How do I survive 2020?

A cultural resource of informative material for navigating this challenging time.

A portrait I took of a man in 2014 during a ‘Stand Up to Racism’ rally in Trafalgar Square, London.

I sometimes wish I could run into the comforting arms of Google, who could simply provide me with all the answers.

Of course, reality does not operate this way. Instead, we are forced to sift through an intense flurry of information (including this newsletter!), which personally makes me feel like Karen digging her fingers in the filing cabinet of the mailing room.  

At a time when the world is being attacked from all sides, we must all find the Karen in ourselves. Recently, I’ve struggled to reconcile how I can contribute meaningfully to discussions without oversaturating what is already out there. I don’t find satisfaction in reposting images that have been shared a thousand times; it exacerbates a symptom I suffer by being on the internet — namely, the one of overstimulation. If I strap you to a chair and show you this 10-hour cat compilation over and over again, I have no doubt you will eventually go bonkers.    

Right now, I also don’t have the mental capacity to form a nuanced opinion on why I believe this and that thing. I just feel overwhelmed. However, I finally figured out how I can do my small part today while recognising my limitations. What is happening in the world is too important not to engage with and a real cultural learning needs to happen 🥁🥁💥

This newsletter started as me wanting to give recommendations to my friends on the things I am reading, listening, and watching. In that same spirit, I’ve created this cultural resource containing material that has kept me both informed and in high spirits.

If this curation is useful, I would consider publishing instalments of these. So, please let me know what you think.

While I don’t have the answer for how to best survive this treacherous year, I hope you find something meaningful in what I have to offer.

Let’s talk about identity

🎥 Do The Right Thing (1989)

“Three decades [since its release], with police forces virtually militarized and with the judicial system largely granting officers impunity for killings committed on duty, the shock of the movie is that, even as many cultural and civic aspects that it represents have changed, its core drama—the killing of black Americans by police—continues unabated and largely unredressed.” — Richard Brody, The New Yorker*

*Contains spoilers.

Radio Raheem: “Let me tell you the story of right hand-left hand. It's a tale of good and evil. Hate: it was with this hand that Cain iced his brother. Love: these five fingers, they go straight to the soul of man. The right hand: the hand of love. The story of life is this: static. One hand is always fighting the other hand, and the left hand is kicking much ass. I mean, it looks like the right hand—Love—is finished. But hold on, stop the presses; the right hand is coming back. Yeah, he got the left hand on the ropes now, that's right. Ooh, it's a devastating right and Hate is hurt. He's down. Left-Hand Hate KO-ed by Love.”

🎥 American History X (1998)

“The scariest and most convincing scenes are the ones in which we see the skinheads bonding. They're led by Derek’s [played by Edward Norton] brilliant speechmaking and fueled by drugs, beer, tattoos, heavy metal and the need all insecure people feel to belong to a movement greater than themselves. It is assumed in their world (the beaches and playgrounds of the Venice area of L.A.) that all races stick together and are at undeclared war with all others. Indeed, the race hatred of the skinheads is mirrored (with different words and haircuts) by the other local ethnic groups. Hostile tribalism is an epidemic here.” Roger Ebert

Danny Vinyard: “So I guess this is where I tell you what I learned - my conclusion, right? Well, my conclusion is: Hate is baggage. Life's too short to be pissed off all the time. It's just not worth it. Derek says it's always good to end a paper with a quote. He says someone else has already said it best. So, if you can't top it, steal from them and go out strong. So I picked a guy I thought you'd like. 'We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” Available on Netflix.

📺 Edward Said on Orientalism

Edward Said: “The more one is able to leave one’s cultural home, the more easily is one able to judge it, and the whole world as well, with the spiritual detachment and generosity necessary for true vision. The more easily, too, does one assess oneself and alien cultures with the same combination of intimacy and distance.”

🎥 Ten Years 十年 (2015)

A film banned in Mainland China, Ten Years 十年 is an anthology of short films set in the year 2025, depicting a dystopian future in which Hong Kong is struggling to maintain their way of life amidst the exerting influence of the Chinese Communist Party. They combat everything from the slimming of domestic food production to restrictions on speaking Cantonese. Available on Netflix.

“Domestic terrorism as a way to force through unpopular legislation, the eradication of a culture through erosion of its language and radical activism as the only way to effect change are among the thorny topics tackled in the anthology Ten Years, now something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. After grabbing headlines for its stealthy, self-distributed — and completely sold-out — screenings at the end of 2015, the collection was dubbed a “virus of the mind” and is the reason for the Hong Kong Film Awards’ banishment from Mainland airwaves.” — Elizabeth Kerr, The Hollywood Reporter

Let’s talk about justice

📚🎥 “Concerning Violence,” The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon

“Get this into your head: if violence were only a thing of the future, if exploitation and oppression never existed on earth, perhaps displays of nonviolence might relieve the conflict. But if the entire regime, even your nonviolent thoughts, is governed by a thousand-year old oppression, your passiveness serves no other purpose but to put you on the side of the oppressors.” — Preface by Jean-Paul Sartre

Michael Watts: “Frantz Fanon’s short rich life weaved together two preoccupations: professional psychiatry and revolutionary praxis. Working in unison, each was put to the service of fighting human suffering and racism and to the goal of post-colonial liberation. Fanon’s contempt for the post-colonial national bourgeoisie across much of Africa was withering and unreconstructed. His writing on the violence of colonial racism and on the productive role of violence in human emancipation was as controversial when The Wretched of the Earth first appeared in 1961 as it is today. 

A complete PDF of The Wretched of the Earth is available here.

I previously wrote a newsletter called, ‘Is imperialism dead?’ which you can read here.

🎙️ ‘The Systems That Protect the Police,’ The Daily

A portrait I made in 2014 of three police officers in London’s Piccadilly Circus. When I took this image, these men were very humble and kind to me. They certainly do not reflect the brutalities that a minority of police officers invoke, in the United States and elsewhere.

“The Minneapolis police officer whose tactics led to George Floyd’s death had a long record of complaints against him. So why was he still on patrol? Guest: Shaila Dewan, a national reporter covering criminal justice for The New York Times.”

You can listen to the podcast here.

📸 The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957 by Gordon Parks

Image from Gordon Parks’ photo book, The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957.

Excerpt from Steidl: “Parks rejected clichés of delinquency, drug use, and corruption, instead opting for a more nuanced view of the social and economic factors tied to criminal behavior. The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957 transcends the romanticized gangster film, the suspense of the crime caper, and the racially biased depictions of criminality then prevalent in American popular culture to provide a rare window into the working lives of those charged with preventing and prosecuting criminals. Parks used his camera to do what it does best: record reality so vividly and compellingly so Life’s readers understand the complexity of these chronically oversimplified situations.”

You can view some of Parks’ images on The Guardian.

🎙️ ‘How do you fight a surveillance state?’ Beyond Today

“We have never lived in a more closely monitored world. Facial recognition technology is being rolled globally, including across the UK. Data can be acquired without a person’s knowledge, let alone their consent. There is a creeping paranoia and concern among human rights experts that advanced surveillance technology could fall into the wrong hands.

We speak to Lokman Tsui, a tech expert and university lecturer in Hong Kong, who is living the midst of an increasingly violent protest movement paranoid about surveillance. We also catch up with Newsnight’s Gabriel Gatehouse, who has just got back from Hong Kong, where he met the young people willing to sacrifice their lives to fight against what they believe to be the oppressive application of technology from mainland China. They both explain why there are lessons from Hong Kong for all of us about the kind of technological future we want to live in.”

You can listen to the podcast here.

Let’s talk about freedom of speech

📰 ‘Five ways to argue better,’ Quartz

“The artist’s struggle,” cover for Línea Curve by @punodraws.

Below is a summary of Quartz’s five tips for arguing better. However, I still recommend reading the entire article, for it gives a great explanation of what an argument is and why “ethical arguing” is important.

  1. Avoid thinking that when someone starts up an argument, they are mounting an attack.

  2. There is always more going on in any argument than who wins and who loses.

  3. Don’t be too quick to judge your opponent’s standards of argument.

  4. Never assume that others aren’t open to intelligent argument. 

  5. It’s possible for both sides to “lose” an argument.

📰 ‘The Right to Listen,’ The New Yorker

Astra Taylor: “As an activist on the left, I long assumed that my role consisted entirely of raising awareness, sounding alarms, and deploying arguments; it took me years to realize that I needed to help build and defend spaces in which listening could happen, too. As citizens, we understand that the right to speak has to be facilitated, bolstered by institutions and protected by laws. But we’ve been slow to see that, if democracy is to function well, listening must also be supported and defended—especially at a moment when technological developments are making meaningful listening harder.”

Self-expression is one of the most important bastions freedom. It is the constitutional mandate of the government to protect these freedoms by upholding laws to protect the rights of its people. But when left unchecked, the government can wield these laws to curtail the same freedoms it swore to protect. The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 broadens the definition of terrorism and can be prone to the government's own interpretation and imagination.

In times like these, we should be vigilant in upholding our rights as citizens. After all, our freedom is the very definition of our being.

Read below why #JunkTerrorBill is important:
1. With the government having the discretion to determine who "terrorists" are — through an executive council, even ordinary citizen with grievances or activists can be penalized and imprisoned.

2. Anyone who threatens to commit an act of "terrorism" will be punished, even without direct involvement with the act. Gatherings or conversations can be held in suspicion.

3. Persons who are merely "suspected" of committing acts of terrorism can be surveilled upon through wiretapping and other means.

4. The government will also be allowed to arrest "suspected" persons without warrant and detain them up to 24 days without charges. In context, even with the writ of habeas corpus suspended, a person can only be detained without charges for three days.
Image — @manilaanimal
June 3, 2020

Let’s talk about something else

📺 The Daily Show – We Can’t Breathe

📺 Her: Love in the Modern Age

Cultural Learnings is a newsletter written by Sai Villafuerte. You can support it by subscribing, sharing this post, emailing your thoughts, or answering this survey.