I’ve been very fortunate with travel. I’ve visited Florence, Paris, Uganda, Montréal and upwards of 15 states. I’ve seen the sun rise on a bus ride from Belgium to France, and I’ve boated down the Nile on a Sunday afternoon. These are moments I treasure, and always will, but unconscious travel is dangerous. Taking in the sights and sounds of a country is valuable, but confronting its history and challenges is consequential. I’m learning this as I get older, and I’m trying my best to work toward mindfulness. Just as these people I’m talking to have histories and reasons for why they are the way they are, so do the places we visit.
This week, I sat down with Tisch sophomore Blair Chapman, who was born in the United Kingdom, raised in New Zealand and lived in Australia. The places he’s lived have shaped his views and goals, and I hope to someday allow my travels to do the same.
Emily Fagel: How do you identify politically?
Blair Chapman: In the United States?
EF: Yes. Right now.
BC: That’s a good question. I think, in a two-party political [system] in the U.S., I probably come closest to a Democrat, but not by much.
EF: Where were you born?
BC: I was born in the U.K., in a place just outside of London. Specifically, a place called Tooting.
EF: What was the political environment like there?
BC: I only lived there, in the U.K., for a few months. Quick life story. I was born in the U.K., primary school in New Zealand, high school in Australia.
EF: In New Zealand and Australia, what were those political environments like?
BC: New Zealand — it’s not as politicized as the U.S. When I was living in New Zealand, there was a prime minster there called Helen Clark. She was Labour, she was nice, she was good. The way I describe Labour compared to, say, the Democrats, is that Labour [believes] in increasing funding for social programs and stuff. However, what classifies as a liberal in New Zealand and Australia would probably be a bit different than what classifies [as a liberal] here. They’re similar enough for them not to be too dissimilar, but they’re different enough. The way you sort of treat political parties in general [is different there].
EF: In both New Zealand and Australia?
BC: I think so. It’s a bit less — dare I say it — polarized.
EF: And did these places influence your political views? Did the people you grew up around, went to school with, influence [you]?
BC: Yeah, of course. There’s no other way [political views] can be formed.
EF: What has NYU or New York been like, politically? Besides polarized. What types of politics do you feel like you’re surrounded by?
BC: Well, the majority of people, I believe, in NYU are Democratic-leaning. There’s nothing wrong with that. One thing I like about Democrats is that they actually do generally believe in looking after people, citizens. They do a much better job of articulating why we should look after citizens than the Republicans do. Whether that translates into policy, different story, but that’s politics for you. Sorry, your question was NYU.
EF: Or New York. Just, in general, what has your experience coming to college been like?
BC: I like the arguments of diversity. The concept of ensuring that everyone has a go and has a fair chance to think is very important. I like pushing the envelope with that sort of stuff. There’s a great quote, I forgot who it’s from: “The minute you find yourself on the side of the majority, [you] have to start asking questions. Because if you don’t do that, there’s no way you’ll never improve.”
EF: I like that.
BC: I believe in the whole concept of ensuring that poor citizens have access to healthcare and are generally looked after by society, because if they’re not, that creates a whole pot of problems, and it’s important… it’s just nice to look after people. But whether that [is] done by the state, or the private sector, I honestly don’t mind, whichever way is most effective is good to me. There’s arguments both ways. Like Milton Friedman does a good one about tax cuts and things. You can listen to Bernie Sanders, he basically does a good sales job on why it should be controlled by the state. Those are the two big ones really.
EF: You kind of answered this by saying that you like to push the envelope a little and you like the diversity of opinion here, but did coming to New York and America change your political views?
BC: I think, when you’re in a place like the [U.S.], you have to adapt the thinking [you’re] in to be — adapting by circumstance. So I have to actually align myself [with] what the [U.S.] believes in order to make sense of it. And if I do that, that actually changes things. I’d probably vote differently in a different country, is the way I’ll describe it. So, has it changed my views? Probably circumstantially, yes, but personally, no. Because I’m in the system of the [U.S.], my beliefs are different as to what they would be in New Zealand, but I don’t think personally I’ve changed much.
EF: Last question. You’re a film major at Tisch.
BC: Oh yes, I love it.
EF: Do you plan on working toward political change with your filmmaking? In other words, are your artistic goals politically motivated? It’s okay if no.
BC: Just, no. I don’t ever wanna be Bill O’Reilly. I don’t wanna be associated with anything like that. I respect people who do, because that’s quite a courageous thing to do, to stand up and [say], I believe in this and this and this. However, that’s not all of what life’s about. There’s a great report by Simon Sinek, it’s called “Find Your Why.” So, I was thinking about this the other day, like, why do I want to do what I wanna do. Basically, I think my goal in life so far is to inform people about humanity’s shared experience so that we can bridge gaps between cultures. That doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be political. When you look at a different culture and try to understand it, you can try to actually talk to them and make sure that you [can] actually learn from them. And I think that’s one of the things that the media can do. And that should be as far away from politics as possible. Because if you involve that, that can make the situation become polarized, and you’ll lose the meaning of what you’re trying to show.
EF: So you wanna make art, or make film, to bridge cultural gaps?
BC: Hopefully, yeah. I’d love to do something in the way of news and documentaries. If I did a combination of say, like, Planet Earth, but [made] it sort of history-based, so to focus on culture — I would love that so much. That’s my big goal in life.
Email Emily Fagel at [email protected]