I have grappled with the understanding of learning about other people’s lives, whilst remaining trapped in my own. For so long I have questioned “how can I understand you if i can only see out of my eyes?” I question it when I make eye contact with a stranger in a crowded street, slightly bewildered that everyone is living their own little separate lives…I question it when a customer thinks it’s appropriate to vape outside of my store, again slightly bewildered they thought that was a great idea.
It baffles me even more, that there are other ways of life, other cultures other than my own i’ll never really understand or be a part of. That they will have amazing things I will never experience or vise versa. There is someone out there, born at the exact same time as me, having lived their own life for 22 years, and I will never know them.
But there is one cluster of people…8 to be exact…who do know all this. Who are the perfect autoethnographers. They can experience another persons culture, experience other’s realities, political and social differences, crossing lines of gender and sexuality, they experience it as if it were there own (The Economist). They learn from these other 7 people, take away valuable lessons from their separate, sometimes parallel worlds, to help their own. They use the experience of another persons life to make better understanding and judgements about their own. Significant moments in their lives are shared through a connected consciousness, spreading epiphanies and altering their lives. Nomi helps Lito come to terms with his own epiphany through her own.
Nomi and Lito are not real. Neither are Riley, Capheus, Kala, Wolfgang or Sun. They are characters in Netflix’s Sci Fi hit ‘Sense8’ exploring their shared telepathic connection of their cluster.
Sense8 is a powerhouse for many sociological and political ideals, tackling issues of sexuality, gender, identity, power, the list goes on. It circles around and around its central issues, its driving plot, each character arc, and back to one central element. These people are strangers. They are separated by continents, yet closer than anyone will understand. They are 8 people who never would have met or shared a consciousness if they did not share the same birthday. Kala would have never of known about the struggles of living in the slums of Nairobi without Capheus.
I enjoyed the show as much as an entertainment form, as an educational form. It helped me with my little identity problem, through the show and its concepts, I could look out of someone else’s eyes into another world. I could see it was possible, not through some kind of sci-fi human evolution trope, but through universal values. The show’s core is how connected these 8 people are, but not in their telepathic sense, in how they care, love, respect, admire one another.
“In “Sense8”, empathy involves more than just one character momentarily doing the things another character normally does. They feel the feelings of others, collapsing when another sensate in their cluster is injured or upset, for example. A woman can experience life as a transgender woman. A straight man can feel what it is like to be a gay man. A rich businesswoman can know the injustice of being a poor Kenyan man. The empathy that comes out of these experiences helps the sensates to love each other and to work together to combat personal injustices.” The Econimist
“We might be culturally different, but we all think and feel the same way,” was how I began to understand my approach to autoethnography. Despite the difference, there is a commonality in the ways we interact and think. Where the Sense8 characters are given the deus ex machina for autoethnography, I just have to find my own cluster, my own form to understand and learn.
Whilst thinking about my assignment, I hope to achieve this sense of understanding and engagement with another culture- perhaps not telepathically but via empathy and knowledge. What Sense8 can tell me about autoethnography and how i can become a sense8-grapher, is immersing yourself into another world as if it was your own. It may not be as easy as it sounds, but I’m determined to try.
Perhaps it’s a little obvious from my choice of Sense8 as a case study, but the strongest way I feel I could engage with this topic is through media, television or movies. I was drawn to this show for its diversity and multiculturalism, and I feel like it was a good starting point for understanding auto-ethnography.
Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011 ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1, viewed 10th August 2017, http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095
‘In “Sense8” an empathetic outlook is an advanced form of humanity’
The Economist May 5 2017 https://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2017/05/one-mind
‘Sense8′ Cast on Why Their Inclusive Show Is “Necessary” in Trump’s America’ Jackie Strauss April 26 2017