By Bill Bigelow
Videos can help “story” the world visually for students. They can bring global realities into a classroom in a way that the printed word cannot. Through follow-up discussion, role play, improvisation, interior monologue, and poetry, students can drive deeper into the realities of a particular society, social issue, or into their relationships with distant – and sometimes not so distant – others. But like any “text,” video needs to be read critically. Educators need to encourage students not to be mere spectators, but to raise critical questions about how a video frames social reality: Whose story is featured, who speaks and who does not, what factors are highlighted to explain a given problem, what alternatives are explored or ignored?
The videos listed below are ones that can help students rethink globalization. There are many more that are not included here. One criterion for selection was that the resources be relatively easily accessed by U.S. teachers. However, teachers should be aware that this requirement biases these “Videos With a Global Conscience” in favor of filmmakers and videographers from so-called developed countries, who have more access to distribution channels here. I’m sure that I’ve missed countless other worthy videos, and I hope that readers bring these to my attention. All starred videos are available from the important catalog distributed by the Network of Educators on the Americas, Teaching for Change, www.teachingforchange.org; 800-763-9131.
LEGACY OF INEQUALITY: COLONIAL ROOTS
This Magnificent African Cake (Part 6 of “Africa”)
Basil Davidson. 1984. 57 min. Available from multiple sources, including Blockbuster.com.
The title of Basil Davidson’s sixth episode from his “Africa” series comes from Belgium’s King Leopold, speaking at the 1884 Berlin conference to carve up Africa: “I am determined to get my share of this magnificent African Cake.” Tragically, as this video later reveals, Leopold did get a share, which he exploited with unimaginable brutality. Davidson’s video is a good overview of the origins of European colonialism in Africa and some of its effects. He surveys various colonial modes from British settlers in Kenya, to “indirect rule” in Nigeria, to the French attempts at assimilation, to Leopold’s “reign of terror” in the Congo, to the forced labor in the mines of Southern Rhodesia – which, Davidson tells us, killed an astonishing 20 people a week for 30 years. But the video’s breadth is also its weakness, as we don’t really get to know one situation well enough to understand its nuances, or to truly appreciate the effects of colonialism on people’s lives.
The material here is presented conventionally as a kind of illustrated lecture that does not engage most students. Still, there are surprisingly few videos that deal with European colonialism, and the information that the eminent historian Davidson presents is solid and can be effectively shown and discussed with students in short segments.
Taxi to Timbuktu
Christopher Walker. First Run/Icarus. 1994. 50 min. Taxi to Timbuktu was produced by Christopher Walker, who also made the excellent Trinkets and Beads.
This is a somewhat slow-moving film about Alpha, who emigrates from Mali in Africa to New York, Paris, and Tokyo. It offers an intimate portrait of his life at home and abroad, and the communities he is a part of. Unlike many films professing sympathy for the wretched of the earth, Taxi to Timbuktu offers a glimpse of African poverty that emphasizes people’s enormous resourcefulness and creativity. Although some students may find the video hard to follow or even tedious, its slow pace is also its strength, as the complexity of people’s lives comes into focus.
There is no narration to the film, so little context is offered to explain the roots of poverty in Mali, but in his commentary, Alpha suggests some of the colonial roots to the desertification of his country. The video would be a valuable follow-up to This Magnificent African Cake, about the consequences of Europeancolonialism. Or it could be an excellent addition to a unit on immigration.
Other films that teachers have used in examining the consequences of colonialism include Gandhi – which deals with anti-colonial struggles in South Africa and in India – and Earth, about the partition of India and Pakistan.
THE GLOBAL ECONOMY: COLONIALISM WITHOUT COLONIES
Life and Debt
Stephanie Black. New Yorker Films. 2001. Approx. 90 min.
This may be the best video overview of the effects of globalization on one society – in this instance, Jamaica. Life and Debt focuses on the role of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Jamaica, but it’s much more than that. It weaves together interviews with the IMF deputy director, farmers, workers, scholars, a former Prime Minister (Michael Manley); a narration based on Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place (see p. 54); Jamaican music; life in a tourist hotel; and a kind of Greek chorus of Rastafarian men who comment on Jamaica’s neocolonial plight. The conclusion: Jamaican society has been devastated by high interest payments on its external debt (52% of the entire national budget), cheap imports (potatoes, peanuts, carrots, milk powder, chicken), the WTO ruling forcing Jamaica’s bananas into direct competition with much cheaper bananas from Central and South America, and exploitative practices in Jamaica’s World Bankpushed “free zone.” (Of course, there are some economic winners: Because of high crime, one security firm featured has gone from 120 guards employed to between 1800 and 1900 guards and over 300 dogs.) It’s this relatively comprehensive video walk through Jamaica’s economy that can help students see the relationship between farm conditions and sweatshops, and provides a partial answer to the sweatshop defense: “Well, no one is forcing people to go to work in these places.”
The video returns periodically to the tourist delights of Montego Bay, with Kincaid’s incisive and sardonic narrative:
Every native of every place is a potential tourist. And every tourist is a native of somewhere. Every native would like to find a way out. Every native would like a rest. Every native would like a tour. But some natives – most natives in the world – cannot go anywhere. They’re too poor to escape the realities of their lives. And they’re too poor to live properly in the place where they live. Which is the very place that you the tourist want to go. So when the natives see you, the tourist, they envy you. They envy your own ability to leave your own banality and boredom. They envy your ability to turn their banality and boredom into a source of pleasure for yourself.
Life and Debt is so issue-rich that it could be the centerpiece of a unit that looked at the transition from colonialism to “freedom,” and the character of that freedom.
As with many examinations of globalization, Life and Debt is stronger on critique than it is on alternatives. Former Prime Minister Michael Manley describes Jamaica’s helplessness in the face of the IMF/World Bank juggernaut, but was the Jamaican state entirely without recourse? The video explores no possibilities. And is Jamaica without recourse now? Toward the video’s conclusion, one member of the Rastafarian chorus proclaims that “Our salvation rests in the hands of the Almighty.” Unspecified is the nature of that salvation and what responsibilities rest in the hands of Jamaicans, other Third World people, and we in the “developed” countries. This speaks to an important weakness of the video: We don’t hear from Jamaicans who are organizing for change. What strategies are being pursued, and who is pursuing them? Indeed, the many interviews with small producers who lament their decline lend the video a nostalgia that may be unwarranted.
Nonetheless, this is a clever, patient examination of what the global economy has visited on one corner of the world.
Two videos that look specifically at resistance to theWorld Trade Organization, highlighting the dramatic 1999 demonstrations in Seattle, are Showdown in Seattle (www.indymedia.org), and This is What Democracy Looks Like (www.thisisdemocracy.org.)
*Global Village or Global Pillage
Jeremy Brecher. 1999. 28 min.
Global Village or Global Pillage makes two arguments: People around the world are being pitted against each other in a “race to the bottom,” where “all are being driven down to the level of the poorest and most desperate;” and this process can only be reversed through global solidarity.
The video opens with Westinghouse worker, Janet Pratt, who lost her job when the company decided to move production from the United States to Juarez, Mexico. To add insult to injury, Westinghouse invited Pratt to travel south to train the workers who would now being doing her job. Despite misgivings, she accepted and found Juarez workers living in miserable conditions and earning 85¢ an hour for what she had been making $13.65 an hour to do. It’s the video’s initial illustration of a process that is going on throughout the world as capital rushes to find the cheapest labor it can, as well as the least restrictive environmental regulations.
Part two of Global Village or Global Pillage argues for what the producers call the “Lilliput Strategy” – named for the Lilliputians tying up of Gulliver with hundreds of pieces of thread. Students might be encouraged to think about the strengths and weaknesses of this metaphor in considering the potential nature of movements for global justice. Examples in the video of this strategy include a consumer campaign to support GAP workers in El Salvador, a global campaign to aid Indian villagers combating a World Bank-supported dam, and worker solidarity struggles to force Bridgestone-Firestone to rehire U.S. workers it had fired and replaced with 2300 strikebreakers. In this campaign, Brazilian workers held one-hour stoppages and then “worked like turtles,” the Brazilian expression for a slowdown.
These are inspiring examples that point toward a world where people support each other not simply for moral or humane reasons, but also out of selfinterest, to create decent living and working conditions in their own societies. In a 28-minute video, the producers can be forgiven for sidestepping more detailed questions of strategy. Does the Lilliput strategy imagine a world of regulated global capitalism, with a social and environmental “floor,” or are humane and environmental objectives fundamentally incompatible with a system based on private profit, and thus require a non-capitalist global order? They don’t say.
This is a worthwhile overview to many of the issues covered in Rethinking Globalization.
*Banking on Life and Debt
Robert Richter. Maryknoll. 1995. 30 min.
“It’s easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than for a banker to feel sorry for a child who is starving, dying of starvation,” claims the Brazilian radical politician “Lula” in Banking on Life and Debt. The video is an overview of World Bank and International Monetary Fund policies that promote poverty, starvation, and ecological ruin. Measured by its ability to engage most high school students, Banking on Life and Debt is spread too thin, covers too much history and too much political economy, and is narrated by too many talking heads. Nonetheless, through examining World Bank and IMF policies in Ghana, Brazil, and the Philippines, the video offers a convincing portrait of an international economic order that drains resources from poor countries in the name of development. And if used with other readings and activities that explore the global debt crisis, this can be an important resource.
The snapshot of Brazil helps clarify the relationship between debt crisis and environmental crisis. Brazil has been ordered to turn more of its land to production for export. Increasing amounts of land are planted in soybeans. As Brazil’s Cardinal Arns points out, “The food that we were supposed to eat [is] being sent to cows and pigs in other countries.” Other poor countries receive the same prescription, and flooded commodity markets pull down prices of Third World raw materials. Meanwhile, poor Brazilian farmers lose their land to huge corporations and become squatters, every year hacking down more and more Amazon rainforest.
The video doesn’t bubble over with hope, but we do meet activists in every country visited who describe efforts to organize for alternatives to debt slavery.
The Debt Crisis: An Unnatural Disaster
Social Action Centre, Jamaica/Friendship Press, (includes a short teaching guide). 1990. 28 min.
Using delightful skits, songs, and expert testimony, this video is a primer on the history and social consequences of the Third World debt crisis and structural adjustment programs, especially focusing on the Caribbean. It has something of a homemade feel to it and lacks the polish that students are used to, but it is a clear and hard-hitting overview of the severe difficulties the debt crisis creates in poor countries. One of the video’s strengths is that it is entirely narrated, and the skits acted, by Caribbean people themselves. The Debt Crisis covers much the same ground as Banking on Life and Debt, although its Caribbean focus is narrower. However, the playfulness (some might argue, silliness) of its skits and its concentration on a smaller geographic area probably make this more accessible for many students.
Deadly Embrace: Nicaragua, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund
Elizabeth Conner and Ashley Eames. Global Exchange. 1996. 30 min.
A poor Nicaraguan woman points out that, “Before, during the Sandinista times, there was war but there was never hunger. Now there is no war but there is hunger.” The “deadly embrace” of the video’s title refers to the post-Sandinista government’s acceptance of the structural adjustment policies of the World Bank and IMF, which have devastated Nicaragua’s economy – at least from the standpoint of the vast majority of the people. According to the video, unemployment has rocketed to 60%, credit to small farmers has been slashed, public school teachers work in deteriorating conditions for $60 to $70 a month, and public programs of all kinds have been eliminated. Meanwhile, free trade zones welcome transnational corporations who pay pennies an hour to desperate workers.
In its ability to hold most students’ attention, the video is somewhat less effective than Banking on Life and Debt or The Debt Crisis, but its strength is its focus on one country. This could be a helpful resource in an area study of Central America or in a broader look at the forces that compel people to seek work in global sweatshops.
Cancel the Debt, Now!
The Jubilee 2000 Campaign. 2000. Approx. 20 min.
Cancel the Debt, Now! outlines the immorality of the global debt crisis. Activists from numerous countries tell about the impact of debt on the poorest people in their societies, as well as the effects on the environment. The video emphasizes the global Jubilee 2000 Campaign to cancel the debt for the poorest countries and explains why this is not “charity.” Although the campaign is Biblically-grounded (in the Book of Leviticus) – and thus the video has religious overtones – this should not prevent its use in public schools. Its strength is in its advocacy for activism in solidarity with the world’s poor, and in its scope. However, other than their dire poverty, we learn little about the lives of people affected by the debt crisis.
*Where Are the Beans?
Mennonite Central Committee. 1994. 13 min.
Where Are the Beans? is a kind of detective story – and an excellent classroom resource. Linda Shelly, of the Mennonite Central Committee, lived in La Esperanza, Honduras for several years. While there, she loved to eat red beans, a staple of the Honduran diet. But when she returned in 1993, she found that no one ate beans any longer. Where are the beans? is the question that Shelly pursues as she visits old friends to learn about how their lives have changed. Shelly discovers the answer in the structural adjustment policies that the International Monetary Fund pressed the Honduran government to adopt: fewer subsidies to the poor, currency devaluation, no more government loans to small farmers, and increased exports of … you guessed it: red beans. “The small Honduran farmers have been pulled into the global economy – pulled in at the bottom,” says Shelly. “Their new position in this system demands more and more from them and offers them less and less.” The video closes with Shelly’s thoughts on how people in this country can respond to the increased inequities between rich and poor countries, although she overstates the extent to which all Americans benefit from this system.
Where Are the Beans? makes a nice complement to Sweating for a T-Shirt, reviewed below, because it helps explain the forces pushing people off the land and into sweatshops. A 19-page study guide supplements the video and includes a classroom-friendly bean bag simulation.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Stephen R. Johnson/Reebok Foundation. 1988. 22 min.
One could say that this is the music video for the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. Short psychedelic cartoons illustrate each of the Declaration’s 30 articles. They are mostly clever and amusing. For example, the segment for Article 12, which includes guarantees against arbitrary interference with correspondence, features a letter ripped out of an envelope and attacked by an army of needles poking and shredding. The entire series of short cartoons – almost all of which are 30 seconds or less – would make an excellent prompt for students to complete their own illustrations of these and any other rights they believe should be universal. Students could also be divided into small groups to perform improvisations based on the Universal Declaration or to create pantomimes and perform them as in a game of charades, with other students guessing which article is being acted out.
Roger and Me
Michael Moore. Widely available at video stores. 1989. 91 min. (Awarded an absurd ‘R’ rating, apparently for a bit of foul language and the on-camera butchering of a rabbit.)
“First, close eleven plants in the U.S., then open eleven in Mexico where you pay the workers 70¢ an hour. Then use the money you’ve saved building cars in Mexico to take over other companies – preferably high tech firms and weapons manufacturers. Next, tell the union you’re broke and they happily agree to give back a couple billion dollars in wage cuts. You then take that money from the workers and eliminate their jobs by building more foreign factories. Roger Smith was a true genius.” This is filmmaker Michael Moore describing the business strategy of General Motors’ then-chairman, Roger Smith. Roger and Me chronicles Michael Moore’s long quest to confront Smith with the human consequences of his business decisions on Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan, where GM eliminated 30,000 jobs. You can find the film in the comedy section at your local video store. And it is a comedy, with a Detective Columbo-like Moore relentlessly pursuing Smith and encountering one ludicrous GM evasion after another. But the film’s laughs are squeezed from the sorrow and outrage we also experience as Moore juxtaposes the deterioration of workers’ lives with the empty-headed patter of Flint’s elite, and the Pat Boones, Anita Bryants, and assorted hucksters who troop through town. Moore interviews a GM spokesman who is indignant that Moore would dare suggest that GM owes anything to the workers who built the company. General Motors is in business solely to make a profit, he insists, plain and simple. Capitalism 101. (In the credits we learn that the PR man also loses his job.)
The film ends with Moore cutting back and forth between Roger Smith offering pious-sounding platitudes at a GM Christmas party and the wrenching eviction of a Flint family on Christmas eve. To the extent that a key goal of teaching about globalization is to lay bare its human dimensions, this is a valuable classroom resource. However, an equally important goal is to encourage students to reflect on alternatives. The film’s nostalgia for an American society based on the mass production of automobiles reveals a key limitation of Roger and Me.
A British film that complements Roger and Me is Brassed Off, starring the brilliant Pete Postlethwaite. It may be a bit too slow or simply odd for most high school students, but at least rent it sometime for yourself. Like Roger and Me it’s a humorous, if heartbreaking, look at the consequences of “downsizing” – in this case, Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government closing profitable, and heavily unionized, coal pits in Yorkshire. The film explores the miners’ travails through the fortunes of the town’s brass band.
The Ties That Bind
Maryknoll, 1996. 56 min.
Divided into three sections, the first of these is too narrator- and interview-dense for most students. But part two, “Just Between Us,” and part three, “The Common Bond” are more accessible. Through the story of two women who emigrated from Mexico to the United States, “Just Between Us” humanizes the issue of “illegal” immigration. It points out the contradiction between the rhetoric of openness and “free” trade on the one hand and the militarization of the border on the other. But it does this concretely, through story.
The final part, “The Common Bond,” is largely the inspiring story of Carmen Anaya, a feisty former teacher from Monterrey, Mexico who immigrated to the United States and worked in the fields. Anaya became a community organizer and leader of Valley Interfaith, a multi-ethnic, church/community alliance that boasts membership of 60,000 families in the Rio Grande Valley. Through a translator, Anaya narrates a story that recalls the “conductors” on the Underground Railroad of an earlier era:
It was 2 in the morning. How can I forget it? The doorbell rang and I saw all these men. “What’s the matter?” I asked. They were with Immigration. “Open the door,” they said. “Are you Carmen Anaya?” “Sure. How can I help you?” I said. “We want you to go open the church.” I asked them “Why? Do you want to pray?” They said, “We’re not joking around. We’ve been told that you’re hiding many undocumented persons in there.” I said to them, “I will never open that door if you’re going there with any other intention than to pray. So you do whatever you want with me. But I’m not opening that door.” And I didn’t. – We suffered a lot. Because not everyone agreed with us, but we knew that God agreed with us.
Although it includes the use of Mexican story-songs to effectively illustrate points, the video also features an unfortunate soundtrack with soap opera-like music that will annoy some viewers, matched by a narration that occasionally dips into the well of Godfamily- country boilerplate. The Ties That Bind is bighearted but lacks a sustained analysis about why people are emigrating from Mexico and what economic and political changes would address the Mexican economic crisis – a crisis that the video largely takes for granted.
Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary
Laura Angelica Simón.Transit Media, 1996. 53 min.
On the day that California voters approved Proposition 187 – denying “illegal” immigrants public education and access to health care – one of Laura Angelica Simón’s students asked her if she was now a “cop” and was going to kick them out of school. Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary is Simón’s intimate look at the emotional pain caused by Prop. 187 in one California school: hers. Hoover is the largest elementary school in Los Angeles, enrolling 2,700 kids, 90% of them from Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The video “stars” Mayra, a precocious Salvadoran fifth grader who takes us on a tour of the school and invites us into her home – a one-room apartment across from crime-plagued McArthur Park that she shares with her mother, uncle and sister. Mayra and other students we meet represent living criticisms of the dehumanizing term “illegal alien,” and their humor and intelligence offer viewers an opportunity to rethink lingering stereotypes. But the video is not content to confront anti-immigrant attitudes simply by introducing us to sweet kids. We also meet Dianne Lee, a seven-year teaching veteran whose grandparents immigrated from Russia; Carmen Arcote, a conservative Mexican-American parent who voted for 187; and Mr. Peakmeyer, the Anglo librarian who engages Hoover students in an impromptu debate about the causes of the neighborhood’s decline, and with help from these astute youngsters trips over his own contradictions.
My students enjoyed this personal video essay about immigration issues, and found lots to talk and write about. However, the video can’t stand on its own. Although early on, Simón, the narrator, labels the students “economic and political refugees,” that’s the only hint of the forces that propel so many Latin Americans to move north. It was beyond the video’s scope, but unless students explore the broader economic factors hurting poor countries – in large measure Made in the USA and other industrialized nations – they won’t be able to think deeply about the wrongheadedness of anti-immigrant crusades. Without this broader context, students may be left sympathetic to immigrants’ plights but unaware of how economic and political choices made here create social dislocations throughout Latin America. Limitations notwithstanding, the video is provocative and useful.
To engage students in the ordeal of immigrating to the United States from Central America or Mexico, many teachers use El Norte (available at many video rental outlets). Although it focuses on immigrants fleeing military repression in 1980s Guatemala, aspects of this film are timely, and it’s been a favorite with students.
*Bus Riders Union
Haskell Wexler/The Strategy Center. 2000. 86 min.
In this extraordinary video, Academy Award-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler records the several-year-long struggle of the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union (BRU) to win better service and to challenge the race and class bias in city spending priorities. Sure, at 86 minutes, it’s long for classroom use and drags in a few places for many high school students, but what a rich documentary this is. At the outset, Kikanza Ramsey, a young BRU organizer, explains that the union is “a political, social experiment to see if we can build a multiracial, bilingual, gender-balanced mass movement of working class people that is willing to fight for a set of demands that challenges corporate capital.” And this is not mere rhetoric. The remainder of the video brings her words to life, revealing the twists and turns, highs and lows of this struggle, as seen through the eyes of participants. We desperately need more classroom resources like this one. First, because in many respects the union is victorious; in the end they win lots more buses – and less polluting ones, at that – to ease overcrowding for their mostly immigrant, poor, people of color, working class constituency. And students need to learn that struggle matters. But it’s how the BRU organizes – especially across lines of race, nationality, and language; with humor; with song; with determination; with an eye on the bigger systemic picture – that will leave a lasting impression. Hope is scarce in many of these “videos with a global conscience;” in Bus Riders Union it plays a starring role.
*Arms for the Poor
Maryknoll. 1998. 25 min.
Arms for the Poor almost suffocates students with statistics, but it offers a convincing portrait of the U.S. government in cahoots with arms exporters spreading destruction and wasting the precious resources of poor countries: Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has doubled its arms sales; the U.S. sells more weaponry abroad than all other 52 arms exporters combined; 80% of U.S. arms sales go to repressive, non-democratic governments; land mines – 95% of which are U.S. made – kill or injure 500 people per week. Activists and experts interviewed consistently link U.S. arms sales to the maintenance of global inequality; although this is asserted more than demonstrated in the video.
Well, at least “we” benefit from this arrangement, right? Not according to a Boston Globe investigation described in the video that found that over a four year period, six of the largest U.S. arms exporters laid off 178,000 workers but at the same time tripled executives’ salaries. This was a point that stuck with my predominantly white, working class students, some of whom occasionally express a tolerance for global inequities because this arrangement benefits “us.”
As with other Maryknoll videos like The Business of Hunger and Banking on Life and Debt, Arms for the Poor hops around the globe, featuring example after example, offering one eloquent testimony after another. It’s a technique that is information-rich, and effectively presents broad global patterns, but also holds students at a distance from the victims of U.S. economic and military policies; we never linger in a place long enough to really get to know anyone. Nonetheless, it’s an important resource, one that generated a good discussion when I used it with my students.
*Sweating for a T-Shirt
Medea Benjamin, Global Exchange. 1999. 24 min.
Narrated by first year college student Arlen Benjamin-Gomez, Sweating for a T-Shirt is a fine video introduction to the issue of global sweatshops. It opens with Benjamin-Gomez buying her sister a UCLA T-shirt made in Honduras, and then wandering the campus asking students where their clothes were made. It’s an engaging lead-in to her visit to Honduras with mother, Medea Benjamin, a long-time social justice activist and co-founder of Global Exchange.
In Honduras, the video contrasts comments by industry PR representatives with interviews of sweatshop workers and union organizers, and visits to workers’ homes. No problems here, say the industry folks. “I hate that word, ‘sweatshops,'” complains an Apparel Manufacturers spokesman.
But the video demonstrates convincingly that there are problems here, and that the word “sweatshop” is well-deserved when applied to Honduran maquiladoras – labor-intensive factories owned or contracted with by transnational corporations – producing for global giants like Fruit of the Loom, Dockers, and Nike: Workers make around $3 a day, but the cost of living is $8; hours are long; air in the factories is poor, and health problems like severe bronchitis and skin allergies are common; no talking is allowed and bathroom breaks are few; workers are fired for illness and especially for organizing unions; pregnant workers are fired and denied maternity benefits; youngsters regularly begin factory work around the age of 12, and are unable to pursue further schooling.
Meanwhile, the Honduras-U.S. Chamber of Commerce representative tells Benjamin: “I don’t think they even have the need to have a union, because they are considered to be privileged workers. They work in a very nice environment.” Significantly, the video doesn’t encourage us to pity the workers as powerless victims. It emphasizes people’s own efforts to organize to fight for better conditions. As the narration and Hondurans themselves stress, they need our solidarity, not charity. At the beginning of Benjamin’s time in Honduras, the Apparel Manufacturers spokesman promises to get them in to see first-hand the excellent working conditions. He smiles and tells them, “I’ll arrange that you leave impressed.” But in the end, despite repeated telephone calls, the factories refuse to allow Benjamin and her daughter in the door. As Benjamin says, putting down the phone for the last time, “Well, I guess they’ve got something to hide.”
Maquila: A Tale of Two Mexicos
Saul Landau and Sonia Angulo. Cinema Guild. 2000. 55 min.
The “two Mexicos” referred to in the title of this video are the countryside and the industrial border zones, home to numerous maquiladoras. Although the video’s portrait of maquiladora-centered urban life is much fuller than its depiction of rural life, this is an important resource.
As one observer points out, the maquila boom may represent economic growth, but it is certainly not genuine development. Using Ciudad Juarez – just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas – as a case study, the video demonstrates how maquilas cheat workers out of wages, undermine unions, pollute surrounding neighborhoods, offer miserable health and safety conditions, and abuse the largely female labor force. Interviews with workers offer glimpses into the intimate humiliations they confront. One woman maquila worker says that factory managers will fire any worker who becomes pregnant; they require women to take pregnancy tests and go so far as to demand to see their sanitary napkins to make sure they are menstruating.
Another startling feature of the video is its investigation into the huge number of disappearances and murders of poor women in Juarez. A crime wave that might be portrayed as horrifying but inexplicable by the mainstream media is here given economic and social context. Be aware that there is an especially gruesome scene of a murdered young woman that could upset some students. But this segment is not unrelievedly grim. The video features a large and inspiring demonstration of hundreds of women waving white handkerchiefs, chanting “Ni una mas!” (Not one more!)
Although we don’t learn about conditions in the countryside in as much depth as we learn about urban life, there are effective scenes of peasants in Chiapas resisting the militarization of their lands, and interview segments with the Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos.
Maquiladoras depend on a ready supply of desperate people willing to trade their freedom and sometimes their health for a regular, if inadequate, wage. This video begins to ask, “Why?” and to locate sweatshops in a broader process of globalization.
Something to Hide
The National Labor Committee. 1999. 25 min.
“If you think of the worst nightmare of the major corporations, it’s that young people will start to ask serious questions about where their stuff is produced,” says the National Labor Committee’s Charles Kernaghan at the close of Something to Hide. This video demonstrates that some students are most definitely posing those questions and seeking answers. Something to Hide follows Kernaghan and a delegation of U.S. college students to El Salvador to learn about maquiladora conditions. As Medea Benjamin and her daughter Arlen discover in Sweating for a T-Shirt, about their similar quest in Honduras, factories are closed to observers. Not only are they closed, they are often barricaded behind enormous concrete walls or fences topped by razor wire. In interviews with workers outside the factories we hear a litany of abuses, which include the harassment of women who “get pregnant too often,” low pay, long hours, attacks on union organizers, and humiliation by the Korean managers – whose motives and positions are, regrettably, not scrutinized, as is true in the NLC’s earlier video, Zoned for Slavery (see below). The U.S. students also meet a worker who was fired for daring to speak with a solidarity delegation from the United States.
Something to Hide serves as a worthwhile introduction to the issue of global sweatshops, and also as an invitation to join with other students to “put a human face on the global economy.”
“Free Trade in Mexico”
segment from TV Nation, Vol. One, Michael Moore. (Available in some video stores and from amazon.com.) 1994. Approx. 15 min.
Michael Moore spoofs the era of free trade in this amusing segment of his now-defunct NBC show TV Nation. He travels to Reynoso, Mexico to pretend to explore the economic benefits of relocating TV production there. In Reynoso, he visits a Whirlpool factory that produces washing machine parts formerly made in Indiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee. The workers there make 75 ¢ an hour, and don’t have Whirlpool machines of their own, because, as the manager tells Moore, “One of the problems is that a lot of the folks don’t have plumbed-in water.” Moore’s Reynoso tour guide shows off life across the border in McAllen, Texas – home to mansions and 20 golf courses – where U.S. managers of Mexican factories can enjoy the quality of life they are accustomed to. The episode is a lighthearted vehicle for Moore to drive home his point that in practice, free trade means freedom for corporations to export jobs to low-wage havens with lax enforcement of environmental protections.
*Zoned for Slavery: The Child Behind the Label
National Labor Committee. 1995. 23 min.
United States corporations operating in Central American free trade zones “pay no corporate taxes, no income taxes, no social security or health benefits, and they treat their workers like slaves. There are no inspections, no regulations, and when workers try to organize, they are fired.” As Zoned for Slavery emphasizes, these miserable conditions are subsidized by U.S. taxpayers, with over $1 billion funneled to free trade zones by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Most of the workers are young women – teenagers – who work for wages that are 5 to 10% of the wages earned by U.S. apparel workers. Children are the losers, forced to choose between work and school, as employers insist on mandatory overtime. In his commentary in the video, the National Labor Committee’s Charles Kernaghan insists that with their forced overtime policies, companies “are telling these young women: ‘It’s school or it’s work – you decide. If you’re going to go to school tonight, don’t bother coming back tomorrow, ’cause you’re fired.'”
Kernaghan’s indignation at the youngsters’ exploitation courses through the video. A Gap shirt made in El Salvador sells in the United States for $20, but the workers receive just 12 ¢. Who gets the other $19.88? he demands. The video is relentlessly polemical, but why shouldn’t it be? Kernaghan’s outrage is an appropriate response to the degradation he witnesses.
With Kernaghan, we sneak into a Honduran maquiladora and hear from the teenage workers about their conditions. In open garbage pits outside the factories we see discarded packets of the birth control pills that factory managers force on young women workers. Not explained, unfortunately, is the role of the Korean subcontractors who appear as the video’s only on-camera bad guys.
As with the NLC video Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti (reviewed here), Zoned for Slavery is marred by its failure to highlight the ongoing organizing efforts of Central Americans themselves. By almost entirely ignoring labor and human rights activities there, the producers implicitly suggest that people in the United States must shoulder sole responsibility to confront sweatshop abuse. Still, Zoned for Slavery is an excellent – some teachers think the best – introduction to issues of child labor and global sweatshops. It’s an important resource, one I’ve found especially valuable as a follow-up to the Transnational Capital Auction (see p. 108).
Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti:
Walt Disney and the Science of Exploitation
Crowing Rooster Arts/National Labor Committee. 1996. 17 min.
This is an angry video that returns again and again to the wretched wages and living conditions of Disney’s Haitian workers. We travel to Haiti with Charles Kernaghan, the intense and indefatigable director of the National Labor Committee, as he interviews Haitians about their work lives and standards of living. The video is especially effective when Kernaghan holds up a Disney T-shirt and reveals to workers how much it sells for in the United States. Their collective gasps and shouts of disbelief offer indisputable testimony about Disney’s exploitative practices.
Now that sweatshops have been in the news for awhile, many of my students have heard from parents or teachers that yes, wages are low in Third World countries, but living expenses are so low that it all equals out. To test such claims, Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti shows viewers exactly what a worker can buy for her family’s dinner with 20 gourdes – $1.20 – if she were so lucky as to end her day with that much left over: a bit of spaghetti, an onion, a small amount of oil and tomato sauce, garlic, a bullion cube and two small pieces of salt fish. The harsh details of Disney workers’ lives, such as these, make this an effective video to use with students. What it lacks in the polish of a network news magazine segment, it more than makes up for with its sense of justice and outrage.
One drawback of the video, and it’s an important one, is its failure to portray Haitians – and by extension, people in poor countries in general – as agents of change. We never get any sense that Haitians themselves are resisting Disney’s “science of exploitation.” In an interview, one worker says, “We are like the living dead. The boss has benefits and we have nothing. The boss can say anything to us and we can say nothing.” Surely there is truth to this, but the video’s underlying message is that we in the United States need to act for Haitians, because they cannot act for themselves. It’s a plea for charity rather than for solidarity.
Guess Who Pockets the Difference?
UNITE! 1995. 8 min.
Think that sweatshops are only in other countries? Think again, argues this short video about Guess workers’ drive for a union contract. Brief interviews with Guess’ mostly Latin American immigrant workers tell of forced overtime, low wages, and humiliating conditions of work. Through a translator, one woman explains the contract system: “We’ve tried to talk to our boss, but he tells us that Guess is pressuring them – that they lowered their prices. It isn’t fair that they are the ones in competition for the prices and we are the ones who pay the consequences.”
The video’s brevity is an obvious limitation – we learn very little about workers’ lives or their struggle to improve conditions – but it could be a useful resource, especially if students were researching the labor practices of particular corporations, or sweatshop practices in the United States.
*Salt of the Earth
Herbert Biberman. 1954. 94 min.
Set in “Zinctown, New Mexico,” Salt of the Earth uses a combination of actors and non-professional community people to tell its story. And a great story it is. Sparked by a mine accident, the workers, mostly Mexican Americans, go on strike. Safety is the issue, but is inextricably linked with racial discrimination as Anglo miners work in pairs, while Mexican-Americans are forced to work alone. The film consistently highlights the racial dimension to the class struggle. As one of the white managers says about the workers: “They’re like children in many ways. Sometimes you have to humor them. Sometimes you have to spank them. And sometimes you have to take their food away.” And the film also addresses racism within the union. The white organizer from the international union is committed to the workers’ cause and to union democracy, but his paternalism still creeps in. He is criticized by one of the workers, Ramón Quintero: “When you figure everything the rank and file’s to do down to the last detail, you don’t give us anything to think about. Are you afraid we’re too lazy to take initiative?”
But this is especially a feminist story, as women insist that their issues for indoor plumbing and hot water in the company-owned housing also be included as a demand of the all-male union. This is the women’s story at least as much as the men’s, and they continue to push for equality the more they participate in strike activities. This struggle comes to a head as Esperanza confronts her husband, Ramon, about his determination to keep her in her place: “Have you learned nothing from this strike? Why are you afraid to have me at your side? Do you still think you can have dignity only if I have none?… Do you feel better having someone lower than you? Whose neck shall I stand on to make me feel superior?… I want to rise and push everything up as I go.”
Comforting Esperanza a bit later, one of the women says, “Anything worth learning is a hurt. These changes come with pain.” As effectively as any other film in my curriculum, Salt of the Earth celebrates the possibility of people being able to create a very different, very much better society through solidarity and collective action.
When I first showed Salt of the Earth a number of years ago, I worried that students would be put-off by a black and white film that had quite a bit of amateurish acting and melodramatic music. I was wrong. What the film lacks in polish it more than makes up for in substance. And most students recognize that.
Bread and Roses
Ken Loach. [Available at video stores.] Lions Gate Films. 2001. 106 min. [Rated ‘R’ for some sexual references, and lots of harsh language.]
This is the fictionalized account of episodes in the Justice for Janitors campaign in Los Angeles. The film opens with Maya’s harrowing illegal entrance into the United States from Mexico and follows her travails as she secures a cleaning job in a large downtown office building. Perez, the on-site manager for the cleaning contractor, keeps workers in line through incessant badgering. Maya bristles at this treatment, and is receptive to overtures from the cocky white union organizer Sam, but her sister Rosa has learned hard lessons in self-preservation, and wants no part of a risky union struggle, especially one led by this guy. “‘We, we,’ when was the last time you got a cleaning job?” she demands of Sam early in the film.
The best scenes in Bread and Roses are the tense conversations between workers about whether or not organizing is worth the risk. Maya’s would-be boyfriend, Ruben, has a law school scholarship waiting, if only he plays it safe and keeps his job. Why would Maya want to endanger her job, Ruben wants to know. She snaps back:
What was it that you said when they fired Teresa [an older woman who worked with them cleaning the office building]? “She looks like my mother.” That’s why I’m doing it. I’m doing it because my sister has been working 16 hours a day since she got here. Because her husband can’t pay for the hospital bills. He doesn’t have medical insurance…. I’m doing it because I have to give Perez two months of my salary and I have to beg him for a job. I’m doing it because we feed those bastards, we wipe their asses, we do everything for them. We raise their children, and they still look right through us.
Bread and Roses is engaging start to finish and can generate lots of excellent writing and discussion – about treatment of immigrant workers, tensions between immigrant and non-immigrant workers, risks and benefits of organizing, and many others. But it’s not without its flaws. This is supposed to be a struggle to reclaim workers’ lost dignity, but every union tactic is decided upon by the organizer, not by the workers. They may be in meetings together, but Sam does virtually all the talking – deciding every move, making pronouncements about how he is going to “personally embarrass” the new part-owners of the office building. (Someone in Bread and Roses should have criticized him the way the Ramón criticized the organizer in Salt of the Earth – above.) And the romance between Sam and Maya was a needless and inappropriate – if predictable – insertion by writer/director Ken Loach. But these are not fatal flaws, and this is a valuable film. By the way, Loach is a prolific filmmaker, underappreciated in the United States. Two of his films that would make excellent additions to a global studies curriculum are Hidden Agenda, about British repression in Northern Ireland; and Land and Freedom, about the Spanish Civil War.
When Children Do the Work
The Working Group, 1996. 27 min.
When Children Do the Work borrows key segments from the National Labor Committee’s video Zoned for Slavery (see review in this article) and an episode of the PBS series Rights and Wrongs to alert viewers to the use of child labor around the world. The narration opens with the claim that as a society “we” did away with child labor at the turn of the century, suggesting that child labor is a problem only in other countries, and closes glibly with a list of U.S. firms that have pledged not to use child labor – neglecting to mention that, to date, none of them has promised to pay a living wage to its workers. Nonetheless, the segments are short and hard-hitting, and offer a dramatic introduction to the global workplace exploitation of children.
The Rights and Wrongs segment features an interviewwith a Pakistani carpet factory manager who matteroffactly reports that he has 40 looms worked by 100 children. “We chain them three or four hours a day to teach it (sic) not to run away,” and adds that the children also sleep chained to their looms. But scenes of abuse are also paired with stories of resistance, and the video highlights the story of Iqbal Masih, a former child worker who became an activist with the Bonded Labor Liberation Front.
A final segment features the work of the Women’s Network of the United Food and Commercial Workers union which targets Wal-Mart’s sale of products made by eight- to twelve-year-olds in Bangladesh.
Despite its overly rosy assessment of the progress that has been made in eliminating child labor, the video’s broader message is clear: There are serious problems in the world, and we can work to make things better.
*Tomorrow We’ll Finish
UNICEF (distributed by Maryknoll). 1994. 26 min.
Tomorrow We’ll Finish dramatizes the lives of three, Nepalese girls in a rug factory in Katmandu. Although it may feel a bit melodramatic or contrived to some students, the video is an effective introduction to child labor in the rug industry. Its attention to details – the rigors of the girls’ working conditions, their sexual harassment by their “middleman” overseer, the pressure to produce in order to pay back loans to their families – lends the video a feeling of authenticity and invites students to look at life from the girls’ points of view. Especially touching is the tenderness in the three girls’ relationships and how they look out for one another. I’ve used the video only once, but my students – mostly high school sophomores at the time – enjoyed it and found it more affecting than reporter-narrated TV newsmagazine segments.
Viewers get only a glimpse of how the girls’ labor relates to the global economy when a Europeanlooking rug buyer enters the factory to bargain for the finished product. The failure to examine the broader global context of child labor could be considered a weakness of the video. On the other hand, it demonstrates effectively how both consumers and producers are often invisible to each other.
See also Zoned for Slavery.
FOOD AND AGRICULTURE
*¡Aumento Ya! (A Raise Now!)
[In English, some subtitles.]
Tom Chamberlin/PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste). 1996. 50 min.
“They look at us as if we’re their tractor,” says one farm worker organizer, describing the white growers’ attitudes about their largely Mexican workforce. ¡Aumento Ya! is the dramatic story of Oregon farm workers’ confrontation with those discriminatory attitudes, and the miserable working and living conditions that accompany them.
The video, presented as the personal narrative of a woman who came to volunteer with the farm workers union, can be roughly divided into two parts: the first, a short overview of farm worker conditions in Oregon and the farm workers’ union, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN); the second, the story of the strikes held over the summer of 1995 by workers in the strawberry fields. This is not a highly polished video, but its story is compelling, and my students have found ¡Aumento Ya! engaging and moving. It’s one of those “small” videos, that allow students to encounter social forces as they manifest themselves in real people’s lives.
Workers begin with the simple demand to be paid 17¢ a pound for strawberries rather than the 10 to 12¢ the growers are paying. Beginning with the first walkout from the fields, the video takes us day by day through the strike. A few days into the strike, as workers gain confidence, they add demands about their housing – shacks of blue plastic walls that sleep six or more. Workers call for separate showers for men and women, heat in the cabins, leaking roofs to be fixed, cleaning equipment made available, locks on doors, one telephone for the camp. For my students, the modesty of these demands underscored the wretchedness of farm workers’ living conditions.
It’s not easy to find teaching materials that show ordinary people taking action to better their lives. ¡Aumento Ya! is inspiring without being romantic or overstating workers’ accomplishments.
Bring some strawberries to class, ask students to write whatever comes to mind about the berries, and then show ¡Aumento Ya! for a different point of view [see p. 128.]
The Fight in the Fields: César Chávez and the Farm Worker Struggle Ray Telles and Rick Tejada-Flores/Paradigm Productions. 1997. 116 min.
This is an excellent film about the life of César Chávez and the history of Mexican-American farm workers – the best I’ve seen. The Fight in the Fields begins in the California fields in the 1860s and closes with the death of Chávez in 1993. In between is a solid history of the heroic farm worker movement, with a keen eye for the multiracial solidarity that weaves through the long struggle: Mexicans and Okies join forces in the 1930s, Filipinos and Mexicans later; an Arab-American striker was the first person killed in the grape strikes of the late 1960s.
Yes, it’s largely a talking head documentary – at times, narrator-heavy. Yes, it’s long. And, yes, some students may find it boring. But it’s a wonderful film, rich in details, told mostly from the point of view of the organizers and farm workers who made the history.
Although later sections on the grape and lettuce boycotts could be excerpted for use in class, the film draws its power from the panoramic view it offers of the farm worker struggle.
*The Global Banquet
Two parts:”Who’s Invited?”
and “What’s On the Menu?”
Maryknoll. 2001. 50 min.
The Global Banquet is a good introduction to the themes explored in our chapter “Just Food?” The video asks who benefits from the global market in agriculture and concludes: only large corporations. In the United States and Canada, small farmers can’t compete with the corporate food behemoths, and often receive less for their food commodities than these take to produce. In the Third World, small farmers are crushed in the marketplace by subsidized food from the “developed” countries. Defeated by the global market, small farmers in poor countries migrate to the cities, to other countries, or become migrant workers: “The fresh fruit and vegetables that most of us eat are picked by the hands of farmers who have been displaced on their own land, and are now very low wage farm workers.” As one Central American farmer, Jorge Mejia says in the video: “You feel very sad, like you’ve been abandoned.”
The video argues that free trade in agricultural goods means that countries are “free” to have their food self-sufficiency destroyed. And for those who don’t have the cash to participate in the global food market? They’re free to starve. As critic David Korten points out in the video, the market responds only to those who have the cash to make it respond.
The video briefly covers other aspects of food-forprofit, including one section on genetically modified produce. And alternatives are also touched on, but without the kind of rich detail that would have been valuable. Still, mentions of CSAs (Community- Supported Agriculture), farmers’ markets, and small diversified farms hint at viable alternatives to the corporate globalization of food.
See also Where Are the Beans? in “The Global Economy: Colonialism without Colonies”. Another video that teachers might find useful is The Greening of Cuba (Jamie Kibben. Food First. 38 min. 1996) about the revolution in small-scale organic agriculture in Cuba.
CULTURE, CONSUMPTION, AND THE ENVIRONMENT
*Earth and the American Dream
Bill Couterie. Direct Cinema Ltd. 1993. 77 min.
See “Capitalism and the Environment: The Thingamabob Game,” p. 287, for a description of this fine and useful video.
*Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh
John Page/International Society for Ecology and Culture. 1993. 60 min.
See the article “Rethinking ‘Primitive’ Cultures: Ancient Futures and Learning from Ladakh,” p. 308, on ways to work with this video. It’s a must-use resource.
International Society for Ecology and Culture. 1998.
See the article “Rethinking ‘Primitive’ Cultures: Ancient Futures and Learning from Ladakh,” p. 308. Although not as strong as Ancient Futures, Local Futures concentrates on local alternatives to globalization, and features activities from a Ladakhi women’s organization not included in Ancient Futures.
*Trinkets and Beads
Christopher Walker. 1996. 52 min.
Trinkets and Beads is a haunting video about international oil companies versus the indigenous people of the rainforests of eastern Ecuador (see “Oil, Rainforests, and Indigenous Cultures,” p. 268). There’s a billion and a half dollars worth of oil inEcuador’s Oriente, enough to power U.S. cars for 13 days, and in order to get it oil companies are willing to destroy indigenous cultures and the land they live on. One oil company consultant in the video expresses contempt for the very idea of a rainforest: “The jungle is the jungle is the jungle kind of thing.” It’s a small film about big issues, and my students were fascinated and outraged.
A major theme of Trinkets and Beads is the role of evangelical missionaries who, in the words of one of them, view the Bible as a tool to “cut though a culture where they never had it.” In the video we see missionaries attempt to groom the indigenous Huaorani people for “civilization” and the arrival of oil companies.
But we also meet Moi, a Huaorani leader whose eloquence will stay with students long after the VCR is turned off: “We must all be concerned because this is the heart of the world and here we can breathe.” Trinkets and Beads features Moi’s stories of Huaorani resistance and includes scenes of indigenous people’s raucous demonstrations in Quito. Its images of environmental violence are indelible, and will infuriate students, but images of defiance should also inspire them. My students watch the video early in the school year, but by the end of the year it is still vivid for them, and they use it as a conceptual touchstone in ongoing conversations about “development” and “progress.”
Amazonia: Voices from the Rainforest.
Rosainés Aguirre and Glenn Switkes. The Video Project. 1991. 69 min.
This is an ambitious and somewhat meandering video about the wonders of the Brazilian Amazon rainforests and the struggle over their future. It lacks the focused storytelling approach of Trinkets and Beads, but its more comprehensive emphasis is also a strength. By the conclusion, we’ve met indigenous people, rubber tappers, and poor farmers who, according to the video’s narration, have begun to see the need to build alliances against the forces of “development,” which include cattle ranchers, loggers, gold miners, power companies, and the Brazilian military. As the rubber workers union leader, Chico Mendes (since murdered) says: “Today we have become aware. It’s been so important that Indians and rubber tappers have discovered they are not enemies. Our biggest enemies were those who caused this conflict between us. And our true enemies are those who are devouring us and devastating our forests and who want to do away with Amazonia.” Despite the environmental and human ravages described in some detail, this is a hopeful video that emphasizes the enormous resourcefulness of Amazonia’s people and their growing resistance.
Stepan Chemical: The Poisoning of a Mexican Community
Mark R. Day. Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras. 1992. 18 min.
The same economic priorities that produce global sweatshops also produce global cesspools. Stepan Chemical begins as the story of a U.S. chemical corporation taking advantage of lax environmental regulations and enforcement in Mexico to pollute the air, soil, and groundwater of a Matamoros, Mexico neighborhood – just across the border from Brownsville, Texas. We learn, for example, that xylene levels in water around the plant are 53,000 times greater than allowable levels in the United States and that babies in Matamoros have been born with severe birth defects, a possible result of xylene poisoning. Every time it rains, the water runs out of the factory into the yards of neighborhood homes where kids play.
Instead of being just another muckraking tale of corporate abuse, the video highlights the growing resistance in Matamoros in alliance with the Texas-based Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras. The short video ends with the defiant words of neighborhood resident, Ema Mendez: “We’d die first before leaving. They’re not going to force us out. We were born here, we grew up here, and we’re not leaving.” But as she speaks these words, it appears that the struggle is heating up, so students will want to learn more about the current situation.
*The Ad and the Ego
Harold Boihem. California Newsreel, 1996. 60 min.
See the article “Masks of Global Exploitation” (p. 300) for ways of working with this essential resource – the best video I’ve seen on the nature of advertising. Also included on our website (www.rethinkingschools.org/rg) are quotes from the video that can be used with students.
6 TV Uncommercials and the Culture Jammer’s Video
Kalle Lasn. Adbusters Media Foundation. 15 min.
This valuable resource is a collection of alternative “uncommercials” that prompt us to reflect on fundamentalaspects of North American life. They are pointed, playful, and profound. One uncommercial for “American Excess” features an oinking pig protruding from a map of North America: “A tiny 5% of the people in the world consume one-third of its resources, and produce almost one-half the nonorganic waste. Those people are us. Nothing is destroying this planet faster than the way we North Americans live.”
Another uncommercial features a bull marauding through a china shop. The voice-over: “For years,people have defined the economic health of a country by its gross national product. The trouble is that every time a forest falls, the GNP goes up. With every oil spill the GNP goes up. Every time a new cancer patient is diagnosed, the GNP goes up. If we’re to save ourselves, economists must learn to subtract.” This segment carries the unfortunate title, “Voodoo Economics,” borrowing George Bush’s racist put-down of Ronald Reagan’s economic policies in the 1980 Republican primary campaign. (Why is Voodoo the only belief system considered a synonym for “loony”?)
Thirty- and sixty-second uncommercials are bound to be limited, but these will encourage students to think critically about the typical TV fare and will suggest possible uncommercials they themselves might want to produce.
*Advertising and the End of the World
Sut Jhally. The Media Education Foundation. 1998. 47 min.
Sut Jhally is a brilliant analyst of advertising’s deep cultural messages, and the dire ecological effects of a society whose raison d’être is the production of commodities for profit. Advertising & the End of the World has the feel of an illustrated lecture; it is rich in ideas. But it is dense and academic, and would be difficult to follow for most high school students – and impossible to absorb in one sitting. Nonetheless, it could be used effectively in short segments. Indeed, Jhally’s analysis of advertising is so careful and systematic that the video could serve as a unit outline for the cultural impact of advertising. His discussion of the environmental consequences of advertising, toward the end of the video, is especially enlightening – and frightening.
*Making a Killing: Philip Morris, Kraft, and Global Tobacco Addiction
Kelly Anderson and Tami Gold. INFACT. 2000. 29 min.
Making a Killing highlights the tobacco industry’s despicable practice of marketing to young people – concentrating on Philip Morris as one of the most egregious offenders. What sets this video apart from other network media fare covering similar ground is that it focuses especially on tobacco marketing around the world. Despite attempts by impoverished countries like Vietnam to ban cigarette advertising, Philip Morris dances around restrictions by paying attractive young women to dress in short skirts and distribute cigarettes to young men: The first one is free — no joke. With the arrival of capitalism and “free trade,” countries like the Czech Republic have experienced a 40% rise in the number of 15- and 16- year-old smokers.
As a number of people in the video point out, tobacco addiction around the world is not only a health problem, it’s also an economic issue: The profits of tobacco sales are private but the costs of caring for the afflicted are socialized. In poor countries, this gives anti-tobacco organizing special urgency.
Making a Killing is one of those videos that should be seen by every student.
Note: All starred videos above are available from the Teaching for Change catalog: www.teachingforchange.org or 800-763-9131.
130 Madison Ave., 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10016-7038
Tel: 800-723-5522; Fax: 212-685-4717
Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras
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First Run/Icarus Films
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Tel: 718-488-8900; Fax: 718-488-8642
Friendship Press Videos
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Global Exchange Online Fair Trade Store
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Tel: 800-497-1994 x237
The International Society for Ecology and Culture
P. O. Box 311
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Media Education Foundation
26 Center St.
Northampton, Massachusetts 01060
Tel: 800-897-0089 or 413-584-8500
Fax: 800-659-6882 or 413-586-8398
National Labor Committee
275 Seventh Ave., 15th Floor
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Tel: 212-242-3002; fax: 212-242-3821;
New Yorker Films
Tel: 212-247-6110; Fax: (212) 307-7855
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Tel: 503-982-0243; fax: 503-982-1031
Strategy Center Publications
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The Video Project
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Last Updated Spring 2002