“BUT I TELL YOU A MYSTERY,” a young man emphatically preaches to his audience of 10 in an early-2000s clip of Sproul Plaza. “But I tell YOU a mystery,” retorts a shaggy, bearded heckler from directly behind the preacher’s head. “WE SHALL NOT ALL SLEEP,” the preacher says in vain as he tries to continue enlightening Sproul’s walkers, but he is cut off again: “How can we sleep? With YOU?” the heckler jabs. The one-sided quips draw big laughs from both passers-by in the Sproul footage and attendees of the special screening of Ivan Jaigirdar’s film, “The Hate Man, Street Philosopher” that was held Saturday by the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and the City of Berkeley.
The heckler is the film’s eponymous “Hate Man,” born Mark Hawthorne, a former New York Times reporter who was a familiar face in Berkeley’s colorful arsenal of street speakers from 1973 until his April 2 death this year.
Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, Hate Man’s nephew, was one of many to help introduce Jaigirdar’s film Saturday. Ficks emphasized the importance of his uncle’s ideas, explaining that Hate Man was “the nucleus of something that feels like it’s disappearing in the Bay Area, and in Berkeley especially.” Jaigirdar’s film highlights facets of Hate Man’s philosophy that are undeniably relevant to, yet sorely missing from, the oppositional skirmishes consuming the Bay Area.
Interrupting speeches, shrewdly rebutting street speakers and screaming various offenses such as “fuck you!” and, most notably, “I hate you!” were the Hate Man’s bread and butter. But his antagonization wasn’t just indeterminate anger — instead, Jaigirdar’s film illuminates that Hate Man’s “hate” was part of a methodically thought-out philosophy that, in the end, sought conflict resolution and mutual understanding.
“Being positive all the time doesn’t work,” the Hate Man explains in one of Jaigirdar’s clips. Avoiding negativity and conflict is unrealistic and impractical — Hate Man accepted this reality and hoped that, in encouraging others to be honest and direct about their negative feelings, positive change could occur. Thus, all the “fuck you”s and “I hate you”s.
While hate is inherent to Hate Man’s theory of “oppositionality,” the other two words in his trademark “I hate you!” hold equal weight. In interview clips, Hate Man explains that using the “I” and “you” pronouns are critical to addressing conflict effectively. He argues that “I hate you” produces a much more workable conflict than “we hate them.”
Hate Man’s ideas highlight the dangerous distinction between group hate mentality and individually based confrontations. In other words, “I hate you” might be harsh, but it reflects the ideal of bringing disagreements into a space where individuals can discuss among each other and (hopefully) reach a productive conclusion.
Group identity and allegiances can offer protection and comfort, but they can also be incredibly dangerous when used by the wrong groups and for the wrong reasons. Opposition on the individual level, or at least in smaller group-based settings, can be a direct form of communication and an effective way to resolve, or at least understand, differences. Polarizing topics and seemingly insurmountable differences are made smaller when anger is openly acknowledged and channeled productively into discussion or debate among individuals.
In theory, this doesn’t sound too hard to accomplish and, in a way, seems pretty obvious. But with Berkeley and the Bay Area in the throes of student, community and national political disputes, the concept of avoiding group-mentality aggression is slipping through the cracks. “We hate them” and “I hate that group,” are unproductive and dangerous phrases that, unfortunately, occupy the majority of discourse between various opposing groups locked in polarizing battles. It would be better to approach individuals directly with aggression, to favor “I” and “you” pronouns over identifying individuals only by the groups they represent or belong to.
Conversations can’t occur between groups, but they can happen between individual members of groups.
Screaming “I hate you!” is obviously far from productive conversation. But, for Hate Man, those three magic words were the product of poignant and relevant ideas surrounding effective communication and conflict resolution. Jaigirdar’s film compiles these thoughts; Saturday’s screening provided a friendly reminder to not let Hate Man’s philosophies be forgotten.
It would be naive to think that members of groups so aggressively entrenched in fighting for views unintelligible to each other could easily and productively discuss their differences. It would be equally naive to think that heeding Hate Man’s message of direct oppositional communication on an individual level is the end-all solution to the ideological differences that plague our campus, city and nation. But, would it be too much to think that it could play a crucial role in bridging these differences?