Circling Jenkins 2: Boobs and Bytes
October 14, 2008
In the same Learning from YouTube class where two students presented their fake documentary about convergence culture and The Hills (see video, True Life: I’m addicited to ‘The Hills’ on-line forums, embedded on the previous post below, Pushing Around Henry Jenkins), two other groups presented on political convergence culture. They made videos about their research on regular people using YouTube to enhance their participation in our current election.
I lead with the circle for two reasons: first, while the Hills project ridicules girls for wasting time engaged in close-readings of bad television, the politics projects celebrate YouTubers for doing the same. Can you have it both ways and no way at once (going round and round and round in the circle game…)?
The second round reference is to the breasts that feature prominently (if unintentionally) and centrally within all the videos featured in this intelligent, if un-critical compendium of the formats used for YouTube political convergence culture:
As we build collective intelligence about this election (and otherwise), should we be satisfied with the sexism and satire that undergirds much YouTube discourse? Is a reliance upon, and use of (even if sarcastically) often stupid popular culture even understandable as intelligence? My students suggest that moving (circling) bytes of media from one platform to another (convergence), raising its exposure and hits, is a, no the form of contemporary political participation. Given, they say, that politics is merely cynical spin, and thus there is no distinction between media about the world and the world itself, then watching and passing on videos, and sometimes commenting on them, is activism.
No more circling, I will be direct in my criticism: while any participation, and passion, and action is better than none, we must be bold enough to name ideals for the best of people’s culture (not just getting stuck in the fact of it), and retro enough to state that there remains a world outside the media hall-of-mirrors. Which is to say that participatory culture can benefit from both teachers and theorists (who pass along ideas and structures to allow for deeper engagements with culture) and reality (where the criticisms of real people leave the looking glass and alter lived experience). As I lectured my students yesterday: there is a war, and a depression. Some bodies don’t get health care. Bodies must vote to be counted in this election. Sure, they may only know these things through parodic YouTube videos, but some bodies actually do feel these effects, and actual places and experiences are altered due to media relays. Politics is not just spin, nor is participation. Paul Willis put it this way: “the point is to increase the range, complexity, elegance, self-consciousness and purposefulness of this involvement.” (Common Culture, p. 131)
Agree? disagree? Join the YouTube dialogue, here or there.