We Walked Out

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.


Ka-Kinda Busy

May 25, 2010

Hello, hello baby. I’m kinda busy right now and don’t have the mental or maybe psychic energy to draw all the links between pop music, homo-erotic war-play, ritual violence, empire building, pleasure, and media history.

But maybe it’s all become too self evident, or the Lady Professors have said it all.

I recently watched Brothers (in a theater) and Taking Chance (at home). They tell opposing tales about Americans’ relationships to our troops—disavowal and send ’em to the dustbin versus hero-worshipping, god-fearing sentimentalism—but they frame depictions of the Iraq War through a shared (and safe) jingoistic, family-values, misogynistic vision of America that ameliorates whatever criticism they may (or may not) be making about our illicit war.

This seems to be the tack of most of the contemporary narrative films about Iraq. While the anti-war movement (or what remains of it) has embraced the position of “supporting our troops,” as any decent, moral human being would do, this can easily slide into supporting our military, our war, and its overt agenda of corporate invasion and empire, or at minimum celebrating the beauty of macho shock and awe. I fear that this slippery slope defines most of what we’ve seen.

I was truly baffled by Taking Chance, which re-imagines American as a fantastical place where people actually care about the war in Iraq, think deeply about the lives that are being lost, and will slow down their busy lives (to convoy remains for five hours through winding mountain highways, for instance)  to honor the sacrifice of our troops. This tear-jerker belies the much sadder reality where most Americans have forgotten the war exists.

Meaning(less) Locker

July 9, 2009

I really liked Hurt Locker. Which is interesting, given my strong anti-war inclinations and its profoundly open-ended stance on this, our war in Iraq. The film plays this war as it is—an emotional roller coaster of fear and boredom, action and waiting—and its political meanings are left to the eye of the beholder. If you hate this war, its daily work-flow of carnage reminds you why. I assume if you love it, the same is true.

Which is quite similar to an anecdote I inevitably tell my college students about the work of Frederick Wiseman. After he finishes a verite illustration of any particular institution (a high school, a bomb silo), I have been told that the people he films will say, “yes, this is what the place is like,” while the institution’s critics will celebrate the scathing expose writ into ever scene. As I’ve been writing a lot lately, (images of ) reality are meaningless; sense gets inserted through mise-en-scene or a viewer’s own desire. Now, of course, Hurt Locker is not a documentary. These are not images of reality, although of course IEDs, and the men who diffuse and are killed by them are all too real. But Kathryn Bigelow empties story, emotion and drama from the scene (making it more like what we understand as the feel of direct cinema), leaving only a series of macho adreline rushes in their place. A bomb ticks. Men try to diffuse it. Innocent/guilty residents may be killed. And again. Where a melodrama places music, Bigelow plays anticipation. The nonsense of war and its related but arbitrary life and death stakes are all that is left.

On Iran Vέritέ

June 24, 2009

I’m a fan of Digital Poetics. I support his (and many bloggers) committed support and relay of people-made videos coming from Iran in the face of heightening censorship and oppression.

However, I caution on his page:

“When we speak about verite images through the history (and theories) of moving images we must also remember that cinema verite and direct cinema have been challenged in relation to truth claims. As you say, this is ‘in no way intended to diminish the terrible human destruction they document,’ but to remind us to remember that these are always constructed representations of reality.”

My friend Pato and I spent the afternoon discussing what other connected forms of communication, context, analysis and image-making need to accompany verite images if we hope to use these new media with the fullest force of their emotive, indexical, and critical power.


June 19, 2009

I just saw this 2005 film thanks to Netflix. I had recently read the book thanks to my friend Sarah.

It’s hard for me to think about the work outside my own history and family. My father is a Hungarian Holocaust survivor. The language speaks to me in the rich sounds of my childhood. Budapest registers on the edges of places that matter to me. The meaning of my Jewishness is as unclear to me as it is to the boy in the film (and the boy who was my father) who is nearly killed for it. But, I tend not to get particularly personal here (oddly, I think, as so much of my scholarly and video work is autobiographical). I’d rather talk about the film (and book) in relation to interests I’ve continued here, about cinematic representations of trauma, revolt and analysis.

What I loved about the book is sentimentally undone in the film. Namely, the book drains the Holocaust narrative of drama, well really melodrama, and retells it as a matter of time and sense-making. Getting through time, making sense of the meaninglessness of illogical violence and suffering. The film script, also written by Imre Kertész, maintains the affectlessness of the willing witness to madness, and Lajos Koltai’s pacing, and images, let things play out where nothing but time (and violence and suffering) seems to matter. It is the Ennio Morricone score that undoes this emptiness, working its melodramatic strains against the flat surfaces of image and language. I think about how documentary can show the fact of things without necessarily attempting to infuse meaningless reality with sentiment, and feel that, again, in this way, fiction film has much to learn from records of the real.


April 23, 2009

Thanks to Chuck at the Chutry Experiment for alerting me to the fact that the docs on snagfilms are now, magically, on YouTube. You see, beyond the many feature docs that this now makes available, as well as the many other feature films and TV shows delivered via other corporate deals bent on maybe, finally, monetizing the site, this also means that my very own SCALE is on YouTube.

My reaction is ambivalent. Lots more people might view my anti-war documentary; all these people will see it in a context that is not ideal for activism, analysis, or community. Chances are they’ll watch a minute or two, and click elsewhere. However, its 60 minutes (as is true for all features) is crafted to grow and change and build, so the first few minutes relay little of what it becomes and less of what I hope to say.

When I make YouTube videos, I speak in a messy fast vernacular suited and situated for this medium. My “professional” work, is long form, produced collaboratively with a crew (cameraman, editor, producer) and is made to be screened with the lights down in a room of others driven to be there, talk after, and perhaps even do something against the war later.

These distinctions have become at once more relevant and irrelevant. As all media becomes available all the time, the careful conditions of shared activist viewing become increasingly absent and therefore more valuable and necessary. As the differences between amateur/professional and alternative/mainstream wane, our needs for “pure” acts outside of capitalism escalate. As corporations take on a larger role in alternative distribution, artists beware. When I tried to make the feature version of my documentary SCALE the main video selection on my SCALE YouTube page, I got this banner from YouTube: “We are unable to show you the original featured video for this channel due to age or location restrictions.” Snag’s corporate umbrella got my long doc onto YouTube (thanks!) but controls its terms (there’s also ads embedded!).