Among other things, I have been thinking a lot about exploitation and misrepresentation. Is it fair to take someone’s work – regardless of whether with or without permission, consent, knowledge and use it? Is it perhaps even rude to ask?
The question itself seems violent; most questions are based on assumptions made, and the assumption here is that there words and work have little value. They have nothing to gain, it probably only benefits me, if indeed the transaction is, I ask, they give, I use. There are of course ways around that. Ways that are more participatory or attempts at giving the unheard a voice.
Jamila (the documentary producer) sent me a rough cut of the current film that she is working on. A documentary about the tensions that have arisen from the gentrification of – my former home – Venice Beach. I mention that it is my former home, as I was both an early gentrifier, and later a victim of it. This led to a discussion about objectivity. I have come to the belief that however well-intentioned, objectivity is not possible. Hawthorne Effect and observer Paradox aside, just by deciding on a subject, by merely turning a camera towards something, a certain level of subjectivity is evident.
The film tried to be balanced, which bothered me. Partly because I have strong personal feelings about it, but it also had a sense of ‘good-people-on-both-sides’. If one person states the world is flat, and another that the world is a sphere, I don’t think a documentary should give both sides equal footing. Of course, this is something that consistently seen, partially perhaps due to the access to online platforms that allow us all to state virtually anything, but I digress.
We are all biased, pretending (or assuming) that there is no bias is perhaps more dangerous than the bias itself.
One way around that is transparency about the author of any work, and that makes sense, but how much do we need to know to fully understand the work? In some cases, knowing that someone is not a doctor, not an astrophysicist might be enough, in other cases, financial interests and ownerships may help us determine the value and meaning of the output, but I would imagine that at some point, the amount of information that we would need to fully understand something gets to be too much. As much as I believe that transparency is good, it may not be practical, which is why I am still undecided on the value of anonymity. The second best thing to knowing everything might be knowing nothing and thus having to look at the work with our own subjectivity and reading, interpreting, and valuing it based on the (Schrödinger-esque) assumption of it being both true and false.
But perhaps the solution for my project is simply that it is made clear that is subjective without necessarily revealing every detail about the project’s background. Whether that means it cannot or should not be anonymous, I have not yet decided.