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Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Silo and the Impending Student Body

I read Warren Ellis and Adi Granov's Iron Man: Extremis (2005), and there was a scene that really stuck with me. First a brief summary: Tony Stark gets a call from a friend after a man, infected with a techno organic virus goes on a killing spree. Stark gets his ass handed to him, and then decides he needs to infect himself with the techno organic virus in order to be more connected to his armor and really technology in general.

There's a few other things of importance that can be mentioned, like that in an interview Ellis spoke about how he received a call from Marvel to pitch a story for Iron Man. He wrote back talking about Tony as a futurist. That tends to be an important theme in Ellis' work. He has been referred to as a futurist as well.

But anyhow this isn't a post about exploring all these great interesting themes that are touched upon in Extremis. But there was one scene that really stuck with me. It's in the first issue. Tony has an interview with a man who makes documentaries, John Pillinger. Pillinger goes through and questions Stark about his past as a developer of military weapons. Stark is forthright about all his dealings. Before you know it the interview is over, and Stark asks Pillinger, "Why am I a ghost of the twentieth century?" Pillinger responds: "Because your arms work of the nineties still haunts the poverty and war-stricken countries they were deployed in."

If you've read any of Ellis' work you'll find that a major theme for him is ghosts and haunted places. Not necessarily in the supernatural sense, but more so in relation to the hidden history of places, but as you can see from the above exchange between the characters he is also referring to past misdeeds or possibly even to the (after) effects of technology that we don't pay attention to. I came across something by Homi Bhabha as well, where he talked about ghosts, I believe more in reference to culture. Anyhow, I just found that interesting, and thought it was worth a mention.

But the other part of that scene that stuck with me long enough to necessitate that I write about it, was when, with all due respect, Stark tells Pillinger:
"Have you changed anything? You've been uncovering disturbing things all over the world for twenty years now. Have you changed anything? You've worked very hard. Most people have no idea of the kind of work you've done. Intellectuals, critics and activists follow your films, closely, but culturally you're almost invisible, Mr. Pillinger."
Pillinger responds that he doesn't know if he has actually made a change. But this is more about the truth found in Stark's words and I related it to Chicano/a Studies texts and scholarship. The fact that only intellectuals, critics, and activists watch this man's films, shows that yes he is culturally invisible, and this is very unfortunate, because he is stuck within a category only for people with "special interests." I heard or possibly read somewhere, Ellis write about "not getting stuck in the silo." That is to say, that he tried to read far and wide, not only things that were of interest to him, but he also tried to challenge himself to write different things.

Now in terms of Chicano/a Studies I began to think about the silo. In academia we have to be stuck in our silos, because we of course want to be able to specialize in the specific area and be able to lecture students about the subject we specialize in. But there are so many texts, films and documents that I believe only get shared from professors to students or which are researched by other scholars. Chicano/a Studies has a wealth of materials that should be read far and wide, not just when a person enrolls in a course. Nor is Chicano/a Studies only for Chican@s. I know, some people are thinking, "no shit Sherlock." Unfortunately, Chicano/a Studies texts, art and literature sometimes tend to seem like a special interest category. Of course this doesn't only apply to Chicano/a Studies. Also I understand that Chicano/a Studies was never really meant to be mainstream, it was more to establish the historical experiences and culture of Mexicans in the United States. But when I read something that has an impact on me like say, Occupied America, Sometimes There is No Other Side, Racial Fault Lines, Critical Race Theory, This Bridge Called my Back and Massacre of the Dreamers, I also wonder if anyone outside of Chicano/a Studies has read these works. Or if anyone else likes to read far and wide.


For example, at a coffee shop once, I met an older man, who began a conversation with me, and then went on to briefly tell me about the history of the English language and then he started talking about Junipero Serra. This man didn't have an advanced degree, he had just read far and wide. He had not only read fiction, he read history books also.

With the information super highway at our fingertips I wonder how many people read far and wide? How many take the time to use the internet to learn. As much as I hate to say it, I wonder how many really use Wikipedia when not needing it for a research paper, but just to become more well-informed on a subject.

Sometimes I think that so many people would benefit or become enlightened by reading from the works found within Chicano/a Studies, but then I wonder how many actually would read any of it, without having to read from it? I think it's great that there's also people who enroll in courses just to learn about the culture, then there's those of the culture, who might think it's an "easy A," but nonetheless want to become more informed about their culture; but those are the people who for the moment have a special interest. I think we'll also begin to see an upward trend in which people are not interested in the subject, but will enroll in courses nonetheless to disavow what is being taught and learned, while expounding their own ideologies about white nationalism. This is of course not limited to white nationalists either, there are Mexican-American students who will admittedly enroll in classes because they disagree with what they think the intent of Chicano/a Studies is, and want to also disavow the history and subject matter, and flippantly call it bias.

About a year ago, at a job interview I was asked a question that caught me off guard. A person on the hiring committee asked me, "How would you handle a situation in which a student says something racist in your class?" I truly didn't know how to respond to that, mainly because I guess I never had that experience. I fumbled through a response where I would be diplomatic and ask to speak to the student after class. After the interview I wondered why this question was asked. Then I remembered that the Orange One was campaigning and there was a rise in white nationalist rhetoric and hate speech. I also thought it possible that the people on this hiring committee might have already experienced this, because they all taught under, "Ethnic Studies." Then I realized how naive I was, because although I was in California, it didn't mean that every single institution of higher learning was filled with students with a special interest in the subject. As it turns out I neglected the students who felt ignored due to the color of their white skin, and decided they wanted to share/impose their now intellectualized white nationalist narrative. Then recently I found out that, at the university I interviewed for, they had an incident involving a white nationalist, who was given an opportunity to speak in a classroom. I'm quite sure that man had already made some waves on the campus, and then I was even more sure, that that was why I was asked the question about how I would handle a situation with a student that might say something racist.

A quick side note, the villain in Ellis and Granov's story is a white nationalist who wants to take on the government and "make things right."

I apologize for how scattered my thoughts were in this post, but it has been a while since I've posted on here. That's why I jump from a comic book, to culture (briefly), the silo, and what Chicano/a Studies and Ethnic Studies courses will be facing in the future. I spent the last couple of years writing horrible academic things. I also spent time messaging with an Amazonian Mexicana from Arizona. Aside from that I spent too much time in my headspace and not enough time for myself and the outside world.

3 comments:

  1. Welcome back! Good to see you blogging again. This is a good topic and something I've struggled with over the years. I think we have built a silo around ourselves over the years because we've been taught that's what we're supposed to do. So it's no wonder that no one outside of the silo even knows we're in there.

    I no longer believe in pushing Chicano history as a specialized, therefore "niche" discipline, but believe that we have to push for inclusion within the main narrative.

    I think the same thing about "ethnic studies" now. Whereas I used to think it was a good idea to push it i now see that it would reach a greater base, and theoretically be more meaningful to people overall, were it woven into the general narrative and studies.

    Not sure if that makes sense, but it's always bothered me that despite Chicano history being part of the story of America, we get relegated to "other" status and treat our own history as "outsider."

    I make this argument often when I talk about Lowriders Vs. "classic" car culture - one is seen as deviant and outsider and the other is seen as all-american. Lowriders should be embraced as much a part of "Americana" as muscle cars by now...as should our history, because it is.

    I believe now, that by creating it strictly for the silo AND then trying to jam others into that silo, you create more confusion and division than if we just taught "history" and included everything.

    Also, I read that Marvel has seen a sharp decline in sales by trying this same tactic. They have forced a ton of "diversity" into their characters and story lines and it has been rejected by the public at large because it is just that: forced, i.e. very hollow.

    If Marvel were smart, they would integrate this stuff naturally and organically and let the stories/characters develop on their own.

    Anyway, just my two cents. Interesting blog!

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  2. I get what you're saying about being woven into the general narrative. The tough thing seems to be figuring how to do that. That comparison between Lowriders Vs. "classic" car culture is a great example. It's not about denying the uniqueness of Lowriders or anything else related to Chicano/a cultural production or history, it's about seeing Chican@s as members of this country who have been a part of its history and shaping its culture.

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