Old Documentary, New Tricks

When taking an unannounced blog hiatus, is it best to start back up at whenever you have the wherewithal, or wait out a more rational time period?  It looks as if I’m just about at the 3 week mark–I could wait until Christmas Eve to post, but why let my blogging get any rustier?

One of the differences between end-of-semester thinking and post-semester thinking is that my brain actually engages with things it encounters.  Case in point: after a morning of snow shoveling, I had a chance to catch about half an hour of David Redmon’s 2005 documentary Mardi Gras: Made in China.   Ostensibly, the film begins with a simple premise; Redmon notices that Mardi Gras beads are made in China, and he embarks upon a research trip to understand the ways that such a quintessentially New Orleans artifact is produced so far away.  What he documents instead, however, are the material consequences of that production, and the misperceptions and rationalizations of those Americans who import and use those beads.

This DVD went to the top of my Netflix cue so quickly it could make your head spin.  How did I miss this film when it came out?!  It’s such a beautiful representation of globalization and all of the psychic positions that allow economic injustice to proliferate.  The American importer of the beads tells the filmmaker that the Chinese workers are industrious–so much so that when he visits the factory floor, they’re too focused on their work to speak to one another (unlike, of course, the jocular American factory workers).  Redmon indicates, however, that the workers are fined a day’s pay for talking.  Mardi Gras revelers are asked what they think about Chinese workers begin paid pennies a day to produce the beads that they throw away.  One man replies that pennies a day makes for a better living situation than others more unfortunate in China.  Meanwhile, Redmon interviews workers who are well aware of their exploitation, who feel very little “gratitude”  for their terrible working conditions and pay.

It may be the case that I’m teaching the introduction to American Studies in the fall, and if so, this documentary may be front and center.  I love the way that it positions an American tradition vis-a-vis workers in a global economy.  And it seems to make ever more relevant the recent histrionic fears about Chinese imports.  I wonder if I could organize an entire class looking at the transnational underpinnings of specific U.S. celebrations?

2 thoughts on “Old Documentary, New Tricks

  1. yes, also take a look at fruit, sugar, and other global commodity chains. human trafficking is also emerging in new orleans. there’s also the film “life and debt” and “black gold.” redmon and his partner also just completed a documentary about victoria secret bras in made in mexico.

  2. These are great suggestions, Dan! Thanks!! Life and Debt I’m familiar with, but it had fallen off of my radar. The others are all new. Now if only I had a semester off to watch all of them. Ooh, wait, it’s winter break!

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