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)

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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.

firefoxscreensnapz004#100hardtruths-#fakenews, See More:

#100hardtruths-#fakenews

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.

I will be a guest speaker at Tara McPherson’s USC graduate course, Activism in the Digital Age, today at 11. I had organized a loose conversation/presentation for the class visit about my previous work on/in this subject (see below), but have instead decided to use my time with students engaged in thinking about activism, to do something about and in this space given what you see below. I will work with these young scholars, as collaborators, on a digital intervention to the video below (and other related fake news). Considering the status of our work, as scholars, as activism, will be part of our effort.

(NOTE TO READERS: I have not yet watched this, didn’t have the stomach for it, but doing it together, soon, with the students is one right way to engage, I’m sure of it, as deeply dismayed as I am to put this on my blog)

Given our current media/political moment, I felt compelled to contribute my (sorry) academic knowledge of fake media (and YouTube) to the larger viral conversation about Fake News and Social Media. So, two days ago when the story of fake news went really large, I pitched an op ed on Fake News to JStor Daily where I have written once before on images of viral black death. Considering whether such writing, and digital information sharing, is itself a form of  activism has itself been part of my own scholarly project (although not my fake one), one that I had planned to share today.

Instead, I’m going to model something else: that the doing of thinking and sharing knowledge, in community, in collaboration, in the academy (and then out, on the internet) is an empowering and necessary act in times of moral, intellectual, political confusion and uncertainty. That doing this FAST is part of the dubious internet, digital logic that produces fake news, and other unseemly things in the process. However, writing an opinion piece, while living one’s own life and maintaining its many commitments, becomes actually possible and hopefully enjoyable and certainly more powerful when shared with others (I also suggest that the slow work about this, an entire semester for instance, or a scholarly essay or even monograph, will be more necessary than ever in these horrid times).

Thus, today I will ask the students to do something together with me: to help me build a kick-ass reading list for the JStor article, itself a form of the digital literacy pedagogy within and beyond academia (and on the internet) that is the article’s very proposition for academic response (if not activism). Part of JStor daily’s commitment to literacy is that the reading lists it provides as part of its content are available to all readers, purposefully breaking its own paywall in the process.

At any later date, I invite the USC students (and others so inclined) to peruse what would have been my presentation on my earlier work on/as activism in the digital age, including:

  • my writing about leaving the Internet as activism and engaging on the streets
  • or in the prison
  • or in building context for digital media in rooms that can better hold it
  • or through my collaborative work inside and critical of the internet (and YouTube), instead together making the the digital feminist teaching, spaces, and community we want and deserve

 

 

img_2411-2I’ll begin with a shout-out, a dream-out—not a review but a reverie—of Taylor Mac’s “A Twenty-Four Hour History of Popular Music,” an unforgettable opus, atheistic tent revival, and hootenanny that I was privileged enough to attend, for 24 hours, last weekend. So powerful: I dreamed about it again last night (nights later). I could try to give words to the trippy commitment of staying awake together with a room of 650 strangers as jaw-dropping costumes changed in front of us (by the hands of their designer Machine Dazzle, himself always in yet another exuberant, preposterous, marvelous outfit) …

img_2370-3… onto the beautiful almost-naked masculine-feminine body of Taylor Mac who all the while espoused radical analyses of American culture, personal theories of performance, and raunchy and proud depictions of his own political and sexual predelictions and sang so beautifully while his wonderously weird brigade of dandy minions danced among and for us, leading us here and there like hooligan pied-pipers, and the band played, and we were asked to engage together in ever more weird ways and I kept moving, from chair to floor, from snack to sleeping bag. Sometimes I’d talk with people nearby, other times dance or take a little shut-eye.

img_2389I’ll dream of it because that seems the best way to process an over-full body and mind experience—much better than writing. Dream of the experience, yes, and in that form try to encapsulate it and own it for myself as my mind turns off. But also there re-engage bodily in how art really can make action, and community, and ideas, and love for a day and even perhaps after, in all that lingers; and how these experiences, coming in the form of a “radical faerie realness ritual,” manifest the best of what this country, and its art and artists, can be.

img_2401Instead, I’ll use this place, my blog, one of mostly rational words, to name and ponder one of Mac’s big stated concerns of the night, and how it presses up against my own recent questions about what it means and how it feels to move marginal, or counter-cultural, or radical culture into the ever more normative spaces that graciously invite us there. Over the hours, Mac talked frequently, and at great length about the “cross-cultural translation” work his performances enact: connecting tony theater crowds to the outrageous, lusty, ethical politics and practices of America’s marginal activists (anti-abolitionists, Native Americans, radical faeries and lesbians, suffragettes, civil rights activists, burlesque dancers, gay male bath-house enthusiasts, etc). Mac explained frequently that we were in “mixed-company,” and what this meant for the audience and the show. That is, being in a room where some of the people (in the cast and crew and audience) were members of the counter-cultural communities and causes that the show celebrates, borrows from, appropriates, and learns from, but that many or most were probably not (given the cost of the ticket: $400!)

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Costume for hour 22, 1986-1996, the decade of AIDS. The shawl and sleeves are adorned with audio cassette tapes.

As the day progressed into night and then later yet, morning, it became increasingly clear to my addled brain that the seemingly straight and white and aged members of the audience were quite able to stay, see and listen to the wildly out-there things that the performance and Mac encompass, including but not limited to the penultimate hour (that is hour 23), that attended with great care to the causes, songs, politics, and wisdom of radical lesbians. Although I had shed a tear a few times over the 22 hours thus far (particularly in the hour for the decade that preceded this, the hour devoted to the ravages of AIDS), I was not prepared for how moved I would be to see this powerful-almost-shattered man, and his amazing brigade of talented artists, attend lovingly to the often-derided, rarely-attented-to (by outsiders that is), people, ideas, culture, pastimes, and wisdom of people like me. I was deeply moved that we were being attended to—in this vast and rather dominant space—with dignity and curiosity: there is something to learn from these strange people … I can’t say the audience went wild, we were tired and lesbian culture remains foreign and unpalatable to many (as indeed it is designed to do), but the audience listened and learned with a heart and mind opened by all that had preceded. And now I think this has to be more than 21 hours of Taylor Mac breaking us down, although that was amazing and intense. There is a larger cultural phenomenon counter-cultural inclusion at this time of which he is one important player.

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Costume for hour 23, 1986-1996: the decade of radical lesbians who put their own needs aside to care for gay men and others during the height of the AIDS crisis. The wings are vulvas.

Because I realized that night that something similar had happened to me only a few days before. Just the previous Monday in fact, when the film I produced, The Watermelon Woman, played at the MoMA, as part of its 20th anniversary remaster re-release. There, too, a different crowd from its original home in marginal queer of color culture, enjoyed, thought about, and learned from the film and our attending cast and crew. And by doing so, in many ways they were only acknowledging what we already knew and had always tried to promote: that the first black lesbian feature film (directed by Cheryl Dunye in 1996) was serious (and funny and charming) cinema about ideas of great import to all Americans—race, sexuality, memory, history, archives—just as was Mac’s.

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Kenrick Cato (actor), Alex Juhasz (producer and actor), Bill Coleman (sountrack), Burke Moody (executive producer), Paul Shapiro (original score), Annie Taylor (editor), Jaguar Mary (actor), Shar Olivier (actor), Marc Smolowitz (producer of re-master), Cheryl Dunye (writer, director, producer, actor).

And when I was on the stage that night, a little nervously looking into the crowd, seeing some recognizably queer or black or feminist faces but mostly not, I felt that everyone there (again, note the price of the ticket) was actually quite ready to attend to our tiny little micro expression of that same 90s feminist, lesbian of color wisdom, humor, style, and outsider mojo that Taylor Mac had also celebrated, and I wondered: why … and how?

tpAnd I watch Transparent with a similar haunting refrain: whatever can it mean that our most cherished, carefully tooled criticisms, and the words we have refined to better understand the cruelty and sick reason of our world, can now be available to many more than have lived and defined these positions from the counter-cultural margins? I want to be clear that in all three cases I am not talking about “selling out,” because that is not what this moment feels like from the inside. Rather, inhabiting these new bright rooms and viewing platforms with many others who are clearly unlike myself, the lifestyles, values, ways of living and knowing and loving that have been refined by many marginal cultures look to be becoming palatable expressions of the American experience for many more than I would ever have imagiend. And because this post has gone on too long, and because I haven’t figured it out at all, I’ll end by proffering two initial explanations for a seeming acceptance of radical queer culture in increasingly mainstream spaces:

  • one: we’ve been producing representations of and for ourselves that are continuing, expanding, and refining for now so many past several decades that people are getting used to us. We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!
  • and, better yet: perhaps others, outsiders, the different and the dominant, are actually opening to hear us by necessity. For in these vile, racist, misogynist, cruel times, it seems ever more likely that we’ve actually been right all along.

Sometimes things align, but mostly, really, it’s because they are already connected. Such is the case with the showing of Zoe Leonard’s compelling new body of work, “In the Wake,” currently showing at Hauser & Wirth and the cotemporaneous screening of The Watermelon Woman at the Museum of Modern Art: both in New York City, as am I, today.

Zoe Leonard: Positano, 1946 (detail), 2016.

Zoe Leonard: Positano, 1946 (detail), 2016.

“In the Wake,” Leonard’s compendium of three related works (sculptural and photographic) reflecting on the photo in/as/against the archive stretches the work she did on a linked set of questions over twenty years ago while making the Fae Richards Archive with myself (as co-producer and actor), Cheryl Dunye (as co-director) and a rowdy, talented, committed group of dykes, artists, and intellectuals from NYC and Philadelphia. That archive now sits and shows, in part, in the film I produced (with Barry Swimar), The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996), which is currently enjoying its twentieth year re-release of a beautifully remastered print. As a complementary part of its return, Cheryl Dunye, Marc Smolowitz and I have energized what we call WMW 3.0 art shows where curators of younger generations revisit the film, its photo archives and production ephemera, and mount art shows joining that work with new objects by contemporary artists who are engaging, with today’s urgency and concerns, with the central issues of The Watermelon Woman: the relations between photography and film, archives, memory, self- and community-expression, history, power, and legacy, particularly as experienced by lesbians, queers, people of color and women.

A Subtle Likeness features work by four contemporary artists—Ayanah Moor, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Anna Martine Whitehead, and Kandis Williams—whose diverse artistic practices resonate with the film’s themes.

A Subtle Likeness features work by four contemporary artists—Ayanah Moor, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Anna Martine Whitehead, and Kandis Williams—whose diverse artistic practices resonate with the film’s themes.

Installation at Black/Feminist/Lesbian/Queer/Trans* Cultural Production, curated by Melonie Gree, Melorra Green and Dorothy Santos

Installation at Black/Feminist/Lesbian/Queer/Trans* Cultural Production, curated by Melonie Green, Melorra Green and Dorothy Santos.

Traveling the world (again) with the film, living in close proximity with its (fake) archive, discussing it with new audiences and our team of WMW 3.0 curators (Erin Christovale, Vivian Crocket, Melonie Green, Melorra Green, Natasha Johnson and Dorothy Santos), and at a recent symposium at SF State, organized by Darius Bost and others, Black/Feminist/Lesbian/Queer/Trans* Cultural Production: A Symposium Honoring the 20th Anniversary of Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman, I find myself in eerie alliance, or perhaps simply ongoing connection or even conversation (from afar), with Zoe’s discussion of her own current work about the past as “the opposite of archiving.”

Ephemera from the making of the Fae Richards Archive currently displayed at the One National Gay and Lesbian Archives as part of the show, "Memoirs of a Watermelon Woman," curated by Erin Christovale

Ephemera from the making of the Fae Richards Archive currently displayed at the One National Gay and Lesbian Archives, LA, as part of the show, “Memoirs of a Watermelon Woman,” curated by Erin Christovale.

Since I was in NY, while she was at the opening in LA, Cheryl took and shared with me cellphone photos of the now familial objects (from the fake archive in which my friends and I were first seen, twenty years ago) displayed at a Subtle Likeness and Memoirs of a Watermelon Woman (still showing at the One Archives). In NY, “In the Wake” finds Zoe Leonard also photographing photographs of her family’s partial, haunting, inconclusive archive of post-Holocaust snapshots, in the process turning them, as well, into luminous, reiterative, more-than-precious keys to history’s and family’s unfathomable and always unfindable truths.

Zoe Leonard, Misia, postwar (detail), 2016.

Zoe Leonard, Misia, postwar (detail), 2016.

The opposite of archiving for so many reasons and in so many ways, Leonard distorts the record with her highly visible photographic processes, multiplies away the value of the archive’s precious objects by replicating them and then showing them again and again, albeit differently, and transforms lowly family snapshots into high art through her refined aesthetic sensibility and masterful developing techniques, beautiful framing and exacting display, and placement in room after room of the toniest of townhouses on the Upper East Side.

Cheryl and Alex dancing. By Michael Light, The Watermelon Woman at the Berlin International FIlm Festival 1996, 1997

Cheryl and Alex dancing. By Michael Light, The Watermelon Woman at the Berlin International Film Festival 1996, 1997. At “Memoirs of a Watermelon Woman,” One Archive.

The opposite of archiving for so many reasons. For, ordinary life can be and is made into art, not artifacts, sometimes by loving communities in the living of it, and sometimes by later communities in the lasting of it.

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More fake ephemera from Fae’s life (by Zoe Leonard) and real artifacts of my own. Now in the One Archive curated by Erin Christovale.

Archive’s opposite because the Fae Richards Archive was a carefully, lovingly researched and rendered fake, made by many, because we believed in the telling of the story of someone (Fae Richards, the Watermelon Woman) who must have been true but couldn’t benefit in her time from today’s most obvious, irresistible right and activity: living a life available to the photographic record and its lasting home in an archive.

Zoe Leonard, Total Picture Control (I), 2016

Zoe Leonard, Total Picture Control (I), 2016

The opposite of archiving because, thankfully, real people, our lived lives and luscious loves, our full-tilt embrace of experience in community and history and art, will never be fully available to any archive’s or the internet’s quest for total picture control. Rather, we enter ourselves into history and its many archives here again, and as Zoe does and has done before, by celebrating the photograph’s partial, artistic, personal hold on people, truth, and life.