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: http://groups.sims.berkeley.edu/digitalyouth.”

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?

Chicago SCALE Roundtable

November 5, 2007

Two weeks ago, we held a summit on the organizing and distribution possibilities of my documentary, SCALE, generously sponsored by a Chicago feminist media and arts organization and attended by a stellar group of hand-picked women activists, scholars, and organizers. I haven’t been able to write about it until this late date because this was a difficult meeting for me. This is not to say that the participants were un-supportive; they were not. But it is clear that SCALE was, for this group at least, not the “activist film” I had imagined or they had desired. The women in the room expressed that they need from documentary just what my sister has wanted throughout this process (and what she has insisted “activists” would want as well): either an in-depth portrait of the activist, Antonia (how she got there, how she stays there, what she fights for, how she does it), or an illustrated version of her book: a film as easier-to-understand condensation of her critically important ideas, first articulated in words, now in images and with emotion. I will attest that this activist film, the one mine is not, is important, and needed, just not the one I set out to, or even am capable to make. This would be a film that would feed and sustain people who are already working against the war and the Bush Agenda and who need more information, already working and need a pep-talk, already activists and need to see more like themselves on the screen for self-sustaining purposes.

The women in the room were uncomfortable with, or uninterested in the film’s sister-tension (the personal nature of the drama) and self-reflection (its focus on the media rather than Antonia’s ideas as expressed through the media). My departures from Antonia’s ideas were understood to be overly “theoretical,” “abstract,” or “obscure.” Complicatedly, however, it is the documentary’s self-reflexive quality about the state of the left, in relation to media, activism, organizing, and the relations between the personal and the political, which most seems to impress those who are moved by the film. This satisfied viewership understands the film as “activist” in how it allows us to see and talk about the left, activism, and the media with a new formal and verbal vocabulary (that of SCALE).
Which is all to say, that the workshop, although of course personally painful for me, was incredibly illuminating both about the film (how and for who it functions), and about a deep, abiding and defining split within the left about the best form and function of information, action, images and ideas in our media age. If you hate the film, you probably believe that direct action and organizing are what matters if we are ever going to make a change in this society; and if you love the film you are probably less convinced that such actions continue to matter, as you are also self-consciously debating where power lies in a society where individual action seems to have been subsumed by corporate control and media, and what that leaves as a possibility for you to do… Is the left best served by simply doing more stuff, louder, more effectively or does the left need to re-group, re-consider, and talk amongst ourselves about what has and has not worked, and what will and will not work as the conditions of power continue to change?

Are pep-talks, feeling good, and getting smarter the only way to inspire activism, or could activism come from self-scrutiny and uncertainty? Does navel-gazing waste our precious time? What do we gain and lose when we don’t speak directly, supplying much-needed information, but rather talk about the state of information itself? What is the use for formal and intellectual complexity about our current state when the current state is itself so bad?

#1 SCALE screening

October 11, 2007

On Thursday, October 4, we had our first work-in-progress screening of SCALE fro a friendly audience at the Claremont Colleges, where I teach. Antonia made it, as did representatives of various local anti-war groups, who spoke about their efforts before the screening began.

The most interesting aspect of the Q and A at this screening mirrors a theme of the documentary: its interest in divisions within the left about the form and function of education or information in relation to social change. Many in the audience were there (understandably) to hear Antonia speak truth, facts, and analysis to power, something she does very well, and for which she has a following. While this does happen, in small parts, in the documentary, it is, in fact, not really a documentary about Antonia’s book and its ideas, as much as it is about the concept of scale, and how Antonia’s book, ideas, and experiences trying to sell and impart them demonstrate the contradictions of ramping up numbers, attention, and exposure. Thus, some in the audience were pleased to see a self-reflexive documentary raising questions of tactics, effectivity, organizing strategies, and the role of the media and celebrity in contemporary politics, just as Antonia’s fans thought this was a diversion from the real stuff.

Discussion centered around whether the left should be educating itself with facts, or whether we have already heard these facts; or should we be navel-gazing, and re-thinking strategies, as well as our flaws and strengths?

Finally, the highly personal nature of the questions asked to Antonia and I (rather than political) threw Antonia, and it is seems good she has some practice before the show really goes on the road. People asked her questions she has never heard before: abo0ut her spiritual beliefs or our family. And afterwards, we talked together about how my feminism, and a commitment to the personal, is fundamentally different from her more straightforward commitment to the “political.” This is really another vocabulary to think about the differences in knowledge production, and political strategy raised above, and I am certain that these tensions will define the life and reception of the film.

Editing SCALE 3

September 27, 2007

August 8, 2007

Back home after a month in Columbus OH defined, in the end, by the concerns addressed in my earlier posts: what it means to be an artist-on-my-own and how I can be true to my own uncertainties and also my sister’s fortitude. Home again in Pasadena with one-hour documentary in hand, I hope that I may have succeeded. I want to believe that SCALE accomplishes multiple, self-nourishing goals:

SCALE ricoches and reflects between the power and limitations of the small and large. My muddy and sloppy camera reveals complexity and feeling while the smooth operations of Robbie’s camera give the world a gloss that is convincing and familiar. Both have power. And that’s not even going to Oprah.

SCALE links the personal and the political, insisting that what happens between people (emotions, ideas, trust, betrayal, power, kindness) mirrors and combats the largest operations of dominance and control in our world (war, wealth, politics).

SCALE believes that small things, the things regular people do in the space of their own lives and through the reach of their own actions, do have effect. Although the doc would never presume to be able to measure such effect.

SCALE believes that groups of people magnify the power explained above. Although, again, the doc would never deign to calculate the scale of such power.

I hope the documentary can be used for organizing, both naming for people through the awesome words of my sister some of the crimes of the Bush regime, and pointing them towards avenues of action including writing, speaking, demonstrating, and making media. I hope the documentary will challenge people to think about the role of their own activism and action in the media age.

Editing SCALE 2

September 17, 2007

July 16, 2007. It has been a really great first week. I have been editing with concentration and fervor helped and abetted by the Wexner’s master editor, Paul Hill. We’ve made huge headway, primarily humanizing the piece by adding more of me. And letting me take some of the emotional slack. Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to put in more of Antonia’s amazing optimism and energy, as the story had become more and more about how she was captured by the intrigue of the limelight, and less and less about how she continued to do the hard work of being smart and on and present and committed even for that short while when she also though the book might become a bestseller.

While I am certain I will finish the film, and assured that it will be better then when I came, and close to all I want to say, my real fear at this stage is that I am not a powerful enough artist to kick it up to that final stage that this work deserves. And, of course, this is linked to SCALE because while I have always chosen for my work to remain small, primarily out of theoretical and political and artistic commitments to what happens when real people make small work about and within communities they belong, I have also not expanded my scale because I gave up on the endless exhaustion and humiliation of fund-raising, pitching, and altering my work and self to fill other’s agendas. And then, frankly, as much as I have resisted this waste of time, pulling me from the issue at hand and the pleasure of working, I’ve never been that good or capable at the pitch, the schmoozing. I get self-conscious and embarrassed. I’d rather be aloof, outside this humiliating economy. Finally, there’s always the strong possibility that I can’t get funding—slogging away at grant apps, floundering at meetings with commissioning officers—because I’m just not really good enough.

While my world view—that everyone can and should be able to express their ideas about themselves and their world—supports that everyone, including me, deserves the grace of self-expression, I do also believe in innate talent. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive. Self-trained in video; never a “real” artist; I hit against a wall that is my innate creativity (or lack thereof), often. Also, of course, I’m too intellectual to be a good artist. And probably too dogmatic, and out of touch with regular Americans, not to mention disdainful of the media traditions that make most people comfortable. I’ve sat here in the small mostly because it’s where I should be: reaching the audience to whom I can speak, a limited crowd interested in the ideas and values that concern me which include

-the relevance of small, personal work and activism and the real voices of real people not pundits

-the fact that getting bigger corrupts, exhausts, and punishes and that staying small allows for an attention to inter-personal ethics

-and the fact that these ideas seem hopelessly out-dated, some kind of nostalgic homage to a ’60s that was never this good anyways, and are downright ineffective against the new kinds of fast, huge, networks of corporate power that rule us.