Adri Wong on miniBiography and 99%
Wong considers our need for personal narratives today @ The Hydra.
I have been thinking about this image: An individual holding a piece of paper on which she has written a short summation of her current circumstances (debts, bills, blessings, fears).
Then, the words: “I am the 99%.” It is a story-telling device that developed with the various iterations of the Occupy “movement;” it is in the encampments and on the Internet. A firsthand observer described the signs at Zuccotti Park to me:
“There are people there with these amazing signs about their own lives: ‘My college fund got depleted, I was at city college, my ID is taped on here, and now I dont know what to do.’ Or ‘here is the summons and complaint that i received from Citibank and these are my kids and this was my house, and now thesewere my kids.’ It’s kind of upsetting but really nice…”
Something about the meme makes me recall David Lynch’s Interview Project, an online series of short video documentaries centering on the lives of “normal” people across America. In Interview Project’s 121 mini-biographies, the filmmakers (including Lynch’s son Austin) ask complete strangers piercing, existential questions. It is a source of ever-renewed wonder that each stranger has an answer, and that the answers are so often so rich and brimming with hard-luck stories and lived experience. Lynch describes the project’s production: “There was no plan, really. The team found people as they were driving along the roads, going into bars, different locations…. There they were. The people told their stories.”
Respectful, tender, sometimes funny — the Interview Project is similar in tenor to radio endeavors of this genre like This American Life and NPR’s Storycorp. They also share apparent purposes: to capture a cultural snapshot of America, to record individual oral histories and disseminate them online for the purposes of popular cultural consumption.
A common ethos of combating social atomization drives these projects, but I can only speculate as to the source of the alienation they contend with (narrowcasting? automobiles?capitalism?!?!?). I think about a fax that Don DeLillo sent to PEN American Center, and reorder his statements for my own purposes:
DeLillo: The world is becoming increasingly customized, altered to individual specifications. This shrinking context will necessarily change the language that people speak, write, and read. The question is whether the enormous force of technology, and its insistence on speeding up time and compacting space, will reduce the human need for narrative—narrative in the traditional sense.
I hypothesize: At the same time that the ways we can communicate with each other with increased frequency and across vast distances have proliferated and democratized, a certain sense of intimacy has disintegrated from our exchanges. I interpret these signs and projects — as well as the Occupations — as creative attempts at recreating that intimacy, experiments in stitching us back together.