Monday, July 20, 2009

Final Paper - What About Me?

The documentary What About Me? was absolutely surprising, exciting, inviting, and astonishing. The vision that the directors had to have before embarking on their journey completely escapes my grasp. The motivation one has to have to actually pursue something on this scale is incredible. It took an enormous amount of time, effort, and definitely money to pull off such an amazing compilation of song and film. The documentary most certainly gave the viewer a sense of unity with the world and its inhabitants. You could feel the unity of each person, whether they lived in a vast, sprawling city, or a dusty, desolate landscape. Each person in the documentary just wanted to contribute their own piece of music, their heritage, to what would ultimately become a beautiful soundtrack.

The need for belonging can be seen even in the title of the documentary. The title What About Me? conveys the fact that everyone just wants to contribute to this world, and that underneath it all, that’s what really matters. If you escape back to the time when you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? If you look at the most common answers, you get replies such as a firefighter, police officer, astronaut, doctor, ect. If you take a look at each of these professions, what is the obvious connection? They all contribute to society. Whether you are saving people, protecting people, expanding our knowledge, or helping the sick, you are contributing everything you have to make the community, and possibly the world, a better one. This was ever present in the documentary. The musicians in the film were extremely eager to contribute what they had. They wanted to show that their tiny piece of the planet has something to share with the rest of the world as well.

The documentary takes the viewer to so many different countries, and an equal number of different ways of life. It is astonishing to see people living with nothing, and yet being completely happy and content with their living situation. It gives you the reminder of how misconstrued our values can sometimes be. People all over the world are shown being happy. The happiest people of all seemed to be the people with the least. What they lack in material possessions they surpass in spiritual health and happiness.

The music track, the focus of the documentary, was the core of the experience. It was not the music itself that gave the immense power to the film, but rather the meaning of the music that empowered it. Whether you like the song or not, you will most certainly be moved by it. One of the most moving pieces of the film was when the movie shifted its focus away from showing where the music came from, and just let you listen. It played the track for around three minutes straight, jumping back and fourth from various locations. The music was finally allowed to play continuously. When the music begins flowing, you are given the opportunity to finally understand the whole picture. It was the finale to the film. Most of the documentary was spent explaining the story, and the story of the people that were playing the music. This part, however, allows you to truly understand what is happening here. While listening to it, you can’t help but imagine people from all different parts of the world playing their instruments at the same time, hoping that somewhere else in the world someone would be playing along. The film showed us that all over the world people are playing along; people are making a soundtrack with their ethnicity and their own music.

The music and the movement behind the documentary also serve another purpose. They both work symbiotically to show us two things. The first is that the documentary brings us together. It brings people from all different parts of the area the viewing is taking place in to one spot to witness the film and to become a part of its meaning. For us, this place was the Brickhouse in the East End of London. The atmosphere was of complete relaxation, comfort, and enjoyment. Everything was available there for us to become completely transfixed with the images we were seeing and the sounds that we were hearing. It also brings people together in the sense that it combines various countries together to make a world soundtrack. The documentary brings us together to take place in the second task that accomplishes; it reminds us what we can accomplish if we really set our hearts and our minds to it. A review of the film is quoted saying “…drawing the citizens of the Earth together…Mesmerizing and utterly profound, yet wonderfully accessible, it reminds us all of what we're capable of achieving” (Bertrand). This quote furthers my opinion of the meaning of the film. If you see what two directors have accomplished, as well as what all of the musicians in the film have accomplished, you can’t help but to be motivated. The motivation comes as a sense of wanting to contribute something meaningful to this world, and wanting to connect with the different people that inhabit the Earth.

This leads us to another important aspect of the film. It reflects back on the title of the documentary, What About Me?. Bhagavan Das, a 1960’s cultural icon featured in the documentary, was quoted saying “Your mind has this very bad habit of self-obsession. I call it the, ‘What about me?’ syndrome. You have to tell that to shut up and start giving. Start connecting with people” (Baraff). The title also has the effect of showing our obsession with the spotlight and our tendency for greed. If we can change that thought from “what about me” to “what about them, or everyone” we could see a great change take place in the focus of everyone’s lives. If we can “start giving”, as the directors have given us insight and direction, we can start allowing others to live a decent and fair life. If we begin to shift our focus, we could even be fulfilling our own need for achievement and retain a small amount of greed while still doing something great and meaningful. If we can take happiness from the fact, or the idea that, we are contributing for a better world, the question becomes “what about us”, and “us” is far better than “me”.

Works Cited:
Baraff, Emily. Documentary 'What About Me' is not about you. 15 April 2009. 15 July 2009 .

Bertrand, Merle. 1 Giant Leap. 18 March 2002. 15 July 2009 .

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