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Perspective is everything

This post is dedicated to my very good Tall Friend Paul G. (He blogs over at Red Setter Christian)

I am 5ft 1. One of my dearest friends is 6ft 2. I literally see the world differently than he does.

Not only do we view things differently (or sometimes don’t see at all in my case!) because we are seeing them from physically different positions, we also interact with the physical world in fundamentally different ways. He can reach things without having to stand on something, or ask a stranger in Sainsbury’s. I have more leg space when I partake in air travel. He doesn’t need to take as many steps when walking as I do. He can keep an eye on where people (and by people I mean my wandering great nephew!) are in a crowd where I don’t have a chance. I can fold myself into a much smaller space than he can.

It’s not just how we see and interact with the world that’s different. As neither of us is average height we both have to adapt to the world not intended for us, but because we are either end of the spectrum, the adaptations we both make are very different. When I get into a new car to drive, I have to pull the seat forward; He has to push it back. When I buy new jeans I have to spend money on having them shortened, whereas he has to spend a little extra on “long” versions. He experiences discomfort if he sleeps in a bed any smaller than King Size, whereas I experience discomfort if I don’t have a foot rest for my desk at work.

Not only is it our views, interactions and adaptations that are different, but we are treated differently because of our respective heights. I am used as something to lean on, as a head to be patted, as someone easily physically dominated. My friend is most assuredly not treated this way.

Perspective: How you see; how you interact; how you adapt; how you are treated. All form the components of how Perspective is formed.

Perspective is everything.

I said this in my last post. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. We all have a unique perspective and it influences both how we experience events in our lives and how we retell them as stories. Our perspective influences all our interactions with Story – how we tell them, how we retell them, how we hear them and what we take away from them.

Perspective is an essential component of representation. Because it’s important not just to tell diverse stories about people who are not the powerful or privileged, or who are different, but to have those people telling those kind of stories and the stories about the powerful and privileged as well. Those with different perspectives not only have a unique and important take on their own lives but see us in a way we might not see ourselves.

And hearing, seeing and watching stories as told from a different perspective than our own helps form and change our perspective – the empathy thing that is such a key element of Story. Our perspective can be radically challenged and potentially changed when we’re introduced to one that is different from ours. Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes makes more of a difference if that person also walks alongside us.

Perspective is everything.

Introducing the diverse perspectives of different cultures and ways of thinking is key to challenging some of our harmful systemic ways of looking at things. Introducing the diverse perspectives of groups that have historically been marginalised, silenced or minimised is also key to challenging some of our harmful chains of thought. Letting representatives of people who have historically been harmed by systems such as Patriarchy, White Supremacy and Capitalism (for example) tell their stories and to also show us how they see those benefitting from those systems is key to ending that harm and ending those damaging systems – Systems that thrive when people are Merciless. Letting people with diverse perspectives located on the margins and from silenced groups tell their own stories gives a freedom to those within their groups from the imposed perspective of the majority or powerful.

Perhaps I can better describe what I mean by using a couple of recent films as an example. I came out of both Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel feeling I had seen something different. That I had seen a view of women that was different, that I had seen the stories of women not only from a woman’s perspective (to an extent) but portraying a woman’s experience, from her perspective as a normative experience and so giving female experience a level of legitimacy that I had only rarely experienced before. With regards to Wonder Woman – the way the film was shot, the way the lens framed the women’s bodies, especially Diana’s (Gal Gadot), was so utterly refreshing. You almost physically felt the absence of The Male Gaze and it kind of made it more creepy when you watched Justice League in comparison and the feeling of entitlement to Diana’s Body that the camera vicariously gave. *Shudder*. In contrast, the shots of Diana/Gal in Wonder Woman were so far from the lingering lechery we are fed by many male directors that it felt (to me) like watching a whole new kind of film. It was overall a fantastic job from Patty Jenkins only falling down with the perceived need to get Diana and Steve into bed which felt to me like it undermined her heroism in the denouement. Diana finding her deepest strength did not come from herself, but the sacrifice of her romantic partner – this was so disappointing and could have spoiled the whole film for me had the rest not been so good and different.

The writer/directer duo of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck did not make this mistake with Captain Marvel and the film was much better for it. Not only was the Male Gaze also absent from this film, there was very much a look at the female experience of being controlled and lied to to suppress the threat of one’s power. Yon Rog (who seems an ally and turns out to be the antagonist -SO hoping he makes a return in the follow up film) is a note perfect portrayal of a controlling, entitled abuser – the “Debate Me!” dude bro one occasionally stumbles across on Twitter. Carol Danvers is a hero from the outset, but one who has to discover she was powerful all along – and has nothing to prove to those who have used her. She doesn’t need a romance (I am not one of those “shipping” her with Maria Rambeau, to me their friendship is a deep platonic connection and nothing diminished by not being romantic); she doesn’t need to be rescued – she does the majority of the rescuing, even of herself; she doesn’t need to be coddled. Her budding friendship with Nick Fury shows Fury for the great character that he is because he doesn’t feel threatened by her power, he is not diminished by her strength and he is happy to be the support to her hero.

Marvel’s hiring of Boden and Fleck is just the latest step in a series of choices to widen perspective and give voice to those not necessarily in the traditional mold of movie storytellers – most notably, Ryan Coogler on Black Panther and Taika Waititi for Thor Ragnarok. One wonders when the Star Wars franchise will follow suit – I often think how different Rey’s and Leia’s story could have been in the hands of women storytellers.

Perspective is Everything.

Without different perspectives we cannot see the whole picture. With only one perspective we are easily lied to, we easily mislead. Ever seen a picture of the Pyramids? They’re slap bang in the middle of the desert, right?

Wrong! This is ONE perspective. That picture of the Sphinx in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza? I’m taking it from a road and behind me is a row of fast food outlets, Burger King, KFC, Subway. And to my right? A huge road that is part of the Cairo City Road system. You’re basically driving through built up City and then, oopsy daisy, there are the Pyramids!! They are awesome and worth the visit – but the one perspective we are most often shown is NOT the whole story.

Perspective is Everything.

As for my tall friend Paul? Yep, he’s pretty much almost the epitome of privilege – A Tall, White, Educated, Married, Straight Man. But he’s also a man of Mercy, a man of integrity, a man of kindness. He’s not a perfect man (ask his wife!) but he is a man who understand perspective. He sees people, so is able to show them Mercy. He hears diverse stories and so understands different views. He not only acknowledges other perspectives, but listens to them. He doesn’t just listen, but seeks them out. He not only seeks them out, but he gives them opportunity to voice it. He’s one of my heroes and shows me a model of seeing other perspectives. A man who understand Perspective stands at the gate of the Merciful life.

Perspective is Everything.