Below please find my Resolution for the panel, “Ex-Post-Facto? The Anthropology of Media and Journalism in a Post-Truth Era,” to be presented in my absence at AAA on December 1, 2017. Sadly, I can’t attend because I’ll be participating in a Day With(out) Art event in New York City.

Given that scholars and makers of documentary, visual anthropology, journalism, and autobiography have been investigating the construction, forms and circulation of reality-based truth claims in their fields of practice since the invention of these disciplines.

Given that these forms vary across time, culture, media, convention, and discipline.

Given that teachers have attempted, for as long as such claims have been made, to educate about the traditions, forms, and conditions that produce, authorize, circulate, and challenge mediated truth claims because such a “media literacy” is closely connected to citizenship, power, and knowledge.

Given that the mobilization of powerful, loose, and adapting theories and practices of mediated truth claims, under the nomenclature “fake news,” took by surprise even the most committed practitioners, scholars and educators signaled above.

Given, as Naomi Schiller and Robert Samet suggest, that “the deconstruction of claims to absolute truth have us in a kind of bind, one that has become ever more dangerous. In the current climate, anthropological approaches to media as a social practice can bear uncomfortable, even uncanny, resemblance to critiques circulating within the ‘alt-right’ in the United States.”

Let it hereby be resolved that our previous practices of “digital media literacy,” while  useful and relevant for the previous epoch, are no longer equipped for our emergent reality.

Radical digital media literacy is required in a post-truth anti-Trump era.

Given that I was just one within a vast community of scholars, media makers, teachers, and students, over time and across disciplines, who drew “on anti-essentialist theories to show the relationship between power, knowledge, and the construction of truth,” particularly in my earlier work on the productive possibilities of fake documentaries (in the 1990s), and the insidious, definitive “increasingly unproductive” dangers of the destabilization of the fake/real binary as definitive of the forms and platforms of internet culture, most definitively of videos on YouTube (in the 2000s). When our current president and the broader culture became fixated on the problem of “fake news,” especially during the first 100 days of the new administration when this felt the most rabid and destabilizing, I felt compelled and qualified to act in this time of confusion, despair, and self-criticism.

I pledged: For 100 days, aligning and twinned with the new President’s opening timeline, to blog every day about fake news and is so doing produce an online primer of digital media literacy.

Given that my painful if productive effort of informed, desperate citizenship eventually took the form of a digital tower of 100 blog posts, #100hardtruths-#fakenews, each cell holding either my efforts or those of a great many others across a range of fields also contemporaneously attempting to understand, combat, respond to, analyze, and teach about the crisis of fake news as is was unfolding.

Juhasz image

Screen-grab of the final twenty #100hardtruths.

Given that this high and vast monolith itself holds an immensity of deep efforts, inter-disciplinary knowledge, diverse resources and thoughtful tools but that, in this form, these many useful things remain hard to navigate and needing of literacy efforts in their own right so as to make them the most useful for the many people interested in this crisis.

Let it hereby be resolved that I will transform my own preliminary efforts at “an online primer of digital media literacy” to become something even more useful, responsive, thoughtful and focused on educating about, and working against, the enduring and complex crisis at hand by experimenting (with others) with new formats and practices for radical digital media literacy.

Given, as Naomi and Robert suggest that “this presents new dilemmas both for our teaching and our research. What is to be done with our constructivist analyses of truth in a post-truth era? What would it mean to reclaim objectivity, validation, and truth?”

Let me suggest five alternatives toward a radical digital media literacy in our post-truth anti-Trump era:

  1. fake news r us: we are implicated by, produce, and circulate this crisis whenever we study, teach, or try to fix it.
  2. virality is virility: a potent mix of internet-fueled falsity, masculine grandiosity, and  resulting real-world bellicosity undergirds fake news and our efforts to understand it.
  3. art answers to fake questions: departures from evidence-based, indexically-linked practices into realms of truth-telling verifiable by different logics might get us out of the he-said/he-said rabbit-hole we currently find ourselves in.
  4. our internet truths trump media lies: we must name, share and honor our own lived experiences within social media as another form of honesty in desperate times. Let’s do this first offline, together where we live, work, struggle or learn.
  5. heed the poet’s call: poetry, a time-honored word-based form of truth-telling outside the logics of indexical mediation might be one well-honed literacy practice well-suited to this crisis.

Let it hereby be resolved that I will work with poets in their local communities to adapt, transform, extend, translate and all-in-all make more usable my original “online digital media primer.” That I will experiment with others in place-based, local, embodied poetry workshops that begin with the five alternatives above and my #100hardtruths-#fakenews primer as resources toward new forms of radical digital media literacy. That in so doing we will engage together in place-based, people-made, word-bound expressions of individual’s and community’s truths about social media, fake news, and post-truth outside of the indexical, evidentiary traditions that currently bind us and the technologies that are built upon, reinforce and monetize such expression.

I hope to conduct such workshops with Art and Public Policy MA students at NYU working with the artist, Pato Hebert; members of the literary journal club at La Guardia Community College in NYC working with the writer Lisa Cohen; at Occidental College and with the Get Lit Players in LA, at the University of Sussex, working with writing students under the tutelage of Samuel Soloman, and then elsewhere until 100 poems are written as new practices of and resources toward radical digital media literacy.

Please stay tuned.

“Poem (I lived in the first century of world wars),” Muriel Rukeyser

I lived in the first century of world wars.

Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.
I lived in the first century of these wars.
Muriel Rukeyser from The Speed of Darkness, 1968.
(gifted to the project by Barbara Browning)
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On May 17, 2017, I had the honor of engaging in conversation with the Haitian film director, Arnold Antonin, after the screening of his film Six Exceptional Haitian Women (6 Femmes d’exception). This screening was one in a series of evenings with the filmmaker as part of the first inaugural film screening series of Brooklyn College’s new CUNY Haitian Studies Institute under the directorship of Jean-Eddy Saint Paul.

Arnold Antonin

After the screening of this subtle and powerful film, I made a few statements about the film and then asked Antonin some questions about his filmmaking. A short précis of these remarks, as well as a brief description of the film follows.

As is expressed in its title, Six Exceptional Haitian Women presents day-in-the-life portraits of its well-regarded subjects, each a practicing artist, and we come to learn, a woman in her eighties or nineties.

Micheline Laudun Denis

It was my utter surprise at the characters’ ages that occasioned my first remarks. Without the accompanying subtitles explaining their ages the fact of their shared longevity would not be legible. In fact, when I saw the film the first time on the small screen of my computer, I did not notice these titles, thus I only realized the age of the subjects when I read the description of the film on Antonin’s website:

The youngest is 80. the least young is 105. They are Odette Roy Fombrun, Paulette Poujol Oriol, Emerante De Pradines, Micheline Laudun Denis, Vivianne Gauthier, Madeleine Desrosiers Tizo. They are active and creative women who have significantly contributed to the social and cultural life of their country. Each has the Elixir of Youth and reveals its secrets to us. They are all exceptional women

I had not clocked their actual ages for two important reasons that reveal a great deal about the film: 1) the women present themselves, and then are also presented by the filmmaker, as lively, engaged, active and bursting with life 2) the subject of their age takes second stage to the more central questions of the film: how to be an artist, how to live a good life, how to be a Haitian woman.

Odette Roy Fombrun

This gentle, hands-off approach is another noteworthy strength of Antonin’s filmmaking where his light hand allows the women’s strong presence, joie de vivre, and daily rhythms to dominate the framing and pacing of their presentation. While Antonin is not absent—we see him in some shots interacting with his subject and hear him at times—this is not his story, nor need it be given the combined power of voice, presence and artistry exhibited by his esteemed subjects. Instead, Antonin’s infrequent presence and interactions are discreet and friendly. There is an ease in these interactions, as well as the courage to take his time with them, that allow his subjects to comfortable, engaged, lively, and honest. Their conversations move with little self-consciousness from their artistic influences, youth and families, to their sex lives and current artistic projects. In conversation, Antonin explained that his subjects were all already well-known to him, either through their shared engagement within the lively artistic communities of Haiti or through his mother, another woman of their generation, and friend to several of them.

Paulette Poujol Oriol

The film’s subtle but pronounced feminism was also notable, another result of Antonin’s understated style. In his film, women are capable, powerful, successful, and resilient artists working within diverse traditions and genres—dance, music, performance, midwifery, writing. Some are currently married, others widowed, some never married. They have children and are childless. They seem to span several stations across a spectrum of education and class. What they all share, however, is a notable commitment to making significant spaces, across their long lives and currently, for their own art practice, health, and chosen ways of living. Perhaps given their age, or their comfort with Antonin, they each speak about this self-centering without hesitation or defensiveness. Rarely do we see women—in cinema or daily life—who exhibit this level of self-confidence. This is a noticeable and refreshing pleasure.

Vivianne Gauthier

So, instead of speaking about feminism overtly it is enacted in every frame of Six Exceptional Haitian Women. In our conversation about the film with a predominantly Haitian audience, spectators named the women’s effortless empowered self-inhabitation as particularly noteworthy given the predominance of a particular breed of Haitian machismo which would have formed and framed the lives of these women born in the early part of the previous century, and even today.

Emerante De Pradines

What we learn from Antonin’s powerful film, and its equally powerful subjects, is itself exceptional. By allowing us time to sit with, meet, and learn from these Haitian women, a summative lesson is expressed by the film, again without didacticism or heavy intervention: a long and good life is built upon passionate realized commitments to art, love, nation, and self.

 

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me: A Fake News Event” featuring Brooklyn College Professors MJ Robinson (Journalism), Katherine Fry (Television & Radio), and Beth Evans (Library) addressing the problems posed by fake news in current media. Part of We Stand Against Hate: a series of lectures, workshops, concerts, programs, and events that will elevate discourse around controversial political issues, and foster inclusiveness and peace at Brooklyn College.

Check out more We Stand Against Hate events:

In “Snap Makes a Bet on the Cultural Supremacy of the Camera,” Farhad Manjoo writes: “The growing importance of cameras — of images rather than just text — is altering much about culture. It’s transforming many people’s personal relationships. It’s changing the kind of art and entertainment we produce. You might even credit cameras — or blame them — for our more emotional, and less rational, politics.”

“Most-tweeted emojis from anti-Trump protests,” Hamdan Azhar, Prismoji

Manjoo continues: “Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist who is writing a book about how the internet is changing language, said Snapchat lenses and filters were a form of what linguists call ‘phatic communication,’ which is communication that is meant to ease social interactions instead of to convey information.”

In my own, early (2011) work about YouTube, I called YouTube videos (which now seem downright old-fashioned in their cheeky claims to duration: 2 minutes long!) slogans: “pithy, precise, rousing calls to action or consumption, or action as consumption; bite-sized, word-sized, postage-sized cinema; strong, intense, interchangeable, and forgettable films.”

At that time, I argued that the internet platforms that we were being given for free, while allowing for more access to communication, hid their real costs behind spurious claims of commitment to democratic self-expression. The actual price, of course, was the pillage of our words and images (all hail web 2.0!), the auctioning off of our very selves through the mining and selling of our consumption habits, and ultimately, the diminishment of the shape and vernacular of our communication.

“All this focus on fake Facebook news obscures a much bigger story about the way social media—the endless public opining and sharing of information—is reshaping politics. Even if you’ve never given much thought to its meaning, you’ve probably heard someone say ‘the medium is the message,’ the famous dictum of media theorist Marshall McLuhan.” (Donald Trump: The First President of Our Post-Literate Age, Joe Weisenthal)

See More:

Practicing strategic contemplation—what Rosylyn Rhee explains as having “to be comfortable being uncomfortable [because] so much of making documentary films is embracing the unknown”—is one of six “principles of feminist filmmaking” represented in Cámara Retórica: A Feminist Filmmaking Methodology for Rhetoric and Composition by Alexandra Hidalgo. The principles she elaborates point to one ethical media tradition that contemplates and thereby unmakes the frameworks that support fake news—truth/fiction, power and ownership within mediamaking and consumption—by engaging media logics outside of capital, including diversity, inter-dependence, mentorship, contemplation, and a primary commitment to social justice.

Contemplate Some More:

See More:

Today I begin my first class at CUNY, ITP Core 2: Interactive Technology and the University: Theory, Design, and Practice, co-taught with Luke Waltzer, Director, Teaching and Learning Center, CUNY GC. I’m thrilled!

Here’s a few bullet points that can serve as a brief and relevant introduction to my past and current interests related to this class and digital thinking, making and pedagogy:

  • My DH Story: An Invitation (May 27, 2015) is a post I wrote in a similar fashion, introducing myself to DH Summer Fellows of an Institute I ran at the Claremont Colleges for two summers. It spells out some of my thinking about DH—a sub-field of academic inquiry and practice that holds some of my work (and some of this class)—while providing a list of projects and links to most of the digital projects I have worked on over the past 10 or so years (when I moved pretty firmly from video to the internet): particularly Learning from YouTube, FemTechNet, Feminist Online Spaces, and Ev-ent-anglement.
  • Visual Research Methods 2014 (January 7, 2015) is a post I wrote to try to sum up my students’ work over six iterations of this course at the Claremont Graduate University from 2010-2015. In this methods class for graduate students in the Humanities, I supported students to think and make visually (and digitally) across five traditions: video essays, documentary, ethnographic film, academic blogging and digital storytelling. That blog post holds a lot of links if you are interested, but I’ve culled a few here, pretty randomly, to give a tiny sense of the kinds of work they made, and that I support: Facing Down the DST/DH Divide, A digital story about digital storytelling the classroom, Instagram as Digital Storytelling and Visual Culture Video Essays published in Audiovisual Thinking.
  • I am presenting this as a post on my blog as a self-referential nod to my always changing commitment(s) to writing and sharing academic work in this and other digital formats. See “Why Don’t I Blog: On Internet Cultural Production in 2016.”
  • Given the unfolding devastation of Trumpism, I will personally engage in more direct scholarly, digital activism and education in my work this spring, and with students in this class if they are so inclined. Here are four of my recent efforts in this direction: Visual Resistance, Watching/Making Race, BC Against Trump, and Four Hard Truths about Fake News.
  • I will also be engaging this spring in an inter-CUNY research project, Feminist Archive/Small Archive/Media Archive, whereby I use my own 300-strong collection of feminist, queer, anti-racist, experimental, AIDS VHS video tapes as a test case to work through best practices for storing, sharing, and teaching with similar personal/professional materially formatted archives. See this recent essay that begins to make use of this archive: Stacked on Her Office Shelves: Stewardship and AIDS Archives.

I look forward to meeting you all today, and to learning about some of your digital research interests, practices and commitments. Below, please find a video I recently made with Jean Carlomusto and Hugh Ryan for International AIDS Day With (out) Art 2016. It also thinks about video archives and represents my ongoing commitments to videomaking as another form of digital pedagogy and activism.