Power/ Influence

November 3, 2010 at 11:41 pm | In arts, authenticity, fashionable_life, guerilla_politics, ideas, social_critique, vancouver, victoria, women | Comments Off on Power/ Influence

A few days ago the Vancouver Sun published BC’s top 100 influential women – it’s entirely possible that I would have missed the Sun‘s report if not for Alexandra Samuel‘s extensive blog post, Vancouver Sun list of 100 influential women in BC shows influence beyond Twitter.

This evening I came across Are you an influencer? on The Next Web Shareables. There are two videos in this post – one is a short trailer, the other is a 14-minute version. The influencers are almost all – and I mean all – men. Young, too, and often pretty macho. There’s one woman who gets interviewed more extensively, and aside from her (and a brief image of Marilyn Munroe, of all people) it’s men, men, men: discursively, it’s a world where women simply don’t exist, except for exotic exceptions that serve to rub in how absent we are otherwise.

From my not-so-in-depth examination (so far) of the Vancouver Sun piece (I have some ambition to pick it apart later, but haven’t done so yet), it seemed to me that the top 100 influential women in BC are almost all from Vancouver: it’s as if anything beyond Metro Vancouver doesn’t exist.

Before seeing the Are you an influencer video tonight, I had been thinking, tangentially, about the importance of location / place in determining who gets to be counted as an influencer (and why), and about how location concentrates and drives influence and power. Specifically with the BC’s top 100 influential women piece in mind, I had been thinking about Vancouver and how it seems unlikely for that location to share power and influence with other locations in BC.

At the same time, I was recalling that 25 years ago Vancouver was for all intents and purposes a hick town, really: when my friend and fellow grad student Steve at the University of British Columbia announced to faculty that he planned to write an Art History Master’s Thesis about a Canadian art movement, one of the senior professors – an Englishman who studied Tiepolo, regularly removing himself from Vancouver as often as he could to pursue his studies in situ in Italia – warned Steve that, by limiting himself to such a provincial scope, he was burying himself “in a very shallow grave.” In other words, young man (or young woman), if you didn’t study Pollock or Picasso – or any of the other big-name brand-name all-male stars – and if instead you chose a new (but obscure!) topic that you cared about (or, gasp!, a woman artist to study), you were not going to be an influencer yourself. You could only become an influencer by attaching yourself to a Big Name.

Fact. Honest truth. The Tiepolo scholar was telling Steve that he could not, within the framework of the Academy, become an influencer if he chose to study something un-influential (sotto voce, that meant “study an important male artist, it will pay off for you – do not choose to study an insignificant movement or heaven forbid a woman artist”).

Do you see the contradiction? Sure, you might say, “well, hip influencers these days don’t want to work in the Academy,” but I’m telling you that there is no “out there,” and that instead, the academy is all around us, morphing to provide the context of power every time. Call it Academy 2.0, call it Influencer Academy: it’s still a power structure. If you’re outside that Academy, good luck flopping around in your shallow grave.

So the question with regard to the “top 100 influential women” article and its Vancouver-centrism might be, “how does a place become the sort of framework that allows certain things / people to achieve influence?” Vancouver has become that sort of place. Is it the concentration of capital and power, which in turn conveys some sort of benediction on those who do manage to achieve success within it?

As for the continued existence of the Academy, just watch the Influencers video and be amazed at how tightly it’s still controlled by men – but then realize that the video was created by two men. So, no big surprise, eh? If women don’t step up and make these kinds of documentaries, well, then, tant pis pour nous, as they say might say in Quebec. In that sense, I applaud the Sun‘s B.C.’s Top 100 Influential Women series and I’m thrilled to see every single woman on there.

The issue of place keeps nagging at me, of course. Victoria can certainly be the most shallow of graves…

I don’t know what became of Steve, who “sacrificed” becoming an influencer (aka, joining the Big Men) by instead studying obscure Canadian socialist art of the 1930s.

But how superficial would our culture be if we only studied the Big Men, amplifying a power structure that trades only within the Academy? We don’t need another hero, and we don’t need a fancier Echo Chamber either.

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