vendredi 25 juin 2010

Two catch words : "Populaire" and "Community"

Summer! Warmth, heat, sweat, late sunny evenings, ice-cream, world cup... Now that I got myself a hat, I'm not fearing a heat stroke every time I set foot on the sidewalk, so life is good!

A week ago, the Southside Film festival happened in Bethlehem. 4 days of film screenings, parties, talk-back sessions, and opportunities to appreciate the creative and entrepreunerial drive present in the Bethlehem community. There, I said it. Community. That's one of those words I don't like to use too much. Because it's so full of political precedent. Everyone believes in community building, everyone wants people to live happily ever after together in the same neighborhood, blah blah blah.
But I have to say that the South Side fest is true to the core of the word. It's organised by local volunteer leaders, it uses the spaces of the town, from the Lehigh University campus to the local shops and coffee-shops. The general quarters are located at Deja Brew, the late night parties happen at the Wild Flower cafe, the opening party was at the decor-shop Home and Planet. People from Bethlehem made sure to come, there were auditoriums full of people watching documentary films, shorts and feature-lenghts, all non-mainstream films, part of the festival circuit. And yet, no snobbiness whatsoever. Just a love of film and a passion to make such a large-scale grassroots event work out. This is the festival's 7th year, and it's stronger than ever.
Touchstone also engages with community, working in local schools, bringing shows to kids during the summer, opening its space to artistic groups. The word "community" comes up a lot in our work, and yet we try to use it sparingly. Because it can quickly become stale, dishonest, hypocritical. And we don't want that.
I find similarities between the use of the word "community" in the US, and the word "populaire" in France. Maybe it's because the shadow of the Revolution follows French culture even to this day, but something that is "populaire" is very often seen as something good: Front populaire, fête populaire, bal populaire, soupe populaire, secours populaire, rassemblement populaire, etc.
And that word has been used SO MUCH by the political elite in France that it really is hard to stomach. To the extent that anytime someone says something is "populaire", I glance at them with distrust in my eyes.
But then, when a real "populaire" community event is set up, you can forget about the word, and revel in the beauty of being together. When the audience about to see an Ariane Mnouchkine theatre production is eating delightful food served by the crew in a tent on the outskirts of Paris, that audience is involved in what could be called a "dîner populaire", but all we're thinking about is how good the food is, and how nice it is to be there.
Same for the film festival in Douarnenez. Queues of people waiting to get into the cinema, dinners of sardines and fries made outside in a school courtyard... it might be called "populaire", but it's just a bunch of people having fun together.

So my question is: have we gotten to the point in our societies where we need to use catch words like "community" and "populaire" to bring people together? We must be pretty disengaged from our neighbors if we constantly have to find excuses and schemes to look at each other in the eyes and engage in activities. But since that seems to be the case, then it's all the more important for local leaders everywhere to show how natural it is to engage in community, and to have fun in a "populaire" kind of way. With no political agenda, just for the sake of being human.

2 commentaires:

Anonyme a dit…

This is a really interesting post and the festival sounds wonderful- it really got me thinking about community. I'm not sure we should be looking to de-politicise the idea- the idea of community, in this neoliberal, individualistic age, is deeply political. For example, I've been living in the Goutte d'Or- as populaire as a quartier can be- since January, and I've recently got involved in a volunteer project to help local children from underprivileged backgrounds do better at school (I gave Spanish and English classes to bac students who were struggling with them, and now I'm helping run cultural workshops during the summer holidays). In an area like this, with a mostly immigrant population who have been excluded from the mainstream of French society, these cultural initiatives give local children a chance to represent themselves, in their own words and reprendre la parole (take back the voice?) that society has denied them.
I recently read a history of the Paris Commune by a philosopher called David Harvey, who describes how it was built around community groups who took decisions at a very local level (he has interesting ideas about how the precise geography of Paris influenced the course of history), and he suggests that if socialism is to have a future in the 21st century, it should organise itself not around traditional workplace based unions, but around (geographical) community groups. So, for example, he suggests more political power be devolved to a very local levels (say, individual arrondissements) , and residents should have a direct opportunity to decide how money is spent and suggest their own ideas.
I think I agree- I certainly feel that 'community' is a fundamentally political concept, that's not a bad thing, and it's something we're in danger of losing in a individualistic society. I do believe if we developed a stronger sense of it, and people took pride in their community, they would be less inclined to throw litter, vandalise and so on, and feel more responsibility towards their neighbours.

Please keep writing- I read this blog loyally and I always find your ideas fascinating.

Oh and as to 'les medias francais sous surveillance' above,, I can only add that all of us working in the service public audiovisuel de France feel we are constrained by usually unspoken rules about what we can and cannot say about the government (a colleague of mine was mysteriously sacked after saying on live TV, after Bernard Kouchner joined the government, that he couldn't ever have been a very convinced socialist in the first place).

E C-M xx

Anne Losq a dit…

Thanks Elena!

You're right that these words should remain political. I think what I meant was that they are often used solely to promote political agendas, and that's when they become stale. But if you have a chance, send me an email with more of your news! What sort of cultural workshops are you running? It sounds very interesting. I really do (increasingly) think that cultural events - artistic, educational - are much more relevant locally. In such a globalised society, there's a need for local, unique events that aren't seen in Japan, Europe and the US simultaneously! And children, especially, really need to see that what is near can be just as exciting as what's broadly covered by the media and commercialised internationally.
I will check David Harvey out - any book you recommend as a first reading?
Thanks for reading the blog, and taking the time to craft such a great response!
Anne xx