#WaterCrisis in “Formation”: Beyonce Political Philosophy 101

In “Formation,” Beyonce spotlights the struggle for survival in the midst of corruption. Think of it as a womanist thesis. 

Beyonce Political Philosophy 101images

After watching Beyonce’s “formation” video, I wondered: What local institutions exist to protect minorities from those in power who do not prioritize the needs of the vulnerable? What colleges and universities (besides Virginia Tech) work in tandem with local governments to safeguard the public trust? Note the existing controversy about the failure of local academic institutions to intervene in the Flint, MI water crisis.

Beyonce brings her brand of feminism to the world and graduate women’s studies classrooms flip out. Women’s studies departments are debate-grounds for discussing feminist vs. womanist discourse during a time when the “vs.” part should be ignored in favor of solidarity. During a time in America’s history when the potential exists for voters to elect the first female President of the United States, controversy abounds as to why more Millennial women do not appear to be behind Hillary Clinton. Are traditional Second Wave Feminists counting on feminism to save Hillary Clinton? If the answer is yes, then someone better call Beyonce — or at least one of her squad — because feminism has changed since the rise of the Millennials.

Politicians on both sides of the political spectrum may have trouble negotiating with various diverse constituents including democratic socialists, liberals, fiscal conservatives, feminists, womanists, and POCs. But Beyonce’s-style of feminism resonates with many youth. But how well does it resonate with traditional Second Wave Feminists? This question is purely hypothetical and meant to illustrate a potential cultural gap that could have significant implications this presidential election season.

I personally know how hard it is to be a feminist, a womanist, and a female person of color. Although I rarely see my perspectives reflected in public policy or political discourse, I’m still an avid consumer of news and public policy “White Papers”.

Public policy decisions that impact people’s relationship to infrastructure concern me most. The tale’s been told before: the citizens of Katrina, the citizens of Flint, the citizens of Southern West Virginia: Poor people, at the mercy of public policy makers, risking lives to stay afloat, and to avoid tainted water.

One cannot help but grieve, whether the grieving comes filtered through the lens of womanism or feminism.

More About The Video

Arresting imagery from daily life in New Orleans is the focal point of “Formation”. We see Beyonce resting atop a sinking police car wearing a red-and-white gown, maintaining characteristic poise despite (in spite of) her precarious position. The scene dramatizes the relationship between nature, the State, and the black body. Always precarious. A water-logged police car slowly, slowly becoming indistinguishable from the muck. Thus, it begins.

Gothic Horror & Iconic Southern Style Through a Southern California Lens: Beyonce’s “Formation” ‘Slays’

When looking at Beyonce’s “Formation,” keep in mind migration. Sometimes the best way to get a handle on a situation is to change geographic location.

In “Formation,” Beyonce’s epic video, we see an ode to a people’s relationship to both the land and the American cultural politics of geography. Mood? Dark. Chic. Magic. The video was released the weekend of Super Bowl 50, a contest pitting the Panthers against the Broncos. This video appears early in 2016, when echoes of American activism sift through layers of soundbites and marketing ploys.

Part of the conceit of “Formation” is a commentary on American cultural politics. The video was not shot in the South, but in California. Perhaps this suggests that when the subject of commentary is systemic structural inequality, the vastness of Los Angeles, with a nod to Hollywood’s Gothic Westerns, provides an artistic safe space for exploration and creation.

“Formation” collapses history by reinterpreting Southern life. With copious references to historic events in African American culture and the human will to survive, this video provides echoes of a traumatic past merged with the promise of a future. Today’s struggles, whether for clean water, as in #Flint, or the struggle to thrive, spotlighted by #BlackLivesMatter, are part of the tapestry of “Formation”.

Beyonce Political Philosophy 101

After watching Beyonce’s “formation” video, I wondered: What local institutions exist to protect minorities from those in power who do not prioritize the needs of the vulnerable? What colleges and universities (besides Virginia Tech) work in tandem with local governments to safeguard the public trust? Note the existing controversy about the failure of local academic institutions to intervene in the Flint, MI water crisis.

Beyonce brings her brand of feminism to the world and graduate women’s studies classrooms flip out. Women’s studies departments are debate-grounds for discussing feminist vs. womanist discourse during a time when the “vs.” part should be ignored in favor of solidarity. During a time in America’s history when the potential exists for voters to elect the first female President of the United States, controversy abounds as to why more Millennial women do not appear to be behind Hillary Clinton. Are traditional Second Wave Feminists counting on feminism to save Hillary Clinton? If the answer is yes, then someone better call Beyonce — or at least one of her squad — because feminism has changed since the rise of the Millennials.

Politicians on both sides of the political spectrum may have trouble negotiating with various diverse constituents including democratic socialists, liberals, fiscal conservatives, feminists, womanists, and POCs. But Beyonce’s-style of feminism resonates with many youth. But how well does it resonate with traditional Second Wave Feminists? This question is purely hypothetical and meant to illustrate a potential cultural gap that could have significant implications this presidential election season.

I personally know how hard it is to be a feminist, a womanist, and a female person of color. Although I rarely see my perspectives reflected in public policy or political discourse, I’m still an avid consumer of news and public policy “White Papers”.

Public policy decisions that impact people’s relationship to infrastructure concern me most. The tale’s been told before: the citizens of Katrina, the citizens of Flint, the citizens of Southern West Virginia: Poor people, at the mercy of public policy makers, risking lives to stay afloat, and to avoid tainted water.

One cannot help but grieve, whether the grieving comes filtered through the lens of womanism or feminism.

More About The Video

Arresting imagery from daily life in New Orleans is the focal point of “Formation”. We see Beyonce resting atop a sinking police car wearing a red-and-white gown, maintaining characteristic poise despite (in spite of) her precarious position. The scene dramatizes the relationship between nature, the State, and the black body. Always precarious. A water-logged police car slowly, slowly becoming indistinguishable from the muck. Thus, it begins.

Beyonce and Squad as Cultural Creatives

Another part of this video shifts the focus to domestic life and features antebellum architecture. Yet, Beyonce and her team shot the video in Southern California, not in the U.S. South. Beyonce’s team scouted the Fenye’s Mansion in Pasadena for the “Formation” mansion. Without giving too much away (although the link about Beyonce’s crew visiting the Fenye’s Mansion provides some details), the production team’s attention to history, and to re-creating and re-interpreting the past, deserves commendation. This is Beyonce, the artist with a team of cultural producers, creating art, re-interpreting history, making history.

There’s a scene featuring Beyonce that also made me think of black-and-white photographs I have seen of the late painter Georgia O’Keefe who said, “To create one’s own world takes courage”. The word courage, typically associated with militarized tales of valor and bravery, takes on new meaning when applied to people of the Diaspora. Survivors feature prominently in “Formation” with all of the trials and tribulations. Despite the treachery of policy-makers and the betrayal of infrastructure, people survive to build new worlds.

Could Beyonce’s “Formation” be the beginning of a healing?

 

 

Cultural Studies as Metric

Does it make sense to attend graduate school for a degree in the field of cultural studies? Maybe not, because job descriptions rarely call for critical thinking and a deep understanding of the concept of ideology. Yet, it is unwise to reduce the cultural studies degree to intellectual acrobatics and alienated constituents. Cultural studies may be useful for applying a metric, to use a term that I learned from watching this YouTube New School talk on the future of the humanities. Cultural Studies, as metric, might answer the big question surrounding humanities, that of the usefulness and relevance of the humanities.

Still, there are risks associated with pursuing a Ph.D. in cultural studies. These risks reveal and reflect the problem of accountability in higher education. If universities offer graduate students the degree in cultural studies, a niche field, according to one of my professors, then should not universities be absolutely committed to producing cultural studies scholars? The same question might be asked of any niche field such as economics or film studies.

Anyone pursuing a cultural studies degree is automatically an academic trailblazer.

But, being ahead of the pack is risky in the field of academia. Perhaps this is easy to understand. Academia is built on replication of intellectual acts, methods, and processes. If a an academic has not seen it, read about it, or practiced it before, (the “it” could be a theory, or an experiment) then said academic has no comparisons to make, and therefore is rendered incapable of offering any commentary. When this happens, he or she is left without any wisdom to display. Of course, from the perspective of a cultural studies scholar, this way of thinking is one demonstration of the foibles of elitism. After all, how can one be rendered voiceless, without being complicit? Yet, change may not be possible within an organization that exists to perpetuate the replication of things as they have always been.

Still, cultural studies departments exist in academic institutions. People apply for such programs, and enroll in classes. Some people even get the Ph.D. In cultural studies. Elite institutional leaders may want to closely examine any pre-existing organizational metrics, or metric. One question to consider is, “What institutional impediments exist that might stymie the growth of the intellectual trailblazer?”

Resistance to change by institutional gatekeepers can inhibit a graduate student’s matriculation. Graduate-trailblazers, like artists, ought not be impoverished due to their being accepted into niche-academic programs designed, ostensibly, to produce trailblazing scholars, intellectuals, humanities professionals – and possibly humanitarians.

Yet, graduate students must be aware that cultural studies is a relatively new field of study. Thus, it does not carry the same credibility, in some minds, as does a degree in psychology, education, economics, history, physics, or English. However, the world is changing. Many types of English are spoken and read throughout the world, for example. Yes, there will always be standards, but once upon a time it was illegal for women to wear pants. Things change. Standards change.

Today’s academic and business worlds are increasingly complex and diverse. Academics court intellectual and professional suicide by retreating into their silos, silos devoid of discourse on the topic of metrics. Business and technology specialists who lend their quantitative expertise to qualitative experts enhance interdisciplinary awareness. We might question the relevancy of the wall separating the humanities from the sciences.

Cultural studies provides a bridge.

Here are some reasons why one should not be deterred from pursuing cultural studies, especially if reading intrigues you.

Breadth of Knowledge
As a cultural studies scholar I read about topics related to economics, psychoanalysis, biology, media/communications, gender and technology on a regular basis. Reading broadly makes me a nimble, flexible thinker.

Receptive to Abstraction
Reading broadly makes me aware of all that I do not know. My mind stays curious.

Embrace the Ambiguity
When someone at a dinner party throws out a topic for discussion, I may or may not have a swift comeback. That is the point.

Cultural studies blossoms. This blossoming cannot be scripted, or even formatted, though it can be observed.

What are your perceptions of cultural studies as a pursuit?

Smile! It is Good for Body and Brain.

Researcher Ron Gutman (Ron Gutman: The Hidden Power of Smiling) has been studying smiles for 30 years beginning with a study at UC Berkeley. Gutman presents his research in this TED talk and suggests that suppressing a smile can impair judgment while smiling can stimulate the brain, lower stress-inducing hormones, and leave a positive impression on others.

Might it be the case that smiling more might even help one get through the challenges of graduate school? Such challenges include: sitting for long hours while studying in the library, or participating in seminars; reading copious journal articles, often by the glow of an LED screen; practicing the skilled art of negotiation when planning out academic schedules with faculty; listening intently to academic arguments made by your peers.

Often, we think of emphasizing exercise and diet in order to successfully navigate the challenges of graduate school.

Now, how about managing to smile more, too.