Slogan Nine

September 28, 2007

“The more we assert our own identities as historically marginalized groups, the more we expose the tyranny of a so-called center.”
Pratibha Parmar

YouTube serves the de-centering mandate of post-identity politics by creating a logic of dispersal and network. Yet it fails to re-link these fragments in any rational or sustaining way. There is no possibility to make collectives through its architecture. Information can not become knowledge without a map, a structure, and an ethics.


4 Responses to “Slogan Nine”

  1. Yaeri Says:

    I’m not really sure how “de-centering” YouTube is, although I’m a supporter of cyberspace as de-centering space. One of the reasons for my skepticism is that YouTube is too much governed by rules of popularity and its size is too huge for a few who don’t follow these rules to be visible. True, the logic of popularity in YouTube might be slightly different from that of real-life popular culture (such as TV), but can we call making another center in cyberspace as “de-centering”?

    Another, perhaps more important, reason is that there is a clear boundary between people who post (or produce, although it might mean they just rip it from DVD) videos and people who just watch it. You don’t have to bother to sign up at all, if you are just going to watch and never leave a comment, let alone video. How many people do you think are there who just watch videos without signing up?

    Besides, it is the logic embedded in the format of video file that prevent them from mingling. Look at students’ difficulty in making videos and posting them in our class. Making a viewable (and viewed) video file requires certain skills, sensitivity to popular culture, and equipment including not only camera but also upgraded, high-memory PC and high-speed internet. In this sense, video-based sites are much more exclusive in their producers than text- or even image-based sites.

    I find YouTube almost like an embodiment of Manovich’s argument against interactivity of cyberspace. When I first read his book (in my Independent Studies with Professor Fitzpatrick), I argued against him: “he focuses on visuality and computer games. …an individual user can easily post a writing or drawing of her own, although she can never dream of producing a game in the same way… he perceives cyberspace more governed by corporations and consumerism than it really is because he focuses on the form of new media that requires more capital and labor than any others.” Well, now I’m beginning to think he was quite right about some part of cyberspace, such as YouTube.

    I know the reason you chose YoutTube as our site is precisely because you found it highly limited. And our class is trying to break through its structural limitation—but how do we break through limits and boundaries set by technology? I’m not really arguing we CAN’T. But it is true that this class and “learning from YouTube” (literally) made me somewhat suspicious about democratic power of “hypermedia.”

    …Sorry, it was such a long comment.

  2. eamonn Says:

    This might be of some use – I wrote it for a catalogue of student work in film studies this year. I think thinking about using youtube in a disobedient way is interesting. The files can be downloaded and edited and are OK. I wonder what someone like esther schub or De Antonio would do with it? I reckon they’d be enthusiastic tuberaiders? If you raid it are you protecting or harming those who have already given up the rights to results of their creativity?

    ‘Creative Commons and the Freedom of Information’: Whose Tube?

    The explosion of ‘crowdsourced’ content providing the engine driving the sudden mainstream visibility and popularity of web logs and web 2.0 websites as various as, and, most pertinently for the discipline of film studies,, affirms that multi-media production in contemporary networked societies has suddenly (in historical terms) become a vernacular language rather than a series of specialised and professionalized disciplines.

    The facilitation on a mass scale of open publishing on such websites, when combined with the again historically sudden ubiquity of fast internet connections and cheap prosumer audio visual production equipment, offers a type of freedom previously unknown to the majority of entry level media producers.

    The freedom to distribute audio-visual content worldwide at no cost is attractive to the users of such web 2.0 sites and has, since the relatively recent mainstreaming of sites providing architecture for such distribution, driven an absolute and unprecedented explosion of independent media production.

    I have followed the development of this phenomenon, and its attendant information architectures and business models, with great interest as throughout the first five years of the 21st Century I took part in what was an unprecedented experiment in creating a global non-commercial web-based media network.

    This experiment was driven by an open publishing model very similar to those of the recent wave of web 2.0 sites. The experiment began in late 1999 and went ‘live’ at the site of a WTO ministerial in Seattle. In the aftermath of the summit this model (and software) was adopted by a generation of media activists and spread around the globe.

    The Independent Media Centre (Indymedia) (1) now takes the form of a global network of around 120 autonomously organised open publishing platforms.

    The events in Seattle were marked by an unprecedented level of protest directed at an institution of global governance and the parallel appearance of the Independent Media Centre. It’s reporting from a city under martial law marked in my view the birth of a new technologically facilitated crowdsourced journalism.

    The model developed there integrated into itself the previous experiences and democratic practices of a number of generations of media activists from around the world. Their insights and tactics, gained in previous experiments aimed at breaking the information blockade created by the ever increasing corporatisation of the mainstream media, combined into a historically unique example of the power of social production.

    My film watching and making eyes in the aftermath of this event were opened by a number of documentary films produced and distributed by the Independent Media Centre during the course of the event.

    These insta-documentaries were distributed through the internet platform and through the Deep Dish network of public-access cable TV stations as events unfolded. A later more finished feature length documentary titled ‘This is What Democracy Looks Like’ (2) featured the work of an ad-hoc network of 200 non-professional ‘video-activists’.

    At the time I viewed these films for the first time I was to a large extent unfamiliar with the subcultures and ideologies which made it possible for an amorphous insta- collective to swarm around an event and generate on the fly such an unprecedentedly powerful networked non-commercial and even militantly anti-commercial form of filmic production.

    What was startling and is startling about the by now volumous series of documentary films produced in and around Independent Media Centres worldwide in the years since is that this model of networked ad-hoc filmmaking has proved to be a flexible and efficient one capable of being harnessed in many different contexts and capable of contributing significantly (and reflexively) to the production of a political imaginary for the ongoing and ever mutating web of social actors and movements which use indymedia as a constituent element of their political practices.

    The model of film production that has to date been adopted, indeed spread virally on a almost hand to hand basis throughout Europe, South America, The United States and Canada, is marked by the series of immediate social and subcultural contexts within which it is framed.

    This remediation of the documentary form is marked by the ways in which the informational practices of the subcultures push and cross the limits and thresholds of intellectual property regimes, of journalism and of documentary realism.

    The striated space of Youtube and related and other very suddenly mainstreamed commercial spaces for user produced content differ in a fundamental way from the spaces produced and inhabited by the culture of which Indymedia is just one expression. One space is generative and productive of links and flows and repurposings and selective appropriations – the other is not.

    One space is marked by a communitarian and reappropriative interpretation of the informational politics embodied in the GNU GPL licence (3) and a commitment to open publishing, communitarian hosting, and the transparent editorial use of user generated materials.

    It ports a version of the four freedoms with regard to software required by the GNU GPL licence – the freedom to run, study, distribute and improve the source code so long as the same freedom is passed down – into the realm of textual and audio-visual production.

    The other is marked by the absolute control of a business over the intellectual property rights of those whose signal they choose to carry, together with the ability to screen out or deny carriage to any examples of copyright infringement which do not meet the needs of a broader corporate media.

    The freedoms that a default copyleft regime on a platform like Indymedia spreads horizontally amongst users is, in the case of Youtube, passed directly upwards without mediation or negotiation to the corporation. The set of freedoms Youtube grants solely to itself is remarkably similar to freedoms which are generally distributed among users by Copyleft licences.

    “by submitting the User Submissions to YouTube, you hereby grant YouTube a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the User Submissions in connection with the YouTube Website and YouTube’s (and its successor’s) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the YouTube Website (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels..” (4).

    This kind of informational architecture departs significantly from the Freedoms enshrined in the GPL licence and specifically militates against the utterances and materials contained by it being available for the repurposing and recombinatory strategies on which the distribution of vernacular forms of communication tend to rely.

    It also militates against horizontal forms of co-operation in audio-visual production and favours an extremely privatised model of communication where all utterances are recuperated and locked down immediately by strong copyright regimes.

    This, if one takes seriously the status of recombinatory video as a basic vernacular form in the early 21st Century, raises serious questions for filmmakers and video artists around the status of freedom of expression in such gridded and controlled platforms.

    1. Indymedia:
    2. This Is What Democracy Looks Like:
    3. Gnu GPL Licence:
    4. Youtube Terms Of Use:

  3. MP:me Says:

    I am certain that corporations that control hyper-media are limiting their democratic potential, but I know much less about smaller, more boutique, or community-based sites and tools. We are in YouTube because of its size, and that pre-determines many of its weaknesses, including the particular kind of de-centeredness I do think it produces: a distracted endless viewing where connections are almost impossible.

  4. MP:me Says:

    My students have recently chosen to study popularity, hits, rankings (celebrity, fame, attention) for the 2nd half of our course. I am now watching the very music videos for pop songs, car crashes, kittens, and girls-in-their-room discussing hits, fame and rankings that had turned me off YouTube to begin with. I spent much of my life trying to create the possibilities and sites to engage in counter-cultural experiences, including those possible in the university and independent media. They defy or tease me, and I let them, as they continue to insist that they are interested in and satisfied by dominant, corporate, entertainment culture that serves none of the deep needs, models for community, production, distribution,, action, and expression articulated by eammon above.

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