December 5, 2016
This is how I begin the longer piece on Jstor Daily: Let me begin with four fake truths that I hold to be self-evident. What follows is their brief elaboration and my suggestion for a shared effort to produce an informed, digitally literate citizenry.
- Today’s internet is built on, with, and through an unruly sea of lies, deceptions, and distortions, as well as a few certainties, cables, and algorithms.
- This week’s viral-wonder—the crisis of “fake news” in the wake of the 2016 presidential election—is a logical and necessary outgrowth of the web’s sordid infrastructure, prurient daily pleasures, and neoliberal political economy.
- Today’s saccharine hand-wringing and the too-late fixes erupting from the mouthpieces for the corporate, media, and political interests responsible for this mess are as bogus as Lonelygirl15.
- Today’s media consumer cannot trust the internet, its news, or networks—fake or otherwise. Given the wretched state of today’s internet, skeptical, self-aware interaction with digital data is the critical foundation upon which democracy may be maintained.
Yes the real internet is a fake, the fake news is very real, and thus Trump is indeed our rightful internet president. (see more at Jstor Daily)
May 21, 2015
I taught Learning from YouTube (LFYT) for the fifth time this year. The first iteration was in 2007, fresh into the early years of the still short life of YouTube and social media more generally. I taught the course again this semester, after a several year hiatus, because I was interested in two things: accounting for what has changed in these 8 years as well as for the confounding relations between social (in)justice and social media (which I have reflected upon twice at Lady Justice a part of New Criticals committed to “reconsidering gender and technology in the age of the distributed network”).
While the most obvious changes on YouTube are 1) its unimaginable and consistently escalating scale (seemingly as large as the world, or at least the world of media, more on this later), which itself is connected to the ever shortening time-scale of memes (see video above by LFYT student, Samantha Abernathey, one of several videos made for 2015’s Meme Project) and 2) the marked consolidations of its professional and financial infrastructures and outputs (allowing for new modes of mediamaking and their monetization that sit precociously between amateur and expert media and which actually do make people/corporations/YouTube/Google money). What I will focus on here is another glaring, although perhaps more variegated change, 3) the nature of feminism on YouTube as a way to think about the massive cultural, political, and personal shifts associated with the rapid maturation of social media. In the brief observations that follow, I will press my course (which, surprisingly [definitively?] was taken by 14 women, “feminists” all, and 2 men, probably “feminists” too; whereas in its past iterations it had been dominated by male students, often [definitively?] basketball players, probably not “feminists”) into conversation with another example of feminist media pedagogy, a memorable symposium I just attended at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan: Feminist Video Documentary Strategies in Social Dissent and Change (organized by Michigan art professor, Carol Jacobsen with Vicki Patraka and Joanne Leonard). There, in Ann Arbor, in conversation for three intense and fully-scheduled days with eleven hand-picked feminist scholars, artists, and activists, ranging from their mid-forties to mid-seventies, fully-formed, carefully-schooled, and highly– and deservedly-vetted for their diverse and stunning bodies of activist feminist documentary work, built in some cases beginning in the 1970s, and occurring all over the world and in regards to feminist issues as diverse as prison reform, domestic abuse, racism, homophobia and Chevron, and the dreams of female Indonesian domestic workers in training—an anti-YouTube if ever there was one—I encountered a feminist media space that itself put the changes at YouTube into another form of stark release.
In 2010, thinking about my teaching and writing about YouTube within my video-book about this, I suggested that my feminism, and feminism more broadly on YouTube, was closeted. With a tip of the hat to both film scholar and critic, B. Ruby Rich and feminist poet and theorist, Adrienne Rich, I attempted to create sign-posts to better mark and see the “nowheres and everywheres” of this new closet, one which I named as holding many hidden-away in plain sites for feminisms:
- ARCHITECTURAL or ARCHAIC feminism occurs at a deep and structural level
- UN-NAMED feminism that in so doing sees itself newly
- MORPHING feminism transforms to encapsulate other beliefs in feminism’s name
- FRAMING feminism that umbrellas the social justice work of trans, anti-war, anti-racism and other activisms
- ASSERTIVE or INSERTIVE feminism that names its relevance in places where it wasn’t deemed important
- COMMON-CULTURAL feminism that assumes feminism is the shared space of production
- ACCESS feminism that doesn’t only speak to feminists and also speaks to feminists by opening access to unusual places
- TECHNO feminism that engages in collaborative, goal-oriented, placed, critical self-expression online
- ASSUMPTIONAL or PRESUMPTIVE feminism that always assumes that feminism counts and that feminists speak
- OVERT feminism that names itself proudly and often attached to equally proud descriptors (i.e. Black, trans, queer)
- TRENDY feminism that attaches to memes, celebrities, and products
- WARRING feminism that pits feminists against each other
- TWITTER and TUMBLER and INSTAGRAM and PINTERST feminisms that spread, link and grow transmedially
- TROLLING (against) feminism that harasses, stalks, demeans, threatens, bullies and endangers
YouTube is truly a (corporate) space where everything and everybody is (with notable blind spots both self-chosen and socially deployed). As proved true for the feminist demographic and associated conversations within my 2015 class, YouTube has become a place of, for and by feminists and this overt engagement has brought clarity and confusion. My students, like all of us who are engaged with social media, name an anxiety, cynicism, and consumerism that is core to their new media experience even when they are being “political” (in the production, or more definitively consumption of overtly “feminist” media) but especially when they are not, when they are taking a much-deserved break from the onslaught of “feminism” that now greets them there and so are watching the innocent, fun, funny, trivial (corporate) content that surrounds the feminist media also readily-available.
Meanwhile, the Michigan feminists also attested to a level of fatigue, anxiety, and hard-to-manage overwhelmedness brought on by new and social media consumption practices. I suggested that media production and its feeding feminist process, now radically accessible to so many, is a final feminist frontier in that it can maintain attention, ethical conditions, non-corporate environments, and clearer boundaries of commitment that now seem nearly impossible in the space of new media reception given the noise, hyper-visibility, and corporate domination of this space. As you see, these conversations circled around architectural metaphors and material considerations attempting to describe possible feminist media spaces, norms, and histories that might be defined by counter-, concordant-, and/or immersive YouTube practices (a project I have being pursuing in my Feminist Online Spaces work).
The twenty-five year plus bodies of work shared by many of our group who have devoted their careers to ongoing, careful, connected, personal and political media projects help refine vocabularies for feminist media practices that can and do share the broader media ecology with YouTube and social media. For instance, our host, Carol Jacobsen, has been making photo and video for over twenty-five years as part of her work as the Coordinator of the Michigan Women’s Clemency Project, advocating for the human rights of women prisoners and seeking freedom for women wrongly incarcerated. Her feminist media work has been shown in galleries, used by activists, lawyers and policy people, and contributed to the release of nine wrongfully-incarcerated women. Some of it is on Vimeo while also sitting elsewhere across the Internet.
I would like to conclude by thinking through the experiences in Michigan (where we sat for two-plus days in an isolated, quiet, and window-less conference room while each participant took an hour or more to present her work, and we listened and responded with heightened focus) as a way to also see some of the notable dark spots that are by definition lost to the eye within our (new) place of feminist hyper and over-visibility. Critically, these eleven women were significantly older than your typical “YouTube feminist.” Each had an institutional home that she may have fought to achieve over most of her career, that she had made herself by creating this counter-institution on her own or with others, or that she was precariously connected to or even retiring from. But notably, the diverse feminist media activism of this group shares certain core values, practices, and infrastructures quite different from the ones I have mapped through YouTube thus far, ones which signal time, space, connection and attention as core:
- SEQUESTERED feminism where the environment to share the work is small, closed, respectful, and supportive.
- SLOW feminism during which we took time, were not rushed, and no one multitasked; we listened, watched and were focused (thanks to Meena Nanji for this term and the previous one).
- RESEARCH feminism where work is anchored in (often) funded and mostly multi-year engagements
- AESTHETIC feminism where the refinement of a personal practice takes place in conversation with other artists and traditions
- HISTORIC feminism that knows and marks where it comes from
- PLACED feminism grounded in and connected to a lived or political community
- VERSIONED feminism occurring over time and in conversation with other work, changing audiences, and history
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve already suggested that everything and everybody is on YouTube, which by definition puts all of these women, their methods, and projects there, too (or not if they inhabit the dark space by choice or exclusion).
Furthermore, a significant subset of “Hashtag” or “Twitter” feminism functions quite similarly to what I have named above. Lisa Nakamura’s recent work on This Bridge Called my Back on Tumblr being only one of innumerable examples of such practices. I am not suggesting that social media can’t or doesn’t attend to architectural, historic, or sustaining feminisms. Rather, I am curious about how these many feminist modalities map onto or next to each other, how they feed or frustrate us, how we can build experiences and media for feminisms with intentionality and purpose given the conflicting norms of the many media spaces that are now available to us. Thus, the current state of YouTube feminism is not a matter of medium (or age or even institution) and entirely one of métier: taking the time, making the space, producing the architecture, community, and history from which to make, receive, and relish our very best work.
September 12, 2014
Granted, it took me awhile to watch Frederick Wiseman‘s 2013 At Berkeley, but @4hrs I’m sure you’ll understand the special nature of this commitment. While I love early Wiseman (Titticut Follies, High School), I had come to grow a bit weary of his feint of detachment barely disguising a sometimes snickering, often disdainful, if always ideologically-correct view of contemporary institutions. His website explains: “The institutions that Wiseman examined early in his career – a hospital, a high school, army basic training, a welfare center, a police precinct – have ‘problems’ that the filmmaker uncovers.” Furthermore, given that 90 minute features now feel awfully long (I’ll be blogging on this soon), to ask of us 2.5 times this much feels like we better get a great revelation or two …
And I did. The first is about duration (something I find I blog about quite a bit when I search the term) so not a revelation so much as a much appreciated reminder of all we miss in the escalation of the short form: hearing people speak in the often meandering yet ordinary and original ways that they do (i.e. not in sound bites), letting meaning of a place (and film) accrue through events that are not causally linked in a mad compressed dynamic of fulfillment, being with yourself and a film quietly as if a form of meditation or surrender so that new possibilities of attention open as other forms of stimulation close down.
Over At Berkeley‘s 4 hours, we see magnificently articulate, dedicated, ambitious and humble, diverse people (faculty, staff and students) both embodying in their intelligence, devotion, and talent and sometimes, in the face of devastating funding cuts and linked corporatization of the University, overtly testifying for institutional ideals that no one (even Wiseman) could see as “a problem”: public education at the highest level, the public good, publicly “owned” research, the production of original ideas and art, open access to higher education with a commitment to diversity, academic freedom. The film was a feel-good expose of my daily life in higher education (I, too, see scores of people at work who legitimately, authentically, and daily do things in the name of knowledge, diversity, access, freedom of expression, and community).
It turns out that Wiseman pulls a surprising twist on his sometimes snarky project of “revealing the problems of institutions” by instead slowly celebrating the beauty of this institution (its grounds, buildings, theater performances, athletes, impassioned protesters, devoted staff and even administrators, and impressively articulate professors and students) thereby revealing the “problem” perhaps of not one institution but what Nick Mirzoeff calls, instead, “the complex of visuality,” by which he means the array of power held by corporations, nations, individuals and the technologies they deploy “that seek to naturalize and aestheticize its perspective in the classification and organization of the social order,” according to Sara Blaylock in the online journal Invisible Culture. This complex is often hard to see as it overtly guts the good in the name of profit, so Wiseman shows us, instead, all that it wishes to destroy.
But in the process, other realities @Academia 2014 go missing. We see no bored students, or incompetent professors or neo-liberal administrators. We see no grandstanding or endless and pompous faculty meetings. We do not see binge drinking, date rape, or micro aggressions. We do not listen in on the most-qualified graduate students in the world who probably aren’t getting jobs after their amazing training @Berkeley, nor the experiences of eminently qualified faculty who may not be getting tenure as the administration amps its standards @Academia that is more competitive then it has ever been. These institutional “problems” are left on the cutting room floor in service of a different argument, one I have no complaints that Wiseman has made in his celebration of the goodness of public education, academic freedom, and freedom of speech.
And yet, we need to look no further than @University of Illinois, another great American public institution of higher education, to see how vigilant we must be to make seen the many facets of “the complex of visuality” as it currently operates in American higher education. In the case of Dr. Steven Salaita, who demands reinstatement at the University of Illinois after his on-Twitter visibility led to his abrupt termination-before-the-fact, wealthy Zionists and other funders, the Board of Trustees, and the administration morph into a powerful counter-institution in their own right undoing in quick measure the kinds of goodness that Wiseman has allowed us to in daily practices of American institutions of public higher education.
We can only see the complex of visuality that defines @Academia 2014 by adding our representations to Wiseman’s serene and celebrity statement. Let’s begin here:
“Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of UC Berkeley, on Friday, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, which he says “made the right to free expression of ideas a signature issue for our campus.”
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!)
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.”