Friday, September 30, 2016

Sounds of Society

Music – for many of us it plays an important role in our lives. We play it for festivities and for funerals. We find lyrics we can relate to and that speak to some of our innermost experiences and feelings. Years later, hearing a song can be extremely evocative of events, places, or people. Although it is created and performed by an artist or group of artists, we hear it and it becomes part of our lives and, in some cases, part of society. And yet what of the artists who give us this gift? How do they create a society that allows them to perform and express themselves?

Two recent films answer this question by chronicling different artists and musical genres. This Jurisculture post will discuss one film, Maestro, and the following post will discuss the other film, Song of Lahore. Maestro tells the story of master orchestra conductor Paavo Jarvi and, in the process, tells the story of orchestral society as a whole. Throughout the film, Maestro explores Jarvi’s personal history as the son of a world-renowned conductor from Estonia, who spent much of his youth in the Soviet Union due to his father’s work. As a child, Jarvi explains that he grew up listening to music and benefitted from the lessons his father gave to the family on music and on its importance in life and society.

This was emphasized to a younger Jarvi when his father refused to stop performing a song that the Soviet regime deemed subversive and was punished with quasi exile as a result. Despite this, his father continued to support such music and both he and young Jarvi understood the power of the music they performed as a source of motivation and support for social movements. Indeed, as was later demonstrated in Estonia’s “Singing Revolution” in which it broke free of Soviet control, music has the ability to reach across a number of social groups and create another society based on its lessons.

Following Jarvi’s path to the US after fleeing Soviet control, the film chronicles the rise of Jarvi as a young and talented conductor. It explores the Curtis Institute of Music, an elite school for highly talented musical artists, where another type of society is formed, this one of artists who have given their young lives to their art and to perfecting it. They create a common bond of dedication and love of music and their art in a way that might be difficult for the outside world to understand but that provides them with a sense of belonging and place. This, in turn, allows them to push themselves and to excel in order to create the music that comes to have such special meaning to society and to individuals the world over.

The idea of the experience of professional musicians as forming a society unto itself is further highlighted in Jarvi’s experience as the Artistic Director at the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. Unlike other orchestras, in which the musicians are employees, at Bremen the musicians who comprise the orchestra are the owners. This increases the sense of investment and attachment that the musicians have at the same time that it increases the pressure on them to perform at their best and to bring in funding on a consistent basis. It is both a benefit and a burden on the musicians – and particularly on Jarvi as the leader of the orchestra. In this way, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen serves as a microcosm of the realities faced by individuals and society – each must perform at its best in order to succeed and also to survive. In doing this, a close-knit family unit is formed, with musicians and staff members who could receive somewhat better benefits elsewhere staying with a group of people who love and support them.

At the same time, the struggle to balance the reality of this world with the reality of a personal world is demonstrated by Jarvi’s own need to balance his professional world with his commitment to his two young daughters. Throughout the film, Jarvi discusses this in terms of the sacrifices he has made for his career and, as his children begin to grow up, the professional sacrifices he is willing to make so that he can be an involved part of their lives.

In Maestro, the audience experiences more than the story of music and the enjoyment of hearing beautiful performances by leading artists in the world. The film exposes the reality of the music that is enjoyed by millions across the world, from the study needed to become an elite musician to the way that a world-class orchestra functions to the struggle involved in balancing the personal and professional lives of musicians. By exposing these struggles, Maestro highlights the ways in which classical music, a genre that some view as out-dated, in fact reflects the realties and struggles of modern society in the lives of the musicians who perform it as much as in the emotions it conveys and evokes.

Maestro brings to light the many forms of society that form around music and why those societies are necessary in order to create music that reaches listeners across the world. Maestro further highlights the role that audiences have in creating yet another society, one in which music is a unifying theme in itself and can act as a facilitator for other movements.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Unity in Closing

After a week of record breaking and awe-inspiring competition, the 2016 Paralympic games closed on Sunday, September 18th with a festive and meaningful ceremony at the Maracana stadium. This ceremony demonstrated the importance of creating a global society of athletes that moves beyond stereotype and toward inclusion and unity in the construct of citizenship of sport.

Perhaps the most moving demonstration of this unity was the recognition and moment of silence dedicated to Iranian Paralympian Bahman Golbamezhad, who tragically died during the wheelchair road race the prior day.

In recognition of the many sensory abilities Paralympic athletes possess and rely on, the closing ceremony began with a display focusing on different aspects of sound and their interplay with generating other sensory abilities and experiences. This included the incorporation of Brazilian carnival music and heavy metal music as forms of expression that sounds generate. Sounds of all forms not only informed the audience’s experience but also were used as a background for disabled acrobats against which to frame their visually stunning performances.

Toward the end of the ceremony, the focus shifted to thanking volunteers and athletes alike for their participation. An essential aspect of this was the use of the epic Bob Marley song “One Love” as a frame for a changing photographic display demonstrating the many different races and ethnicities involved in the Paralympics. In this way, the ceremony highlighted the unity achieved through the Paralympic games and the Paralympic movement.

As is tradition, the closing ceremony featured a segment produced by the host city of the next Paralympic games, in this case Tokyo in 2020. The first Paralympic games were hosted by Tokyo in 1964 and the segment began with footage of those games. In addition to providing historical background, the footage narration explained that in 1964 there were few Japanese Paralympians and they were shocked at the ways in which other Paralympians were included in society because of the ways in which the disabled were viewed in Japan.

The narration went on to explain that, following the 1964 Paralympic games, access to the possibilities for including the disabled in society and athletics began to change in Japan and emerged as the present state of inclusion and success for the Japanese Paralympic team. Through this part of the segment, the impact of the Paralympics as a method of creating disabled communities at the international level and using lessons from these communities to change the ways that the disabled are treated at the national level were brought into sharp focus.

The second portion of the Tokyo closing ceremony segment focused on the ways in which the disabled are included in modern Japanese life, particularly in the arts. It featured disabled Japanese designers and performers who are seen as the embodiment of modern Japan and progress into the future. At the same time, the segment paralleled the beach scene used in the Rio opening ceremony to portray an urban setting in which those with different ranges of abilities come together and assist each other in moving forward toward progress.

Taken together, the Rio and Tokyo segments of the closing ceremony created a legacy of unity for the international community of Paralympians and for society overall. This reflects the ways in which the Paralympic games helped to make the world brighter for sports fans and non-sports fans alike.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Jurisculture Hits 100 posts - by Alexandra Harrington and Amar Khoday

We at Jurisculture have reached a milestone. This writing marks Jurisculture’s 100th post. On a (probably) cold New Year’s Day seven years ago this site was launched with our first post, “Envisioning Jurisculture”. In it, we shared our vision for what we wanted this site to be and represent. Back then we were two sprightly doctoral candidates at McGill University’s Faculty of Law pursuing our own research under the same supervisor – Dr. Frédéric Mégret.

Neither of our theses was directly connected to the interface of law and popular culture. Nevertheless, we were fascinated and struck by our mutual interest in the ways that forms of popular culture – films, television, music, literature, etc – connected to law to produce a popular and accessible jurisprudence. We created this site as a medium to explore this vibrant nexus. Of course, another way of looking at it was that watching movies and TV or listening to music provided a great tool for procrastination while writing about our reflections through blog postings gave it an intellectual legitimacy.  

Many years later, we’ve each produced dozens of blog postings while also managing to undertake our doctoral research, submit and successfully defend our respective theses. We’ve looked not only at how law is constructed and transmitted through popular culture but also (more recently) how the latter can serve as an important tool for legal education. We’ve looked at a range of topics and themes – Star Trek, American Idol, Sex and the City, reality shows, themes of resistance, ideas about equality, song lyrics, ballet, comedians, sport – to name several.  

In the coming years, we plan to keep posting and writing. In the next month or so, we plan to launch a Facebook page and Twitter feed to disseminate not only our writings, but also the work of others. We would like to take a moment to thank you – whether you have been a reader from the start or are just visiting Jurisculture for the first time. Without an audience to read our posts, follow us and share comments it would be far less exciting for us to find and share our ideas. We look forward to continue sharing our work with you.

Alexandra & Amar

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Sorrow in Sports

There are some things that bring communities together in unique ways, and the death of a community member is certainly one of them. Several months ago, Jurisculture discussed the creation of communities of sorrow from horrific events that occur in one place but impact the world as a whole. This post discusses the ways in which sorrow brings together communities of Paralympians in a special way.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Bahman Golbarnezhad, Iranian Para-cyclist and two-time Paralypian, who died today following a crash during competition. Mr. Golbarnezhad was 48 years old at the time of his death and leaves behind a family in Shiraz, Iran.

Mr. Golbarnezhad’s death came whilecompeting in a road cycling event for those with injuries to lower limbs. While the circumstances are being investigated, it is known that he was involved in an accident on the descent of a hill on the road course and was brought to hospital, where he passed away of cardiac issues.

As the ultimately fatal accident came during the course of competition, many other competitors were unaware of it until after the race had ended. However, when Mr. Golbarnezhad’s death became known to his fellow competitors and to the larger Paralympic community, it caused reactions that demonstrated the power of sport to form a community that experienced sorrow together.

There were official statements of grief from the Iranian delegation and from the International Paralympic Committee, as expected, but also from national delegations. These national delegations included the United States, which still has some diplomatic tensions with Iran. These statements demonstrated that in the face of tragedy, the sporting community reaches well beyond the strictures and concerns of formal diplomatic wrangling.

This is particularly true of the Paralympic community, in which competitors have a deeper understanding of the sacrifices their competition has made for sport. Athletes who knew Mr. Golbarnezhad were obviously impacted by his death, as were those who had never met him. The athletes impacted were not only members of the cycling community but came from many other sports, all sharing the bond of the sports community and particularly of the Paralympic community.

During this time of competition and focus on success, the tragic death of Mr. Golbarnezhad has united the Paralympic community in sorrow, demonstrating the power of sports to forge a strong societal bond. In this way, Mr. Golbarnezhad’s legacy will extend far into the future.  

Friday, September 16, 2016

From Violence to Community

The celebration of sports and abilities that is encompassed by the Paralympics is truly uplifting and inspirational. In themselves, the Paralympic games represent the ability to use athletics as a means of international diplomacy through the creation of personal friendships that surpass nationality or citizenship. At the same time, the Paralympic games promote international diplomacy across boundaries and borders in the promotion of those with disabilities as part of society and indeed as key representatives of their states.

Beyond this, the Paralympic games offer the ability for those disabled by violence to assert their abilities as athletes and as members of a society of Paralympians that does not regard them as victims but rather as competitors and equals. Paralympians at the 2016 Rio games have disabilities from forms of violence that are as different as the sports they compete in.

For example, Brazil native Jovane Silva Guissone, a wheelchair fencer, suffered damage to his spine and legs when he was shot years ago in his own neighbourhood. Despite the impact of local violence, Guissone is a deeply proud Brazilian who has been eager to show off his country as well as his own skills. The results of violence in combat zones also have impacted the Paralympian community. There are many examples of this, such as powerlifter Micky Yule, a former British Royal Engineers staff sergeant wounded by an IED while serving in Afghanistan, and triathlon runner Melissa Stockwell, formerly a first lieutenant in the United States Army, who was similarly wounded in Iraq.

These are only a few of the Paralympians who have found their lives changed by violence and who have used sports to recreate themselves and give them continuity of identity. Their stories are heroic and many have used their status as Paralympians to bring attention to those similarly impacted by violence.

At the same time, the Paralympics allow those impacted by violence of any kind to develop an identity beyond the experience of conflict. It creates a different society in which there is a shared experience of competition and athletic pride. This is a very deep aspect of citizenship of sport, one that involves identity and inclusion.   

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Individualizing Victory

The medal ceremony – it is the culmination of athletic competition. Throughout the years, iconic images have been generated during medal ceremonies. Athletes overcome with emotion at seeing their flags raised and singing their national anthems and athletes kissing their medals in appreciation are part of popular imagery.

This is understandable since the medal ceremony recognizes the culmination of an athlete’s competitive endeavors. This sense of accomplishment is particularly meaningful among Paralympians, who reach the pinnacles of their sports despite often overwhelming odds. However, until now athletes with visual impairments have had limited abilities to fully experience the range of individual accomplishment that is part of the sensory aspect of winning a Paralympic medal.

Paralympic medals have traditionally been engraved in braille messages that indicate the medals received. For the Rio 2016 Paralympic games, organizers involved local artists in the creation of new medals featuring internal balls that can be rung to indicate the type of medal won. The pitch levels are different between gold, bronze and silver medals, providing each athlete with an individualized experience based on their accomplishments.

In this way, visually impaired athletes are able to experience a fuller sensory aspect of the medal winning experience. Athletes are also able to receive a personalized reflection of their accomplishments rather than the uniform reflection that is available through the use of braille alone.

Very often, media coverage focuses on winning medals as the pinnacle of the competitive experience for athletes. However, this only tells half the story – the other half is in receiving the medal as the culmination of an athlete’s personal achievement. With the introduction of the new medals at the Rio Paralympic games, it is now possible for athletes to fully experience the knowledge and emotion of their accomplishments in sound and in touch. In this way, the new medals are emblematic of ways in which society can move beyond using a universal mechanism for recognizing those with disabilities and disabled communities and instead create individualized mechanisms of recognition for those with disabilities.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Advertising for Change

Around the world, well-known athletes are rewarded and glorified by advertising campaigns and through serving as spokespeople. Indeed, this has so permeated culture that these associations are nearly cliché. For example, successful Olympians are often pictured on a Wheaties cereal box and it is now traditional that members of winning teams in American football proclaim to the world that they have won and are going to Disneyland. Across sports, the better – or a least better known – an athlete/team is the more likely that the athlete/team will have sponsors to cover uniforms, sports equipment, shoes, bikes, cars, and other sports implements. In this way, the athletes and teams become the public face of the product.

Much has been made of the controversy surrounding Ryan Lochte’s antics during the recent 2016 Olympic games, including the way in which his sponsors so quickly disassociated him from their brands. As is often the case, attention has been focused on the sensational news story.

An arguably more important advertising story has taken place during 2016 Paralympics competition in Rio. Lego, the maker of toys, models and figurines popular the world over, has announced that it will create two special edition figurines of Singapore Paralympians Yip Pin Xiuand Theresa Goh, medal winners at this year’s games. Yip and Goh were already known as athletes in Singapore, however this has bolted them to stardom within the country and globally. The athletes themselves have issued statements indicating their pride in being portrayed as figurines but beyond this personal achievement they expressed joy at Lego’s portrayal of athletes with disabilities. These sentiments have been echoed across Singapore and across the world, and Yip and Goh have become the face of more than just a brand as a result.

Similarly, over the last several days it was announced that Australian Paralympian Robyn Lambaird will serve in a major upcoming advertising campaign for Target in Australia. Not only will she be a part of the advertising campaign, she will advertise sports clothing in images including those of her in a wheelchair as well as a close-up of her upper torso. As with Yip and Goh, Lambird’s response to the advertising campaign was not only personal excitement but also excitement at bringing attention to those with disabilities and athletes.

It is often said that we live in a global community of consumerism. There are many negative connotations to this, as is evidenced when a spokesperson has a fall from grace. However, as the new Lego and Target products and advertisements demonstrate, it is possible for commercial advertisements to serve as ads for products and ads for communities.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Life and Death in Sports

Previous Jurisculture posts have discussed the concept of athletes being citizens of a sporting community in addition to – or sometimes rather than – being citizens of a country. These posts have highlighted the ways in which sports are unifying forces that go beyond the physicality of athleticism or the thrill of competition alone.

As a corollary, this post examines the idea of sports as a bridge between life and death concerns for athletes and how these concerns can become greater than an individual athlete through the international attention sports can attract.

Recently, Belgian Paralympian Marieke Vervoort, a multiple medal winning wheelchair racer, made headlines when there was speculation that she planned to commit suicide at the conclusion of the Rio Paralympic games because she has announced that she is retiring from the sport. Vervoort’s condition involves a painful and life-altering degenerative condition of the spine. Since her diagnosis, Vervoort’s symptoms have progressed to the point where they interfere with her basic life functions. Despite this, she has remained a steadfast and dedicated athlete, winning medals at several Paralympic games.

Under Belgian law, suicide is legal and in the past Vervoort has stated that she is open to the idea of committing suicide at some point. Indeed, she has signed the papers necessary for this to be carried out already. Media outlets, perhaps with a sense of drama, made suggestions about her impending suicide seem as though it would be the culmination of her having met her achievements at the Rio games. Instead, Vervoort has explained that, while she does not intend to take her life at the conclusion of the Rio games, knowing that the option for suicide is available to her has given her hope. Her statements show another side to an often negative topic – the empowering effect that legalized suicide may have for some of those who suffer from crippling diseases.

Although Vervoort has not yet elected to utilize her own right to commit suicide, she has turned the attention she has received into an opportunity to champion for the expansion of legalized suicide laws in other countries.  In this way, she is using the platform available to her as an elite athlete to speak about an issue that is typically not addressed by athletes or sports in general.

Marieke Vervoort demonstrates the potential for sports to create a bridge between life and death while at the same time providing a platform for larger societal issues. As an individual athlete, Vervoort is a part of the citizenship of sport that has been involved in providing her with an identity and a source of happiness. She has also found a way to use the status that comes with this citizenship to advocate for issues that are often difficult to discuss in many societies.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Pride and Ceremony

This week saw the opening of the 2016 Paralympic games in Rio. Founded in 1960, the Paralympic games are an international competition for athletes with some form of disability. Many of the sports featured in the Paralympics are the same as those found in the Olympic games, however there are some different sports that highlight the ability of athletes to persevere in the face of adversity, for example chair basketball, sitting volleyball and chair rugby.

The games began with an opening ceremony held at the iconic Maracana stadium. Some aspects of opening ceremonies are seemingly obligatory regardless whether they open the Paralympic games or the Olympic games. For example, every ceremony features a cultural display by the host city/country, every ceremony features a parade of nations in which the athletes are introduced to the world, and every ceremony is capped off by the arrival of the torch and the lighting of the flame.

However, the spirit of the Paralympic opening ceremony was in many ways far deeper than other ceremonies. The theme for the ceremony was “everyone has a heart,” meaning that everyone, regardless of ability, is joined by the same humanity. This focus on humanity was highlighted throughout the ceremony in the celebration of abilities possessed by the athletes even in the face of disabilities and difficult circumstances, as well as the essential link between those with disabilities and society as a whole.

In the first segment of the ceremony, former Paralympian Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee, was seen in a video traveling from his home to Rio, where he took in the sights of the city and of Brazil before looking out at the city from the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue. Craven undertook his travels in a wheelchair and without obstacles or self-consciousness while interacting freely with his fellow travelers and with Brazilians. When the video finished, Craven appeared at the entrance to the Maracana and made his way to the center of the ceremonies. This segment emphasized the sense of openness regarding abilities and disabilities that permeated the ceremony – by traveling and experiencing Brazil as any other tourist Craven emphasized his own abilities and the pride he has in them. Craven also represented the pride of Paralympians as athletes, competitors, and ambassadors of their sports, countering the potential for negative views of the disabled generally and disabled athletes in particular.

Pride in one’s abilities and openness regarding disabilities was evidenced by Aaron“Wheelz” Fotheringham, an extreme wheelchair athlete, who performed aerial jumps early in the ceremony. Similarly, one of the Brazilian cultural montages featured a scene on a beach crowded by those who had disabilities and those who did not. Rather than serve as a polarizing space, the beach became a site of interaction and building of relationships as those needing assistance received it in a dignified manner from other beach goers. While this might be overly optimistic, the portrayal of the beach scene was important because it emphasized the idea of pride in one’s abilities and of those with disabilities as proud and equal members of society. There was no attempt for these performers to hide their disabilities or stay in the background of life.

Pride was also evident in the athletes who participated in the parade of nations portion of the ceremony. Whether part of a national delegation of one or over one hundred, the athletes put their full abilities on display for the world. Through their athletic talents and their dedication to sports, these athletes demonstrated the perseverance that the organizers of the games highlighted as a sub-theme for the games overall.

As part of the closing segment of the ceremony, Amy Purdy, an American snowboarder, performed an evocative samba dance on running blades alongside a piece of robotic machinery that danced with her. The dance was highly symbolic of the relationship between athlete and machine, demonstrating how each can come together in order to allow the athlete to give voice to her full abilities. Rather than shying away from the need to have such a relationship, the dance embraced this symbiotic and intimate relationship for all to see and celebrate.

Critics are often eager to point out that the opening ceremony of any international game is often more optimistic than realistic. However, the pride and the perseverance that permeated the 2016 Paralympic opening ceremony are more than just for show. The celebration of the abilities of Paralympic athletes was a statement of empowerment for the international community of Paralympians and demonstrated the positive nature of citizenship of sport that has been discussed in previous Jurisculture posts. Beyond the Paralympic community, the opening ceremony served as a statement for the larger global community that those with disabilities are far more than the parameters of their disabilities, and instead form a vibrant community with diverse abilities.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Finishing Outside the Medals

Usually, the idea of finishing outside the medals refers to a competitor who is just short of winning a coveted spot at the top of their field. While this is still a frequently used – and perhaps overused – phrase, the behaviors of several national Olympic committees during and after the Rio Olympics demonstrated that it is possible for more than just athletes to fall short of expectations.

At first, this might seem counterintuitive since one assumes that the national Olympic committees are dedicated to the success and safety of their athletes. One of the unifying themes of any Olympic games is the hard work of the athletes and the pride they bring their countries, even when circumstances within these countries are difficult. The thought that a national committee would be anything less than supportive is surprising but borne out by several publicized events which took place during and immediately after the Rio Olympic games.

Before the games began, the Nigerian men’s soccer team encountered travel delays that left it stranded for hours and nearly caused it to miss its first day of competition. When the team did arrive in Brazil it was with hours to spare. Weather issues, one might think. The answer is more distressing – the Nigerian Olympic committee had failed to pay the required amount for the team to travel to Rio. Ultimately, the issue was resolved, payment was made, and the team went on to eke out a victory in the first match. Still, this was a failure on the part of the officials charged with providing for the athletes and supporting the dreams of the country.

Athletes who compete in the marathon face physical and mental tests throughout the competition and the only respite they have from the exhaustion of the competition is from national booths that provide water and glucose to their runners. At Rio, Indian women complained when their national committee failed to provide them with water and glucose at these booths, causing them to endanger their results in the competition and their lives when dehydration inevitably set in. One female marathoner, OP Jaisha, collapsed at the marathon’s finish line and was hospitalized, causing harm to her health and training in the long and short term.  

In another incident, physical harm was inflicted by a member of a national committee. Russian female wrestler Inna Trazhukova advanced in her competition but ultimately did not win a medal. After her competition was over, she was verbally abused by the president of the Russian Wrestling Federation – part of the official Russian delegation – and then inflicted two blows to her face. When Tazhukova made this story public other female Russian wrestlers – who won silver medals in their competitions – came forward to state that they were verbally abused by the same official for failing to win gold medals.

Finally, Kenyan athletes were stranded by their delegation once the games had concluded. Although there was a set deadline for athletes to leave Olympic village housing, the Kenyan Olympic committee failed to make arrangements for its athletes to fly home at this time. Instead, the committee continued to search for inexpensive flights and ultimately hired a house for the athletes in an unsafe area of Rio. The area was so unsafe that the athletes were advised by Rio police not to leave in the evening – with good reason, as gunshots were reportedly audible. Once the athletes returned, it was announced that the Olympic committee was being dissolved and would be investigated.

These are all individual incidents in which athletes who sacrificed to represent their countries were failed by those countries. Each incident is in itself reprehensible, especially when the lives and safety of these athletes were put in jeopardy as a result. What is notable is that, while athletes come together to form communities based on sport at Olympic events they depend on national bureaucracy that does not necessarily share the same dedication to its functions. This creates two sets of communities that can function at odds with each other rather than symbiotically as is intended.

Additionally, the citizens of countries competing in the Olympics – who offer support, pride, and, in some cases, financial assistance to competitors – are detached from the athletes by a layer of bureaucracy that does not always reflect their will. In this situation, it is possible for the national committee bureaucracy to finish out of the medals in their responsibilities and in the process harm the constituencies they are meant to represent and assist.