The Myth of Community

It seems like everywhere I go these days, I become embroiled in conversations about the health of this or that community. The Community is ailing, and what can be done? Specifically, how can we get more people to participate in this or that community: the film community, the dance community, the art community.

The conversation seems to play out the same way each time: there’s a diagnosis of sub-optimal community, followed by theories about why the community is struggling, followed by some half-hearted brainstorming about different approaches to improving the community, then, finally, some resigned shrugging and vague, obligatory optimism about unspecified progress that could conceivably happen in the future.

I have very little patience anymore for these conversations, and the last time I stumbled into one, on Friday, I think I was brusque, possibly rude about it. It seems, at the moment, worse than useless to me – actually mildly toxic. Leagues from being part of the solution, this conversation is starting to feel more to me like part of the problem itself, or THE problem.

By talking about the community in general terms we automatically put ourselves in a passive and passive-aggressive stance – the problems and issues become nebulous, and a nebulous problem, it seems to me, is beyond hope of a specific solution. So we drift into a safe vagueness that has no possible productive outcome, besides serving some internal need to criticize, to state that There is a Problem.

If the problem were posed as specific, we might actually have to do something about it. If it were a specific person or institution, we would have an uncomfortable choice between actually taking action to influence or oppose that person or institution, or choosing inaction, which implicates us in the problem.

And worse, if we seek to define a specific problem and we can’t figure out what it is, it’s always possible that the problem is us. Is me. To quote the immortal David Mamet (I think): if you look around the poker table and can’t figure out who the sucker is, then the sucker is you.

What is the problem with this (film, dance, theatre, art) community? I am the problem with this community. That’s uncomfortable.

When people complain about the film community, I usually try to nip it in the bud by asking them what film project they’re working on at the moment. If you’re making a film, you’re not simultaneously complaining that no-one is making a film – you’re actually glad that you don’t have to compete for actors, equipment, locations. It honestly wouldn’t take that many people choosing to just get to work making a film, asking their friends for help, and having an event to screen it, to totally saturate Minneapolis with production.

“There are not enough films getting made in this town” is simply not a credible criticism. You want to make a film, make a film. Problem solved. But if everyone stands around waiting for someone else to do it, they simply have no one to blame for a lack of community but themselves.

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