July 10, 2014
In the conclusion of my conclusion to Ada’s Special Issue on Queer Feminist Media Praxis, “It’s Our Collective, Principled Making that Matter Most,” I write:
AIDS activist video and New Queer Cinema are celebrating, respectively, their twenty-five and twenty year anniversaries, and I am connected, as a media maker and theorist to both traditions. As someone who participated in these earlier instances of feminist/queer media praxis (if not revolution), I first affirm that they were each deeply technological; we were always abetted by media, even if this was not yet digital in nature. And, in the living and doing—just as defines our work today—these “movements” (which were, at the time, something closer to linked moments of making; a movement tends to be found retrospectively), felt (as did the Sixties in its living and doing?) enormously small, fleeting, difficult, complex, impossible to render and realize and utterly wonderful and productive.
In my experience, the making and living of alternative, counter or radical culture, through media praxis, does not feel fully revolutionary in its own time because each act of making is too small, unstable, marginal, and precarious; the dominant culture, and its media praxis, looms large, solid, and powerful. And yet, each of these risky acts makes not just media that lasts for future study (and sometimes consolidation as a movement) but small, beautiful, fleeting instants of potential—”revolutionary-instants”—that we recognize and celebrate mostly in their doing and living, and of course, mourn in their immediate passing (only then, sometimes, to also reify in their later study and consolidation).
And, when I make feminist queer media praxis with others today (like this issue here and this writing in this issue), just as was true in the recent past, my work continues to feel incredibly small, local, marginal, frustrating, incidental and sometimes or even often emancipatory in the instants that are the instances of its more radical, collective, visionary doing and making. Brown continues about times better for feminist revolution:
When poetry becomes political, when politics becomes erotic, when thinking is de-commodified and comes to feel as essential to life as food and shelter, not only do ordinary fields of activity become libidinally charged, but this desublimated condition itself betokens (however illusorily) an emancipated world to come.
I know that there have been moments, and actions, and movements in the past where that feeling of revolution feels closer to hand and body than it can today with both technology and capitalism standing between us and nearly everything that we might want or imagine. But instances of essential, libidinal emancipation can be lived, felt, and practiced in our (digital) world structured as it is ever more deeply by capital, in the sparks of political and intellectual attraction, action, and energy we can read (about) here, in instants of ethical interaction that first built what you read here, and in your potential to produce ethical interactions through your own digital engagement with this material. A revolution; not in the least! But queer feminist media praxis that marks that there are alternatives through our collective, principled making, without doubt.
See what I’m talking about here: essays by Aristea Fotopoulou, Kate O’Riordan, Tully Barnett, Megan Bigelow, Dayna McLeod, Jasmine Rault, T.L. Cowan, Karin Hansson, Rachel Alpha, Johnston Hurst, Olu Jenzen, Irmi Karl, Susana Loza, Lusike Lynete Mukhongo, Darnell Moore, Monica J. Casper, Michelle Moravec, Lindsey O’Connor, Noopur Raval, Roxanne Samer, Jenny Sundén, and Joanna Zylinska.
Please see my conversation with Ted Kerr, Programs Manager at Visual AIDS, recently published at Cineaste. Initially asked to discuss Dallas Buyer’s Club we felt we needed to take a lengthier look at the much broader phenomenon of retrospective looking at AIDS fueled by home movie images of the crisis, often shot by AIDS video activists like myself. In the piece we suggest that “the past, signified by the home movies of AIDS, in particular, has many cultural functions, and just as many cultural formations. We begin with Matthew McConaughey’s butt (where else!), and use it as our entry into a lengthy discussion of Dallas Buyers Club, as well as nearly a score of past and present alternative AIDS videos that also broker in activist made home-movie-like images of a crisis past—Like a Prayer (DIVA TV, 1989), Keep Your Laws Off My Body (Catherine Saalfield, Zoe Leonard, 1990), Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (Mark Rappaport, 1992), Philadelphia (Jonathan Demme, 1993), Silverlake Life (Peter Friedman, Tom Joslin, 1993), Video Remains (Alexandra Juhasz, 2005), Sex Positive (Daryl Wein, 2008), How to Survive a Plague (2012), Heart Breaks Open (William Maria Rain, 2011), Liberaceón (Chris Vargas, 2011), Sex in an Epidemic (Jean Carlomusto, 2011), We Were Here (David Weissman, 2011), When Did you Figure Out You had AIDS (Vincent Chevalier, 2011), United in Anger (Jim Hubbard, 2012), Untitled (Jim Hodges, Carlos Marques da Cruz, Encke King, 2012), Bumming Cigarettes (Tiona McClodden, 2012), he said (Irwin Swirnoff, 2013), and the poster campaign Your Nostalgia is Killing Me (Vincent Chevalier with Ian Bradley-Perrin, 2013). With Philomena (Stephen Frears, 2013), we return our conversation to more conventional fare before concluding our thoughts upon so many home video returns.”
“Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me” (2013), a poster designed for posterVIRUS by Vincent Chevalier and Ian Bradley-Perrin
January 14, 2014
My Visual Research Methods course has ended, and as ever, my grad students in a range of programs at CGU have done inspiring and inventive work to wrap up this class which pushes traditional Humanities grad students to roll up their sleeves, work with their hands, imagine new audiences and formats, and think about academic labor and standards using new rubrics.
This year, our assigned readings—in Nick Mirzoeff’s Visual Culture Reader, the Debates in the Digital Humanities Reader, and two books about the ongoing and ever-widening Center for Digital Storytelling’s project—linked as they were to an ever more frightening and quickly shifting job market for graduate students, seemed to have helped push this batch of students to do some remarkably innovative digital scholarship, for their final work, thinking about the role of digital storytelling as both a subject and method for scholarly output.
I hope you’ll take a peek at these compelling projects:
- A “nod to Lambert, but in a very deliberate style that was anti-Lambert (no voice-over, no clean or clearly announced thesis) … also an attempt to have this video be a moment of reflection, a meditation of sorts on friendship,” AIDS, place, and memory (from a PhD student in religion)
- a digital story, made collaboratively with the maker’s high school students to create an “affective space” much like that previously “carved out through the epistle allowing women, a group previously written out of agency to write/right wrongs through new narratives in much the same way that digital storytelling empowers its creator. Telling my story, working delicately against and with the grain of rhetorical confines and the explosively complex element of my students’ personhoods demanded the kind of suturing of disparate intentions so pleasurable to read in the 18thC epistolary novels” (from a PhD student in English, also a High School English teacher)
- A video focused upon building “community around and for people dealing with mental illness, who are working to cope with their symptoms in the midst of the exceptional stress of grad school life. My hope is to create a digital story telling circle that will do just that.” (from a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
- An argument for the storytelling power of Instagram (so against the Lambert idea that the Internet produces fragments) (from a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
- A consideration of #ANA on YouTube and Instragram as digital stories (by a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
- A consideration of #Carol Corps in light of Digital Storytelling (by a Master’s Student in Cultural Studies)
- A consideration of social media and digital storytelling through three voices of a vegan and animal lover (by a Masters student in Cultural Studies)
- A work on and as digital storytelling about an artist and a friendship (by a PhD student in English)
- A digital story that draws the story of YouTube drawing stories (by a PhD student in History)
- An analysis of how the academy is embracing digital storytelling as research method (by a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
- A digital story using “a personal narrative of my memories of my aunt’s illness and how I experienced the confusion of coming to terms with her diagnosis as HIV positive. I believe personal narratives such as this are missing from outreach efforts that have aimed to target the Black community in order to bring awareness of the high rates within the community.” (by a Master’s student in Applied Women’s Studies)
October 9, 2013
This blog post will serve as part of a brief introduction to my current interests as teacher, professor, artist and activist. It will be presented live, on October 10, 2013, to about fifty senior Media Studies majors at the Claremont Colleges. I begin with this video, one I’ve repurposed from a longer talk I gave at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo last spring, about the same three projects: Learning from YouTube, Feminist Online Spaces, and FemTechNet’s DOCC 2013 (all of which are projects that use teaching as a place for my research, community building, activism, and critical internventions into Internet culture.)
The two points I’d like to add here are:
1) I use this video again not because I am lazy or overtaxed, although at least one of these is true, but because it establishes, in form, many of the linked possibilities and obstacles of networked knowledge production in media studies:
- its recursive nature
- its permanence and temporariness
- its ease of production and dissemination
- its related contextual and de-contextual affordances, which is to say
2) Why do we do continue to do things in person, when everything I have to say about my work, I’ve already done online (perhaps with more clarity, or brevity, or perhaps with greater detail and more depth)
- how do we theorize and make media in a time of overabundance and in a place that is here, there, and everwhere?
September 29, 2013
No way out, I’m afraid. Blog my thoughts about, Room 237, the obsessive, fun, cringe-inducing (at least for cineastes like me), self-reflexive film about films and their critics (fans? bloggers?) and thereby I’m caught in the very same maze too (and caught there with you, dear reader, writer, blogger, critic, professor?)
So much synchronicity you might say (as would all of the intrepid interviewees in Room 237) given that I was just this very morning talking to my daughter (while I was streaming the film … hmmm), who’s so fired up by her High School English class and English teacher. Although they’re stuck on sonnets, it’s no matter the form, she explains, if your teacher opens you up to formalism. “Did you learn that in college, too, Mommy?” Learn it in college! I teach it to this day: that the formal choices and structures of the artist are there to be read, and interpreted, and thought about and discussed, and even written about by an artist’s devoted, lively readers! “Sure it’s fun to read for plot,” I said to her, “but when your thought processes also get to work through, chew on, revel in the clever devices and lush symbols that hold that story itself, the pleasures multiply.” She agreed. What’s cool about my job, I then explained, is that I get paid to do that: read myself, live myself, be myself, in relation to great works by amazing artists that speak to me (that I speak to). Then I read what others say about that great artist. And even better yet, “I go to a classroom and speak about all this with smart kids, just a little older than you.” (You are getting the symbolism? mother/daughter … almost like twins, or palimsests … like in The Shining, or Room 237 where we actually get to watch what happens when you layer The Shining forward and backward upon itself as a visual reckoning of its conjectured formal mirrorings, repeatings, forward-and-backwarding motifs).
My dear friends, P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes are Executive Producers of Room 237 (Rodney Ascher), and also play their own twinned parts in this tight, intense project that opens creepy, wonderful doors that should allow not just for ruminations on Kubrick—his intentions, his genius, his symbols—but for all of us (writing about movies on the Internet) to reflect upon our own creepy, wonderful critical projects about others’ art, thereby begging the same scary kinds of mirroring questions grappled with in and through Room 237, questions about when something good becomes its evil reverse: artist/critic, fan/art work, mother/house, obsessive-compulsive/close-reader, father/horror, conspiracy theorist/professor, lover/killer. 237‘s team, who themselves lovingly find and know every film reference (and more!) to perfectly illustrate their obsessed subjects’ visions of Kubrick are only different, I suppose, because, well, they made their own successful movie about and from it.
At the DML Open Learning Conference yesterday (synchronicity? conspiracy? fun-house mirror? you tell me!), I was talking with a gaggle of Internet scholars about how to transform the seas of fan culture online (be it remixing, shipping, fanfic) into that very same doorway—the gateway drug to blogging, art-making, criticism, professordum, and yes, sometimes redrum. Is there a difference in kind between my musings about a film or filmmaker (here, or in a book, or a classroom) and that of my daughter and her friends about Homestuck or Supernatural? Or is this only marked by degrees, pedigree, audience, form, format or training? And what are the conditions that reign some of us back: keeping us from devolving into conspiracy theorists or stalkers, our obsession producing an inward maze where at the end all we see are our own creepy visions?
One of the film’s interviewees marks how Kubrick always gives some of his characters the skills to backtrack out of the ever-tightening loop; how he marks special doors that allow for escape out of his tightly-made forms (and the very “formalism” that draws us all into that shared reader/writer, child/maze project that is so deeply compelling). I, too, think that ultimately our forms (that we look at or speak through) are of less importance than are these exits (and to theorize, make, and practice exiting is perhaps even harder than to write the paths deep into the maze). The exit project maps the ways out to spaces for community, builds pathways to conversation and growing understanding, and takes time for these interactions (in class, online, via art) leading to the making of new forms of creativity that allow for other steps forward (while always looking back, to history, to art work, to each other), so as to together understand that the original form must be linked to and left by ourselves as sametime critics and producers of a culture that can sustain us.
I begin my talk with this video about repurposing social media spaces, such as this one, for the specific purposes of multi-disciplinary and multi-modal teaching and learning, as well as for its scholarship by showing this video, so representing, in form, my feminist commitment to engage in self-reflexive, situated critiques of the Internet that model here the kind of culture I hope it to be, a place that enacts collaboration, connections between the classroom and the world, intentional and ethical links between and within real and virtual experiences and private and public knowledge, and a commitment to finding, teaching, and using the forms of literacy best suited for these places and practices.
I self-reflexively argue above, here, and in the talk: engaged, situated pedagogy and research in the digital humanities demand new writing and speaking forms, as well as the presentational and publishing platforms to hold them.
March 16, 2013
Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending some of THATCamp Feminisms West. I had to leave just before the much-deserved beer-part to pick up my son, and knew I was in good company when this sacrifice made sense as such, nothing more needing to be said. But in my afternoon there, I was privy to conversations and processes that remind me of why we need to meet and work as feminists about and in digital culture. I will indicate a few of those reasons here, and I’m also going to to do quickly and on my blog.
Now, why this quick “work” on a Saturday morning. First, I have to give an interview to a college student this morning, in an hour, about (my) queer family: another important digital feminist act. Secondly, I want to blog about this while it is still happening (day two is starting now), because it may allow a few people who might want to know about it to follow the twitter-feed, and thereby attend. Third, I acknowledge and mark the value of my colleagues’ work when I blog it, and I feel this is a particular kind of feminist mentoring that senior women in academia can and do provide online. There’s been some great posts about academic blogging in the past few days (brought to my attention my Adeline Koh on Facebook). All by women, iterating what we get here. I wrote a similar post last year.
In our unpanel, DH400, we had the rare opportunity to talk about DH beyond 101. I was particularly interested to meet the women behind #TransformDH who I’ve been following for awhile. Our conversation focused upon our various, precarious, disruptive, transformative, outsider/insider relationships to the academy: as grad students, as archivists, as activists. To me it is was less the DH, or even the digital, that made this conversation matter, but the feminist: because we shared values, the will and capacity to be critical as well as intellectual while being supportive and trying to distribute authority and voice around the room all the while working, quick. Mia Ridge asked us “What would a feminist Digging into Data project look like?” And Jacque Wernimont said: “It would probably be related to little ‘dh’ and the owning of ephemerality.” Yep.
In the other panel I attended, on feminist digital pedagogy, I brought people up to speed on the DOCC 2013. And then we talked productively and honestly about teaching. With undergrads, librarians, grad students, jr and snr profs in the room, (or as@miriamkp tweeted: A really nice mix of students, faculty, librarians, nonprofit professionals (with diverse interests) here at #tcfw) we were able to be vulnerable, uncertain, and also wicked smart. Anne Cong-Huyen and Viola Lasmana discussed power sharing, doing things in public, acquiring skills, risk-taking, modelling ownership of our content and controlling our online identities (for their students and themselves), as well as the perennial contradictions of anonymity, discipline, and grading in classes with hands-on, experimental components. One hour, so much said and done: together, in a room, and on twitter, and now here, doing all the things that these technologies afford to us as communities, and as individuals.
I write quickly on my blog on a Saturday morning because this kind of work makes me feel like an academic in a conversation with politicized others. I make this to mark that.
March 15, 2013
Please feel free to share:
Children “share” during “sharing time” at school: my mouse, mom, yo-yo trick. Academic bloggers share details about what is behind-the-scenes: my lunch, boss, anxieties. Sharing as inclusion of personal experience into public spaces where such information has been deemed inappropriate, off-limits, non-academic. Sharing at its juvenile and narcissistic best and worst. The risks are both obvious and gendered: an embarrassing myopia, a gross mis-step in propriety, a female fall into feelings. No professional wants to be treated like a child (or a woman). The risks are in vetting; the rewards come by way of expanded expression …
I continue on Media Commons
March 7, 2013
I’ve been asked to blog during the SCMS conference on their website. I think it may be closed to non-members, so here’s what I wrote there.
The memorial event last night for Alex Doty was unlike anything I’ve ever attended at SCMS (or any other conference for that matter). Lovingly arranged and choreographed by this year’s Queer Caucus officers (Jen Malkowski, Patty Ahn and Julia Himberg) and as equally lovingly attended by a great many friends, colleagues, and fans of Doty, the affair was at once a vibrant, communal celebration of a particular man and scholar as well as serving as a reminder of the role of intellectual community, in this case the SCMS Queer Caucus (of which Doty was a founding member). Let me start with the man, and end with the caucus, a provocation (or two), and an invitation.
There were six beautiful, careful presentations from the stage and a cocktail party after. In the first version of this post that just got eaten by my computer, I carefully detailed each one’s loving remarks and how they built the presence of a respected, treasured, seminal member of the SCMS community. From SCMS President, Chris Holmlund’s detailed tracing of the history of the Queer Caucus itself, exactingly drawn through a treasure trove of documents from the Society’s past (located by Michael Metzger), to Corey Creekmur’s evocation of Doty as “not a person but an event,” to Kara Keeling’s anecdote about reading Making Things Perfectly Queer as a grad student and learning there the “things I already knew but did not know why I knew these things,” or Taylor Cole Miller explaining how his teaching always accounts for a queering of popular culture, for all students and across creative exercises because of an approach he learned from Doty’s writing, or Sarah Sinwell’s reminder that so many in the room had used Doty’s quote about a “queer reading” not being “alternative, or wishful thinking, or reading into things too much.” The take away was both a brave, fun, dedicated intellectual, teacher and friend who had the courage to work with others to found a sub-field based upon how he lived in the world, and in the world of media, and also a tender community of people who know each other in a variety of ways: from conferences, caucuses, and lectures, to the many words we write and share over a career.
And listening to the care by which these colleagues drew this man and his work, and seeing the care by which the organizers had produced the event, I saw that part of what the Queer Caucus (and Alex Doty, and so many more of us) have produced is the place for love, or respect, and the personal, within professional contexts: and this has always been at the heart of our theoretical and political project as feminists (and I’d warrant many of the other Caucuses share this project). The Alexander Doty Queer Mentoring Program of the Caucus is one example of this practice, as is Doty’s writing and teaching. And yet, as scholars, we so rarely publicly express the fondness, and other feelings, we have for our colleagues: how their work moves us. I thought to myself, I bet Alex didn’t know this—that we all knew him in one way or another, and respected him, and understood (or wanted to understand) his part in our own history as intellectuals and activists—because we so rarely tell each other: I used you in a paper, or I taught you in a class, or your words saved me.
And then, I wondered, too, about those who didn’t know Alex, who weren’t at the memorial, and weren’t members of our Caucus, and didn’t read his books or attend his lectures … even once. Man did you miss something and someone! Sean Griffin said of Alex how he always managed to fashion both camaraderie and a diva moment, producing an “I’m fabulous and you are all going to come with me” sort of presence wherever he was at work. But if you didn’t track through SCMS seeing the faces I have come to know, again and again, given, as you might not be—queer—maybe you didn’t know this … So, I thought of the others Caucuses, and wondered if love and anger and pride was in their hearts and history, and if they might have an event like this someday, as sad as that may be.
And that leads me to my provocation, and my title, which points to the centers of centers and the margins of margins in the making of fields and communities, and sub-fields and their communities. Are we queers central to this field? Do you know us and our work? Do I know your work and caucus? Let’s try to go to another sub-field’s meeting or panel at this conference, and meet the Alex Doty we wouldn’t necessarily circulate around by way of affinity. And what’s more, let’s tell a colleague or friend that their ideas move us, so that we can mark our love for what Griffin called “the concept” (our work) as well as the person, and so that the person can know we cherish their concepts while we are together still.
And finally, an invitation in kind: tomorrow, Friday, March 8, I will be participating in an “Unauthorized Conversation” about HIV/AIDS and Media Studies, in the Book Exhibit from 11-1. With my friends, colleagues, and AIDS comrades in arms, Marty Fink and David Oscar Harvey, we will engage in a conversation about many queer things, including some of the questions I asked above: about the history and politics of sub-field production and maintenance given the growth of the larger field. You don’t have to be queer to know about AIDS, or to care about its place in Media Studies. We’d love to have you as part of the conversation.