I won’t dance around the issue - we’re all in the content game. But we have to think hard about where that takes us when we converge with people who don’t give a shit about “content”.
I really like Alex and Michaela - two Aussies on a ‘round-the-world expedition in their Delica. I encouraged them last year to delay their trip through the US on their way to Mexico to make a stop at Overland Expo West.
They did stop by. They got a spot in the “featured overlander” campground, and they had a great experience. We shared a couple of beers at the regular OvEx evening get-together, and I got a tour of their very cool van. Like Australians generally are in my experience, they were talkative, warm, and welcoming. And they were genuinely struck with wonder at the life they had made for themselves on the road.
Their brand has grown in the last 12 months. Big sponsorships have rolled in, including from Mitsubishi itself.
From the beginning, they have been committed to producing video content of their journey, and recently they have been pumping out one video a week - rain or shine or roadblock.
This is where it gets tricky.
This week’s video, “We Almost Got Killed”, twisted something the wrong way for me.
Not necessarily for the actual content of the video itself. Though there is a lot to discuss, note the “white girl terrified of brown-men-in-masks” title screencap. But rather for some other issues it raises - some of which are very similar to the discussion we had regarding Dan Grec’s “bribery in Nigeria” video a few months back.
Four points, up for debate:
(1) I watched the video. Who wouldn’t, really? I subscribe and follow their adventure regularly. And, with that title? So, me, who soon will complain (wait for it) about video content that I watched on YouTube, directly linked right here, on a blog post, on the Interwebz, has a weird, postmodern kind of hypocrisy to it, right?
(2) Are they producing more video, and more risky video, at the (direct, or indirect) behest of their sponsors, who demand exposure on said Interwebz, in clear contravention of the travelers’ own safety? Higher risk = higher reward. The clicks win the bricks (™). As Alex and Michaela note, they knew explicitly that they were headed into Chiapas rebel territory. The sign posts were there, on iOverlander and elsewhere, and yet they went. They went there knowing that two cyclists had been robbed and murdered in the area just months before. Let’s be clear: I have no argument with that particular decision - go where the road takes you. However....
(3) A modest claim: don’t openly film obviously anti-government rebels/protesters/widely-known-militias at their own clearly delineated, and previously-identified on a mobile-app, roadblocks. The outcome of this video is not necessarily an indictment on either Mexico itself, Chiapas rebels, or OverlandWay, but rather on the decision to turn the eye of the camera by the power of privilege, and the lure of the click, on people who don’t want to be seen, and have the right not to.
(4) Ask first before filming. Autonomous dash cams are cool, and universally recognized - this whole story could have been told through that lens. But the pursuit of a story can cut two ways. The conscious decision to turn the narrative arc of the roadblock encounter via surreptitious means drove it to the logical conclusion in this video. If you want film for content, stop, pull over, ask questions, ask permission, respect your subjects. Don’t “rock up” to a very tense and contested roadblock, that you know is ahead, with the GoPro in hand. The story could have been a different one had they gone calmly through the roadblock, and tracked back for an entirely uncommon kind of encounter.
This is all easy to say from the discomfort of the horrible chair in my apartment thousands of miles away.
I wasn’t there, and I wasn’t in a position to make decisions for Alex and Michaela. They are actually doing it, and I respect them for it. These kinds of situations are scary, and the feeling of helplessness in the face of authority - legit or not - is real. Long nails in 2x4s. Dudes with guns. Real problems for real people in the communities we travel through.
The problem for us is the content. The content has been produced, viewed, and I just spent 800 words talking about it, publishing it here. But what does that mean for the rest of us? For the next traveler that rolls through that “checkpoint” without a camera?
I suspect it will be worse.