1/2 Revolution: Revolution, vérité and social media

1/2 Revolution, directed by Karim El Hakim and Omar Shargawi, actually might be one of my favorite documentaries of the weekend, and it just happens to be the first I’ll write about. Now, I’m very interested in the Middle East region, and the Arab Spring is something in particular that I’ve been utterly fascinated with. The chain reaction of revolution in the Middle Eastern region after the revolution in Tunisia in December 2010 threw such a fierce punch that it was felt globally.

This documentary is so successful because it throws you into the streets of Cairo during the January 2011 revolution based in Tahrir Square in Egypt — and it doesn’t have any qualms with showing the brutality of the movement. The confusion, mayhem, tension, anger, exhilaration of the revolution is perpetuated through the shaky camera shots and exclamations of Karim and his friends as they run through the concrete, bloody streets of Cairo. I was on the verge of tears during the whole documentary. The vérité style of documentary, as portrayed through the direct hand-held perspective (mainly from Karim), is extremely successful in invoking the emotions of the viewer — it’s the tragic reality of the situation that you feel in this movie and that makes you cry when you get home (well…I did, at least.)

Karim El Hakim and Omar Shargawi's "1/2 Revolution" poster

I’ve been a fan of the vérité style of portraying a story whether it’s true or not (here’s looking at you, Cloverfield and Blair Witch Project) for awhile, and I was really hoping for some of it to come out during this fest. Thankfully it did!

The accuracy of the film can really be justified by its content. Everyone knows what has happened from the Arab Spring, and this documentary just shows a new light to the issue. Our perspective of the Arab Spring has been bogged down by different media perspectives and social media. I regret to say that Karim revealed that the effectiveness of the movement was not from Twitter or from (but perhaps Al Jazeera and other nearby news sources played a much more important role) outside news sources, but rather, from the people themselves. Karim said that only 10 to 12 percent of Egyptians used Internet at the time of the revolution, and much less used social media. It’s not a happy thought, but perhaps outside influence isn’t good for — or at least doesn’t have that big of an impact — on the actual happenings during a movement like the Arab Spring. That’s not to say that coverage isn’t important, because it clearly is necessary to inform other people of what’s going on. But I think we run the risk of seeming either too naive or too stubborn when we think that Western ideas and developments are the sole reason for a movement’s success. The people wanted nationalism, so they rallied together; they didn’t necessarily want democracy or Twitter. These outlets that connected our countries were beneficial for both parties, no doubt, but Karim said they really weren’t as influential as we’ve been told. He definitely proposed an interesting argument, and opened my eyes.

It’s not that’s it’s the most groundbreaking documentary in terms of style, presentation or concept. It’s so good because it’s so real; it’s raw footage of one of the most decisive moments of the Arab Spring and of modern history. I mean, I found myself questioning whether or not it was real or not, just because of the things that I was seeing in the film were just so horrendous. Bullet shots in a man’s back, citizens being run over my military tanks — it’s all there and they document all of it. In their small Cairo apartment where they meet up, the friends of the filmmakers are constantly sparring and joining together against the regime and its “thugs” with the other revolutionaries.

Karim El Hakim and Omar Shargawi's "1/2 Revolution"

Karim said that the reason behind the “1/2” in the title of the documentary was because the revolution isn’t over yet. Although Mubarak was deposed, protestors believe that, perhaps, it’s just a matter of a new regime taking over the old regime, and that tensions are hardly ending.

But moreover, I think the most important part about this documentary is that it serves as one of the best and most undeniably vital records of one of the most important developments in recent political world history. The Arab Spring is something that won’t soon leave our minds, and will be searing in the minds of those who actually live in the countries for an indeterminate amount of time. But as Karim said, we need to make sure that we keep our coverage and opinion of events like this within the perspective of the people themselves. This documentary serves as a champion of the Egyptians (and revolutionaries abroad) and a preserver of a very, very important moment in history. It was moving and should be seen by anyone who reads a newspaper, who writes in a newspaper, or who simply cares about the world and its developments.

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Curious twos (pt. 1): Choosing the “brain drain” or the brain gain

I listened to two really interesting posts today.

The first, by NPR, was about the so-called higher ed “brain drain” of the job market in America today. What the piece was addressing was this common occurrence of hedge fund recruiters and financiers coming to Ivey League and upper tier universities to recruit students to join their ranks. The issue with this, raised by a Stanford collection of students, is that these companies are slicing off the top students at these schools—regardless of their major, as the NPR humors in one example of an English major being pressured by financial companies—and taking away the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit that these students could take to other professions. It’s something that I honestly didn’t know anything about before I came across it on the NPR website, and I’m glad that I got to read about it and listen to it. One interesting point the piece addressed was the type of people who go into the financial sector. There are people in the world who are passionate about what they do, and there are people who are in it for the money. The latter is the type who go into finance, and a thought-provoking claim in the piece stated that maybe these people, with a slightly darker psyche than others, are the only ones who should be in that profession but that new, innovative minds are very vulnerable to the animalistic nature of finance.

But there was something I thought about this piece, and it was about the inherent value of not only the article itself, but also of the group it talks about, Stop The Brain Drain. I think I primarily say this because of our tendency, as the media, to embrace negativity as opposed to positivity. It’s not necessarily bad news bias, but it’s the attraction to conflict that I think is what fuels this. It’s kind of like the coverage of the Occupy movement—that of which I was critical, and I’ll be honest. I didn’t want to cover it personally because I knew I was emotionally compromised. I think we’re attracted to movements because of their antagonism. Yet, when looking at the bigger picture, what does this achieve? Why do we not go out and find the people who are trying to transform the financial sector instead of embracing our culture’s proclivity towards clashing? Now, this is a pretty idealistic idea for me to have, I realize that. But I think there’s merit in finding those special cases that show the positivity in change. I think the 1960’s model of revolution is over, and thus, I think harping on movements like Occupy and the one in this story is just a simple rehashing of an outdated concept. Fighting the system seems to be antiquated in America, and fighting from within seems to be an option that’s worth considering. So why not go out and find those people who are doing just that; the people who are actively reassessing what change within capitalism really entails? Now, while we as journalists can’t have an agenda, I think we have the responsibility to relay all the mentalities of an issue. That’s why we need to stray away from the sole coverage of the fighters. We need to cover the thinkers as well.

(His process)

This video is a good example of how someone took liberties in his innovation, rather than be absorbed into a mega-conglomerate. It’s good to cover the critique, but only with moving forward can we make progress as a society. And finding those people who are looking forward is important to make journalists as well-rounded as these innovators.

*Post-script: The NPR piece does have a little blip about the positive impact of these entrepreneurs in new markets, like manufacturing. It’d be interesting to see if this other perspective of the positive impact is real or just idealistic.

Rebels without a cause: the reality of Occupy Wall Street

So, there’s been a lot of talk about the Occupy movement that is spreading through cities across the nation and world. It’s a great movement in theory, and it’s needed to happen for quite some time. The whole movement is based around the socioeconomic inequalities between the “1%” elite and the so-called “99%”, the victimized proportion that the protesters are representing. Their website is constantly updating and the whole movement started when the hashtag #OCCUPYWALLST called for 20,000 people to assemble in lower Manhattan in September to protest the elite moneymakers in Wall Street and to get Obama to regulate the outrageous economic inequalities.

Yes, I agree with what they’re going for. And maybe I’m about to be highly hypocritical, because I have always complained about the socioeconomic problems in this country, particularly after the recession of 2008 and more recently after I saw the documentary Inside Job

Inside Job went deep into the minds and ways of the top %1 of earners in U.S.

But honestly, there’s something about this movement that I just don’t like. Maybe it’s the excess of contrived young adults who are in attendance (or at least who I assume are in attendance). Maybe it’s the lack of an all-encompassing goal. Maybe it’s just the fact that I think the whole movement is futile. One of my colleagues traveled to NYC to cover the protest, and maybe I’m just subconsciously jealous, but I just can’t seem to get on this bandwagon.

One of the questions I want to ask the movement is: who exactly are you attacking? The “freeloaders” of the assisted care community, aka the 47%? The top 1%? The corporations? The stock brokers?

The protesters are primarily demanding change and upheaval. Yes, change is necessary. But one of the things these protesters are calling for is the uprooting of American capitalism. Yes, capitalism has its failures. But so does every other economic system. Moreover, what do they expect to happen once the hated capitalistic society falls? Introduce a shining rainbows and unicorns society that embraces socialism? Communism? Anarchy? Do they want a stock market? Power at the state level? The local level? No power at all?

Screenshot from V for Vendetta.

This leads to another issue I have with the movement: its proclivity towards the “anti-system” movement. Don’t get me wrong, V for Vendetta was a great graphic novel and movie. But, using the visage of Guy Fawkes is not going to help the Occupy movement any more than the media’s portrayal of the protestors as dirty hippies (which they’re not, I understand that) is. If anything, it would hurt the movement. Unless the movement really wants its figurehead to be the guy who wants to kill the leader of the country and burn down all the government buildings. Seriously?

Then there are the people who have “proven” themselves and have personally become the 1%. Here’s what one person said on the Occupy website:

“I am the 1%.

I am the 1% that has my shit together. I am the 1% that doesn’t expect the government to take care of me. I am the 1% that believes in personal responsibility. I am the 1% that got a degree in a profession the market wants, instead of a degree in something useless that I enjoy. I am the 1% that worked my ass off to get good at that profession, allowing me to demand a high pay for my high skill level. I am the 1% that spent my whole life working while the other 99% fucked around or followed their dreams or indulged themselves at useless protests. I am the 1% that won at life. And in America, anyone can do the same just by working hard.

And I don’t owe any of you fucking failures anything.”

Expletives aside, it’s a pretty good argument. At least, in the capitalist mindset. Now, our society has problems and the socioeconomic divides are outrageous and are leading to a trend that needs to be addressed. But I just don’t think 70’s-esque protests are going to cut it. Our society has become so used to “alternative” ideas—the “indie” scene, new types of music, the internet age, the decline of traditionalist values—that a protest simply becomes another bandwagon, another story to cover, another act. After the 50’s, American alternative society was very controversial and it was the perfect time for the war movement, civil rights movement and other movements to occur because people were genuinely shocked. People just aren’t shocked anymore. And more importantly, the corporate entities know what they’re doing is wrong. A bunch of kids in south Manhattan isn’t going to make them ask for the washing away of their transgressions. Getting them to get down on their knees and beg for forgiveness will take a lot more than a few cardboard signs.

If anything’s going to work, it’s going to be a movement within these corporations. The age of protest in America is over. The protests across the world, particularly in the Arab Spring, have been awe-inspiring and exhilarating. But the sad truth is that it just simply can’t work in America.

If corporations don’t get their own act together (and let’s be honest, they probably never will because the essence of capitalism is to be self-centered), then maybe executive action needs to be taken. But because of political ties, that probably won’t happen either. Legislation addressing commerce would be inefficient, so that wouldn’t work either.

Clearly I have no golden key solutions to the socioeconomic disparities and inequalities in America today. I’m not a conservative. I’m not a liberal. I’m not a money-hungry capitalist. I’m just being realistic. That being said, I think that the Occupy movement is similar in that it doesn’t know exactly what it wants, and that will soon become a problem that could potentially fracture and breach the movement until they address it.

I want to talk to a majority of the protesters. I want to know exactly what they would give up to actually protest against the corporations. Their iPhones? Their Nikon/Canon cameras? Those nice warm tents they sleep in? The information they send to Huffington Post, the most corporation-ed out “news agency”?

Moreover, what do these protesters contribute to society? Did they vote in 2008? 2010? Will they vote next year? Would they have been willing to contribute as much time to volunteering at the local food bank or homeless shelter before the movement? Did they get a degree? Did they read both things they enjoyed and disagreed with, including the Wealth of Nations or the Bible or Quran or even the New York Times? Did they stay informed and keep up with the news, with current events? Did they hold doors open for others, pick up pens that strangers dropped? Call their parents? What do they do that gives them a right to defend their moral high ground?

The movement’s just one big messy bandwagon. I agree with what they’re fighting against, but they’ve gotta figure out a counter-argument based on what they’re fighting for. Do more than fight fire with fire. What I want to describe, the Elegance in the Details tumblr stated perfectly: be self-sufficient. Vote. Learn. Read. Just because the 1% doesn’t contribute to society doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. Burning buildings and occupying a park simply won’t get the movement anywhere close to where it should be.