Last week we sought to utilise ‘the aesthetic’ to reveal our ‘hidden transcripts’. We dressed up to embody how we feel we are seen and essentialised, and to provoke a conversation about our how out intersectional identities interact with the institution and individuals that educate us. Some were money, to convey the sense of transactional relations that permeate the IDS; some were sheep, to highlight feelings of simply being one of the many; some depicted crude depictions of their continental or national identities, to visibilise the lazy assumptions people draw due to our race or nationality. I came wearing a sign that read: ‘Yes, I study gender. And yes, I’m in it for the chicks’. An attempt to depict crude assumptions regarding men and masculinity.
Our act of unruliness was a gentle one. We weren’t overly disruptive or in any way dangerous and we didn’t seek to offend. Given this, it is slightly peculiar that towards the end of the day, a prominent feeling I had was one of guilt. These feelings were drawn from an interaction I had with a fellow whilst we invited people to share their hidden transcript with the IDS.
I came across him carefully examining each and every comment that had been left on a post-it note across the board titled: ‘How does the IDS see you?’ I approached him and asked what he thought about the various reflections and whether he wanted to share a reflection of his own. He remarked how clever he thought everyone’s costumes were and how interesting an idea it was. He was just slightly disappointed to see that nobody had left anything positive up on the board. As I looked across the notes, I realised he was absolutely right. I guess this wasn’t so surprising, it was an unruly act after all. It would have been a curious kind of rupture, if we had merely celebrated the status quo. However, in this act of unruliness I think maybe something was lost in the narrative; a loss that’s says something about acts of unruliness more broadly.
There I was, standing with a fellow praising our ingenuity, despite a large majority of the criticisms describing negative student experiences, that people in his position are responsible for. Such an encounter would be completely inconceivable at my previous university. Not a single member of staff knew me by name. I was a nobody. At the IDS, despite all its flaws, the same can’t be said. It was this fellow’s willingness to engage with our unruly act, to carefully read through our expressions, to hear and speak with us, to see us, that said something quite profound.
Perhaps my sense of guilt is misguided and this was the appropriate forum to be critical; unashamedly critical. Though, I think this sentiment touches at the heart of unruliness.
When we are upset or angry, we often feel like tearing stuff down. If it’s rotten from the inside out – throw it away. I have this impulsion all the time. Academia is fucked. Politics is fucked. The environment is fucked. The world is fucked. Let’s build a new one! But is revolt not the easy answer? Psychologically it takes no effort at all to dismiss something as fucked. The reality is, things are more complicated than this. And yes, while things may be bad, however small they may be, there are always avenues for change – with that comes hope.
This all may seem a bit melodramatic. I am literally comparing changing to world, to changing the IDS. But I do think the thought processes are the same. How often do we stop to think about what we appreciate in something; even more rare, how often do we stop to take the time and energy to celebrate that something like we do in a moment of unruliness? In the current climate, we can so easily feel dejected. All we ever read is shit. All we ever fuel is shit. Maybe, if we took the time to voice our love for something positive, we could cause a rupture in this downward spiraling of negativity. We would invoke not dejection, but participation. Unruliness is often a blunt instrument and there is a place for it. But equally important is a means to celebrate what little we have that works, to ensure we preserve it in the process of tearing down all that doesn’t.
Then again, maybe I’ve just been so beaten down by the British education system that the second someone in a superior position takes the time to recognise me as a human being, I feel touched, honoured. Like Winston contemplating Big Brother in the closing passage of Orwell’s 1984:
“He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”
After everything he had to endure in Room 101, he still succumbs to admit those treacherous thoughts: I Love Big Brother. Well, today the IDS gave out free ice-creams. Magnum ice-creams. So yes, today I LOVE THE IDS!