Friendly Reflections on Politics

From: Bernard Roddy (email suppressed)
Date: Fri Sep 26 2008 - 10:00:24 PDT

I have been meaning to check in on the discussion that engages politics and film but have been too much of a stressball the past couple of weeks. It is a pleasure to have the list to return to, particularly now that it seems to have opened itself to "extraneous" discussions bearing on the lives of media makers. I generally read the list through the archive and have some understanding for those who see the list as a form of reinforcement rather than a way of facing otherness. But I disagree with Fred when he reprimands others posting to the list for their digressions and have been impressed with the way that Beatriz Flores Guttierrez sustained her case given the eurocentric orientation of the participants. The worry about extending the boundaries of the list to Europe strike me as somewhat insincere. Reading reservations from Jack about an American exclusiveness simply raises additional questions about exclusion. This brought to mind a book I
 greatly admire by Laura Marks called The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (Duke, 2000). Marks is focused on work by film and video artists who explore their own experiences in crossing cultures, and she is most emphatic about operations of such work that are not visual. Visuality has a dubious function, you could say, in the West's relations with difference. Anyway, I think the nature of the work discussed and the kinds of events posted has become more varied and challenging over the years, where Brakhage, with all his strengths, represents a kind of rear-guard. I applaud those changes. It often seems to me that the experimental world is not all that different from the wider world with respect to how room is finally made for new voices. At the same time, I also recognize the importance of defending whatever old schools we have in experimental work in the face of wider attacks on creativity. But Fred also seemed
 to insinuate that the list is a product of a certain committed membership, arguing that people sign off when politics gets raised. I would like to suggest that people also sign off when Fred posts, that people sign off for a variety of reasons. It would be more constructive, however, to ask: who is absent to begin with? Who never signs on, and what are we giving up as a result? I applaud the openness with which the list is maintained and recognize the interests those scholars have who want to control the nature of the posts they are opening. But these are not just any garbage posts from just any salesman. There is an important conception of experimental film that is fully engaged with constructive "annoyances," we might say, even if such annoyances also come from reactionary voices. Difficult exchanges drive different people in different directions, but that is nothing objectionable about them. Some of us, I suspect, see the list as a website
 rather than an email list, a website with an open policy about publishing. I strongly support this conception of the discussion, even while I offer my full support to those who are trying to stem the tide of racist, fascist, or otherwise hateful or commercial commentary. I say all this with a certain joy over the changes I see in the kinds of work under discussion, even if there has been a price that some feel is too high given their established interests. To venture a generalization, wher there is someone taking risks there is likely to be some serious incentive to do so and a good chance of good things happening for art, even if not immediately.

I also recall some probings for concrete connections between politics and the arts. In the U.S. we can easily establish direct political implications for artists on this list by focusing on unemployment. I tried to post this under my pseudonym, Regina Muff, but I seem to have failed, so here is it again:

The Social Security Act of 1935 guaranteed unemployment benefits for people out of work but excluded farm workers, domestic workers, and public employees. Farm workers remain excluded from receiving unemployment benefits but in the 1970s public employees were included with the exception of contingent academic labor. Part-time teachers and farm workers share an interest in claiming unemployment benefits for the periods during which you are unemployed. However, if you teach part-time at one or more institutions of higher education (this means the vast majority of academic labor), before claiming unemployment insurance benefits to cover your summer you must demonstrate that you do not have a "reasonable assurance" of finding work in the fall. This is not a requirement of any blue-collar worker who goes unemployed in the States. Teachers who have claimed unemployment benefits have seen their claims contested by their institutions on the grounds that
 they have a reasonable assurance of receiving academic assignments in the fall. This is one of the most punishing ways to make a subsistence living in the States, a continual scramble between institutions, only to face a summer without recourse to the most basic protections.

A clearly written pamphlet articulating your right to claim unemployment benefits as a part-time teacher facing the end of the term was published in 2007. It is called Access to Unemployment Insurance Benefits, and it is by Joe Berry, Beverly Steward, and Helena Worthen. You can download a copy at:

La tee da.

Yours truly,


For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.