Catalysts of Change

In this project we learned that ideology changes over time and about the people, things, and events who spark and use this change. We started with learning about how LA changed over time. We also learned about people like Ronald Reagan and Walt Disney, learning how they changed American identity. While the lessons were good, I found that the magnitude of the impact Reagan and Disney had on American identity was quite arbitrarily defined, often being supported by correlations and abstract observations rather than clear lines of evidence (which I know are hard to make because of the abstract nature of identity). 

After this introduction to collective identity, we went on to research people and places of our own choice. The person I chose to research was John Muir and his influence on West Coast identity, especially his influence on the perception of the outdoors. Muir saw the outdoors as something timeless and in need of protection. Not just a resource for human progress but as mighty monuments of immense beauty. He managed to convince legislators in California, Washington, and DC of his view, establishing Yosemite, Mt Rainier, and others as national and state parks. 

My text on John Muir was the first of four texts on different aspects of collective identity, all of them being about how a person or a place influenced them. The others being Frank Gehry, Walt Disney, and Grizzly Peak (Disneyland). While writing and researching these texts, I ran into the same problem as my teacher as she showed us her presentations on Reagan and Disney, that their influence on collective identity was hard to back up. While I could quite easily say that they were influenced by collective identity, it was hard to say factually that they themselves influenced collective identity beyond the obvious.

After we had written our personal texts, we were put into groups to create the final product of this project, a video about collective identity on the West Coast and how it has been influenced by, in my case, the ‘Great Outdoors’. For this, I would work in a group with Dries and Indy. At the beginning, we had trouble sorting out the script. Dries, Indy, and I couldn’t decide on the overarching narrative which would prevail in our script. I put out the narrative that West Coast identity naturally evolved to be what it is today because of the landscape and climate that surrounds us. It wasn’t people who sparked this change, but rather the staggering beauty of where we live which forced us to protect it and make it part of our identity. Dries and Indy were more in favour of the human aspect of the outdoors which I see as the exploitation of the outdoors, being it for tourism, industry, or recreation.

During this phase of our creation of the video, Jonathan and I went to the VIMFF. I’m grateful to have been able to interview and talk to some members of the Vancouver outdoor community such as the director and founder of the VIMFF, Alan Formanek, as well as figureheads of the Vancouver Mountaineering Club. From them, I learned about some aspects of outdoor culture which I hadn’t considered, such as the influence of social media. I also learned about many of the social aspects of outdoor culture as well as how they think it influences the mainstream. Although I had quite lengthy conversations with them, I only filmed parts of my conversations, finding it unpleasant for me and them to stick a camera in their face while talking to them.

In the following week, I wrote much of the script, writing major sections, the introduction and much of the core. Dries and Indy edited these paragraphs and added tidbits to it in order to have a cohesive narrative of people using and changing the outdoors for their benefit. During this time I also hiked to mountaintops and mountainsides in order to get some good A and B roll. I usually went alone and didn’t bring more than my phone camera so while the setting was stunning, the audio and video quality usually wasn’t.

Here is the intro that I filmed

As part of our studies, we would also be going to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, the rate of activities was much more fast paced. If I wanted to stop and record something while we were outside, I’d also have to catch back up afterwards. During that time I recorded much B roll but Indy and I ended up not organizing ourselves to film a substantial segment in which we would talk about LA’s parks, and then run to the class after filming it. In this we failed at filming some of the crucial scenes in Runyon Canyon and Venice Beach. Despite that, the B roll with voice over ended up not being the worst. 

After getting back from the trip, Dries volunteered to be under the spotlight. While I wasn’t the most keen on switching narrators halfway through, I agreed and so he would become the person in front of the camera. After we recorded it, Dries did most of the editing, taking more or less full control. 

I, continued to have conversations and take interviews with outdoorsy people, especially in my climbing gym. Most of the time these conversations wouldn’t lead to interviews and the filming of the interviews was quite bad. This is why we did not include any of them in the video. 

This is the video that we created.

The people who saw the change in the collective identity on the West Coast towards something more outdoor centred could use that part of our identity to create outdoorsy products and market them towards this growing aspect of our culture. This can then snowball into changing the identities of people all around the world, hopefully also empowering the focus of the identity, in this case protecting the outdoors.

Throughout this process I learned a lot about a community and heard a lot of difference perspectives on an identity and a community which I am part of. I also learned a lot about how to do work on field schools and how we cannot rely on everything going to plan. Beyond that, I learned more about myself and being very uncomfortable with asking people from my community to do me a favour and spend their time doing an interview, as opposed to a regular conversation. I worked hard to thoroughly learn about collective identity in a place where I hadn’t really thought of it before, and I sure did learn.

Thank you for reading.

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