An empty shelf in a sea of books. Sue sees me looking at the gap in her collection,
“They were dusty, so I wiped them down with a damp cloth but found that it had made them mouldy, so had to throw them all out”.
A whole shelf of books thrown out and yet barely a dent made in her vast collection. Wall to wall, books on film, poetry, politics, migration lined the flat. Some books were thumbed to death while others sat with uncracked spines; I could tell in which topics her passions lie.
“I used to work for Channel 4, but now I work for myself” she began, “In 2016 they sent me out in a small team to Calais to document the refugee situation out there. It was shocking and horrible, there were gas bombs going off all day and big bonfires and police raids during the night. Me and my team has three mobile phones nicked during our time there”.
She laughed, almost reminiscently.
“When we brought back the footage, we were told it was too long. They wanted us to cut it down to 5 minutes, or so. They also wanted us to create a happy ending – something that the viewers would find satisfying. But how could we do that? How could we encompass the amount of devastation and destruction that is happening in the Jungle to 5 minutes? There was no hope for these kids, they had nowhere to go, there wasn’t a happy ending to capture”.
The above text was quoted from a conversation I had with Sue Clayton, refugee activist and film producer of
‘Calais Children: A Case to Answer’.
Recognising a tension between the want to publish legitimate truths and the commodification of a media story, triggered within me an engrossed curiosity of the role of the ‘meta’ narrative in relation to the refugee crisis. The questionable reliability of the stories within the media (like Channel 4) begin to pose interesting questions when discussing the tangibility of what we are taught through the use of metanarratives, and how those teachings come to dictate the collective subconscious.
Metanarratives are understood as narratives that legitimise truths. Stories such as the bible, the media, and the historical systems of power all contribute to the main ideologies that inform our understandings of the world. These narrative platforms are used in our everyday and follow a common narrative structure; ‘the eternal cycle of the call, the descent and the rebirth’. These literary structures and archetypes are common across various cultures in both western and eastern societies, consequently suggesting that they are a result of the knowledge and experiences we share as a collective through the metanarratives we consume.
The role of the micronarrative within a community which relies so heavily on the metanarrative of the media, is to challenge these ideologies that have been put in place and offer new platforms for understanding of the past, an expectation of the future, and a general understanding of how they should act. This form of narrative provides a link between the single identity and the collective narrative and allows the ability to place oneself in multiple narratives at a time.
It is with the notion of the micronarrative and reader/narrator relationships, that Attempts on Their Lives begins to explore how these new types of narrative can reconstruct the collective unconscious to disassociate from the racist and bias ideologies of (specifically) the western media, with reference to the refugee crisis.
Attempts on Their Lives archives a social movement through renditions of verbatim script, spoken theatre and collected artefacts. The episodic, postdramatic-style fragments featured in the Attempts on Their Lives script denies the idea of fixed identity or linear narrative and offers multiple perspectives on one central theme, without the interjection of the metanarrative, state voice. Sharing narratives of personal accounts, feelings, histories, interactions and ideas, which are completely disassociated with the influence of the media, showing the refugees as products of circumstance rather than as victims of a social drama.
This narrative approach highlights the script as a part of the world rather that its signifier, presenting the ‘drama of life’ instead of ‘drama in life’. Offering an intimate glimpse at the beginning of a new understanding of a reality, both emotionally and intellectually; the beginning of a more philosophical approach to the crisis, through that of a shared story.