'I want to turn hate on its head'
What does it mean to hate? How do we hate, and why? And what happens when we censor hate or otherwise refuse to countenance it?
Vivek Venkatesh is an associate professor of education in the Faculty of Arts and Science and associate director of the Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance. He’s also an avid metalhead, filmmaker and research practitioner whose participatory approach to promoting digital literacy has garnered international renown.
Over the years, Venkatesh has spearheaded a number of thought-provoking forums for pluralistic dialogues about online hate speech, with the ultimate aim of preventing radicalization and building resilience to hate and discrimination.
This spring, in collaboration with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Association francophone pour le savoir (Acfas), Venkatesh is kicking off Landscape of Hate. It’s billed as “an evening of multimedia, electronic music and film about how we negotiate hate” and it’s slated to take place May 9 at Katacombes.
‘Step out of your comfort zone’
How did the idea for Landscape of Hate come about?
Vivek Venkatesh: The idea grew out of a conversation that I had last year with Yoan St-Onge from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).
He expressed interest in two projects of mine, the Grimposium festival and Project SOMEONE (SOcial Media EducatiON Every day), an international initiative that aims to disclose how the logic of hate speech pervades social media.
We ended up talking about the broad notion of public and social pedagogy. My work is concerned with the inclusive and reflexive adoption of digital media by the public. I wanted to give the public an opportunity to co-create narratives that can describe the concept of hate in our society, so we talked about creating an event along those lines that would coincide with and complement the annual Acfas congress.
Can you tell us more about what to expect on May 9 and what you hope to achieve?
VV: In essence, Landscape of Hate (or Paysage de la haine) is going to be a series of improvised multimedia performances. I’ve invited several well-respected electronic musicians to lay down a bed of tracks.
With the music as background, we hope to improvise the public voice by incorporating multimedia materials centred on the topic of hate and discrimination.
Much of the performance will be derived from the materials that I have been gathering for Project SOMEONE. There will also be a level of improvisation using material that the public provides us with on-site.
The musicians are Concordia MA student Leticia Trandafir, who performs under the DJ name softcoresoft; Owen Chapman, associate professor of communication studies; Anabasine and Filip Ivanovic, who will be collaborating with Paul Williams under the moniker Phil Paullins. All these artists have strong fan bases in Montreal.
The evening is set to be one long musical journey, and throughout we are going to try and find ways to encourage our audience to think pluralistically about hate and to step out of their comfort zones without necessarily letting go of their ideals.
We’d like to turn the idea of hate on its head and talk less about the people that we hate and think more about the constructs that lead to that kind of hatred.
For instance, how can we think of hate as an emotion that can be as powerful as fear, possession or love, but not necessarily in a binary way? I think that these kinds of reflections are something that we necessarily lack in a neoliberal, postmodern society where we’re all scrambling to be model citizens.
Who are the panelists taking part in Landscape of Hate and what topics will they address?
VV: Our first panelist is Cécile Rousseau. She is a psychiatrist at McGill who works closely in the domain of preventing radicalization. She has a very strong perspective on how we can be more inclusive, especially in our psychosocial approaches to understanding the impacts that radicalization has on the individual and the community.
Our second panelist is David Morin of l’Université de Sherbrooke. He’s a political scientist who looks broadly at questions of security and terrorism. He will reflect on how public policy can be shaped by these kinds of cultural events.
My third panelist, Nicole Fournier-Sylvester, is a pedagogue working at Champlain College. She’s also a member of Project SOMEONE. Like me, she’s interested in pluralistic dialogues, and she’s getting her students to think about these issues in very creative ways.
On top of all that, Concordia alumnus and filmmaker David Hall (BFA 99) will be improvising live visuals throughout the evening. Among other things, he will be showing a jarring video that he made to accompany the music of Anal Trump, a grindcore band whose lyrics are composed entirely of Donald Trump quotes.
The video is uncomfortably funny, but by the end of it, it really lays bare the rhetoric of discrimination and it makes you want to gag. You can see just how powerful hateful rhetoric can be.