown years ago, and the music and dancing (YES, lindy hop in South Africa in the 1950s!) has stayed with me. I still DJ songs I heard in that film, and some of the vocalists (MIRIAM MAKEBA) are unparalleled, now or then.

Sophiatown was a neighbourhood in Johannesburg where musicians, artists, activists, writers, dancers… _people_ lived and worked. In the 50s it was bulldozed by the white government. Much of the creative work these people did was unrecorded because apartheid.

Now South African dancers and musicians are raising money for “A transcription project to pay tribute to the South African jazz musicians of the 1940s and 50s.”
This means that living musicians are transcribing and recording some of the best jazz in THE WORLD. And they need some help.

Every dollar you can spare will make a difference. They’re only aiming for $12000, and they have a month to go. Which means that if we all chuck in $5… they’ll have enough to do the job properly.
AND some of the proceeds will be used to benefit the families and artists who originally recorded this music.

Check the Indigogo here.

Responding to comments: how do you deal with an offender who’s not committed an offence at your event?

Responding to comments on my post Stalking: online and face to face harassment:

how would you address eg a DV or restraining order in your creation of safer spaces?

This is a bit like responding to a report about an offender, where said person was offending/had offended in another city. This actually comes up quite regularly, and is the follow up issue to ‘how do we report someone’: ‘what do we do with someone who’s been reported?’

I personally have a zero tolerance policy. If you have committed an offence in my class/event/city, and I have a report, then you are banned from all my classes and events forever.
I know that other people work with offenders to rehabilitate them, but I personally figure I only have a limited about of time and energy, and I’d much rather put that energy and time into supporting the people who don’t harass or rape people, and into my own work (eg if I’m working on s.h. stuff, I don’t have time to DJ, social dance, work on scripting performance, etc etc). In shorter Sam talk, “Fuck that shit. I ain’t got time for that.”

So when someone is reported to me for an offence in another city/country, I take I take it very seriously:

  • I find out as much as I can (though I never ask for the name of the reporting person. I’m totally ok with anonymous reports, because I prioritise the safety of reporters above all else);
  • If I get the heads-up from someone who isn’t in my trusted network, I find someone who is in that network and ask questions;
  • I am very careful to maintain confidentiality, and that means I don’t name the reported offender unless absolutely necessary;
  • Once I’ve got confirmation, I send that person an email telling them that they’re not welcome at my events (I list the events specifically), and that they will be asked to leave if they do attend. If they refuse to leave, the police will then be called. This email is an important part of developing a defence against an accusation of defamation in the future. I send an official email and ask them to reply. I don’t need to respond or follow up on that reply.
  • By the timee I get a report about a person in another scene or city or country, they’ve already committed a number of offences and have assaulted/harassed a number of people.

Note: if you do send someone an email/message/text/letter naming an offender, you may be liable for a defamation case, as it constitutes publication of defamatory comments. So a phone call is better (though it’s still not a ‘safe’ option). I take a calculated risk on this: I am prepared to pursue this to preserve the safety of my myself, my friends, my students, my peers, my teachers, my musicians, everyone. I have clearly set out my own limits, and I stick to them.
I also have a lawyer who specialises in defamation law in NSW, and is very helpful for developing strategies. I speak to her about twice every six months, and this costs me $$, which I’m prepared to spend.

If someone is notifying an organiser in another city/country, they need to be very sure that person will also be working to keep the reporter safe, and won’t tell the offender all the details. They also need to be willing to keep the person notifying them safe (offenders are often aggressive, bullying types who will threaten people who band them or report them).

So I prioritise:

  • Keeping myself safe
  • keeping the reporter safe
  • keeping the person working as an agent/intermediary for the reporter safe
  • Keeping other people in the community safe.

I figure, as with a restraining order, the reported person/offender has proved themselves a demonstrable risk, so I notify them officially that they are not to attend my events/classes, and that the consequences for attending will be X, Y, Z.
I find they often don’t try to attend anyway, because they’ve figured out that I will jump on that phone and call the police immediately.
I will not be bullied or pushed around. And I definitely will not let them threaten other people. Hell no. That’s the stuff that makes me super white-cold-furious.

When will I call the police?

I don’t notify the police about reports of sexual assault. Reporting to the police is a harrowing process for women, and we rarely come out of this well. After the past year of negotiating legal options, my opinion is that the Australian/NSW legal system is not able to protect women reporting sexual assault. So I leave that decision to the woman reporting the incident.

I will hop on the phone and call the police immediately if a known and banned offender turns up at my event, whether it’s at a public venue or a private venue. I have the local police stations’ phone numbers, and I’m more than willing to call 000.

I also have a procedure for responding to these people in person:

  • They turn up at the door and try to pay/enter
  • a volunteer lets me know (they don’t try to confront the person)
  • I tell them that they need to leave: “You are not welcome at this event. You will leave now, or I will call the police and have you removed.” (I practice this little script)
  • Then they either leave, or I call the police. They must leave _immediately_, or I call the police. If they have paid, I hand them their money (to save hassle, though I’m not required to).
  • I do not confront them, I do not touch them, I do not allow anyone else to touch them or engage with them. I make sure they see me watching them. I say nothing more than the script.
  • While we’re waiting for the police, I observe them, and I make sure no one engages with them. By this stage, most of the staff will have noticed them, and are avoiding them, and making sure other people avoid them. If they interact with anyone, I ask that person to come with me for a drink. I have noticed that other people will intervene to ask that person for a dance/talk, whatever.
  • After all this, we write a report, and I notify other organisers.

Note: thinking about all this and working on a real-time script is really distressing and tiring. So I am very careful about when I do this work, and I make sure to debrief afterwards. I speak to a psychologist about this stuff, as it’s highly distressing to deal with in real time, and across a lot of incidents.

Responding to comments: can’t we just ask people to be decent to each other?

Responding to comments on my post Stalking: online and face to face harassment:

How about setting the expectation that men, women and everyone else in between simply behave like decent human beings?

On this particular topic, I can think of two examples of huge events that have a ‘just respect each other’ code of conduct. That’s all very well in theory (I mean, we all do just want people to treat each other decently), but it’s useless when someone comes to you at a dance in tears to tell you about Person X who’s just grabbed them in the parking lot.
Both of these events have since proved to be covering up for and enabling serious offenders.

To my mind, a code of coduct needs a few parts:
1) an overall statement of values.
What do you really value and want in your event/project? Good music? Kindness? Zero waste? Live music only? Ambidancetrousness? Historical accuracy? Welcoming all folks regardless of sexuality, ethnicity, age?
-> This value statement helps you make decisions about what you want and don’t want at your event. eg Zero waste isn’t a huge priority for me, but it might be for the Green Dancers of Sydney*

2) A definition of s.h./assault or racism, or whatevs it is you want to target in your code.
This should be based on the legal definitions of your city/state/country, but also expand to include other things you value.
-> eg the Green Dancers of Sydney literally want zero waste, so no pooping on site.

3) A process for making a report.
Including how to make the report, and what happens afterwards.

4) A list of consequences for offenders/offences.
What will happen, and who will enforce them.

Most organisers and teachers and so one have a code of conduct and that’s it.
The better organisers (eg MLX is the total best and leader for most of the world) has all four parts, and is on to THE THIRD OR FOURTH ITERATION.

Once you have to start addressing these issues, you realise you need a process for taking and sorting reports, a policy for how long someone should be banned for, some legit research into the local laws.

And THEN you figure out you need a way to script and train people for these interactions (what do you say when you kick someone out?), you need a way to keep training up to date, and you need some way of sharing information about this stuff (eg a database or resource kit).

Once you’ve done this for a while, you realise…
WHAT A LOT OF WORK.
And you need support for your safety workers, debriefing, etc etc etc.

Incidentally, most Australian and NSW businesses are legally required to address all these issues in their business plans. This is one of the reasons why going legit, rather than ‘just being friends who run a party’ is a good idea – you have access to help in putting together this sort of material.

Ongoing issues:
– this is a top-down response to incidents, which doesn’t change any of the power dynamics in our community. It just means we’ll get a steady stream of offenders we get really good at dealing with.
– most scenes have found that there’s a sudden rush of reports once a safety policy is set up, as the ‘backlog’ gets dealt with, and then the reports slow.

Things I want:

  • Someone to put together a ‘kit’ for safety champ processes, so that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Eg the Dace Safe Korea people have BRILLIANT research on offences in their city. How did they collect this data? How does it compare with Sydney?
  • A shift towards the local ‘safety champ’ peer network instead of the ‘scene leaders solving problem’ top-down process. I want to see local peeps powered up to care for each other, not people just shifting responsibility onto a few powerful people.

I think we are all responsible for each other. That’s why I teach lindy hop the way I do: we’re in love for three minutes. So make it happy, safe, consensual love where we all get out happy. :D

*not actually a thing.

Responding to comments: is gendering offenders a mistake?

Responding to comments on my post Stalking: online and face to face harassment:

How about setting the expectation that men, women and everyone else in between simply behave like decent human beings?
…Over-Genderising the issue is arguably perpetuating the inequality that causes these things to occur in the first place. The tone is set that we expect less from men.

I have just wanted to shout “JUST STOP BEING POOS!” so many times. It just wastes so much time and energy for us to have to come up with a bunch of processes and guidelines for preventing and responding to sh/a, time and energy we could better spend on DANCING.
But it just keeps happening. WHAT is wrong with these people?!

So far as gendering goes:
I think this is a very good point. At this stage, internationally, the vast bulk of offenders identify as cismen, and the vast bulk of targets/reporters identify as women (including non ciswomen).
This is representative of figures outside the dance community – it is a definite fact that most assaults and harassment are perpetrated by cismen, and women and girls are the majority of targets. The follow up fact is that men and boys are also targets for offenders, but that they under-report.
We also know that boys are probably as likely to be assaulted and harassed as girls (and I’m talking children and young teens here), but are far less likely to report than girls.

So we can say that sexual harassment and assault in the dance world reflect patterns in the wider community.

Offenders are prevalently cismen.
This aligns with what we know about how power works in our communities. I find it more useful to think of sexual assault and harassment as acts of power and abuse first. Acts of power that have sexualised settings.

What I will say, is that the dance world has been spectacularly quick and effective in its response to this issue. Within a year of Steven Mitchell being reported, we had codes of conduct and working response processes around the world. That is INCREDIBLE. And SO fast!
This is partly our challenge: we’ve gotten onto these issues so quickly, we can’t keep up with ourselves!

Australia is certainly in the lead for safety prevention and response. We are just bloody GREAT at this. It also means we’re inventing stuff as we go, rather than getting to learn from other scene’s efforts. TIRING.

I actually think Sydney is doing a truly fabulous job. Teachers across the city can speak calmly and reasonably together on this topic, they share information and resources and collaborate on efforts. That is truly crazily good work for a city with ~10 different teaching bodies and events.

I give a bunch of credit to the fact that Sydney started getting serious about lgbqt inclusiveness ages ago (still not 100% good yet though!), has leads and follows of all gender variations (still not 100% there either!), and is relatively multicultural.

I’m also really excited about the fact that Sydney has stopped relying on a top-down approach to safety (where business owners make and enforce decisions) to a flatter approach to safety (where individuals take care of each other and tell offenders to get lost).

I’m really really proud of everything people do to look after each other in Sydney. It’s really really wonderful.
But one night a week dancing struggles against a whole culture.

Responding to comments about my post ‘Stalking: online and face to face harassment’

I address some issues raised in response to my previous post, Stalking: online and face to face harassment.

Every man will feel like they’re being watched.
I hope this is true. Because they need to realise that they will be held accountable for their actions. I like to think of it more as men will feel as though they are being held to account for their actions. As Teena says, women’s behaviour is constantly observed and assessed.

The men reading this who are harassing won’t listen and consider changing.
I agree with this in part. Some men, for sure. But I’ve seen a few reports lately where it’s not clear whether the men realise what they’re doing is not ok. I’m kind of flabberghasted by how few men realise that a woman saying “Please stop touching me,” or asking their friend to ask him to stop touching them

New dancers will see this and feel threatened and not come back.
…I’m not sure about that one. Most of the women targeted by these men _are_ those newer dancers. So hopefully, it might help them realise that this behaviour isn’t ok, no matter what these men say. Some of the newer dancers I’ve spoken to or have reported stuff to their friends, etc, have said that they didn’t know what was normal or not….
But I think this is a good point.

This harassment happens to men as well as women.
I think this is an important point, but in my post I’m talking specifically about behaviour men’s behaviour towards women. It’s a deliberately gendered discussion. Not all of these men are actually straight or sexually interested in women. And by ‘women’ I’m including girls and anyone who presents femme (and I specifically include trans women _as women_ here). But this topic needs much more attention.

I’m certain men are also harassed and assaulted _by men_ (because these behaviours in the dance scene reflect what’s happening in the broader community), but I’m also certain these harassers use different strategies. I haven’t been dealing with any of these reports, and I haven’t heard any reports from friends overseas. This doesn’t mean it’s not happening, it just means we haven’t found a way to make it possible for these men to report.

Women do harass and assault, but in this post, I’m specifically speaking to _men_. Again, we will see different behaviours by women harassing other women and harassing men.

Stalking: online and face to face harassment

NB this post is part of a series:

Hello!
This year I’ve received, on average, about a report per month of men harassing or assaulting women in the lindy/blues/bal scenes. Which puts us at about 9 for the year so far.
Most of these reports have been about Australians, and most of them have been about men in Sydney. Yes, including who are part of this facebook group. Yes, if you are harassing women, we have seen you, and we have written reports. Even if you are hassling women interstate.

Most of these reports have been about harassment. So I thought I’d write a quick bit of info for the men in this group who’ve been harassing women.

The most common report is about a combination of face to face and online harassment. So, here bros, stop doing this stuff (especially to brand new dancers or young dancers):

  • Asking a woman for her phone number so you can ‘Help her find out about dancing’ the first time you meet her at her first dance. This is creepy. STOP IT.
  • Immediately facebook friending a woman you’ve just met at a dance and then sending her HEAPS of messages, commenting on all her posts, tagging her a lot, asking for her phone number, address, dates. This is creepy. STOP IT.
  • Taking photos of her and then posting them online and tagging her. This is epic creepy. STOP IT.
  • Sending lots (ie more than 2) facebook messages within an hour or two, or a day or two. If she doesn’t reply, or doesn’t send the first message, she’s not interested. STOP IT.
  • Sending lots of texts. If she doesn’t reply, doesn’t send the first message, or responds only with emojis, she’s not interested. STOP IT.
  • Demanding a woman reply to messages and texts, and getting angry or upset/saying how sad you feel if she doesn’t answer your messages IMMEDIATELY.
    This is crap. STOP IT.
  • Driving her home after a dance the first night you meet her, then ‘dropping in’ at her house randomly afterwards. This is hella creepy. STOP IT.
  • Asking her about her relationships (boyfriends, husbands, girlfriends), sex life, or intimate history. This is CREEPY. STOP IT.
  • While dancing: holding her too close and then passing it off as ‘a blues hold’ or an ‘experienced move’; touching her inappropriately (on her breasts, buttocks, groin, upper legs – you know what we’re talking about). This is really gross. And other people in the room see you and will do something about it. SO STOP IT.
  • While dancing: Physically lifting or pulling a woman into a dip, lift, or jump, even if it seems ‘small’. This is not respectful or safe. STOP IT.
  • At dances: touching too much. Unwanted cuddles or hugs, massages or ‘dance lessons’, constant ‘platonic’ touches, hand holding, ‘accidental’ touches. If you haven’t asked for and received permission for this stuff, STOP IT.
  • Continuing to do any of these things if she’s asked you to stop, or said something like “It’s a bit full on to get so many messages.”

NOTE: We SEE YOU. Other people in the room see you doing stuff that isn’t ok. And they will do something about it. So STOP IT.

— CONSEQUENCES —
If you’re doing this stuff, you’re going to get busted. What usually happens:

  • you get warned,
  • you get banned from local events,
  • you get banned from interstate and international events.
  • bans are enforced by security at events, and all event organisers are very willing to call the police if offenders try to turn up anyway.
  • yes, organisers and teachers do talk to each other about this stuff, both within Sydney, and between states and countries.

— PROCESS —

  • The woman/women you’re targeting speaks to their friend who then speaks to someone like me who organises events, to a teacher, or to a dancer who’s been around for years.
  • This person then tells you/the harasser to stop that shit, or they tell a person who can do something about it (eg an event organiser).
  •  You get an in-person warning, or an emailed warning. If it’s from me, you will get an immediate ban from all my events and parties.
  • The organiser/friend will tell other people, including other organisers and DJs in other cities and countries, who will then ‘watch’ you or warn you when you visit their town.

It is common for offenders to threaten the woman/women they’re harassing if they ‘tell someone’ about this.
Most organisers have a process in place to keep the reporting women safe: a friend or agent does the reporting, and the woman stays anonymous.

NB: most offenders harass more than one woman, and we are finding more women are reporting now.
Most offenders are seen by _other people_ who then report them. Yes, other men will report your behaviour.

— SOME DEFINITIONS —

  1.  “Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.”
    (ref: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/…/…/guides/sexual-harassment…)
  2. This can be online or face to face.
  3. Face to face harassment can include (and this includes examples of stuff I’ve read in reports this year):
  • Staring or leering eg Staring at a woman while she’s dancing or talking;
  • Deliberately brushing up against you or unwelcome touching eg Squeezing past someone to get to the water dispenser, touching her while she’s talking to her friends, holding her too close and in a sexual way during dances;
  • sexy or sexualised comments or jokes eg asking a woman about her sex life, or how often she has sex, or about her sexual preferences;
  • insults or teasing of a sexual nature eg making jokes like “X likes it a bit risky don’t you?”
  • intrusive questions or statements about your private life eg “Who is your boyfriend? Do you have a boyfriend? Why isn’t he here?”
  •  displaying posters, magazines or screen savers of a sexual nature eg Showing women explicit vintage ‘cheesecake’ pictures and photos on his phone at a dance;

4. Online harassment can include (and this includes examples of stuff I’ve read in reports this year):

  • displaying posters, magazines or screen savers of a sexual nature eg Sending women explicit vintage ‘cheesecake’ pictures and photos of sexualised vintage wear to women via facebook, suggesting she wear this outfit or would ‘look good in this’;
  • sending sexually explicit emails or text messages
  • inappropriate advances on social networking sites eg lots and lots of messages on facebook, or text messages, asking for dates, or asking invasive questions about her private life;
  •  accessing sexually explicit internet sites
  •  requests for sex or repeated unwanted requests to go out on dates eg Asking a woman to come for coffee after dancing, or to go for dinner before dancing.
  • behaviour that may also be considered to be an offence under criminal law, such as physical assault, indecent exposure, sexual assault, stalking or obscene communications. eg groping a woman’s groin, buttocks, or breasts while dancing, forcing kisses and ‘cuddles’ at the end of a dance or at the end of a night of dancing.

Hannah Arendt

This is one of the best films I’ve seen on SBS On Demand. I barely knew anything about Hannah Arendt, so it was a very good watch.
It seems especially relevant now because it’s about a jewish woman, Hannah Arendt (Barbara Sukowa) who’d escaped a concentration camp and is now a big name philosopher/academic living in New York. She goes to the trial of a nazi (Adolf Eichmann) in Israel and writes about (spoiler) ‘the banality of evil’. Lots of people really didn’t like the way she framed her arguments.

It’s a really well made film, with great acting, etc etc. And it’s very unusual to see a film about a very intelligent, middle aged woman from a marginalised group writing and speaking cleverly on screen. It’s especially relevant now, because of its questions about how ordinary people can do great evil.

I saw the film ‘The Eichmann Show’ a few years before I saw this film, and that really helped me understand what was happening when Arendt went to the trial. I’d recommend watching that first. It’s difficult to comprehend, now, what it must have been like for survivors of the holocaust to confront a nazi in a public court. It is, of course, disturbing viewing. As it should be. But the difficulty comes from the stories people are telling, and their sheer broken misery, rather than on-screen violence.

I’m not all that familiar with Arendt’s piece, but now I think about it, this idea of the banality of evil seems to best fit the ‘robotdebt’ issue in Australia and the effect of austerity policies in the UK. The gradual dehumanising and eventual deaths of powerless people caught up in bureaucratic knots. Public servants participating in this dehumanising, just by ‘doing their jobs’.

Look at your partner

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=um0VleA8jRE&feature=youtu.be&t=15m16s

“During the whole time, I’m lookin at my partner. You know like, you dancin on the floor with a young lady, for all night long, you be dancing. You don’t wanna be lookin all around. There’s a young lady in front of you. Pay attention to her. Look at her. You know, you’re dancing. Hey baby. You know, one of those things like that. You wanna get down with that.”

Yes, it’s heavily gendered and cishet brotalk. But this is _social_ dancing. Here, Frankie is talking about connecting with his partner as a human being, someone he’s interested in. Whether you want a cup of coffee with your partner, or you just want to make contact with another human, treat them like a real, live person. LOOK at them.