Monday, February 20, 2012

"See, we're not that bad!"

Lately, I've been remembering how much music is based upon rhythm, and that words are really only embellishment. Raw feeling comes from beats. Raw stories are real, uncensored. I really liked the media viewing this week, "Crack the Surface" because it was about the real, rough, dirty and occasionally dangerous. It was about finding what is beautiful in our real world. They went places that we walk and bypass everyday yet are still an inherent part of our lives. Similar to the reading about the monuments of Passaic in New Jersey. At first I thought it was too simple yet I liked how the author made seemingly simple stuff important. Things that I would normally pass over can be made interesting and worthy. I think that what is most real can be the most beautiful.

Pretty Lights - Drift Away

This week I really tried to discover as many different voices of the Wall of Death as I could. My initial plan was to send out a Facebook message to as many people as I could to get their opinions of the Wall of Death. But, once I got a few responses I realized I could have guessed what they said. They felt the same way I did. This past week when I went to the Wall of Death I saw a homeless couple setting out some food. At first I was terrified of talking to them. I was nervous and when I had finally decided that I would simply write about social barriers between different groups at the Wall of Death I went up and talked with them. Initially the couple seemed a bit hostile towards my approaches. When I told them why I was at the Wall of Death and my academic purposes they, mostly the woman, readily talked to me. 
They told me that they come to the Wall of Death everyday around 6pm because that is when they must meet before going in groups to the nearby homeless shelter. The woman told me that because the city of Seattle does not want them to 'loiter' around the homeless shelter they have to meet here first, then go to the shelter in groups of four or more. I asked whether they thought they had a right to be in this location. She said that they have permission from Seattle police to be in this exact space every evening around the same time, that it is the same faces that come by so they are respected, or simply tolerated more than others. The most fascinating thing to me was their stories. The couple is originally from Sacramento, California and have been married for five years. They are also ex-meth addicts. The woman told me that they could have a place to stay if they went back to California but she did not want to see her ex-husband. They had had a lot of problems over drugs and when she went clean she told her ex it was either the drugs or her and he chose the drugs. She has been clean for five years. Whenever either her or her current husband have any urges they simply talk to each other for hours at a time to talk each other out of it. She asked about why I was in Seattle and about my life. It was interesting to me how intrigued she was by my life and my own opinions. She called herself ‘a tree-hugger’ and thought it was great that I am pursuing environmental engineering. She told me that she loves it here in Seattle, that everyone is really friendly and that the shelter she is at is great. The shelter only accepts people that it knows and have had a history there so they are guaranteed housing. She said that she wants ‘a pad’ of her own but that it’s expensive. We talked about the ironic cycle of homelessness in which to get a house you have to have a job and in order to get a job you have to have a permanent address. Her husband who had been fairly quiet throughout this piped up that this was something he always talked and complained about.
Later two other of their friends showed up, one man and one woman. The man carried a walking stick and a backpack from which he pulled out some sandwiches and offered even me one. She also told me why she was homeless; that she was actually a college graduate in veterinary assistance, but just couldn’t find work. She told me that she was working with her college’s career advisor and had already sent out around resumes to over 6 different places along with a phone call from her career advisor, yet to no avail. It was interesting to me that these people all had such different backgrounds, I was fascinated. I told them how I would love to get videos of their stories and they told me to come back the next day at the same time. The woman said ‘See, we’re not all that bad! Come talk to us.”
So I came back the next day, but they were not there. I waited for half an hour, but it was raining so I assumed that their schedule had changed a bit because of the weather. I just want everyone to know that they aren’t bad people or addicted to drugs or crazy. They are just people who got unlucky. I know that I had been previously prejudiced against them but now that has changed because of this assignment. The people I talked to seemed so eager to talk to another human being who was not judging them based upon their situation. Do not be afraid. I am sure they would love to talk to you too.

This is the last week of my observations at the Wall of Death and I want to take the time to reflect on how my own opinion of the space has evolved. I would love to do something of the sorts of 'Place in Place of: Alexandria' because it was such an accurate description of the author's own experience. I loved that you could follow their journey. I wish I had more time.
At the beginning I felt that I had a right to occupy the space and that I had more of a right than others. But over time I have come to recognize the many different voices that make the space what it is. Without the bikers, taggers, police, security officers, drivers, runners, smokers and even myself, the Wall of Death would be a completely different location; it would mean something entirely different that what it does right now. In a public space everyone has their own private world. To elaborate, I mean that in such a public space, each person takes on his or her own perspective and image, or connotation, of the place. The Wall of Death can be defined as public because of the various projections people have of it. In a private space, the area belongs to one group or individual who iterates to everyone else how they should view it. I loved how in 'The Situationist Manifesto' it described a society of "total participation" where "everyone will become an artist." In a truly public space, this is the ideal. Instead of a space similar to how De Certeau describes New York in 'Walking in the City,' a place that "has never learned the art of growing old by playing on all its pasts," the Wall of Death is a monument to its history and the history of its occupants.

In my last piece of media, I wish to show the graffiti that does not tend to get painted over. This wall, different from the Wall of Death, represents raw, uncensored art and expression. FYI: this photo is not intended to be flat, rather a panoramic, so please try to imagine the wall and road as straight.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Instead of a song this week, I want the share the sounds and feeling of the actual space. I think it describes the mood I have been feeling towards the Wall of Death and this week best. 

 This video was made purely from images from the Wall of Death that I took using my iPhone. I really wanted to capture what it feels like to be in the space. Its is interesting to me that while I was recording the sounds, I was totally oblivious of the constant background noise. I was worried that the only sounds I would be able to show were the footsteps of a runner and the occasional car. I urge the viewer to think about that when they watch and listen to this video.

This week when I went down to the Wall of Death I ran into a few girls from the dorms. I talked with them about the Wall and what they thought of it. They were surprised when I said that I had been seeing a lot of cops around because although they came every day or two they hadn't seen a single one. I was curious, maybe because I had narrowed my times to the Wall of Death to the weekends I had been seeing more police cars. "That's what happens when everybody starts going to one place," one of the girls said to me. They told me that although I had not been seeing homeless people frequent the Wall of Death very often recently, they had. Someone had been sleeping under the orange banner only the day before, and they had seen someone reading here during the day. 
In our reading 'We Know What the Problem Is", Daniel Kerr emphasized the point that he wanted to uplift the homeless through unity. It was interesting to me because whenever I see homeless looking folks at the Wall of Death, they seem to crowd together and look at my friends and me as if we do not belong. There are so many different perspectives present at the Wall of Death. To list them off: the Seattle police, UW police, hired security guards from the construction site, college kids who use the space to smoke, college kids who use the space to drink, homeless, homeless who want to sleep, homeless who want to congregate peacefully, taggers, runners, bikers and people in their cars. Each group has their own voice, and that brings me to the media viewing of the week. I loved that the project focused around different sounds and voices of the seemingly simple space. It gave me an idea. Ask everyone I can to describe the Wall of Death in their own words, then ask them who has a right to be there, and who has the most right. 
By focusing on private vs public space, different perspectives is key. I think this week I will try to email the Seattle police department and ask them their opinion of the Wall of Death. Hopefully I can also get the input of some homeless people. 

The other readings this week were "The Overexposed City" and "The Hunger Games".  To me, these were both similar as they emphasized a story in which 'the city is no longer governed by physical boundaries but by systems of electronic surveillance. " While "The Hunger Games" is supposed to be set in a post-apocalyptic world, the "The Overexposed City" in reality, they still have this is common. It is so easy to forget how surveyed our lives our, whether for our own benefit or not. Take a security camera in the mall, to protect people against other people? Or, to protect the one store owner's property against everyone else? At the Wall of Death I always forget about the possibility of a security camera, and the hired security guards for the construction site. Makes you wonder, how much do other people know about my behavior?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Media and 'the Other'

This past week I really planned out my life in college, at least the courses I will be taking and my focus in my CHID major. Finally figuring things out has me in an uplifting mood. I want to live deliberately, using my education to fuel how I see the world. This week's readings and goal of narrowing the focus of my ethnography really made me think about how I see other people and how they see me.
Passion Pit - Little Secrets

At the Wall of Death there always seems to be a battle of hierarchy. Who is on top? Who has more authority? Who is being envied? The Wall of Death is legally considered a public space upon a public trail. In theory, this means that any one person may occupy the space at any particular time, right?

If you ask the normal person on the street what they thought of the Wall of Death, they would most likely deem the area 'sketchy' or 'creepy'. But that doesn't necessarily stop people from going, or say, build a two feet structure out of marshmallows and raw spaghetti. This week, when I went to the Wall of Death I noticed a group of people scrambling in the dust on their knees. Curious, I went over and asked what they were doing. There were three teenage boys and one young man, the coordinator of the event. When I inquired, the man told me that they were a Christian group doing an Amazing Race of sorts, in which clues lead the groups to different well known places where they must complete a task. The task for the Wall of Death was to build a structure over two feet tall from raw spaghetti and marshmallows. When they finished their challenge, I asked if I could take a picture and they obliged. You can tell from the photo that the lighting is dim and caters to a shady environment. As they discussed and the group of boys moved to the next location, I left the dusty area beneath the Wall of Death banner to sit opposite the coordinator, on the other side of the Burke Gilman. I sat with two friends who had joined me to smoke a cigarette and watched the young man opposite me. He looked so uncomfortable in the unwelcoming environment. 
In our readings this week, there was a big focus on 'the other' and how we define difference. If the way we define ourselves is by defining what we are not, my friends and I were certainly doing exactly that. We were the smokers, we were entitled to feel more comfortable at the Wall of Death than this Christian group. I realized that we were being extremely hypocritical, stereotyping these people simply because they told us they were a Christian group. If we don't like others stereotyping us because we smoke, we shouldn't do that simply because we do not believe in their God. But, as it was the first fact we knew about them, it was the only way of defining a difference in our mannerisms. This man looked scared. We looked at home. But who has authority? Although it is a public space, the people who are most comfortable here still shy away from the real authorities, the police. 

I've been seeing a lot of police cars drive by the Wall of Death lately. This week, although I was only at the location for a total of around three hours at night, the cops drove by a total of three times. I think this may be the reason why I have not been seeing any taggers recently or homeless taking shelter at the Wall of Death for the night. With the increase in police patrols, what do you think? Public or private space?

The other reading this week was about the media portrayal of women and publicity. Although there are not ads around the Wall of Death, there is graffiti art and even that has meaning as media. The reading described the purpose of publicity as forcing us to feel enviable. I think that notion is opposite of the way graffiti art is supposed to make us feel. Instead of jealous, we are supposed to feel a connection to the artist, to understand his or her pain, perspective or mood. We are not meant to be jealous, only connected.
We were also assigned to watch the YouTube movie Life in a Day, which I thought was a really interesting and thoughtful film. I loved that the film was not necessarily uplifting or positive about the human condition, and that they used film people had made themselves. It was movie made by the people. In my study of the Wall of Death, I have been afraid to get photos and video of the people themselves. They might not want their photo associated with some of  the illicit activities that occur at the Wall of Death. But I could allow them to film what they want to, what they deem important. I would like to try.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

An Interview

This past week had me focused on ambient music and a flowing and progressive way of life. Maybe something like Illuminessence or the Gnomes of Kush.
Gnomes of Kush - Sea Flower
I think this kind of music really connects to our souls as human beings in ways pop music fails to. When I was dancing to this the other day at the Om Culture Center, the movement of your body is so easy. It just makes you want to spin, twirl and dance. The event consisted of yoga, meditation, a vegan potluck and ambient dancing. Basking in how the music moved my body without any effort I thought about one of our readings for the week, the interview with Marshall McLuhan. In it he described how reliant we as humans have become on our eyes after the invention of a phonetic alphabet that we neglect our other senses. He also talked about vision as being always narrow, or focused, while hearing takes all noises in. In my opinion, auditory senses impact the movement our our bodies that sight cannot compete with. It was incredible for me to simply close my eyes and allow the music to guide me instead of what I saw. This also reminded me of the media viewing of the week, "Welcome to the Pine Point". I loved how the observers/author was able to narrate her story. Spoken words carry so much more emotion and blunt language than written words do. It made me want to record the next interview I do, if it is okay with the person I am questioning.

This week we were supposed to focus on an interview. And while I conducted a more formal interview with a fellow dorm resident about the Wall of Death, the most interesting interview happened by coincidence. When I was chatting with a fellow Chiddie I ended up telling him about my project in this class; an ethnography on the Wall of Death. And while I had my own perspective on the area, one similar to that of my first interviewee, he had an entirely different one; one of a complete bystander. 
"It's such an odd thing. You are just biking along the trail when all of a sudden there's just this bright orange banner and  the words 'Wall of Death'. And the area underneath is covered in dust and dirt." When I asked him if he had ever seen smokers or homeless people hanging around the Wall, he said he had not and was a little shocked that it occurred there. I then asked if he mainly biked or walked by during the day as more people hang around at night. It surprised me when he answered that he actually went by the Wall of Death more often at night. I asked him about the yellow lighting at night, and he described it as odd while the regular Wall of Death goer described it as "warm". It is all about our perception and memories. Like Stuart Hall said in Encoding/Decoding, "If no 'meaning' is taken, there can be no 'consumption'. Everyone has their own attached meanings and connotations to different stimuli, otherwise they wouldn't even remember whether it was "odd" or "warm".

Another interesting aspect of the Wall that came up this week were the various people who visit it. Even among college students there is a range of people with different perspectives and ideas about what the Wall of Death is used for. Most of the time when I visit, it is to get in a bit of alone time outside where I will not be bothered by normal life. For other people, they think of it as a safe place to drink alcohol. As I was observing at the Wall over the weekend, there were a fair amount of college kids obviously drinking. For me, I would never consider doing that knowing about the undercover cop and the various police cars that drive by. I had always thought of the community of people at the Wall of Death as being cohesive. The taggers, smokers and homeless saw a place of sheltered solitude and expression which made me think that everyone who visits has a similar perception and attitude about the space, at least with regard to privacy vs. publicity. In my own way I had created an imagined community. In Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities, he talks about the concept of nationalism and the 'imagined communities' of countries. It made me question what it means to belong to a group. Is it a sense of comradeship? Or mutual connections? Or feeling like you are wanted and desired. Nationalism is the sense of comradeship; finding common ground with another person because of culture and language. But I think the most intriguing part is how much we focus on exclusion of others rather than inclusion of fellow 'comrades'. We focus on commonality in language and how we were raised when we could focus on simply being human. In our societies we have come to be so focused on our own inclusion, that we inherently try to exclude others to define ourselves better. 

Formal Interview with WoD Regular (For the privacy of the interviewee, their name and photo have been eliminated):
Why do you go to the Wall of Death?
It is a nice place to take a smoke out of the rain. Beyond that, its just the spot. After all of the stupid shit I've seen there, I have an affinity for it.

Why? What draws you to the WoD more than any other place? 
Its just a short walk from home, so convenience plays a part. But I also like the warm light it gets at night, and the solitude I can find there in the middle of the city... Also, I can't deny that I like seeing the burn mark from the sofa my friends torched there.

What do you think of the graffiti at the Wall of Death?
Most of it is pretty bad. I've seen people plaster stuff up there a few times, and that has always seemed like a cop out way to tag. Same with stencils. But occasionally there is something I like. There is a cool skull that has avoided removal for the last few months, but beyond that, most of it gets painted over by the city within a month. For the most part, good riddance. 

Even if you do not enjoy it, do you think the art plays a part in how you perceive the space?
Graffiti tends to make it seem a bit more grungy. If I was more into visual arts, I might get more out of it, but for me it's mainly textural. But it does fit in with the dirty, abandoned vibe of space. Meeting people while there tagging is another interesting thing as well.

In defining things in terms of texture, how would you describe the Wall of Death?
Like I said before, dirty, desolate, abandoned. These are mostly about the night side of it though. On a sunny day, it gets a lighter, breezier feel. With all of the pedestrians and bikers, its bustling. Definitely lose some of the solitude, but it feels a bit more inviting.

Is there anything else you would want someone to know about what the Wall of Death means to you?
I live in a dorm. Its not private, and its not mine. The wall helps rectify my lack of a real home.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Public Glass of Wine

Lately I've been having really creepy dreams, sometimes similar to the creatures in Attack the Block. Scary things that do not even seem real to those who witness them. And, just like my dreams, the movie Attack the Block seemed more entertaining and amusing than frightful. It's like what Louie C.K. said on one of the million talk shows with "funny" white guy hosts, how when you sleep long enough your brain then decides to show you something that will really catch your interest. And although I am probably only fueling my wild unconscious imagination, I have been going to the Wall of Death mostly during the evening and night. The natural darkness allows for the odd, yellow gray lighting to illuminate the WoD in ways you would imagine in nightmares. Not to mention the creepy, yet insightful (I guess you could call it that) new graffiti. (Photos below, taken on iPhone 3G)
This past week, as the snow and the fairytale land it had brought with it melted away, I settled into a new song that seemed only fitting to my strange and short dreams.

"It's All Coming Together!"
 "The most merciful thing in this
universe is the
 ability of the human mind
to comprehend all of its content"
Do you remember you dreams or nightmares? Over the past week I went to the Wall of Death multiple times. But one night stood out to me more than the rest. I wandered down to observe and smoke a stogie expecting to be ignored by any other people there as has been the current case. Instead, as I waded through the dim yellow lighting I came across someone who I knew. He was sitting on the upper ledge of the concrete slope, hidden beneath a black baseball cap under a black hoodie. Distant and ignorant of all thoughts but his own he barely noticed my presence until I sat next to him. Slowly, he took a sip of the wine glass he held in his right hand. "I just found this, lying on the ground over there." He pointed to the area underneath the Wall of Death banner. I told him I hoped he at least wiped the inside of the glass and the rim off, he shrugged his shoulders in neither an affirmation or negative. I lit my cigarette, barely taking any puffs. We talked a bit more, him about his dislike of dorms and chronic depression and me about wanting him to be careful about where he drinks alcohol publicly. "They could roll around the corner any time! They always patrol over on that  side street." I said and gestured to the small road below the right side of the WoD. We settled into silence as I remembered how many times I'd seen cop cars drive through that little road which got me thinking about panopticism and discipline.
In our reading, the author suggested that an ideal society would be one in which everyone spied on everyone else. When I first read that passage, the idea seemed like a nightmare. But when I thought about it again, don't we already have that kind of society? A few regulars to the Wall of Death told me that they had met an undercover cop there a few weeks ago. The cop had looked like another homeless person, that is until his radio went off. They quickly stamped out the joint, half certain they were going to get in serious trouble, half certain he would let them off. The latter ended up being true, but what was most interesting to me was that he had said that the runners and bikers who passed on the Burke Gilman were the ones complaining the the police department about marijuana. Would that not be considered spying on each other in a public space? 

Although the WoD has very defined openings and boundaries, I have always considered it a public space. The Burke Gilman trail is a public space, so the Wall of Death must be as well. Yet the homeless, the taggers and the smokers still worry about authority catching them because they 'are not supposed to be doing what they are doing there'. So is it a public space? To me, the place I can be most public about my actions and myself is one that legally is private; my own home. So in a weird paradox, it seems our society has become in a way panoptic.

My companion had become quite silent and I allowed him the solitude within his own thoughts. My cigarette had gone out and I attempted to relight it to no avail. I shook the lighter and tried again until the tobacco took to the fire. Although I was frustrated with the lighter, what would it be like if I didn't have one? Or had to use matches? Or even flint and a stick to make a fire. Latour had opened up the ease we are guaranteed with technology to me upon reading his "Where Are the Missing Masses? the Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts". Honestly, his style of writing really got on my nerves but his points were interesting and I respect his philosophy. My agitation with the lighter died when I thought of the possibility of having to use a stick and stone. Then, the cigarette went out again, a cause of my lack of attention to it. I stared at the thing and ended up throwing it down the concrete, watching it roll to the "public" trail. I don't really like cigarettes that much anyways.