Monday, June 26, 2006

Everyday Future Fighting

In a presentation I made earlier this year, I made the interesting claim that the film X-Files: Fight the Future is a better film to identify with for conceiving and articulating indigenous resistance in the Pacific than the film Whale Rider. Naturally to alot of people, this was a wild and outlandish claim, that most wrapped their minds around, by guessing that the humans are the indigenous people and the aliens are the colonizers.

In this guess however, people tended to forget that when I make strange claims such as this, I am usually situating myself within a Lacanian psychoanalytical framework. The incredible popular emphasis today on interpreting dreams and water cooler dreamwork stems from Freud's work in shifting the meaning of dreams away from both divinity and meaningless to become a link with something internal (or it could be argued depending on how you conceive of the unconscious as external) to man, a bewildering clue to his processes.

Most take this as a cue to delve into dreams as if they are worlds of meaning to be searched out, to be engaged with, to be interogated until a clear meaning emerges. In structuralist language, what this cue amounts to is that they signifier, the surface image, is only an access point through which we can experience and interpret the far more important signified, the conceptual portrait that the signified only hints at, but is secondary to.

For Lacan however (via Zizek), the search through the signified can be misleading in searching for the productive meaning of a dream. Instead what is most important in dreamwork is the signifier, the bare surface of the dream.

If we extrapolate this point to The X-Files: Fight the Future, we could mark the title itself as the signifier, and the film, story, plot, imagery, dialogue and everything else the signified. If we emphasis the signified, we take a journey through the film and look for indigenous clues. Who does Scully represent? Is she the resurgent Maga'Haga' of Chamorro culture? Is Mulder Maga'lahi Hurao? Or is he Maga'lahi Kephua? Are the aliens the Spanish? The Japanese? The Americans?

Obviously this exercise is productive, as a huge number of connections and happy accidents can take place, but from the standpoint from which Zizek articulates Lacan's form of psychoanalysis, all of this is fundamentally misleading, as it is the surface, the seemingly empty and vapid vessel that stimulates this texture, that seems to merely bring it to us, that holds the truth of the dream.

Zizek makes this point via a dream of Alexander the Great. While waging war on the city of Tyre, Alexander dreamed of himself chasing a satyr, which he eventually caught. Rather than delving into the symbolic meaning of the satyr and the potentcy of its representative potentialities, Alexander instead discerned the meaning at the level of the word "satyr" itself. If you break up satyr into "sa" and "tyros" it means "Tyre is yours." Alexander pressed on the attack, escalating it and eventually won.

For me it is a similar superficial dynamic when I say that the film X-Files: Fight the Future has something to do with indigenous struggles. While I could entertain a very vivid and lively discussion which would form analogous points between let's say Chamorro struggles on Guam in resisting American colonialism and the plight of Scully and Mulder in resisting, huge conspiracies and government coverups and alien colonization, that is not where I see the power of X-Files and attempting to articulate some relevance.

For most, the everyday extinction and obvious death of indigenous peoples is something which is part of the fabric of reality. Most recently on a KUAM sounding board, the question dealt with how to more effectively teach Chamorro language in schools and protect it. While a number of people gave helpful points, almost everyone of these concerned comments was accompanied by a disdain for the survival of Chamorros. "Kill it!" or "Let it die!" some respondents wrote simply, their words, weighted with the commonsense notion that future of Guam, as we all know and feel everyday, lies with English and the United States.

Throughout the Pacific as rational transculturative conversations take place amongst our leaders and our people, we should be keenly aware of how incredible skewed this conversation is. Last year, Deputy of Insular Affairs for Bush, David Cohen, made a remark which I always attribute to him, but can be found everywhere, whether in films such as Swades, or events like backyard graduation parties and World Social Forums. That remark is that Pacific Islanders need to take a good look at their cultures and get rid of what is holding them back from achieving success in the United States, or in other words what is preventing them from renting a moderately priced place within that much discussed American dream.

Here we find the gist of these "rational transculturative conversations." Far from being the neutral pragmatic discussions that they appear to be, they take place over a terrain which is already mapped out, a foundation which already points at the direction the conversation must go.

For more than a decade, the "Washington Consensus" was one such foundation. As newly developing countries began to enter the world economy and interact at the global level, the ground upon which discussions over what is the future of their countries, what directions they must move, was highly dictated by the dangerous neoliberal principles of the Washington Consensus. Through differing extranational organizations such as the WTO, these principles became the conditions of "the future" for many countries. But was development truly dependent solely on allowing multinational corporations to plunder your countries natural resources and by privatizing all your utilities and industries? Of course not, but we find in common with the case of indigenous people and the legacy of neoliberalism, is the witholding of the future itself. What I mean by this is that through economic restrictions, war, neocolonialism or whatever else, they make it clear that the future is not ours, it belongs to someone else, namely them, and that we must go to them to have it.

There is the hardly hidden bias of David Cohen's culturally encouraging remarks, there is no back there where you come from, where you are, the future is here, and your task is to figure out how to seize it, meaning get rid of whatever it is that is holding you back from getting it. I saw this several years ago, when one of the most vocal activists and teachers of the Chamorro language made the claim to me that our teaching and learning of Chamorro must never conflict or restrict the learning and teaching of English. There is an obvious commonsense pragmatism behind this statement, English is after all the language of global commerce right? But whenever you mix colonization and pragmatism, it tends to be a dangerous combo, which is why I often say that commonsense is my enemy.

The stance by this activist just parrots the older stance of "English only" that many Chamorros adopted in their homes and lives, which led to two generations which are largely either uncomfortable speaking Chamorro or just can't. But the stance is just a little different, whereas before this stance led Chamorros to not teach Chamorro, this "new" one just leads us to not really teach Chamorro, since English is always what must be emphasized, must be protected.

This stance of "English mostly" is built upon the idea that lies beneath so much bland rhetoric of cultural revitalization and preservation in Guam, namely that the future belongs to someone else, in this instance Uncle Sam and his English language. Because of this fact, I can lament the loss of my language or my land, I can make statements of it needing to be passed on or it needing to be protected, but I make these statements, and I make them very very loudly sometimes, because it is far far easier than actually backing them up, then working to make them happen. It is after all far far easier to say that "teaching our kids Chamorro is important," than actually teaching your kids Chamorro.

For people like these who talk about these things but refuse to live them, refuse to make them a part of their daily lives, their homes and their existence, these plantitudes of cultural preservation and revitalization end up sounding like diaster movie dialogue that accepts the inevitability and triumph of the diaster. In diaster films with asteroids colliding, earthquakes shattering or tidal waves approaching, is there any dialogue more empty and hollow than that from characters who have accepted that they are going to die, but yet try to say otherwise to reassure others? Do not their empty words say at the most basical level, that my words are nothing because the future lies with something else, that something else, an overwhelming catastrophe, a towering disaster owns it, and to its will I must bend?

The problem with those who ferociously imbibe this commonsense notion of the future, as well as those who accept it but pretend otherwise, is that the future becomes something already mapped out, already dictated by larger, richer, better countries, people far better equipped at the making of history, and therefore in essence it cannot be fought, it must be accepted. What grabs me about the film X-Files: Fight the Future, can be found in the title alone, but also in the film, a clear recognition that the future can and must be fought. The future is therefore neither an automatic unfolding of events which we can only follow, nor an organization whose mapping of a people's path cannot be changed.

As the arrival of 8,000 Marines to Guam from Okinawa takes on the aura of inevitablity, of a future which we can see clearly, yet have no control over, it is more important than ever to fight the future, and resist a passive acceptance of others controlling our safety and our lives.

One of the things that inspired this post, was of course, Street Fighting Man from the Rolling Stones:

Street Fighting Man (M. Jagger/K. Richards)

Ev'rywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy
'Cause summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy
Well then what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock 'n' roll band
'Cause in sleepy London town
There's just no place for a street fighting man

Hey! Think the time is right for a palace revolution
'Cause where I live the game to play is compromise solution
Well then what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock 'n' roll band
'Cause in sleepy London town
There's no place for a street fighting man
Get down

Hey! Said my name is called disturbance
I'll shout and scream, I'll kill the king, I'll rail at all his servants
Well, what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock 'n' roll band
'Cause in sleepy London town
There's no place for a street fighting man
Get down

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