Man-o Man-ifesto!

February 2, 2017

I hope you will go see my short review of Julian Rosefeldt’s impressive, spectacular art show, “Manifesto” now online on the Brooklyn Rail.  I conclude with my own (wo)manifesto, in homage of Zoe Leonard’s:

Every woman is entitled to her own ifesto: what we want when we are done with the putrid, immoral art of our time. And I want my (man)ifestos to be humble and maybe even cheap. I don’t want my (wo)manifestations(hu)manifestos to be corporate sponsored or sick with money! Actually, I need my (wo)manifestos to be exactly as big and expensive as is necessary to move people to think, feel, and act. I want these empowering words to be urgent to their place and time and alive within their own community. I want my (mac)ifestos to say who penned them and why. I want to know how words about art matter to their author and to me, and my friends, and to this country, and the world. I want my manifestos to help.



Tamsyn Gilbert at New Criticals kindly invited me to write a piece about the changes in networked new media and feminist scholarship about it for the section of the publication called Lady Justice. I used this as an opportunity to revisit Learning from YouTube given that I’ll be teaching it again this spring with some interesting new twists and turns. The intro to the piece is here, and you can read my five provocations as well. The rest of the piece is found via the links above I’d love to hear from you!

In 2007, I engaged in what was at the time perceived to be an audacious pedagogical experiment. I taught a course both on and about YouTube. At that time, I opened out the private liberal arts classroom into the wilds of the Internet. These many years later, looking back at the experiment and also moving forward, I imagine what there might still be to learn and where there still might be to go within social media networks. Certainly much happened in the first class—virality, hilarity, hundreds of videos and interviews, caution, discipline, challenges to higher education and collegiate writing and a “book“—but here I ask, how might the continual growth of YouTube demand new places and tactics for its analysis?

In response to both my own needs as a theorist, activist, and educator, as well as what we might consider the “changes” of YouTube eight years later, I have decided to teach the class again this spring semester while taking my evolving experiment in several new directions including Inside-Out of the private college and prison. The body of this post explains the history and growth of my thinking about and activities within and without YouTube since its inception in 2005. Given the interests of Lady Justice, I will use this opportunity to consider transformations in digital and network culture over the past decade. I will also forefront how my feminist commitments to pedagogy, public intellectualism, the politics and practices of visibility and community within social media networks, and an anti-corporate media, anti-corporate academia, anti-corporate prison-industrial stance influence my many critical incursions into what I see as a pretty consistent YouTube. This has been somewhat harder to do in the course proper, and even my writing about it, as I have often taken a more “closeted” approach to my motivations in these more generic spaces (the class is an Introductory level course in Media Studies and most of the students have neither a feminist nor activist orientation to media, nor do they need to. In this and many other ways, I structure the course so that it reflects the dominating logics of YouTube, more on this below).

[this lengthier part about changes in YouTube and my decision to teach part of the class in a prison is at Lady Justice]

Conclusion: 5 Questions for the 2015 class and others:

As was true for the 2007 class and all following, I am legitimately interested in learning from YouTube: its users, uses, and logics. My statements above and questions below are provocations for further analysis, argument, and activities. I look forward to where they will take us over the next few months:I am curious whether these many recent changes may have inaugurated significant and not superficial changes in YouTube (and social media) culture itself. Frankly, I doubt it. I challenge my students to locate, name, and analyze structural differences:

How has YouTube changed since 2005?

What are the relations between social justice and social media?

What are the relations between social injustice and social media?

How and why do we leave social media?

How and why do we stay in social media?

What is a social media of our own?

You could say I “read” David Shield’s Reality Hunger over the weekend, but as my first nod to the worthy successes (and ballsy failures) of his argument-through-form, I actually skimmed it in less than an hour. As is true of any good manifesto, he clocks or locks a feeling in the air, something already everywhere, familiar but not fully formed (although, of course, snippets from centuries of completely finished arguments about the representation of reality are the over-rife reality condition he considers, and uses, proving the thing and its opposite as he is most wont to do).

Not your everyday wordly citizen, I am a reality expert, a Scholar of Fake Documentary and YouTube no less. Not only am I familiar with these ideas, I too, make manifestos about them (with different conclusions and forms, and certainly to lesser mainstream success). It is from this position that I will make four connected points about this noble projects’ internal contradictions:

SINGLE-MEDIUM MAN: Shields inter-cuts between writings about a variety of media forms (words, photos, movies, songs) as if they are interchangeable, as if there is not some remaining hold-out of medium specificity that might affect his building argument about and in “collage.”

But in a collage, the discrete elements speak, represent, and are “real” differently (but of course Shields’ collage is made up of only words, see BOOK MAN). And even in our world of 1s and 0s, where the specific media are reduced to the same medium, sitting as they do on one (this) computer screen, they retain the legacies and powers of their originary forms, as well as their distinct (if collapsing) properties, logics, and capabilities (even on a computer screen, photos don’t work like words, see Roland Barthes.)

The addition of only a few carefully pruned quotes from Piercian semiotics, as another obvious example, would have taken Shields a long way given that Pierce has helped most of reality-based media theory to better understand the fundamental difference between photos and film versus writing and painting, given the indexical rather than abstract nature of these sign systems. (I won’t even go to Psychoanalysis on the REAL, another useful theoretical tradition studiously avoided.) Of course, Shields is a BOOK MAN, and what he knows best, and makes this argument within, is writing. But why, I wonder, given the glaringly accessible internet and his manifesto-size commitment to breaking form in his interest in “the lure and blur of the real”?

MAN ALONE: The 617 numbered items that make up this book are the best selects from a compendium of things Shields has read and written. Their (large) reach is still only as great as his library, as well as his mind. Since I’m a documentary professor, I can readily attest (as I have already done for semiotics) that his range within documentary is, well, either laughable or rudimentary: given that it is almost entirely built from the words of Ross McElwee, a highly respected and intelligent documentarian, to be sure, but not capable of representing, solo (MAN ALONE), the beautiful range and complexity of ideas about or practices within documentary.

Shields should have crowd-sourced this project. I would have gladly contributed. But he didn’t because Shields is a BOOK MAN, and even a MODERNIST MAN: even as he argues in Y: Manifesto that “you must be ready to break the forms,” he then writes, all by himself…a book.

MODERNIST MAN: From chapters R-X (the book is organized alphabetically, although the letters are not linked to the chapter titles, R is “autobiography,” T is “ds,” all ramping down to X, and its steady return to the noble lonely solo writer self by running through chapters called “alone,” “it is more important to be oneself than anything else,” “risk,” and “let me tell you what your book is about,” the “Chapter” in the book that has the most of Shields’ own writing, by the way) Reality Hunger loses its toe-hold in post-modern pre-occupations with the loss of the original, the waning of talent, the unimportance of authorship to bog itself down in a sort of embarrassing and downright modernist (hoax about?) celebration of the personal voice, risk, identity, and artistry of David Shields, perhaps written at times by others, but in the end, all alone:

But Shields is a BOOK MAN after all, and so he must stay mired in this dying modern form, so many treacherous steps from the REAL, ever stretching at its edges and arguing with itself in vain hopes of working like a movie, but always an also-ran to the post-modern reality project which the indexical image bests (see images above and below).

BOOK MAN: Shields is best about books and writing: his is really a manifesto about literary fiction, memoir, autobiography, and essay, and the word’s hunger for a closer proximity.

He throws in documentary, reality TV, and hip hop because they are the the art forms most people consume in the largest numbers but he makes his argument about reality hunger in the form that is the most self-consciously farthest from it. “Painting isn’t dead. The novel isn’t dead. They just aren’t as central to the culture as they once were.” In “M: in praise of brevity,” he nods to how people like short little things these days–novels or movies, for example, on cell phones–but I’d say people still go to books (on paper) for the long, slow, and carefully organized. This is one of the book’s specific pleasures and powers (see SINGLE-MEDIUM MAN), and that’s not going anywhere soon. Read a book for immersion, surf the web for flow; watch a movie on a cell-phone for an entertainment-zap. This book of short quotes should be on the web, speaking where and how the language of the concise, fleeting, quoted, stolen, and reality-pointing speaks best (here, easily see this blog, or even YouTube):

Video Essays

July 27, 2009

I was excited to read about video essays at Film Studies for Free. This summer, I’ve been writing about the YouTube stylo for an essay I’ve been commissioned to write about teaching video. It begins thus:

“This, right here, is writing with words on paper about video on YouTube: a variety of YouTube writing, using words to engage digital sounds and images, in a scholarly prose definitive for the field of Media Studies. It is to be read, on paper, in a chapter, within a book. However, the YouTube writing that is the focus of this paper is a new kind of academic text enabled by digital technologies that allow for video to become a pen for expressing critical thinking about a medium and its culture from within. In this chapter, I will introduce ten innovative writing forms displayed in YouTube videos made by my students for my course, Learning from YouTube, held on and about YouTube in the Fall of 2008 and 2009. These student videos critically examine YouTube speaking through its own forms. In the process, their writing traces the shape of the culmination of a dream: what communication might look like when freed from the constraints of word and page; what students might say when liberated to speak in the languages of their time. “It is always interesting to review old utopian visions, as they remind us of our part in fulfilling the expectations of earlier generations,” writes Bjorn Sorenssen in his recent “Digital Video and Alexandre Astruc’s Caméra-Stylo.” He continues: “By developing new media technology there is also created a new and changed pattern of production and distribution and, subsequently, a new aesthetics.”

The ten YouTube writing forms that follow—a new YouTube aesthetics—are the culmination of a century’s efforts to  maximize the ease and accessibility of learning about, making, and watching moving images occurring within and outside the media production classroom. We’ve always dreamed of writing with media; each generation, like me, attesting that theirs is the era where this reverie is at last realized. “A Descartes of today would already have shut himself up in his bedrooms with a 16mm camera and some film, and would be writing his philosophy on film,” proclaims Astruc in his 1948 “The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: The Caméra-Stylo.””

On Film Studies for Free, Catherine Grant turned me on to Eric Faden’s, A Manifesto for Critical Media and I was already familiar with his highly viewed “video essay”:

Digging around a tiny bit more, I learned that he had made Tracking Theory for Vectors, the very place I am situated right now, working to turn all my YouTube writing into a “book,” or digital work, or big multi-modal thingie. My YouTube video-writing has never been refined enough to be a true or at least quality video essay (although many works by my students would qualify), but I am currently focused upon realizing a complex integration of video and text on-line with the help of programmers, designers, and fellow “digital humanists.” I hope to blog soon about my many questions and concerns about actually moving from paper to screen, in long-form, and at least initially for a scholarly readership.

“For better or worse, we can expect YouTube and online amateur video to become a common tool for the 25% of American women who have been sexually assaulted.” Dr. Strangelove, Rape Victim Seeks Justice Via YouTube

“Considering that a free cinema and television don’t exist in the current state;
Considering that a tiny minority of authors and technicians have access to the means of production and expression;

Considering that the cinema today has a capitol mission to fulfill and is gagged at all levels in the current system: The directors, technicians, actors, producers, film and television critics determined to put an end to the present state of affairs, have decided to convoke the Estates General of Cinema. We invite all of you to participate in these Estates general, whose date will be specified later. – The Revolutionary Committee of Cinema-Television, published in Cahiers du Cinéma, August 1968. Chained to the Cinemateque

“The last post was sooo teel dear. Well, for the uninitiated
teel dear (tl;dr) = Too long; didn’t read.
In this twitter age, I know I have sinned with my preposterously long posts earlier in the blog. But let me assure you, I am trying to be rid of the disease, and I am a advocate for brevity.” Digital Nativity

“And the next time someone quotes the Cult of the Amateur to you, about how social media is ruining culture, nod wisely and agree: user generated content is user generated crap. Because, we learned from the best. If TV hadn’t taught us to enjoy rubbish, YouTube would be cleverer.”

Laurel Papworth, Why Television Should Die a Slow and Painful Death.

I Look to Third-Tube

March 5, 2008

To wrap up this thread of ideas coming from my bad manifesto videos, I’d like to try to better attend to “Third-Tube,” that manner of video, currently available on the web, that is neither the vlog nor the music video. This kind of video formally marks the hand of its DIY producer (with “bad” production) while also signaling the seriousness of her mind, vision, goals or politics (with “big” ideas). It uses the sketch-like form of the You-Tube video (made and seen quickly, without aims at perfection or mastery, but with some attention to style and with clear goals of communication) so as to make videomaking and viewing a part of daily experience.

Now, it may seem that I’m suggesting that the “personal” nature of the vlog disqualifies it from Third-Tube (which is, of course, an homage to Third Cinema), but that would go directly against my feminist politics. So let me add this simple feminist formula: the personal is the political. When vlogs move to the next step, which is making systematic (theoretical) and communal (political) claims grounded in personal experience, then they move into what I am calling Third-Tube: people-made, simple-in-form, complex in thought, media about the material of daily life that is not beholden to corporate culture and products. This stuff is all over YouTube, and perhaps my next move is to be more thoughtful about what sits in Third-Tube.

I’ve recently come across the research of AnthroVlog on YouTube. Her site “examines how people use digital technologies such as video, blogs, and video sharing sites such as YouTube. We hope to take what we learn to consider new design of online environments and educational programs.For more information see:”

Then there’s the Anthropology class at Kansas State that is thinking about YouTube through questions of culture, communication and community.

And AMorrow has been making comprehensive and useful lists of video that functions as art, entertainment, history, social commentary, etc.

Thanks to ZigZigger (Michael Newman) who I met in the hallway at SCMS and who kindly explained the linking function to me.

I have been thinking about the badness of this set of videos. About how when I make conventional vlogs, I never worry about form, and that’s liberating: YouTube as soapbox. About the fact that I do actually make “quality” documentaries (my most recent is SCALE, see much about it on these pages), and for that work (which I also characterize as DIY), I hire a cinematographer and an editor, it take several years of my life to complete, another year or more to distribute, and loads of money to do all this work (in comparison to the insignificant amount of time, capital, planning, or execution required for any of my YouTube videos).

What does this tell us about form, expression, and politics on YouTube?

1. Form mandates where you sit and how you move on YouTube. Bad form relegates you to the conventions of the vlog, “good” form is your passport out of  NicheTube.

2. Form effects how well and how much you are heard on YouTube. The bad form of a vlog propels its movement in that this marks its veracity and authenticity. Bad form on any other form of video limits the effectivity of your message, both in how well it can be understood and in how many people will be moved to watch and listen. Bad form marks the hand of an amateur, and the space of the mundane.

3. Bad form is intimately linked to the private, humble expression of the vlog; good form (aesthetics) is required for effective expression outside the personal.

4. Politics demands the building, feeding, and inter-relating of individuals to make committed communities. If you are using media as part of this program, the media must inspire conversation and connection: because the words, images, and sounds are compelling in combination. Need they be “good” to do so?

So where does the humble YouTuber fit into this? How trained need she be? How articulate? Does this need to be her job? Isn’t the point that she is an amateur? When we actually use our own material, and the skills we have, what and who can we effect?

I turned the manifesta I wrote for these pages (2007-08-27) into 7 YouTube videos about YouTube as part of an experiment I am trying for this year’s SCMS (Society for Cinema and Media Studies) meeting.

This is the fourth from my YouTube series “Mp:me Variant of a Manifesta.”

For the panel, “Technologies of the Self, ” instead of a talk, I will technologize myself and appear only through these 7 autobiographical/theoretical rants mixed into a specialized tour of videos on YouTube. Given that my manifesto is ripped from Dziga Vertov’s 1922 “WE: Variant of a Manifesto,” almost all the other videos on this tour are YouTube variants on his “Man With A Movie Camera.” You can watch the tour by hitting Playall and they will roll for you.

I believe the experiment is a failure, but that’s really okay: it tells us things we might need to know about this newest technology of self. First off, my videos are really truly superbad. I’ve been trying to think how badness affects things on YouTube, and certainly for vlogs it is the mark of sincerity, but since my videos attempt not for sincerity but rather a little “artiness” (but done DIY), they simply look messy, especially compared to the visual brilliance of what I attempt to learn from: the “cinematography” of Dziga Vertov (part 6 of my Manifesta calls for the Death of Cinematography [to be posted here soon], but can I really want that?!) Aesthetics matter if you are trying to convince people in a visual language. I need to keep thinking about BADNESS for sure. Furthermore, the cuts between my videos and those I highlight (which I make YouTube perform for me by using the Playlist function), lag, and so are also sloppy. This again compared to the brilliant rush of editing that is Vertov.

While my critique of YouTube may be pointing in the right direction (as a theory), I do not have enough talent as a DIY maker to produce a powerful enough YouTube form to artfully relay the critique (that’s why he was a genius and I am a hack). Yes, the majority of YouTube videos are “morally dangerous, contagious” in that they promote distraction, consumption, and inaction. And sure, we need to think about how context and community can compliment the best work on YouTube. But as I long as I make these efforts alone, they will stay as limited as those I critique. However, since YouTube need not hold great art, but rather, new forms of communication; and since slogans work through their elegant if invisible but persuasive beauty, perhaps I’m not as far from the zone as I might worry…More soon.