Resolution toward radical digital media literacy in a post-truth era

November 20, 2017

Below please find my Resolution for the panel, “Ex-Post-Facto? The Anthropology of Media and Journalism in a Post-Truth Era,” to be presented in my absence at AAA on December 1, 2017. Sadly, I can’t attend because I’ll be participating in a Day With(out) Art event in New York City.

Given that scholars and makers of documentary, visual anthropology, journalism, and autobiography have been investigating the construction, forms and circulation of reality-based truth claims in their fields of practice since the invention of these disciplines.

Given that these forms vary across time, culture, media, convention, and discipline.

Given that teachers have attempted, for as long as such claims have been made, to educate about the traditions, forms, and conditions that produce, authorize, circulate, and challenge mediated truth claims because such a “media literacy” is closely connected to citizenship, power, and knowledge.

Given that the mobilization of powerful, loose, and adapting theories and practices of mediated truth claims, under the nomenclature “fake news,” took by surprise even the most committed practitioners, scholars and educators signaled above.

Given, as Naomi Schiller and Robert Samet suggest, that “the deconstruction of claims to absolute truth have us in a kind of bind, one that has become ever more dangerous. In the current climate, anthropological approaches to media as a social practice can bear uncomfortable, even uncanny, resemblance to critiques circulating within the ‘alt-right’ in the United States.”

Let it hereby be resolved that our previous practices of “digital media literacy,” while  useful and relevant for the previous epoch, are no longer equipped for our emergent reality.

Radical digital media literacy is required in a post-truth anti-Trump era.

Given that I was just one within a vast community of scholars, media makers, teachers, and students, over time and across disciplines, who drew “on anti-essentialist theories to show the relationship between power, knowledge, and the construction of truth,” particularly in my earlier work on the productive possibilities of fake documentaries (in the 1990s), and the insidious, definitive “increasingly unproductive” dangers of the destabilization of the fake/real binary as definitive of the forms and platforms of internet culture, most definitively of videos on YouTube (in the 2000s). When our current president and the broader culture became fixated on the problem of “fake news,” especially during the first 100 days of the new administration when this felt the most rabid and destabilizing, I felt compelled and qualified to act in this time of confusion, despair, and self-criticism.

I pledged: For 100 days, aligning and twinned with the new President’s opening timeline, to blog every day about fake news and is so doing produce an online primer of digital media literacy.

Given that my painful if productive effort of informed, desperate citizenship eventually took the form of a digital tower of 100 blog posts, #100hardtruths-#fakenews, each cell holding either my efforts or those of a great many others across a range of fields also contemporaneously attempting to understand, combat, respond to, analyze, and teach about the crisis of fake news as is was unfolding.

Juhasz image

Screen-grab of the final twenty #100hardtruths.

Given that this high and vast monolith itself holds an immensity of deep efforts, inter-disciplinary knowledge, diverse resources and thoughtful tools but that, in this form, these many useful things remain hard to navigate and needing of literacy efforts in their own right so as to make them the most useful for the many people interested in this crisis.

Let it hereby be resolved that I will transform my own preliminary efforts at “an online primer of digital media literacy” to become something even more useful, responsive, thoughtful and focused on educating about, and working against, the enduring and complex crisis at hand by experimenting (with others) with new formats and practices for radical digital media literacy.

Given, as Naomi and Robert suggest that “this presents new dilemmas both for our teaching and our research. What is to be done with our constructivist analyses of truth in a post-truth era? What would it mean to reclaim objectivity, validation, and truth?”

Let me suggest five alternatives toward a radical digital media literacy in our post-truth anti-Trump era:

  1. fake news r us: we are implicated by, produce, and circulate this crisis whenever we study, teach, or try to fix it.
  2. virality is virility: a potent mix of internet-fueled falsity, masculine grandiosity, and  resulting real-world bellicosity undergirds fake news and our efforts to understand it.
  3. art answers to fake questions: departures from evidence-based, indexically-linked practices into realms of truth-telling verifiable by different logics might get us out of the he-said/he-said rabbit-hole we currently find ourselves in.
  4. our internet truths trump media lies: we must name, share and honor our own lived experiences within social media as another form of honesty in desperate times. Let’s do this first offline, together where we live, work, struggle or learn.
  5. heed the poet’s call: poetry, a time-honored word-based form of truth-telling outside the logics of indexical mediation might be one well-honed literacy practice well-suited to this crisis.

Let it hereby be resolved that I will work with poets in their local communities to adapt, transform, extend, translate and all-in-all make more usable my original “online digital media primer.” That I will experiment with others in place-based, local, embodied poetry workshops that begin with the five alternatives above and my #100hardtruths-#fakenews primer as resources toward new forms of radical digital media literacy. That in so doing we will engage together in place-based, people-made, word-bound expressions of individual’s and community’s truths about social media, fake news, and post-truth outside of the indexical, evidentiary traditions that currently bind us and the technologies that are built upon, reinforce and monetize such expression.

I hope to conduct such workshops with Art and Public Policy MA students at NYU working with the artist, Pato Hebert; members of the literary journal club at La Guardia Community College in NYC working with the writer Lisa Cohen; at Occidental College and with the Get Lit Players in LA, at the University of Sussex, working with writing students under the tutelage of Samuel Soloman, and then elsewhere until 100 poems are written as new practices of and resources toward radical digital media literacy.

Please stay tuned.

“Poem (I lived in the first century of world wars),” Muriel Rukeyser

I lived in the first century of world wars.

Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.
I lived in the first century of these wars.
Muriel Rukeyser from The Speed of Darkness, 1968.
(gifted to the project by Barbara Browning)
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