The image Of The Crisis

The crisis in our country is complex and difficult to talk about. In an 80 minute workshop, 87 students created 9 living models, each describing an idea about the core of the crisis. These models represented a cross section of how our students understand and interpret the situation.

This project was part of Political Economy Days at Palomar College.  Participants are students in Economics, History and Political science classes, although most of them are not majors in these areas.

(A note on the photographs: Most of the photos were taken hastily with my iPhone and the quality is not so good. They are intended as documentation only.)

A telling detail from one of the nine models

In a more extensive workshop, we would have interrogated and animated each model to dig into the images for truths, lies and possible solutions. Even so, the models themselves reveal fascinating insights into people’s interpretations of these confusing times.

Before sculpting the models, we brainstormed a list of players.

Crisis Dramatis Personae

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BANKERS BURNING THE MONEY.  The first model focused primarily on the banks. The model showed bankers funneling money from single parents, students, returning soldiers, the middle class.  The orange colored placards have pictures of flames, showing the bankers just burning the money.  In the middle are people sitting around, apparently oblivious.

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MEDIA LIES. This model focused on the media.  The image used newspapers, but I believe the intention was to implicate the role of media in sensationalizing the conflict for their own profits.  However, equally culpable in this model were the people willing to swallow the lies and half truths with no critical analysis.

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THE GOVERNMENT. In this model the students pointed to the government in general.  I think this represents a pervasive feeling of frustration but shows a lack of specific understanding.  

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MONEY IN GOVERNMENT.  This model got a little more specific.  The exchange of money between the government and unspecified wealthy interests as a closed loop while the rest of society is suffering.

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WALL STREET AND THE 99%. Here ‘Wall Street’ is shown at the top with Congress and The Executive branch kneeling before Wall Street, with their hand’s going into Wall Street’s pockets.  Meanwhile, the 99% languish below.  Distraught families, returning soldiers, college students – somewhat passive. In the midst of this, The Future, with her body turned toward the 99%, twists to look up at the power structure above.

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POLITICAL INFIGHTING. This model points to the political infighting between the Republicans and Democrats.  They are so engaged in fighting with each other that nothing gets done.  While interrogating this image, I ask the participants if both parties were equally to blame and if one party was more obstructionist than the other.  Their sense was that both parties are the same.

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INFLUENCE OF LOBBYISTS.  Here is another image focusing on the role of money in government.  The people are passively handing their money up to the political system.  Lobbyists and politicians are sharing the wealth, while, above them “The Man” pulls the strings.

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MEDIA FEAR MONGERING. In this image, the media is creating so much fear about the economy that people are holding onto their money, clutching it and running away.

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STRANGLING THE MIDDLE CLASS.  In this image the middles class is being strangled, choked by Congress and Labor Unions.  Jobs are being outsourced while angry citizens rise up with pitchforks and torches.  Although the creators of this image blamed the unions for the outsourcing,  the bulk of the participants seemed to disagree.

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IN CONCLUSION: These nine models provide some insight to the perceptions of our students and I suspect a large part of the general population as well.  Together, they create a sort of landscape of the crisis, pointing to many of the problem spots.  Unfortunately, the 80 minute workshop did not allow time to explore solutions, but that would be the next step in the process.  

I’m curious to hear what you think is missing from the landscape as well as any other comments on the material here.