There are some schools of thought where the cultural practice is above everything. I disagree – The people should be above the practice as it’s them who decide if you’re a cultural practitioner in the first place. Sure, you can practice by yourself or with your circle friends. However, that goes against the mission of every practitioner whose ultimate goal is to save and pass on an endangered culture. The people can shut down your practice by disowning you.
That’s not to say do whatever the hell people want, but people are complex. Changing all the time, not changing, stuck in toxic ways, happy, sad, going back, etc. You get the idea. These are attitudes and emotions that a cultural practitioner has to deal with. I can see how it can be a physical and emotional drain to deal with people with their uninformed comments on Instagram. It’s especially gut-wrenching if you’re not a people person or introvert. That’s where the beauty of a diverse circle comes into play. You’ll need someone in your circle that has these people skills. Someone savvy to the everchanging modern youth culture that can communicate clearly with compassion. A solo cultural practitioner is not sustainable.
An example of being about the people, not the practice is today. Right now, as I’m typing this in Grammarly, the Coronavirus is wreaking havoc in all our lives. Even if you think this is all bullshit being perpetuated by the “Fake news media” guided by the invisible Illuminati, the reality is that people are concerned. The fear may not even be specifically about themselves or their family getting sick, but the fear of the interruption of their daily lives. The very real effects of the socio-economic situation require compassion no matter what the root cause is. Manufactured or not. Childcare, jobs, health, are real concerns right now.
Personally, I’ve been affected by 3 events canceled with 4 more possibly affected. The 3 cancellations resulted in significant monetary losses. Yes, I’m disappointed, but if I abide by “People, not the practice,” I understand. On the other side, some culture bearers make their living servicing people, so they’re affected as well. I’m privileged enough that I have a backup for situations like this. I’ll go into planning for culture bearers in another post. Address the elephant in the room. Stay safe
I’ve only been developing Instagram filters for less than a year as an exercise to disrupt myself. In this short timeframe, I’ve learned that it’s a powerful tool for conversations around culture, technology, and context. Conversations lead to understanding. Understanding leads to compassion. Compassion leads to peace. Peace leads to clarity.
Last December, I did a talk at General Assembly in San Francisco, California, about how I’m using AR filters (Spark AR) to educate about cultural traditions from the Philippines. I created a filter called Yakan Pagkawin/Tanyak Tanyak that recreates a traditional ceremonial face painting typically done at weddings. The water and flour are mixed and applied with bamboo reeds. The moon and stars patterns represent everlasting love. The woman on the left is Evelinda Hamja, a master weaver of the Yakan tribe from the southern Philippines using the effect and the one on the right is an aspiring IG make-up artist who applied the make-up based on the filter I created. It was quite the dynamic to see someone from a remote tribe use a digital version and then someone from a metropolis applies it in a traditional way.
If you’ve been in your game for at least a year and haven’t knowingly been canceled by anyone, you’re playing it too safe. I’m a big believer in experimentation. It leads to new ideas that you wouldn’t get while sitting still. You must learn how to disrupt yourself before someone disrupts you.
While it might hurt being canceled, try to understand why if possible.
Being canceled leads to some of the following understandings:
Strong opposition to your view on a specific subject.
What if you’re wrong?
Did the canceller provide you with new ideas?
How did it make you feel?
One memorable cancelation was a couple of years ago, I was running what’s called an A/B split testing experiment on IG stories. A/B testing is a method of comparing two versions of a message or product app against each other to determine which one performs better.
If I remember correctly, the subject was around how people question the impracticality of cultural practices. How to make writing pre-Philippine script, tattooing, weaving, Kali, etc as your source of income. and comparing it to everyday “practical” Philippine endeavors like Duterte’s war on drugs and bleaching one’s private parts in hopes to attract a mate for a better life. Except I didn’t say private parts. I wanted to test a racy message vs a safe one. That resulted in using Vagina vs Pussy. During the safe post 24 hour period, the responses were meh. The racy one got better engagement and one reply that was disappointed with my choice of words. I went back and forth with them to understand more. For some reason, I felt compelled to let them in on my experiment. Let’s just say they weren’t happy and felt personally manipulated. I was quickly blocked, AKA canceled!
I’ve been doing A/B tests for years testing what email subjects, graphics, models, and what apparel generates more sales. This was the first time I had strong feedback on one of my tests. I like to think that most people that follow my work know that I joke around, provoke, and experiment. Obviously, not all know. I believe that if you brand yourself an experimenter, you might be able to get out of some sticky situations in the future.