Friday, August 5, 2016

What the…Bubble?

We often think of certain professions living in a bubble or those in certain areas as living in a removed bubble. The many versions of lawyer jokes, for example, demonstrate a view that sets lawyers apart from the rest of the community based on their profession. And, as is perhaps best illustrated by the current US election, there are widely held perceptions that those in different geographic regions hold particular views. These are externally constructed bubbles created by those who are not a part of the communities to explain (or mock) behaviour that differs from their own.

The film Whiskey Tango Foxtrot illustrates the opposite situation – where individuals in a particular area come together and create their own internal bubble. In fact, set in Kabul, the characters actually refer to their location and their community as “Kabubble.” Here, the community is that of foreign journalists and their associated in Afghanistan in the early-to-mid-2000s to cover the war.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot tells the story of Kim Barker, a US-based news writer who is unexpectedly given the opportunity to cover the events in Afghanistan in large part because she is single and has no children, making her less of a liability to the network in the event she were killed or injured. Kim leads a comfortable life in New York City but makes the choice to become a war correspondent because she is afraid that her life has become dull and meaningless. She finds herself at the journalist residence in Kabul, where she is quickly befriended by Tanya Vanderpoel, another female journalist. Tanya introduces her to the residence and the area, guiding her through the intricacies of Kabul life – from where to go out to how to conduct herself while out. She also introduces her to the idea of the “Kabubble,” meaning the community of journalists and other foreigners in Kabul.

Within this community, there are different norms and standards, as well as different rules of protection. These are informal standards and rules made by the community as a whole in often unspoken ways – if you want to do something that is fine but if you do not want to partake that is also fine. Conduct that tends to be viewed negatively at home, such as copious drinking, the use of illegal drugs, and random sex, is accepted as standard practice within the confines of the bubble. This is largely due to the nature of the situation and pressures in which the residents of the “Kabubble” find themselves. The need for release is personal – the availability and acceptability of different forms of release is a community decision.

There are bounds to the bubble, such as ensuring that these activities do not involve members of local populations or occur outside designated areas. There are also bounds in terms of ensuring that local customs are followed outside the bubble and that the residents watch out for each other. This is not to deny that those in the bubble frequently fight each other for stories and access to key people and information, however this is largely accepted as part of the job rather than a personal issue.

As Kim navigates her way through Afghanistan and becomes part of the bubble and its culture, she begins a relationship with another journalist, Ian. At first this is a casual relationship, however the bond soon grows deeper and she eventually uses her personal and professional resources to free him when he is kidnapped. Ultimately, however, she realizes that he lives for the bubble and the thrill of the danger associated with it while she is afraid of becoming so much a part of the bubble that she is unable to pull herself out. A trip to see her boss in New York only confirms this. When given the choice of positions at the end of the film, Kim elects to leave the bubble, returning to a prestigious news anchor position in the US. The ease of her ability to leave the bubble and return to  “normal” life demonstrates the porous and accepting nature of the bubble itself – it only exerts control on those who are inside it.

There are many comedic aspects to Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. However, the way in which it depicts the functioning of an internally created and controlled society is an important aspect that is less often highlighted. There are lessons to be learned from this society – from its open nature to its ability to function and respect local customs to its necessity in situations of conflict and stress – that should make it more than just a passing bubble.

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