I know I’m not the only one who will miss Ze, as he ends his one year video blog which rocked the interweb.
I think the secret to Ze’s success is that he is a great teacher. He taught his audience how to participate and how to be creative. Here is an interview he did with On the Media’s Bob Garfield:
You know, from my standpoint, one of the really interesting things that’s happening is that people are starting to understand how to make media. There’s very low-cost production tools. Unfortunately, they’re not all that good at it. So in the development of the show, I try to create a very wide range of activities, which allows people to be very clear on how they contribute — some sort of a rule set which tells them what they’re supposed to be doing; a rule set that also lets people see how their particular contribution affected the whole of the project. And so that’s everything from small little fun voting doodads to very, very high activity things, like playing me in chess. I ask people to send me pictures of themselves being attacked by office supplies, which is, you know, its own little rule set. It had to be a picture, and it had to be this large.
One such project was the “Earth Sandwich” project, which was also discussed on NPR:
To make an Earth sandwich you must:
Put a piece of bread on the ground.
Have someone else put a piece of bread on the ground directly on the other side of the Earth from you.
Do this at the same exact time, so the Earth at that moment is “sandwiched” between two pieces of bread.
To inspire his audience, Ze composed a ballad, “If the Earth were a sandwich…”
It’s hummable. Beautiful even.
So for the last few weeks, all over the world people have been rushing about, emailing, texting and trekking in an effort to arrange a simultaneous sandwich moment. This past week, apparently, it happened. Somebody in Spain put half a roll on the ground, and somebody in New Zealand put something breadlike opposite. Ta Dah!
As the On The Media interview shows, Ze is very self conscious about his role as an educator. In his third to last show Ze talked a little bit about his theory of pedagogy.
There’s a little book, called A Practical Handbook for the Actor, and playwright David Mamet wrote the intro for it. In it, Mamet says that most acting training is based on shame and guilt. Teachers have a tendency to talk about the craft in loose mythological terms like “getting it” and “feeling it.” Not really knowing what those things are, students struggle forward anyway they can. Gathering up a collection of tricks their teachers attention. They become ashamed that they don’t grasp these undefinable concepts, and that they’ve developed work-arounds despite them. Over time, they naturally become more comfortable and more experienced. And then they’re praised for “getting it,” or “feeling it.” They still don’t really know what that is, but the praise feels good, so they play along.
“Yes, I GET IT.”
Why cast doubts or ask questions if it’s working? But, there’s a sense of guilt that comes with perpetuating the mythology. And when it comes time for them to teach, they repeat the cycle, and so on. It’s a pattern that continues, because there are no checks and balances. Questioning it once you’re in it potentially undermines your worth. And so you remain loyal to a broken thing.
Ze’s pedagogy is a radical pedagogy. There is very little place for such teaching in most academic institutions, and so it is no surprise that Ze turned to the web where he can teach people to make sandwiches out of the world, people out of vacuum cleaners, etc. without having to grade them for “getting it” or not. Ze might go on to become a big star, but I hope whatever he does he continues to find ways to teach…
UPDATE: Using the “opposite tool” for the “earth sandwich” project, it seems that Taiwan is opposite Paraguay.
UPDATE: A nice interview with Ze about creativity.
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