What to write about…

I think it’s time to turn this blog into a space that now more reflects where I am, still immersed in this project, but from the academic standpoint, not from the Project Director one. While the PD role will always influence me, its shaped me so incredibly much, I’m getting comfortable in the scholarly role, too, settling into dissertation writing and presenting my work not to a crowd of teenagers or a table full of non-profit leaders, but with colleagues and mentors and people in the university. It’s a good shift, this one, for me, now.

Next week I am going to present at the Digital Media and Learning conference, and I am very excited.  I’ll be presenting on my work on youth media and the concept of agency. I’ve noticed how hopeful we are, we being those of who work with youth (like in AMIGOS, like in media, etc) that our work will change the world. Yep, I said it. We want to change the world. But really, I’ve been thinking about this obsession. It comes from somewhere, and its a strong feeling. It’s not a feeling that just exists, though, its shaped and burdened and carries in a cloud behind it all of this past, about why we need to change the world, about who can change the world, about how the world got like this in the first place, and colonialism, about how youth can relate across difference, about race and history, and which youth can participate, and what that participation can look like. All kinds of thoughts, structures, feelings, relationships are part of that cloud, and I think we ought to take a better look at what’s up there, what produces the desire to “change the world” and why we are so invested in youth being involved in, or doing that change, so much so that often we blind ourselves, not wanting to see anything but the beauty that comes of these innovative and generally awesome youth projects.

I think we’re way to tied to politics, and to youth as the makers of change, and I think those of us in media (me included) need to examine the pedagogical structures that produce voice, or empowerment, or agency. We love agency over here in youth studies. It’s the bread and butter of why youth programming exists, especially when that programming is media- after all, we argue, its voice! A video can be shared on wide, far-flung networks! Youth can communicate across all kinds of boundaries! But think about it, really— is that really what happens? How many youtube videos have youth made that fall on empty youtube publics? A whole lot, especially youth who don’t have regular internet access. And really, do all videos evidence agency? Are these media production pieces so world changing? I’ve argued, many times, to many audiences, that they are. Part of me believes its true, I want to believe. But there’s this really major nagging sensation in the pit of my belly, telling me when all I do is believe in the wonderfulness of youth media and agency and world-changingness, I’m missing something, something big, something important, something I need to understand. Maybe agency isn’t such a useful concept, after all. Too much baggage.

Let me give you an example. On my media project in Boaco, a bunch of youth from a community in Boaco made, with their AMIGOS vols, a video about indigineity (sp?). None of them are indigenous. It had a storyline, but the image that stands out to me (and always will) is of these youth, with faces painted with mud, dancing in a circle. They had fashioned “indigenous dress” out of woven potato sacks. I was mortified. But this was not the only such video. From another community, youth produced a version of Pocahontas, in which they did similar things- face paint/mud, elaborate costumes based around potato sack dressings, the white American volunteers playing these conquistadores, the brown Nicaraguan urban volunteer playing this whimsical version of Pocohontas, the youth playing a number of other characters. Again, mortified. Both videos played right into stereotypes about indigenous people. I thought they showed no awareness of critical thinking or of valuing other cultures or of critiquing the modern state or globalization for f***ing things up.

These videos represented, to me, a failure.  And there were others, these two, in particular, hit me hard because the involved youth were such rockstars. I showed them to no one. I did not brag about these productions, or post them to the project website. I did not use them to illustrate points about multiculturalism for AMIGOS or ideas about civic engagement or publicness in my research. I just wished they had never happened. I went on my way, writing about videos that are about gender and schooling, development and water, teen pregnancy and immigration. All topics I feel safe on, topics where I can engage youth, videos they produced that resist sometimes, but mostly, videos I can read as progress, moving forward— changing the world.

Oh dear. I think it’s time to write about the videos my youth made about indigenous people and stories.

These videos, I think, are what we need to be talking about. They resist every liberal narrative about youth, hopefulness, and political/social change. They give us another narrative. It’s dangerous territory for me, they are videos I am afraid of.

A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just begins
to live that day.
– Emily Dickinson
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