Ted Kerr (formally of Visual AIDS) and I continue our conversation about recent AIDS media on the Indiewire blog, /Bent. In our discussion about The Normal Heart and other recent work, we bemoan the paucity of women as well as the feminist pro-sex politics that defined our early AIDS media activism.

I begin the article saying: “I too was reluctant to watch the Normal Heart, so our anticipated conversation about it also forced my hand. I was worried that the mainstreamification of my own history would be upsetting, and I was right. In 1986, I arrived in NYC, fresh-faced and political (I was a feminist and also active in the nascent gay/lesbian rights movements), to attend grad school in Cinema Studies at NYU. I volunteered at (Kramer’s) GMHC soon thereafter, and found myself in 1987 working in the fledgling Audio-Visual Department, which at that time was the incredible Jean Carlomusto who was single-handedly producing a cable access show called “The Living With AIDS Show.”[8] With few real skills of my own, but a lot of chutzpah and real conviction, I suggested to Jean that I produce a segment for the show about women and AIDS. Feminist, anti-racist and anti-poverty activists in NY were just mobilizing around a shared raising awareness about the certain affliction that women (and children) would face in large numbers if the government, public health, non-profits, the media, and activists did not think logically (and politically) and realize, and act, on the imminent threat that HIV posed to communities outside the gay white men who had first organized GMHC (and hemophiliacs, Haitians and heroin addicts, the other known “risk groups” at that time).”

Juanita Mohammed in “WAVE: Self-Portraits” (The Women’s AIDS Video Enterprise, 1990)

Hope you’ll read it through!

 

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.[5]

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.”

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 “Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me” (2013), a poster designed for posterVIRUS by Vincent Chevalier and Ian Bradley-Perrin

The new issue of Jump Cut (55, Fall 2013) is hot off the presses, and as always, it is bursting with great scholarly work on any number of issues near and dear to my heart: labor, third cinema, new queer cinema (by my compatriot, Roxanne Samer), feminist porn (by the delightful, Erica Rand), independent and experimental media (with an essay on Amateur Media by the always-on-the-money Patricia Zimmerman), and a statement on “The War on/in Higher Education” by the journal’s luminary editors (that thoughtfully addresses MOOCs, and other issues, a theme I will attend to in my upcoming post on my recent participation at the MWHEC meetings on this very topic.)

And that’s just my tip of the iceberg; there’s thirty or more essays to find and enjoy there!

Of course, while you’re checking it out, I do hope you’ll also spend some time with the special section I co-authored with Marty Fink, David Oscar Harvey and Bishnu Gosh on contemporary HIV/AIDS Activist Media. Our shared effort looks to links and disturbances across time, generation, place, region, and activist representational practices and media over the lengthy and always changing history of AIDS activist media. My piece, “Acts of Signification Survival,” focuses on both the spate of recent documentaries by my peers about AIDS activism’s past, and what their online life tells us more generally about activist media within digital culture. I write: “it is my belief that digital media brings in new concerns and different cycles. For one, in regards to the documentaries under consideration, the digital allows for what might seem an over-abundance of digital discourse and debate about what also can be perceived as a torrent of images and discourse that have as their subject our past fights for visibility. This produces a particularly clumsy incongruity: these many instances of visibility (the docs and their digital discussion) sit precariously near the constant specter of a diminishment of perceptibility.”

“Everything is Coming up Undetectable” by the Visual AIDS Staff for “Undetectable,” the Visual AIDS Summer 2012 Show.

“Everything is Coming up Undetectable” by the Visual AIDS Staff for “Undetectable,” the Visual AIDS Summer 2012 Show.

 

Tarek Loubani and John Greyson were freed, last night, from prison in Cairo after spending 51 days in dire circumstances although never being officially charged with anything.

My friend and colleague and comrade in this struggle, Catherine Lord, sent me this exultant picture of our fellow friend and core activist in this struggle, Sarah Schulman

My friend and colleague and comrade in this struggle, Catherine Lord, sent me this exultant picture of our fellow friend and core activist in this struggle, Sarah Schulman

No matter how you count it, a lot of people contributed to this daunting, humbling, and ultimately victorious effort (and are now sharing the above-depicted relief and joy): hundreds of thousands of people helped (149,702 signed the Change.org petition), multitudes marched, protested, made buttons and artwork, hundreds worked tirelessly behind the scenes to locate or create press …

I could go on and on. And there’s good reason to do so: change occurs when people make it, piece by piece, little and big, and it’s not just crucial to name this to thank them (although that is important, and I’m doing a bit of that here), but to understand how successful organizing works. Here’s my friend and comrade, Matias Viegener, on our local TV station. It took many of us many days to get this small, and almost silly end result. (At the time, we wondered if it was worth it; my sister, Antonia, contributed a lot towards what ended up being seen as only this one segment)

It truly was a family, and also a community affair. A core group of Canadians (the Canadian “A team,” led by friend and fellow professor, Justin Podur, sister Cecelia Greyson, other family members and close friends, like Elle Flanders) was joined by scores of Canadian and international friends, colleagues, activists, and comrades. Very few of us had ever worked on a political campaign of this sort—life and death, international intrigue (although one of the behind the scenes projects was to get in contact with people who had; many of us contacted friends, and friends of friends, who worked at the State Department, consulates around the world, Amnesty International; man, you wouldn’t imagine the kinds of conversations film critic, B. Ruby Rich was having off the record). However, most of us who lent a hand, big or small, knew of either John or Tarek through earlier shared projects of activism and cultural politics (John programmed my first AIDS activist video into his seminal collection, Video Against AIDS, made in 1989 for Video Data Bank). With hind sight (given that it worked), it was stunning, and deeply moving, and just plain awe-inspiring, really, each day to see the collective knowledge, skills, and power of this diverse, eclectic, and ragamuffin group go at it, wherever we were, however we could:

These images are from the "See Our Support Section at tarekandjohn.com

These images are from the “See Our Support Section” at tarekandjohn.com

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But to be honest, there was also something deeply painful, knowing each day, and after every act by which we used all of our highly dispersed and cunningly eccentric cultural capital (and its associated real-world political power) that there were so many others in that very prison, or elsewhere in another prison, who do not and will not ever have such powerful, connected, capable friends and allies; their crimes no more real, their imprisonment no less unjust

Their less heard stories, and unknown humiliations, will always haunt my memories of these many days and actions.

After much celebration, and its associated sadness, fear, and introspection, I’ll also continue to think about how both my queer/ documentary/activist/scholarly film community and our use of social media played an impotant, complex, and contributing role to this highly successful effort, given that this is something I study, engage in, and often criticize. This is where my subtitle comes in. In the last days of the effort, I was working closely with Jonathan Kahana, Shannon Kelley (from the UCLA Film Archive), and many other film profs, curators, programmers (like Jenni Olson and KP Pepe), to organize a Day of International Screenings for John and Tarek. We decided to organize on Facebook (because it was there, and easy, and so many of us had met on it, even though I have quite recently written about the most progressive act being LEAVING Facebook and other corporate-owned platforms that we get for free but that limit our abilities in their very structures). Within a day of setting up a Group we had over 100 members, and Matt Soar, Communications Prof. at Concordia College (who I met in real-time during this effort online) had designed the poster below for our effort (Chris Durrant, Out Twin Cities Film Festival Director, made the first effort within just a few short hours of the group’s formation):

GreysonScreeningsOct5

I felt both really humbled and really frustrated working on this effort via Facebook. Online, via Facebook, we moved this idea so quickly, so many people came on board, the poster got made in what felt like minutes, and yet, this self-same platform has written into its core structures, and accepted uses, that some significant majority of the people who joined did so to “like” the group. Hear me, these friends were doing nothing wrong by joining; they were following Facebook’s logic of seeing, spreading, liking, and knowing. But this made me prickle because I found it harder to use Facebook towards the deeper, harder, more intense and labor-intensive norms of the very social justice organizing that had brought me and others to John, Tarek, and each other, and that were what was most needed for the effort I was working on. To make global screenings occur within about 10 days, what we most needed was for people to DO THINGS IN THE WORLD (find a room, get a copy of a film by John, invite a speaker, get bodies to that room). Just as was true for the Arab Spring, social media connected us, spread the word, and gave us an instantaneous and satisfying feeling of support and community, but good old fashioned community built from deep relationships formed and cemented in real places and over long term efforts was what finally supplied the muscle, the meaning, and the deep, take away truth of this awesome effort: Tarek and John are free because we (like they) can make the change we need by working with each other every day, in the places we live, and work, and love. How we can sustain this work, how we can again make local connections move nations, how we can use dominant/corporate social media forms as well as our own networks and technologies to make the world we want, these will be the questions I will continue to ask after this much-deserved party ends.

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We’re all (hello, Sussex), now, everywhere here (on the Internet), aren’t we? Undoubtedly, scholars made lots of words before now, but they couldn’t show it all to you like a purge; they couldn’t cart it around, showing it again and again;  it didn’t return, quite like this, to either bite you in the ass, or say it better than one ever could, even though of course, oddly, it was oneself who has said it once before.

By moving these words to video and text, never to be on paper, not to be linear, and also always available on the Internet, I establish, in form, one answer to how the affordances of both the digital and the room, the staying and the going, affect our feminist and queer possibilities. For, of course, I’ve flown to England; there’s something we want, or prefer, or need from the body, even as she also sits, and writes, and speaks, and shares so abundantly at home in the digital. Thus, I return and loop back to the leaving and the staying, the making, taking, foresaking and staking. Situated and floating, flying even, I will answer your three questions in long form (but only in person), but here first in short:

  1. How does imagining queer & feminist lives and futures link with social media and other digital media practices? … Badly
  2. How can we understand the interconnections between radical art practices and cyberfeminisms? We must leave and ever more deeply embed.
  3. What is the role of science and technology more widely in the ways social practices and cultural identities are shaping today?

We must engage in Techno feminism, a collaborative, goal-oriented, placed, critical self-expression online, and also in Presumptive feminism, one that always assumes that feminism counts and that feminists speak. (these are from a longer list of online feminisms from my article on the Online Feminist Cyber-closet).

I suggest that we must strive to make a concerted effort to remember something quickly becoming lost: that is, to dare to think just past the digital, to engage ever so slightly beyond representation, and to struggle to look to and reoccupy our bodies and lived spaces. So: hello Sussex! Not to fear, I will be asking you to move online soon enough …

I learned today on Facebook that Ava DuVernay won the Tribeca Film Institute’s Inaugural Heineken Affinity Award. Kudos! Her wonderful films and ambitious African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, are much-deserving of this support. Understand: her work, her films, her prize-winning is not what I am against. Prizes like this help independent cinema. So, as a producer myself of two African-American indie features, I say: the more prizes the merrier!

I write, instead, against the social-media based gamification of this award whereby the many, equally deserving African-American filmmakers also up for this prize (Andrew Dosunmu, Cheryl Dunye, Nelson George, Kahlil Joseph, Victoria Mahoney, Terence Nance, Akosua Adoma Owuso, Yvonne Welbon, and Ross Williams) were asked to mobilize their (my) cultural community, daily, by having us vote for them, for what seemed like an eternity. But, the makers, supporters, scholars, and perhaps even fans of independent black cinema are a small, and devoted subculture; one in which I am proud to play an active part. We know each other, help each other out, and are in political and personal support of the project, writ-large, of African American visibility, voice, and complex and sophisticated expressive culture. All the influential artists on this list get their work made, watched, financed, written about, taught, and distributed largely within a committed cultural milieu founded within a politics and practice of the sharing of resources, support, community, and artistic vision. This is a community of care, mostly working outside of dominant institutional support; and (I know), to get indie black films made, people support each other!

It pained me more than I wish to express that I had to vote for my “favorite” between friends, respected colleagues, family, and artists I admire and support in other ways. This popularity mentality, this gamification of an intimate cultural sphere, has nothing to do with my commitments to this project, nor that of the people who were lucky enough to be its potential beneficiaries. My friends and colleagues were forced to compete against each other, rather than engage in the supportive, communal, politically-motivated practices that define black independent cinema. Of course, for a measly $20K, Heineken got more information about the buying habits, and other likes, of this influential community then can be easily quantified. I knew I gave this for free every time I voted. Which, I will also admit, I did on many occasions (although I was and am against it), in the name of my friends, their amazing work, and the possibility of supporting a project from this unstoppable community, albeit one always strapped for cash.

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