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.

3 Responses to “Circling Jenkins 2: Boobs and Bytes”

  1. wtt02005 Says:

    There is clearly participation on YouTube from watching videos but that is just a small step towards full participation. Full participation differs based on the topic. For political campaigns, full participation would be like getting people to vote, voting yourself, etc. Watching is participation since users would otherwise not know anything about politics.

    I think the reason we debated was that we had different views of accountability. If you vote in real life, that will have an effect on the election since that is how our system works. But hits on a popular YouTube video about the election wont directly affect the election results. It probably will have an effect and get some people to leave their computers and vote, but we will never know unless there is a video showing people going to vote because they saw videos on YouTube (scary).

    I do think we should escape this “hall of mirrors” but what is interesting about this election is that people really cared about how “hip” the candidates were. Hillary’s Sopranos spoof, Daddy Yankee backing McCain, etc. This is YouTube’s language so I dont think we should completely discredit just watching videos.

    Going back to Jenkins, his optimistic vision of people making work that does not reinforce mainstream/dominant language and ideas has not been realized. Most people dont really push the YouTube medium. Going back to my “Youtube. Culture or Junk?” video, there are definitely more junk videos that either reinforce the original meaning or dont go beyond it that much. As a result, we just get boobs on YouTube. I like to think our culture could do better, but anytime you want more specialization and more quality, the fewer people there will be to meet those expectations

  2. MP:me Says:

    I think your point about accountability, or actually, utility is important. I’d also like you, and others, to begin to define what allows user culture to move beyond junk (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIEhFwbo5GQ).

  3. Kimball Says:

    I think participation could be easily divided into degrees of engagement. Yes, making a video is being engaged, and I think Jenkins’ point is that we used to assume that there was no participation, that audiences weren’t thinking or critiquing popular culture. However, that being said, I don’t think merely passing a video is being engaged, there is a difference between the act of creating and just “look at this cool video” that happens with YouTube.

    There is something inescapable about how entertainment is tied to politics in our society. I think it’s beyond YouTube, and perhaps something to to with the nature of democratic elections themselves. If we think back to the time of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, that was the entertainment of the day, and accounts suggest that there was a festive, and not completely somber attitude there. (I’ll have to find my source on this for you)

    However, there is still more to engagement that being entertained and making a video. When I heard about the passing of environmental activist Dorothy Green this week, it pushed me more toward separating real life participation from YouTube participation. I think it is one thing to be critical of society/politics, which is good because it shows that people are thinking, but another to actually take the step to change what you’re criticizing. I’m sure lots of people criticized Los Angeles for dumping sewage in the bay, but Dorothy Green actually went out and found a way to put pressure on the city and reduce dumping.


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