January 19, 2015
Tamsyn Gilbert at New Criticals kindly invited me to write a piece about the changes in networked new media and feminist scholarship about it for the section of the publication called Lady Justice. I used this as an opportunity to revisit Learning from YouTube given that I’ll be teaching it again this spring with some interesting new twists and turns. The intro to the piece is here, and you can read my five provocations as well. The rest of the piece is found via the links above I’d love to hear from you!
In 2007, I engaged in what was at the time perceived to be an audacious pedagogical experiment. I taught a course both on and about YouTube. At that time, I opened out the private liberal arts classroom into the wilds of the Internet. These many years later, looking back at the experiment and also moving forward, I imagine what there might still be to learn and where there still might be to go within social media networks. Certainly much happened in the first class—virality, hilarity, hundreds of videos and interviews, caution, discipline, challenges to higher education and collegiate writing and a “book“—but here I ask, how might the continual growth of YouTube demand new places and tactics for its analysis?
In response to both my own needs as a theorist, activist, and educator, as well as what we might consider the “changes” of YouTube eight years later, I have decided to teach the class again this spring semester while taking my evolving experiment in several new directions including Inside-Out of the private college and prison. The body of this post explains the history and growth of my thinking about and activities within and without YouTube since its inception in 2005. Given the interests of Lady Justice, I will use this opportunity to consider transformations in digital and network culture over the past decade. I will also forefront how my feminist commitments to pedagogy, public intellectualism, the politics and practices of visibility and community within social media networks, and an anti-corporate media, anti-corporate academia, anti-corporate prison-industrial stance influence my many critical incursions into what I see as a pretty consistent YouTube. This has been somewhat harder to do in the course proper, and even my writing about it, as I have often taken a more “closeted” approach to my motivations in these more generic spaces (the class is an Introductory level course in Media Studies and most of the students have neither a feminist nor activist orientation to media, nor do they need to. In this and many other ways, I structure the course so that it reflects the dominating logics of YouTube, more on this below).
[this lengthier part about changes in YouTube and my decision to teach part of the class in a prison is at Lady Justice]
Conclusion: 5 Questions for the 2015 class and others:
As was true for the 2007 class and all following, I am legitimately interested in learning from YouTube: its users, uses, and logics. My statements above and questions below are provocations for further analysis, argument, and activities. I look forward to where they will take us over the next few months:I am curious whether these many recent changes may have inaugurated significant and not superficial changes in YouTube (and social media) culture itself. Frankly, I doubt it. I challenge my students to locate, name, and analyze structural differences:
How has YouTube changed since 2005?
What are the relations between social justice and social media?
What are the relations between social injustice and social media?
How and why do we leave social media?
How and why do we stay in social media?
What is a social media of our own?
August 23, 2014
Last Thursday, I received a group email from two European professors of cinema—Dina Iordanova, Professor of Global Cinema and Creative Cultures, University of St. Andrews, Scotland, and Eva Jørholt, Associate Professor of Film Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark—alerting me to the inauguration of their website PALESTINEDOCS: “a web resource on films chronicling the life of Palestinians in and outside the Middle East.”
After looking at their welcome page and the amazing set of documentaries and linked resources made available (as well as who was cc’ed on the email and the authors’ bios, as I did not know either of them personally), I began to think about their digital activity in light of my two recent posts on activism, media, and digital engagements in support of peace. While it was never my intention to say activism is not possible on the Internet, or Facebook more specifically, I was trying to better understand my own discomfort with the changing norms, practices and volume of digital actions, displayed by myself and my “friends,” who seem to be engaging in our “political” action (or action about politics) about the current Israeli/Palestinian conflict, primarily inside the hidden (and sometimes visible) boxes of corporate-owned digital spaces.
I think that Iordanova and Jørholt’s activity helps us to see where engagement on the Internet can be more productive than what I continue to see as proto-political activities we are mostly engaging in around this and other conflicts this volatile Summer: refining and sharing our own positions within complex Internet communities. (Tellingly, that’s how these two producers found me; I was a signatory on a public protest letter which they saw online and which led them to believe I would be interested in their project, as I proved to be).
PALESTINEDOCS mobilizes the Internet’s not unique but heightened affordances of accessibility, transnationality, and instantaneousness (see their welcome remarks) in ways that seem very well suited for movements for peace. “We hope that it would be an advantage to make use of the ‘click through’ access that we provide to most films, as many are available for viewing directly on the Internet,” explained Iordanova to me in a later email. The project activates and is based in a winning set of media actions that begin with the building of this digital resource, and continue with further actions requested in their email (telling others about it, as I am doing here, online; and writing film commentary for the site to help others to better watch, understand, and teach these complicated and diverse films and the controversial and moving histories they document), all this potentially promoting even more actions (viewing documentaries on a laptop, screenings in groups, teaching, reading more, discussion online and off).
PALESTINEDOCS is a project by (and for) scholars (and students) of cinema, and documentary more specifically. “We wanted to DO something, and as film scholars – not doctors, diplomats or even filmmakers – we thought of the site as a means to make more people aware of what it means to be Palestinian,” explained Jørholt in a later email to me. Many documentary scholars, makers, and viewers (like myself) are interested in understanding (and mobilizing) documentary media’s function as activism (and often questioning whether it is activism…) Jorholt explains what moved her to make this site in light of such questions:
Media and social justice … that’s a vast and complex issue. A brief answer would be that films have the capacity to focus on human beings rather than abstract political disagreements and clear-cut warring camps. They may thus be able to sensitize public opinion – and help bring about social justice – in a much more powerful and nuanced way than news reports on mainstream mass media. Provided that the films are seen, of course …. which is where the site can make a difference. Hopefully …
But I will end, where I often do, exhorting us to link our work in representation to (further) actions in the world (including the Internet and the world of media, to be sure). Yes, watch one of the films alone on your computer, but better yet, watch it in a group and talk about it after; share information about this site and other useful resources; write some analysis and share it with someone who may not agree; make your own documentary; go to a protest or teach-in and share your documentary or one of those here; build your own site holding the documentaries you think might add to a conversation supporting peace (for instance, I’d love to see a similar venture about Jewish voices in the diaspora committed to representing peace, for that’s something near and dear to my heart that I’ve seen too little of!)
August 18, 2014
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.” 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).”
Hope you’ll read it through!
July 10, 2014
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.
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.”
“Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me” (2013), a poster designed for posterVIRUS by Vincent Chevalier and Ian Bradley-Perrin
November 22, 2013
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.”
October 6, 2013
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:
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):
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.