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.”

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 “Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me” (2013), a poster designed for posterVIRUS by Vincent Chevalier and Ian Bradley-Perrin

Enjoying a much-deserved drink with highly-Twitterate Jesse Daniels after a few days of talk, workshops, and video dialogues in Ann Arbor about Feminist Digital Pedagogy, we were discussing the changing culture of blogging, and other social media forms in relation to our own ever-changing digital metronomes. Which is a fancy way to say here what I said there: “I always used to blog about conferences, but now it feels like it takes T.o..o….l…o…n….g…t..o..b..l..o..g..; the work is t…o…o…h…a…r..d. What’s the deal with this quickening?”

Digital_ScreenNow, I won’t go into the long and short of that conversation held with several other bigwigs of the digerati—Andre Brock, Carrie Rentschler, Laura Wexler—but only begin there (and not at the panel) for two reasons (which were, in fact, big ideas covered at the panel):

  • work in critical, feminist digital studies is about theorizing and practicing our own experience in real time with others (this was one of Rentschler’s points at the Michigan workshop: our feminist digital pedagogy is occurring wherever we meet, online and off, and not just, or perhaps hardly ever, in the classroom) so as to be activist and present and critical together (she mentioned discussion and actions about “Rape Culture” online, and nowhere near “academic feminism,” as one kind of place for professors to look; meanwhile, Laura Wexler reminded us that much of what we need to know, we’ve already done, which is to say the process is also archival and cyclical; see Maria Cotera’s amazing DH project, “Chicana Por Mi Raza: Uncovering the Hidden History of Chicana Feminism (1965-1985), also discussed at the workshop)
  • because, of course, we have long known we had to perform our feminist praxis in sites in and out of the academy, in multiple formats and to different audiences. And now we might all agree that a new part of our feminist digital pedagogy is also to divvy up the temporal spectrum, and each take some responsibility to hold down the short or medium and even, yes, long form, making sure we are present in the immediate, gratifying flows of Twitter as well as guaranteeing that we are lying safe for the long run on paper in a library.

Crank (or should I say crunk) it back a day, and move the (my) body to Rutgers, and similar conversations were happening, under the same title, only in a different room, and to a similar but unique crowd (online and off: see Adeline Koh’s Storify version).

Feminist Digital PedagogiesNow, you might ask, why two conferences, two cities, three days? What is this telling us about this metronome and its unique piano-home? A conference, as you all know, is a kind of medium speed but fully-placed venture: long talks, all day in one room, some need for a coffee and pee break, but the sustaining, necessary gratification of f2f: we must be present to each other … sometimes.

As was true just a year or two ago, when the fembot collective and the femtechnet one found ourselves forming in distinct places, for varied (feminist, digital) ends, but at the same time, and then worked together to divvy up some of that HUGE map-of-affective-labor, this current synchronicity marks a pulse we can all be nourished and energized by across our differences. Rutgers and Michigan held these sister conferences because they want to up their digital games. That’s because over just the past few years a large enough number of us have organized in a lot of places, temporalities, and forms, so as to create visibility, community, and output, so as to make it crystal clear what was always true: that there’s a new and old game in many time-frames and in a world of places; miss it to your own loss.

My Visual Research Methods course has ended, and as ever, my grad students in a range of programs at CGU have done inspiring and inventive work to wrap up this class which pushes traditional Humanities grad students to roll up their sleeves, work with their hands, imagine new audiences and formats, and think about academic labor and standards using new rubrics.

This year, our assigned readings—in Nick Mirzoeff’s Visual Culture Reader, the Debates in the Digital Humanities Reader, and two books about the ongoing and ever-widening Center for Digital Storytelling’s project—linked as they were to an ever more frightening and quickly shifting job market for graduate students, seemed to have helped push this batch of students to do some remarkably innovative digital scholarship, for their final work, thinking about the role of digital storytelling as both a subject and method for scholarly output.

I hope you’ll take a peek at these compelling projects:

  • A “nod to Lambert, but in a very deliberate style that was anti-Lambert (no voice-over, no clean or clearly announced thesis) … also an attempt to have this video be a moment of reflection, a meditation of sorts on friendship,” AIDS, place, and memory (from a PhD student in religion)
  • a digital story, made collaboratively with the maker’s high school students to create an “affective space” much like that previously “carved out through the epistle allowing women, a group previously written out of agency to write/right wrongs through new narratives in much the same way that digital storytelling empowers its creator. Telling my story, working delicately against and with the grain of rhetorical confines and the explosively complex element of my students’ personhoods demanded the kind of suturing of disparate intentions so pleasurable to read in the 18thC epistolary novels” (from a PhD student in English, also a High School English teacher)
  • A video focused upon building “community  around and for people dealing with mental illness, who are working to cope with their symptoms in the midst of the exceptional stress of grad school life. My hope is to create a digital story telling circle that will do just that.” (from a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • An argument for the storytelling power of Instagram (so against the Lambert idea that the Internet produces fragments) (from a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • A consideration of #ANA on YouTube and Instragram as digital stories (by a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • A consideration of #Carol Corps in light of Digital Storytelling (by a Master’s Student in Cultural Studies)
  • A consideration of social media and digital storytelling through three voices of a vegan and animal lover (by a Masters student in Cultural Studies)
  • A work on and as digital storytelling about an artist and a friendship (by a PhD student in English)
  • A digital story that draws the story of YouTube drawing stories (by a PhD student in History)
  • An analysis of how the academy is embracing digital storytelling as research method (by a Master’s student in Cultural Studies)
  • A digital story using “a personal narrative of my memories of my aunt’s illness and how I experienced the confusion of coming to terms with her diagnosis as HIV positive. I believe personal narratives such as this are missing from outreach efforts that have aimed to target the Black community in order to bring awareness of the high rates within the community.” (by a Master’s student in Applied Women’s Studies)

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.”

“Everything is Coming up Undetectable” by the Visual AIDS Staff for “Undetectable,” the Visual AIDS Summer 2012 Show.

“Everything is Coming up Undetectable” by the Visual AIDS Staff for “Undetectable,” the Visual AIDS Summer 2012 Show.

 

I am honored to have taken on the leadership of Pitzer College’s Munroe Center for Social Inquiry for the next four years. Each year, I choose a theme, and then get to engage in public programming, as well as a related advanced seminar each Spring (led by distinguished guests). This year, the theme is Technology, and there is an amazing slate of speakers for 2014.

For the Fall, I planned two events. One will occur in November, more on that later, but the first, and my inaugural event was a visit and lecture by Lisa Nakamura, professor in the departments of American Cultures and Screen Arts and Cultures at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

My friend, and fellow FemTechNetter, gave a provocative set of addresses at the college where she performed media archeologies on both ubiquitous and extraordinary sites of the everyday or “normal racism” that has been “written into the Internet.” She argues that this racism is not exceptional but rather is structural, inevitable, and environmental showing us the constant if varied places online where “socio-technical racism” (and sexism and homophobia) are written into the norms, architecture, and ethics of the Internet: its shameful “racist technicity.” She argues that all that we shutter off as “noise” when we search for information, or add our comments to important conversations, or try to play games is itself the signal of the Internet. In her Atherton Lecture, recorded below, she looks to long and repeating histories of racist iconography—rooted in excess, confusion, arousal, fear, and control—to think about how “the culture of racism is itself memetic.” I hope you’ll take a long look.

No way out, I’m afraid. Blog my thoughts about, Room 237, the obsessive, fun, cringe-inducing (at least for cineastes like me), self-reflexive film about films and their critics (fans? bloggers?) and thereby I’m caught in the very same maze too (and caught there with you, dear reader, writer, blogger, critic, professor?)

So much synchronicity you might say (as would all of the intrepid interviewees in Room 237) given that I was just this very morning talking to my daughter (while I was streaming the film … hmmm), who’s so fired up by her High School English class and English teacher. Although they’re stuck on sonnets, it’s no matter the form, she explains, if your teacher opens you up to formalism. “Did you learn that in college, too, Mommy?” Learn it in college! I teach it to this day: that the formal choices and structures of the artist are there to be read, and interpreted, and thought about and discussed, and even written about by an artist’s devoted, lively readers! “Sure it’s fun to read for plot,” I said to her, “but when your thought processes also get to work through, chew on, revel in the clever devices and lush symbols that hold that story itself, the pleasures multiply.” She agreed. What’s cool about my job, I then explained, is that I get paid to do that: read myself, live myself, be myself, in relation to great works by amazing artists that speak to me (that I speak to). Then I read what others say about that great artist. And even better yet, “I go to a classroom and speak about all this with smart kids, just a little older than you.” (You are getting the symbolism? mother/daughter … almost like twins, or palimsests … like in The Shining, or Room 237 where we actually get to watch what happens when you layer The Shining forward and backward upon itself as a visual reckoning of its conjectured formal mirrorings, repeatings, forward-and-backwarding motifs).

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My dear friends,  P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes are Executive Producers of Room 237 (Rodney Ascher), and also play their own twinned parts in this tight, intense project that opens creepy, wonderful doors that should allow not just for ruminations on Kubrick—his intentions, his genius, his symbols—but for all of us (writing about movies on the Internet) to reflect upon our own creepy, wonderful critical projects about others’ art, thereby begging the same scary kinds of mirroring questions grappled with in and through Room 237, questions about when something good becomes its evil reverse: artist/critic, fan/art work, mother/house, obsessive-compulsive/close-reader, father/horror, conspiracy theorist/professor, lover/killer. 237‘s team, who themselves lovingly find and know every film reference (and more!) to perfectly illustrate their obsessed subjects’ visions of Kubrick are only different, I suppose, because, well, they made their own successful movie about and from it.

At the DML Open Learning Conference yesterday (synchronicity? conspiracy? fun-house mirror? you tell me!), I was talking with a gaggle of Internet scholars about how to transform the seas of fan culture online (be it remixing, shipping, fanfic) into that very same doorway—the gateway drug to blogging, art-making, criticism, professordum, and yes, sometimes redrum. Is there a difference in kind between my musings about a film or filmmaker (here, or in a book, or a classroom) and that of my daughter and her friends about Homestuck or Supernatural? Or is this only marked by degrees, pedigree, audience, form, format or training? And what are the conditions that reign some of us back: keeping us from devolving into conspiracy theorists or stalkers, our obsession producing an inward maze where at the end all we see are our own creepy visions?

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One of the film’s interviewees marks how Kubrick always gives some of his characters the skills to backtrack out of the ever-tightening loop; how he marks special doors that allow for escape out of his tightly-made forms (and the very “formalism” that draws us all into that shared reader/writer, child/maze project that is so deeply compelling). I, too, think that ultimately our forms (that we look at or speak through) are of less importance than are these exits (and to theorize, make, and practice exiting is perhaps even harder than to write the paths deep into the maze). The exit project maps the ways out to spaces for community, builds pathways to conversation and growing understanding, and takes time for these interactions (in class, online, via art) leading to the making of new forms of creativity that allow for other steps forward (while always looking back, to history, to art work, to each other), so as to together understand that the original form must be linked to and left by ourselves as sametime critics and producers of a culture that can sustain us.

#tooFEW

March 15, 2013

There’s the good news, the bad news, and the good news again:

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Join us!