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In Your Hands!

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In Your Hands!


I heard tell that Charlie Winston, a British pop star, recently visited Vancouver and played a show. I didn't see his show, and don't know much of his work, but I recently saw a music video entitled, "In Your Hands" (available here: ) which I thought was worth commenting on publicly:

A large group of people waits to enter an immigrant processing centre or employment insurance office. After up to 18 months of waiting, simply for the right to work and send money home to their families, the people en masse charge the desk, smashing the glass that divide them and break into dance together. This post is meant to elaborate on the processes illustrated in the video and appreciate the revolutionary message associated with destroying socially constructed barriers that divide, rather than unite.

In the beginning, the people in the video dutifully go through the bureaucratic processes that lend legal legitimacy to their existence as human beings, yet are obviously not optimistic that whatever ruling they receive will be to their benefit. “…And everytime you promise me: not much longer now. I’ve had to put my whole, world, in your hands.” The silent bureaucrats on the other side of the transparent/invisible/imaginary barrier (read: border) go about their work, safe in the belief that if they dutifully perform their tasks, the well oiled bureaucratic machinery will fulfill the liberal-democratic promise, that is, achieve the “greatest good for the greatest number.” They avoid conversation with the Other on the other side of the barrier, for fear of contaminating their judgement with human emotion. Sometimes, their superiors instruct, this means that people “fall through the cracks” but ultimately you have to “break a few eggs to make an omelette.”

There is no shortage of clichés in the bureaucracy to create and enforce the barrier that separates the government pawns (bureaucrats) from the impoverished global majority that elite interests within states must control to maintain their positions of privilege. (I speak from the perspective of someone who has been a beaurocrat before.) By implicating the pawns in the process of state control, government employees can ignore the curious similarities between a necktie and a noose. We should take note of this especially in the context of the G8/G20 debacle in Toronto that saw the world's elites come together far far away from the ordinary people who took to the streets to articulate their rejection of their values, their global capitalist ethic. (Bare in mind that these leaders decided to cut deficits which won't mean increasing corporate taxation but will likely manifest in the further erosian of social services making life just a little more unbearable for the majority.)

One of the things the G8/G20 global capitalist parties seek to do is to reinforce barriers between beauracrats/government officials "in the know" and the rest of us who have to live the reality of their policy choices. I appreciate this video because it could easily have told a down-trodden story, or a story of class struggle where one dominates the other. It did neither. The human emotion and common human experience of care for one’s family caused a revolt against the revolting and dehumanizing process of applying for the right to work. “Mister Mister, you say you’re trying! But don’t you know, my brother’s dying?! You say it won’t be long, but why am I so cursed for where I am born?” At this point, the others hear this all-to-familiar story and have had enough. They charge the imaginary barrier and “reorganize its molecules” in a way that hurts no humans directly. They grab the paperwork, the physical record of their humiliating experiences, and tear it to confetti as they dance joyously. Joy in “letting loose,” Joy in the recognition of the human condition in one another, Joy in the dismantling of the bureaucratic process that says you are an Other and have to prove yourself as being worthy of the right to work to ensure that your family survives.

Finally, the joyous transformation within this video is where the bureaucrats themselves throw away their paperwork, make confetti of it, and join the party. They all dance together, as the barrier that divided them has been reduced to rubble and they can all be human beings again. Utopian perhaps, but no more so than the utopian assumptions underlying a global system of distribution that ensures 3/4 of humanity live on virtually nothing while less than a 1/4 live in luxury.

I’m not opposed to some degree of infringement on people’s liberty. The example commonly used by Noam Chomsky is that of a grandfather restraining a child such that she is not hit by oncoming traffic. This is a justifiable imposition of authority. It is, however, unjustifiable, to violently prevent the global Other from seeking the means to feed their families, especially since it is the neoliberal policies of the so-called “Have” states that accelerate the immiserising of the so-called “Have-not” states amidst the echoing reverberations of colonialism.

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This is a really moving

This is a really moving video.  Thanks for posting. 

You're absolutely right to point out that neo-liberalism is utopian too.  It seems that the accusation of having utopian notions or being an idealist is unevenly distributed.  Certain things sound utopian under a neo-liberal imaginary and certain things don't.  It reminds me of how people in privileged positions can admonish others for "living in the past" and playing the "blame-game" as though it's a bunch of little children throwing insults around.  By their logic, the right to condemn, judge and
critique is unevenly distributed.  If you're white wealthy and male, it's an informed critique.  If you're not those things, you're living in the past, playing the blame-game.

You don't often hear songs or videos that are set in employment offices.  The video widens the range of visibility of this place.  We can open up the employment office to art -- the employment office can be a realm of/for culture too -- insofar as in the realm of culture we can entertain possibilities for social change we had never thought of before, we can imagine new futures that haven't been lived etc.  The redistribution of the visible is what's important. 

Here, the employment office is not only a site of culture but of social change and political change-- we imagine a future, one that hasn't been scripted by the state.  We don't usually think of the employment office as a scene for rethinking our agency, and our role as a subject.  The video creates an expansion of points of contact, engagement with the state, of fronts on which we can engage.

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