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 13, 2014
Last week, I used my own changing Facebook experiences during the gruesome Israel/Gaza conflict to think about the often unattended-to subtleties of Internet echo chambers in light of family, identity, friendship and war. There’s been a great deal of interesting writing about these themes since, so I’m glad I’m part of that conversation.
But many of us have been trying to make sense of Facebook and politics for awhile now, so I wanted to point towards this great collection from the Institute of Network Culture, Unlike Us (which you can download for free and which I have relied on a lot in my own thinking), and also to this essay that I wrote that has just come out, “Ceding the Activist Digital Documentary,” for another really useful anthology surrounding issues of activism and networked expression, New Documentary Ecologies, eds. Nash, Hight and Summerhayes (Palgrave MacMillan).
In that essay, I also theorize about coming and going, staying, representing and being silent in networked environments (of machines and humans), espeically in relation to activist possibilities for representational politics in a world dominated by Facebook and other corporate-owned, user-produced media. I conclude:
While it has never been clear how to judge the effectiveness of any documentary, let alone ‘activist’ documentaries, I am noting that my (our?) barometer has changed. As Jane Gaines work on more traditional documentary forms (1999, p. 88) cautions, it was never clear that activist documentaries catalyzed ‘activism’ as much as they modeled a ‘political mimesis’: a vision of what activism looks and feels like. By both seeding realist representations and then seceding from representation, by being silent online (and even elsewhere) while at the same time speaking with our bodies, we can make the Activist Digital Documentaries that we might most need now. And this, it turns out, is the special domain of activist art, and documentaries, within the digital—to ‘body back’ as Gaines puts it—to model in documentary a new way of being in the digital/real world (what Beth Coleman, 2012, calls ‘x-reality’) in a linked and larger project of communally produced, carefully theorized, artfully communicated world-changing:
This call for a shared right to silence is thus made because it is silence that is needed to enable human voices to be heard again … One example of this kind of engagement—and one that shows how silence may be suggestive and how it may operate to produce convivial relations—are the communication tactics of some within the Occupy movement. Particularly the gestural commentaries those listening provide in supplement—rather than interrupt—those speaking. (C. Bassett, in Unlike Us)
The art of activist digital documentaries will be in the staying and using and the leaving, through the voices we have wanted and gained, and then through shared silences where things are heard and felt and said without being recorded. (Ceding the Activist Digital Documentary)
As things stay quiet for now in the Middle East, I hope we can use this period for more reflection, and continued conversation, both on and off Facebook, of course.
February 1, 2013
This is a one-day participation event, bringing together teams of activists, artists and academics from Los Angeles and New York. The goal is to set a collective agenda for militant research practice in the year ahead.
Militant research is research carried out with social movements to think about social change. So it questions the nature, practice, formats and outcomes of research. We hope to merge ongoing and new projects into a collaborative, rolling project of mutual aid.
The global financial “crisis” is already five years old, perhaps permanent. In its name, all other issues must disappear. How can we visualize the crisis of the 99%, from personal debt to the climate, and recovery from disasters like Fukushima and Sandy? What still remains out of sight, whether concealed or overlooked?
Three workshops will set these questions into specific contexts. One will be co-ordinated by the group from Los Angeles and another by their counterparts in New York. The final session centers on organizing from the local to national and international levels.
The real agenda will be set by you. At this event we will all be there to learn from each other and to share ideas and insights. There is no “audience.”
9.30 AM Coffee
Militant Research: Los Angeles/Southern California
A workshop led by Natalie Bookchin, Jack Halberstam, Alex Juhasz, Kara Keeling and Lisa Parks
12.00-1.00 PM Lunch
Militant Research: New York
A workshop led by Amin Husain, Yates McKee, Andrew Ross, Joan Saab, and Marita Sturken
3.00-3.30 PM Break
National and International Networks:
Organizing and Research Workshop led by Nicholas Mirzoeff and Marina Sitrin
5.00 PM Reception
February 8, 2013, New York University
Hemerdinger Hall, Silver Center, 24 Waverly Place
9:30 am – 5:30 pm
October 12, 2011
Here are some links to radical media actions:
- feminist academic blogging: “The Three Things I Learned at the Purdue Conference for Pre-Tenure Women,” by Kate Clancy
- dispatches from Occupy Wall Street by the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest
- my sister, Antonia, interviewed by Real News TV Network on Afghanistan’s Energy Wars
- my own early-work on my new blog, FeministOnlineSpaces
- my graduate student, Timothy Mallone’s video coverage of Occupy LA
The second pod of my interview with Toby Miller for his CulturalStudies podcast was just cast. This one ended up being pretty personal: about my family of lefty intellectuals, like my sister, Antonia, who is in London with her new book, Black Tide, and several Gulf Coast residents, all attempting to attend and testify at the BP Annual Shareholder Meeting (last year, she and several others were arrested when they attempted to speak at the Chevron Annual Shareholder’s meeting).
April 5, 2011
About an hour into my course on Feminist Spaces Online a student informed us that an absent class member had just texted her suggesting that we should leave class and join her at the USC Walkout for a Safer Campus. This we did, and I couldn’t have scripted a better “teachable moment” for our class.
While we are certain that the distinction between online and offline experience is no longer useful to describe most of our lived experience of self or community, in our many conversations about place, activism, self-authoring and self-representation, I have always held the protest up as a sort of litmus test of embodiment. Given that the vast majority of my students had never been in (or witnessed) a protest, the sustaining gap between (my) lived, bodily experience and (their) experience via representation would then function in our classroom to authorize and alienate, albeit kindly. That is, until they voted to walk out.
The heat of the sun, the surge of eighty voices together, the stares of suspicious classmates and smiles of fellow protesters, the sense that we had transformed a normative space along feminist and anti-racist values, the understanding that many bodies are both more visible and also more safe than any one alone, the pride in taking action in the name of principle, and the weak and strong pull of the ever-present media in relation to these actions and experiences taught my students and I about feminist place and the Internet in a way that this blog (and my classroom teaching, and our books, and incessantly accessible protest videos) will not, can not, and need not.