The Comforting Xenophobia of Border Enforcement Shows

Yes, it is the Year of Our Lord 2020 and I am still talking about copaganda. In my continued hunt for shows to watch that isn’t ER. I found myself down a rabbit hole of watching UK Border Force, a show all about the border agents of the UK either out trying to find illegal immigrants, undocumented workers or those bringing drugs or other illegal items into the Queen’s Dominion. It’s a pretty slow-paced show; usually just people bringing in too many damn cigarettes through customs. But every once in a while the show gets really fast-paced when someone brings in drugs via their body cavity or in the lining of their luggage. Every once in a while someone will bring in too much cash and the best episodes feature dogs on the job. But one thing came to mind as I continued, there was a shocking amount of casual racism, jingoism and xenophobia in these shows. 

The UK version was not the only border force show I’ve seen, I’ve seen the US version which is…well, American and the Australian persuasion which seems very concerned about fruit: I’m serious so much of the episodes in New Zealand are concerned about mostly Pacific Islanders bringing in native fruits that could “damage local flora and fauna”; there’s even a hilarious part where a tourist bringing in an apple that was left in their backpack from another flight causes a $5,000 fine. And while I’m not here to minimize the threat of ecological threats it all does seem so excessive. Especially when it comes to the treatment of indigious peoples bringing in food or medicine that is culturally relevant or significant to them: these border agents are literal colonizers telling the people who were here before them that their native fruits and veggies and medicine are “dangerous” and “unregulated” and have the authority to have those goods destroyed. 

Another main focus of these shows is the finding and capturing of illegal workers and immigrants with varying levels of sensitive language. Because these shows are sensationalized, it’s easy to think of them as linear good and bad. Those who work illegally and take jobs away from native Britons or Aussies are bad and the good guys are those enforcing those rules. But many of these people are coming from poorer regions of the world and are often of color and the irony is not lost on me that those in colonizing countries demanding that people of color “enter the country the right way”. Again, I am not an idealized liberal who doesn’t believe in borders and I do very much agree that it’s always best to enter a country legally, but if you are from a poor village in India or Africa and coming over to England to work is the only way you can make money to support your family: you will do what you need to do. We’re also not going to ignore that much of “developed” world had no issue relying on the labor of people of color regardless of how they entered the country (it was not of their own will) and to this day benefit sight unseen on the backs of immigrants and people of color working whether it be legal or not. 

Shows like this work because they are inherently framed as a struggle of good versus evil. The good and brave border force agents are here to keep the country safe and the bad and evil people taking up jobs and resources and not paying taxes are bad. The editing and framing is dynamic and stories are shortened and stripped of nuance and complexity. We’re meant to, through framing, camera work and editing think that all actions taken by the border force are good and meant to keep us safe while anything that puts that safety at risk is bad. But most of the undocumented workers at the chip shop aren’t causing harm. The student who overstayed on his visa is not likely a terrorist and while the person who smuggled drugs in via laptop is in fact a criminal, they’re likely doing so for money. 

There are bad people out there who want to bring in drugs and illegal cigarettes and weird pornography and there are in fact terrorists who want to hurt people. But border force shows continue to push a linear narrative in situations that are oftentimes full of nuance. People don’t flee their home countries for no good reason but we don’t have time in a forty minute reality television show for nuance.  

It’s all a form of propaganda; a show to let you see just how hard border enforcement works and to show them the “danger” they put themselves in to keep us “safe”; but we’ve already covered that due to the nature of framing and editing that danger is clearly played up for the sake of sensationalized television. The chases, the thrill, the finding people trying to enter the country without permission in trucks and the drugs, oh the drama of the drugs. It makes the border force agents look capable, exciting and like they’re really doing something; just like all the other cop shows before it. Live PD was created almost explicitly to show cops as human after a string of police shootings of unarmed black men (a string that continues on to this day). Shows like this are meant to humanize the police and law enforcement but showing us as viewers just what the police do for us. It’s meant to remind us of the danger and hope that a little good press will make it easier to swallow the bitter pill of police violence. Look at all these cops doing the right thing; ignore the ones that have committed murder in cold blood. And it’s comforting for a while to see it; it’s called “security theater”, sorta like how you feel safer with extra TSA agents after 9/11 even though they really haven’t stopped any actual terrorists and have only succeeded in being angry at my flat iron, concerned by my bra’s underwire and upset at my potato chips in my backpack.  These actions are meant to make us feel safe and secure and reassured while we are meant to ignore all of the wrong going on underneath the surface. 

On Revolution

_Do you hear the people sing_ Singing the songs of angry men_ It is the music of the people Who will not be slaves again! When the beating of your heart Echoes the beating of the drums There is a life about to star.png

Today is November 5th. Well, not today. I schedule these posts well in advance. But as of this going live it is November 5th. And every year, for many years I’m watching a movie. This movie is V for Vendetta, adapted from the wildly popular Alan Moore comic. This movie centers around a vigilante, V, and his mission to overthrow the Parliament and Chancellor of a near-future dystopian England. V meets with Evey, a woman he ‘rescues’ this woman and uses her assistance to help in his plan that is to blow up a few powerful and important buildings on Guy Fawkes Day (November 5th). Guy Fawkes was, for those who do not know, an actual historical figure and central to the Gunpowder Plot: a plot to kill King James of Scotland using a crap ton of gunpowder because James was Protestant (and probably was gay) and was Fawkes and his other conspirators were Catholic. Fawkes was executed on November 5th via a very brutal hanging because King James was no wimp and had to make an example out of the Catholic almost-murderer. The day in the U.K. is known as Bonfire Night: a way to celebrate the occasion of ending your enemy and the Catholics, apparently.

Here is a good place to also mention that I’m less talking about the graphic novel and more about the movie which does make some changes that are almost necessary when it comes to adaptation. The movie came out in the 2000s when I was young, in high school and full of ennui. And I very distinctly remember the movie for its stylized violence, excellent casting and great cinematography. I also remember it hitting a little too close to home.

This movie came out in exactly 2005, which means that George W. Bush was president, 9/11 had already happened and liberties were squashed in the name of “freedom” and other lofty abstract concepts. I grew up in the shadow of a Post-9/11 World and paranoia, racism, terror and hyper-nationalism were already things I was tired of as of the release of this film. So when there was talk of curfews and surveillance and armed men that kept the streets safe and silenced dissidents, none of that felt like a far dystopian  future. It felt like my current reality.

But then Obama was elected president and all was magic and there was much gaiety and many freedoms.

It was a simpler time.

Since it was a simpler time, let’s go over some of the places where this movie is…problematic because there aren’t enough hot takes on the internet about that. V is creepy. V is a monster. V stalks Evey and tortures her and brutalizes her and then claims that all of it is done to make her strong. Only after she is broken and beaten and unsure of what is real and false and I still struggle to choke down those scenes of abuse and mistreatment and gaslighting. But hey, it’s easy to skip over if it means I get to relish in all of the pay-off that is achieved during the film’s climax.

Now, the good times were not to last forever and Obama’s rule was not entirely perfect, the movie was easy to see as entertainment again. Nothing bad happened during the late 2000s to the 2010s. I continued the yearly tradition because it’s just a damn good movie.

And then 2016 happened.

I don’t like talking about politics online. Not because I do not have opinions, but because it’s hard to explain feelings and opinions well using only typed words and no hand gestures but I’ll say this: 2016 was a nightmare and it has only gotten worse since then.

I do not like the reality we are in and I will continue to express that displeasure until this nightmare ends.

And as I continued the ritual I did every year, on the heels of an election that was filled with racism, xenophobia, hatred and venom and suddenly…none of it seemed so dystopian.

Those feelings only got worse once Trump was actually elected.

I remember watching in 2017 after watching another dystopian film Watchmen and I was practically paralyzed. I no longer felt like I was watching a movie. Short of the weird masked alliterative ninja man all of those themes were back with a vengeance and my anxiety and mental health were having none of it.

There was still in our world police violence and racism and nationalism and the emergence of fascism and more just as there was in this horrid fake London.

It didn’t feel like I distant future, it felt like a probable reality.

For the sake of my mental health, I think I’ll skip my normally yearly ritual but I will not forget the message behind it. I won’t forget the spirit of tangible revolution: one of the best things about the film is action even if in no way I can say that the way V goes about things is right or valid. I can in no way affirm or say it’s good to be outwardly violent to those you disagree with but I can dissent and fight for my rights and the rights of others. I can vote, I can protest peacefully, I can use my voice and platform to express what I believe. And while it is seductive to want wanton destruction and the end of those who you do not agree with, it seldom does anything good. I think the film is stronger for admitting that yes, V did get to blow up the building but nothing will be changed aside from there being one less building. Sure, he took out a fascist, but there will always be other fascists. It is our job to simply make it more difficult to let those people rise to power.

Happy Guy Fawkes Day, readership. Splendid Bonfire Night. Happy Election Night Eve.

May you all never grow too weary to fight for what is right.

Rebellion in the Orange Summer

“Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” ― Ovid.png

Has it only been a few months since Trump was sworn into office? It certainly feels like it’s been much longer. And the thought it this potentially being a years long affair into just how far down the America I came to know from childhood can go down, I think it’s important to mention how to be politically aware, active and how to still remain sane and true to yourself.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: these are of course my opinions and I’m really not wanting to start a flame war in the comments. If you disagree with me, that’s lovely, just do so respectfully.

My history with being politically “woke” is a fraught one. I struggled with being connected as a teenager and debate student. I struggled during the Bush era and the violently American propaganda age of the 2000s. I found hope during the Obama years and since the mid 2010s have additionally struggled with increased social tension, police violence, hate crimes and homophobia. And honestly, it all reminds me a lot of the Bush years. There’s a powerful person in power that I less than agree with but I don’t always feel in the position to do much about the situation. I was, am and probably will be for awhile totally overwhelmed by Trump. How anyone can look at him and agree with the venom that oozes from his mouth…well, that’s another blog post. It’s been difficult to empathize with the other side of the political aisle, as it was in the early 2000s. I found myself then a mostly emotional and verbally impotent teen all those years ago and now I’m a working adult that has to be kind to everyone despite at times boiling anger from the rhetoric from the GOP. And considering my mostly liberal leanings, this has been difficult. I’m a strong LGBT ally. I’m a Roman Catholic but a lover of science. I’m a person of color. I am biologically female. Almost all of the issues that have been brought across the aisle and to the table directly impact and affect my corpus and my existence. But with all the comparisons to Bush and the hyper-patriotism of the early to mid 2000s: how did young ingenue Amanda deal those years?

Music.

Many of you now know that I am a former (reformed, past…something) punk. And the particular type of punk and emo rock I listened to was very political. American Idiot is one of my favorite albums and hearing songs like American Idiot and Holiday gave so much form and shape to the mess of emotions and indignation that swirled in my mind during the uber-patriotism and growing racial and social tensions the 2000s brought with them.

In my youth I started wearing black hoodies in part because of the song Mosh. It was my rebellion. It was a powerful symbol to think that at least a few people also clad in the black hoodie of resistance knew the message they were sending. I only recently retired the black hoodie after the death of Trayvon Martin and having to step up my personal style as a grew from being a petulant teen to a working young person. I knew the hoodie didn’t actually do anything but it felt like a powerful enough statement.

The Obama years while far from perfect were better. And in the moments where racial tension did bubble up I was mostly able to remain active politically with friends, family and have healthy discourse.

But then 2012 happened.

I’m not quite sure what happened but 2012 seemed to be a difficult time for everyone. Usually civil conversations began to run deep with overly religious and xenophobic undertones and this was well before the hot garbage fire that was 2016.  And with the current state of the world, I find myself like so many confused, angry and unsure of how to react and exist when everything everything is political.

Amazingly, some of the music of my teen years has been instrumental in helping cope with some of the issues feeling unrepresented by your representatives. Comic books have also been a fantastic way to channel some of that energy. The Civil War storylines in Marvel comics have heavy allusions to real government issues and concerns and encourage you to pick a side. Movies have also been helpful even when they’re difficult to watch. Watchmen  was not an enjoyable movie but some of the moral, ethical and political statements made by the movie especially are very timely. V for Vendetta is very similar down to the current state of the world down to the shooting of an innocent child that begins a revolution and  a 1984-style authoritarian regime that likes to censor speech and rules by fear and false information.

Satire has been remarkably helpful in dealing with this current administration as it was during the Bush years. Last Week Tonight has done a great job of holding Trump accountable and while Trevor Noah is no Jon Stewart, The Daily Show is still a shining beacon of satirical light in an otherwise dim world.

But music alone does not soothe the savage president. Being active doesn’t always being at every protest. It means calling your local representatives. It means speaking up for those that may not have a voice. It means fact-checking and being aware of the issues. It means maybe having to face the other side of a political topic and it means taking care of yourself to battle another day for the causes you believe in. If you see a problem, say something. But be kind to yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable going to a protest, rally or event: don’t go. There are other ways to support causes and considering the current trend of violence against even peaceful protests, I am entirely empathetic to the wish to avoid big rallies for fear of violence. But being aware if vitally important. Even now, logic and facts are being used against people so it is now more important than ever to be aware, active and persistent. But it’s also good to know when to back down. Some people are not going to change and all you can do is be yourself, be as active as you wish and stay sane to continue the conversation for another day.

Stay kind, world. We have a little while before this dumpster fire can go out.