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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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)

Over its hundred-plus year history, cinema (and its offshoots television and video) has offered up uncountable contributions to civilization that are unimaginably beautiful, powerful, and profound and that are delivered in endless varieties.

And yet, adherents of medium specificity, like myself, suggest that these endlessly variable works of film, video and television have been built from only a small set of fundamental components. Moving image recording technologies package and deliver nothing more than light, sound, space and time. What artists do with these elements is the magic of these media. And sure, technology helps. Over the course of its short history, there have been abundant changes, improvements, and shifts within the tools that focus, record and deliver artists’ renderings of media’s core elements. Within the last ten or so years, developments within digital media technologies have allowed for substantial breaks from the possibilities previously available within media history, including but not limited to the expanded access to and ease of use of nearly professional grade tools for the recording, editing, saving and distribution of moving images. For little cost and effort, nearly everyone can now shoot, edit, save and share images that look and sound great. These new producers using newly available tools introduce, mix, and remediate new (and old) media content and forms, only the most recent of which is socially mediated livefeed video. This new format has caught and demands our attention given that its viral uses have been closely connected to current conversations about and witnessing of violence, justice, and race in America and around the world.

livefeed

In recent writing, I tried to understand some of the implications of seeing and sharing livefeed video of black death. This proved to be a rumination about the ethics and responsibilities—associated with media records of cruelty and punishment—as video and its viewers encounter refigured relations to recorded time. But the capacity to record, save, see and share (real) time must, by definition, be met with alterations in configurations and understandings of space. To continue to better see and understand how technological developments in temporal and spatial recording are met with social, artistic and political ones, I will briefly consider—alongside livefeed viral video—a related technological adaptation and the associated practices of looking encountered therein: how we now seem to be looking at both ever more-tiny and over-sized screens.

Looking more closely, I can’t help but notice what seems to be an uncanny correlative between the growing number of capable producers and the shrinking size of the screens that carry their videos. Moving viral images seen on tiny screens like phones, watches, or even windows within a larger screen, certainly suffer in regards to viewers’ focus, clarity, and attention—even as they enjoy access to larger audiences. Cinephiles (and others) then suffer the quickly compounding loss of norms and systems for viewing cinema as it is “supposed” to be done: in large formats projected into dark rooms with quality sound systems peopled by others and enjoyed from beginning to end without interruption. Today, most people watch moving images attending to none of these norms: on increasingly pint-sized screens, alone in any possible place, at their own speed, direction and duration, surrounded by other images and distractions and sounds. Of course, we can and do turn to the linked and increasing possibilities for nostalgic viewing—like Tarantino‘s commitment to 70mm or the growing subculture of pop-up, outdoor, or micro-cinemas—or to technologies, practices, and institutions that are dedicated to a kind of reverse-viewing, one that delivers larger and larger images in more specialized and costly formats and venues to smaller and more refined audiences.

PAA_Phillipe_Parreno_JamesEwing-5211_CP_selects

To better see the connections between increasingly small and large screens, I will look briefly at one iteration of such blending practices: namely the projection of artist-produced, museum-located, large, multi-screen videos made entirely from once tiny-screen offerings. At the International Center of Photography‘s inaugural Public, Private, Secret show, four artists’ videos (by Natalie Bookchin, Jon Rafman, Martine Syms, Doug Rickard), made entirely from everyday users’ YouTube videos, are the highlight of (or at least entry to) the museum’s first show in its new location. While all of these featured artists’ efforts participate in making (more) public everyday video that itself made public the private experiences of everyday people, what seems as noteworthy to me is the effects and implications of making and showing large images from videos that had been made to be seen small.

A movement from piddling to grand helps to bring into focus what any serious student of media history understands already, and what the four featured artists are often highlighting in their similar but diverse offerings: viewing practices are never merely technological; rather they are historically, institutionally and culturally determined. By making small videos big, we can see more clearly what goes undetected in the common sense viewing practices of viral video. Another way to put this is: what don’t or can’t we see in our current viewing practices of the ever-present videos and views of social media?

First off, given that these four works were created by artists’ selection (in both senses of the word: all of the featured video artists chose their constituative materials entirely from the YouTube videos of unnamed others, and they, in turn, were selected for this show by its curators, Charlotte Cotton, Marina Chao, and Pauline Vermare), the museum’s and art world’s institutional privilege and sanction brings with it multiple and improved technologies different from those typically associated with viral video. We find that the largeness of the screen is linked to any number of related escalations: of stature (for the presenting artists), of viewing platform and spaces (from YouTube-at-home to the spare but sacious screening rooms of the museum), of machines necessary for display, projection and sound (from consumer to professional grade). But perhaps most critically, these augmentations carry with them social and sociological advancement as well.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/100324610″>Mainsqueeze, 2014</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/jonrafman”>jonrafman</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Artist-made video of YouTube video can’t help but show the everyday scenes, things, and preoccupations of regular people (as was also true of the amazing trove of Americana, the home movie). Given the demographics of our culture, the vast majority of what we see on YouTube (outside of the corporate video that makes up something like 50% of what we see there, give or take) is made by and shows the worlds of poor, working- and middle-class people. Americans’ class is registered on their YouTube videos in any number of ways, including but not limited to what is made visible of their living spaces, social spaces, and associated possessions, their use of spoken and written English, how they carry, use, and inhabit their bodies, and the cultural, political, and social issues that their videomaking considers. Given the demographics of America, the viewers of said videos are also most likely to come from the 99%’s poor, working-class and middle-classes and homes (albeit with all the variations of region, race, gender, sexuality, and ideology that is writ large across our class spectrum.)

However, at the big screens of America’s museums, art galleries, art fairs, and auction houses that increasingly show video in jumps that seem to match its broader social appeal, one finds oneself in the discomfiting position of watching people made video but not doing so with the peeps (who are undeniably watching loads of video on small screens at home, on the bus, at the library, in their bedrooms, in parking lots; actually, in all the places one sees in these videos). Letting my viewing of the ICP YouTube art videos serve as a barometer, the large videos of small videos were seen by attentive, serious, white-haired white-women (myself included), as well as one Jewish young man (who left quickly, I read his Yarmulke as a register of his religious affiliation), and one brown skinned and also middle-aged woman. This small and attentive audience (who each paid $14 for admission, $12 for seniors; you can not get in for free) all, surprisingly, sat through the four approximately ten-minute videos, interacted socially with each other throughout, and in general viewed these images through the norms associated with (high) art. Videos that would have otherwise be seen (or not, see my work on NicheTube) as expendable, forgettable, interchangeable, if also funny, excessive, spectacular or demonstrative—that is small—enjoyed big viewing privilege: that is to say they were afforded the advantage of duration, attention to form and content, and some significant possibility for context, although of course, this had been largely provided by the secondary (or primary?) artists through their skilled overlay of music, through their selection and then editing of videos, through their connection to the other artists’ works on display in the carefully curated space of an art show.

Now some would argue that with viral video many of these covet-worthy assets of the big are afforded not by their size of screens but by the number of viewers and viewings they spawn. There is certainly something to this argument, although I have been quick to note that with scale and spreadability comes a necessary simplification of argument and a loosening of context and value. But here I am working hard to keep attentive to how the size of images (i.e. one of the technology’s current preoccupation in regards to newly possible renderings of space) is related to viewing practices that are themselves always imbricated in culture, history, and therefore, power. For as I’ve been arguing throughout, big videos demand not just space but also time. Shockingly for me, sitting through the many clips from YouTube videos that made up the artists’ videos, itself seemed sort of nostalgic in this moment, defined as it is by Vine videos, tweets (with videos) and Snap chats: each of these current social media forms, and formats demanding an ever greater waning of video’s hold on time. And just look! Livefeed video seems to extend that out into duration and the spatial and temporal context associated with the entitlements of the long durée.

FirefoxScreenSnapz001https://www.c-span.org/video/standalone/?411624-1/democratic-sitin-continues-despite-house-adjournment-july-5

Speedy internet criticism (including my own) is rife with writing that celebrates the slow and bemoans the loss of persistence. While this blog post certainly does that too, I am more interested in trying to see and name the uses and stakes for new technologies for looking, like livefeed video, as they are being introduced, and perhaps before their norms of use are calcified (and commodified). Given that goal, I would suggest that a powerful way to view viral livefeed video of black death, and other images of violence, might be not on our small private screens but as if each viral video was art, as if it mattered that much, as if it deserved that level of privilege: to be viewed in groups, on large screens, from beginning, middle to end, and with context. That is to be seen within the rich world it records, and with the background, discussion, and analysis that artists and viewers can and do use media to initiate.

 

 

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.

1. feminist-research-seminar-may2015-5-1

Margaret Lazarus, Sally Berger, Patty Zimmerman, Karen Sanders, Joanne Leonard, Wendy Kozol, Jeannie Simms, Carol Jacobsen, Connie Samaras, Alex Juhasz, Meena Nanji, Regina Austin (Vicki Patraka not picture)

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
While these terms sign-post places that are still very much alive and operational on YouTube, what I had not mapped then is how YouTube, like the world itself, a world itself, and as one of the places that makes our world itself, now also, at the same time, holds unimaginable quantities of visible, uncloseted, never-closeted feminisms:
  • 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.

From class discussion, Learning from YouTube, 2015

From class discussion, Learning from YouTube, 2015

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.

Conviction: Janis, 2006

Conviction: Janis, 2006

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.

I recently wrote a blog post for Lady Justice at New Criticals. It’s opening and closing are re-printed below. Go to that site for the full version!

On Sunday, April 5, an invaluable opinion piece was published in the New York Times: “Help Us Learn in Prison” by John J. Lennon. An inmate at Attica Correctional Facility in New York, Lennon makes a nuanced request about education and technology within the American prison. He considers why inmates are allowed and even encouraged to watch television all day while their access to the Internet is limited or more often than not prohibited. He ends with a plea: why not change the accessible technology of choice from TV to MOOCs?

nmates watching television at Angola State Penitentiary, Louisiana, 2002. Credit Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images

Inmates watching television at Angola State Penitentiary, Louisiana, 2002. Credit Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images

In this post, I’d like to use Lennon’s piece as an opportunity to continue several avenues of thinking and activism of grave concern for me, namely:

  • a situated critique of MOOCs
  • a situated critique of education and technology in the prison
  • a situated critique of education and technology outside the prison, particularly on YouTube and social media more generally

As a founding member of FemTechNet, the collective that successfully offers the DOCC (Distributed Open Collaborative Course) at places of higher learning around the world, I have worked with others to criticize MOOCs from feminist perspectives on education, technology, and neo-liberalism. One of our ongoing claims is that education needs to be situated in the lived environments of learners, whether that be institutional (are you at a community college or an art school?), regional (California or Calcutta?), cultural (what traditions and values matter where we live and learn and how do we speak about them?), or personal (what matters to me?) In their top-down, one-size-fits-all, elitist, scale-and-profit-driven underpinnings, most MOOCs are not particularly responsive to or even interested in the situated, lived differences that make learning (and teaching) both exciting and challenging.

moocvsdocc-infographic-april-2013

This situated critique of MOOCs allows me to heartily second Lennon’s request. I believe that MOOCs are terrific for prisoners and support unlimited access to them as part of a technologically-assisted education.

I began to understand a critically unnamed truth about social justice and social media only made visible through the structuring denial of access to the Internet and other technology as a fundamental feature of contemporary punishment: technologies of care, conversation, and personal liberation through education need no more tools than access to each other. I was more than ready and able to teach about YouTube this Spring without an Internet connection. I was going to assign books on the subject (with a few pages excised, mostly due to their discussion of sexuality on YouTube), exercises where prisoners would write screenplays to be shot by their fellow-students who had access to cameras and the Internet, and conversations about the meanings of all of our varied and regulated access to technology. (Along this vein, prisoners’ near universal access to cellphones as a contraband of choice, despite prisons’ concerted efforts to keep phones out of the prison, radically underlines what it means to say “prisoners don’t have access to the Internet or social media.”) I had learned before that while the prison and its administrators can systematically strip me, and my students, of tools and technologies (pens, videos, the Internet), our desires and abilities to communally learn—and thereby escape its lines, signs, limits, and holes of available information, if only fleetingly—falls completely outside the of logic of technology-based punishment.

That is until I was denied access to teach and learn inside.

Which gets me to my conclusion: my situated critique of education and technology outside the prison, particularly on YouTube. For I am indeed teaching the class, again, for the fifth time since 2007 at Pitzer College. I did not get to stretch and learn and teach as I had hoped with my prisoner students who have so much to teach us about technology, as they are denied access to social media and are therefore uniquely situated to see it, but I have learned about social media and social justice this semester from other students and teachers.

Since I began teaching the class in 2007, in the matter of just these few short years, access to social media has exploded (for those not denied it as a condition of their punishment). We have been told (and sold) that this access is critical for our expression, community-building, political citizenship, and well-being. We have been led to believe that access to social media is a form of liberation. As Nicole Rufus, a current LFYT student explains in her class video below, YouTube matters because it has made her a better person and contributed to her education, just as Lennon suggests.

But two more related things have also become quite clear in the 2015 iteration of the class Learning from YouTube (sans prisoners):

  • In contra-distinction to the experience of prisoners, for my students, the Internet is the very air they breath in a way that was simply not true in 2007 (as much as my students thought it was). Young people today (as is true of their teachers) inhabit the Internet, speak its language, and have an agility, familiarity, and jaded acceptance of its norms and (aspects of) its history that is at once stunning and enervating (see Samantha Abernathey’s class video on memes below):

Stunning is the speed and complexity of this familiarity; enervating is its occlusion of familiarity with and interest in the other norms, places, and histories that we might once have understood as part of being institutionally, culturally and personally “situated.” The current version of the course makes me feel at once stimulated and enervated because I have seemingly nothing and everything to teach them. Nowhere and everywhere to go. “The internet does not exist. Maybe it did exist only a short time ago, but not it only remains as a blur, a cloud, a friend, a deadline, a redirect, or a 404. If it ever existed, we couldn’t see it. Because it has no shape. It has no face, just this name that describes everything and nothing at the same time. Yet we’re still trying to climb on board, to get inside, to be part of the network, to get in on the language game, to show up in searches, to appear to exist.”

I long for the views of my prisoner students: humans who can teach us a thing or two about place, liberation, punishment and control sans the Internet.

  •  for, this place of liberation, the Internet, has quickly become its opposite (“emancipation without end, but also without exit” according to Aranda, Wood, and Vidokle)—a prison (although not a punishment, as it is always entered willingly and ever with the promise of pleasure); a highly-structured corporate-dominated sink-hole. “In the past few years many people—basically everybody—have noticed that the internet feels awkward, too. It is obvious. It is completely surveilled, monopolized, and sanitized by common sense, copyright control, and conformism. (Hito Steyerl)

“This moment,” according to my students, is defined by anxious, cynical, consumption-based Internet experience that is linked to ever more desperate Internet-based attempts at escape into a nostalgic (“old”) Internet that is imagined as low-tech, slow, user-made, fun, real, innocent, awkward, less-sexualized, and de-politicized (outside or before the petty, bitter Internet “politics” about the Middle East, feminism, racism, rape, and the environment from which escape deeper into the Internet is so desperately needed.) The new Internet is a prison from which escape is to fantasy of an older, innocent Internet.

"This Moment" as defined by LFYT 2015

“This Moment” as defined by LFYT 2015

In her contribution to the eflux journal issue “The Internet Does Not Exist,” from which I’ve been quoting extensively in this last section, video artist Hito Steyerl pens an article entitled “Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?” There she answers herself: “the internet is probably not dead. It has rather gone all out. Or more precisely: it is all over.”

But of course, Steyerl knows, as must we all, that while the Internet feels like it is the whole world, or perhaps too much world, there are blank spots on the map where the Internet can not see, there are ways not to be seen, and there are dark spots in our situated communities where the Internet can’t or perhaps is not allowed to go.

Abu Ghraib Prison: The infamous Iraqi prison where Saddam Hussein held political prisoners, and where U.S. soldiers were later caught torturing inmates. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2524082/All-US-Armys-secret-bases-mapped-Google-maps.html

Abu Ghraib Prison: The infamous Iraqi prison where Saddam Hussein held political prisoners, and where U.S. soldiers were later caught torturing inmates. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2524082/All-US-Armys-secret-bases-mapped-Google-maps.html

If we theorize the Internet, or education, from these blank spots, from the place of too-little, (in)access, quiet, and darkness (as does Lennon), we see values, uses, and needs for MOOCs, YouTube, technology, and education that are not clear from an anxious state of hyper-abundance. This is not to romanticize the punitive lacks of the prison. Rather I ask us to draw from what becomes visible when we situate thinking about learning, technology, punishment and escape in places where education is not primarily linked to tawdry pop-songs, tutorials, consumer goods, flame wars, and self-reference to Internet culture but rather to the fundamental questions of liberation, learning, and empowerment that those stripped of technology have unique access to in the quiet and (in)access of their punishment.

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?

I was recently interviewed by Julia Fernandez for the Library of Congress’ blog: The Signal. It was a pretty cool platform in which to be able to talk abut my problems with YouTube as an “archive” and otherwise. The interview begins like this:

Julia: In the intro to your online video-book “Learning From YouTube” you say “YouTube is the Problem, and YouTube is the solution.” Can you expand on that a bit for us?

Alex: I mean “problem” in two ways. The first is more neutral: YouTube is my project’s problematic, its subject or concern. But I also mean it more critically as well: YouTube’s problems are multiple–as are its advantages–but our culture has focused much more uncritically on how it chooses to sell itself: as a democratic space for user-made production and interaction. The “video-book” understands this as a problem because it’s not exactly true. I discuss how YouTube isn’t democratic in the least; how censorship dominates its logic (as does distraction, the popular and capital).

YouTube is also a problem in relation to the name and goals of the course that the publication was built around (my undergraduate Media Studies course also called “Learning from YouTube” held about, and also on, the site over three semesters, starting in 2007). As far as pedagogy in the digital age is concerned, the course suggests there’s a problem if we do all or most or even a great deal of our learning on corporate-owned platforms that we have been given for free, and this for many reasons that my students and I elaborate, but only one of which I will mention here as it will be most near and dear to your readers’ hearts: it needs a good archivist and a reasonable archiving system if it’s to be of any real use for learners, teachers or scholars. Oh, and also some system to evaluate content.

YouTube is the solution because I hunkered down there, with my students, and used the site to both answer the problem, and name the problems I have enumerated briefly above.

It continues here.

This blog post serves a second function: it is also my contribution to the Pitzer College publication, The Engaged Faculty Collection, a project spearheaded by my colleague Tessa Hicks Peterson as part of the Celebrate Pitzer at 50 festivities. This collection tracks the College’s forward thinking, active, and ongoing engagement, across its history, to practices and methods known variously as community-based learning, civic engagement, and action research. I am quite proud of my small part in this history, the large part that Pitzer Media Studies has played (with our core commitments to social justice and community-based media education), and the truly inspiring, and often unsung work of my colleagues and college in this regard.

In this short piece, I will frame, and then point/link to five of my most recent research/pedagogy/writing projects within my feminist media studies/practice, one that has always tried to at once understand, inhabit, teach in and about, and work for change within the communities and movements that matter to me. In the recent projects that follow, that “community” has become the Internet, a space both different from and indebted to the many other places with which I have engaged across my career.

1) When I arrived at Pitzer College in 1995, I was embraced as a committed mediamaker/theorist whose work was situated within the AIDS activist and feminist media communities, and the queer (of color) art and activist worlds. My work was, and continues to be about making and theorizing media production as part of social justice movements in which I am a member. When the digital emerged as a powerful place where all media can and often do converge, I moved parts of my practice there, developing a website connected to my Pitzer and sometimes CGU course, Media Praxis (in Ontario), that asked students to think about the 100 year history of activist media practice and theory while making a piece of such media themselves.

(To be clear: to read this article, you need to actually follow the links to things I’ve already made and already written, thus evidencing the new kinds of “Internet, or Multi-Modal writing” (and reading) I’ve been exploring and theorizing as part of my feminist digital practice: shorter, recursive forms, with a different tone that are often for broader audiences and based on the reading logics of the Internet, one of which is our hope for the fast and breezy. To be clear, this contribution is actually really long if you follow and read all the links!)

If you go the Media Praxis site, for example, you will see a great deal of activity, writing, and even more linking by my students, over several semesters. This evening-out of authority, this sharing of voice, has always been part of my media activism, and feminist pedagogy, but is much more easily realized in my “writing” when it occurs on the Internet where norms of “publication” begin to change in line with those of “authoring.”

You can also read more about my move to the digital  here, in an article called “You Get the Picture” for the Frames Cinema Journal #1, a special issue, Film and Moving Image Studies Re-Born Digital?

2) In 2007, I took my Media Praxis to YouTube, and taught a course on and about the site, Learning from YouTube, to much media fanfare. As I explained above, my feminist, community-based practice has always tried to reside in the spaces it hopes to know, change, and better understand, all the while speaking in vernaculars best suited for that place and its community.

I taught the course several more times, and in each iteration, I asked students to think critically about their learning in the lived space of the elite liberal arts classroom as it is pressed into and against the “democratic” spaces of the Internet. How do we learn in these linked spaces? How might we write? What might we demand of corporate space to function more like the learning communities that we inhabit (at great cost)? What do we lose when we “learn” for free in the wilds of the Internet? For the class, my students did all their work as YouTube videos or comments, thereby evidencing the same formal imperative I am demonstrating here: to think and write in the new forms, formats, and platforms that currently shape much of the ever-more linked world of ideas, culture, and commerce in our era.

My students’ brilliant “writing”—like the video above that comments on commenting culture using the vernacular of that very culture—prominently shapes my “video-book” about the course, also called Learning from YouTube (MIT Press, 2011). You can “experience” the video-book to learn more about what my students and I learned about/on YouTube (it’s fun and free! If you are intimidated by its unfamiliar form, take the “tour” called “YouTube Is” by clicking on the left bottom box: it’s a short introduction to the main ideas structuring the project). Or you can read about it here, in an editorial I wrote for Inside Higher Education, “A Truly New Genre.”

And here’s a short interview I did about the class with “design guru” Bill Moggridge, as part of his influential Designing Media Project. There, you’ll find me sandwiched (the nasty cream filling…) between some truly powerful and sometimes great forces within the new media industry. My Pitzer-esque critique of capital and other powerful forces shaping this environment plays a critical role in this very public conversation.

3) While I believe that the critical (and sometime local) community that I produced in the class about YouTube, and our  interventions into corporate media space were successful, the great amount of time I spent inside of this hostile, stupid, and unruly environment led me to want to build my own Internet spaces better aligned with my values as educator, activist, and artist, rather than merely criticizing those that have been handed to us for free. This led to my next large teaching/research/building project, Feminist Online Spaces: a website, course, and set of lecture/performances that asked the question what the Internet might look like if it was more like the lived space of a feminist classroom: safe, principled, activist by definition, open, collaborative, and committed to the co-production of knowledge and community. Built from my writing and research, that of my students over several years, and little feminist objects made by workshop participants from around the world, this site/class asks participants to think about the making and circulating of media fragments as part of/distinct from the larger aims of political communities (online and off). How do we bring the values, norms, methods, and affect of lived and local (feminist) spaces to the Internet and how do we bring the Internet to these spaces?

This line of work led me to three more places:

  • a theoretical and political plea to leave, cede, or link to the Internet (from the lived world) as core to activist media production. I end my piece for The Militant Research Handbook by saying: “Finally, my ‘research’ and teaching on the Internet—in the feminist spaces I build and interact in—have led me to believe that the writing and object-making that happens there, in the name of understanding and enacting feminist expression online, begs us to think past the digital, beyond representation, and back to bodies and lived spaces. This means two things: we need to continue to be critical of the Internet inside of the Internet, and we also need to leave it by linking (or editing or organizing) out to the world and other activists and actions and thereby into realms of behavior, interaction, and feeling that are neither commodifiable nor stuck. Activist digital activities need to create linked projects of secession. It is in the leaving that our feminist digital activism truly begins.”
  • 4) an art show, PerpiTube, about YouTube and community-building, co-curated with Pato Hebert, that lived for a summer in the Pitzer Art Galleries, and in perpetuity on YouTube, and was produced in engagement with several of our local community-based partners, while also connecting these communities to like (virtual) partners around the world.
  • FemTechNet, my most recent, and even more ambitious “x-reality” project (built within the connected fabrics of on and offline community spaces and experiences, the term is Beth Coleman‘s). With co-facilitator, Anne Balsamo, and a network of feminist educators and artists from around the world, we successfully took on the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) with our feminist reevaluation, the DOCC, Distributed Online Collaborative Course. I am proud to admit that I may be one of the few college professors around to have been lambasted twice, for two separate media projects, by Fox News!

5) You can read about FemTechNet’s inception here, or here, or look at its pretty impressive media coverage here. I’ve lately found myself speaking to university administrators, IT leaders, and fellow humanities professors about how digital technology can better on-the-ground learning. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that the successful challenge of FemTechNet’s DOCC to the more corporate, top-down, imperialist, unresponsive course offerings modelled by MOOCs is a collective application of many of the feminist principles of pedagogy and community-based learning I’ve been discussing throughout. It’s been invigorating and gratifying to see people who might be unconvinced about “feminism,” become quite impressed by the platforms, structures, methods and outcomes it produces for teaching.

And so, I haven’t come full circle, really. I’ve stayed true to Pitzer, and at home in its communities and values, while entering the Internet to bring Pitzer there and the world (of the Internet) to Pitzer. This is an exciting expansion of community that also stays true to the small and local, that honors and thinks about difference without flattening it, that lives and teaches ethically, that co-creates knowledge while being self-aware of power both in outside the room, all the while staying invested in self- and world-making, and staying true to the community-based practices we’ve developed at the College even as it departs (at times) from lived community to do so.