On SCALE

September 14, 2007

“SCALE: Ending the BUSH AGENDA in the Media Age”
A documentary video by Alexandra Juhasz featuring Antonia Juhasz; 60 mins, 2007

In a time of illicit war, unchecked corporate greed, and a presidential regime that supports such indecencies, two sisters take the media into their own hands seeking change. Antonia writes a potential anti-Bush bestseller for a mainstream publisher and goes on a corporate book tour. Alex documents her sister’s “scale-shift,” following Antonia’s ups and downs on the road. Divisions and connections between the sisters mirror those within the left itself, as the sisters experience the power of individual action, media attention, and grassroots movements for social justice.

What is SCALE?

The SCALE distinctions of our time are not merely an effect of ready access to capital, but of the linked availability of celebrity, media, mobility of information, immensity of attention, capacity to network, and access to others with similar power.

SCALE is about the rampant and seemingly uncheckable expansion of dimension for those who have power—be they corporations, this nation, the corporate media, or the elites who run and profit from them—and whether there is an associated diminishment of scale for the rest of us.

What is the worth of local action in this system that values global attention?
What is the meaning of small-scale decency in the face of international greed?
How do we map and calculate the might, reach and effect of collective work for change? How must the nature of social action and political organizing transform to meet the awesome enormity of global corporate media might?

Can we end the BUSH AGENDA?

THE BUSH AGENDA, by Antonia Juhasz for ReganBooks, HarperCollins Publishers, exposes the Bush Administration’s use of corporate globalization policy as a weapon of war in Iraq, the Middle East—through the U.S. Middle East Free Trade Area and the Iraq Oil Law—and across the world as it builds a Pax Americana. Tracing 25 years of corporate globalization policy, it reveals the history and key role of U.S. corporations in the creation of the Bush Agenda, focusing on Bechtel, Lockheed Martin, Chevron, and Halliburton. It concludes with specific achievable alternatives for a more peaceful and sustainable course.More info on antonia’s site: http://www.thebushagenda.net and mine: http://pzacad.pitzer.edu/~ajuhasz/

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On editing SCALE 1

September 13, 2007

July 8, 2007.

Arrived this afternoon, a Sunday, to my new residential digs: a sweet, slightly dilapidated two-bedroom apartment in an aging brick complex in a slightly funky but very livable part of Columbus Ohio, two miles from the University, or so I’ve been told.

I’ve not been alone in this way, as a grown up woman, as an artist, as a single person, since 1997, when my ex and I spent our summer apart—she in London, me in NY—deciding if we should be a couple; if we should have a baby. Our first child was born 7 months later, another following 16 months after that. As I said, I’ve been in a couple, or a Mom—in a group, servicing others—ever since. I do my art on the side. In the crevices. I know myself and my thoughts through other’s needs and schedules. No complaints. This makes life more complex, and really, takes one off the hook.

But here I am, eating alone: so hard to choose what to eat if one’s tastes and not one’s seven year old’s organize the meal… SO much time, too: to read, write, run, swim, write this first blog, concentrate on the work.

And that this is: a blog on the completion of “SCALE: Ending the BUSH AGENDA in the Media Age,” a documentary I‘ve been working on for two years, and intend to complete during my month here, by hell or high water.

And while the preamble about my children may seem off base from the political documentary I’m hoping to finish, it is in fact, a huge part of the story (of the making of the doc, and of the doc itself), because it at once highlights the real conditions of my attempts at self- and political expression, the daily and mundane constraints on real women like me, as it also marks one of the profound links and breaking points (one of many) between myself and my sister Antonia: and these are what the documentary is about. Antonia has no children (although she wants them and is amazing with them) and hence she can be a full-time activist, making too-little money, working and living too-hard, putting herself on the line. I am more bourgois, even as our political leanings are pretty close: found on America’s far-far left. Because I have a kid to raise, a mortgage to pay, my actions in the world and in my art are limited; my desires are organized for me. I am much more like regular Americans, I think, in my self-satisfied relations to home, stuff, kids and family, then Antonia could ever be. Of course, this lady-leftist sometimes-lesbian, decidedly feminist, probably socialist professor and artist that I am established me as pretty little like most Americans, but I’m closer to the heart beat than my sister.

Which explains some of my pain and uncertainty at this late and final stage of my documentary. My reticence. My certainty that the old ways have failed us as the new world order quiets and contains us, with all its yummy and easy to acquire stuff, the pay off for the bad things that produce it and the bad people who get rich from it. So that we find ourself in a bargain of their construction and our acquiescence: protest don’t seem to end things, real people don’t seem to make significant change, the forces we fight are bigger and meaner then ever. And still I march.

But Antonia. Well. She has the room and the time and the heart to believe. And given that her attention is in the right place—not stuck on all those creature comforts, TVs and SUVs—her biggest indulgence is endless lattes and too much beer. She thinks people can still do it: stop wars, speak to and be heard by global corporations, change things to become like we want and know them to be. She’s living a romantic off-beat life; and maybe she’s right.

My documentary is about this battle between us (among other things). And over the next month I will try to see if I can express the ways we both know this war is wrong, but are less sure about what to do with that knowledge. All the while, saying what I feel without alienating her, or exposing too much about her, and with the sensitivity that close relations demand.

My greatest fear and concern is that she will not like, or even worse, sign off on the documentary. I have a month to make it speak my story about activism in the media age, without betraying her trust, and being true to what she also believes and experiences.

Slogan Four

September 5, 2007

“Q: How do you explain the camera as a gun? A: Well, ideas are guns. A lot of people are dying from ideas and dying for ideas. A gun is a practical idea.
An idea is a theoretical gun.” Jean Luc Godard

The construction and dissemination of ideas, even “theory,” are critical to a project of cultural transformation. Non-specialists must contribute theory for transformation to be tenable. The comments application on YouTube radically opens access for the sharing of words but currently limits theorizing’s gun-potential through downsizing and dumbing-down, i.e. “hahahahaha.” An idea is a ludicrous pun.

(After “WE: Variant of a Manifesto,” Dziga Vertov, 1922)

I call myself MP:me (Media Praxis : Alexandra Juhasz)—as opposed to “cinematographer,” one of a herd of machomen doing rather well peddling slick clean wares.
I see no connection between true femi-digi-praxis (the integration of media theory, digital practice, and feminist politics in an historical context) and the cunning and calculation of the profiteers.
I consider expensive corporate reality television—weighed down with music and narrative and childhood games—an absurdity.
To the American victim documentary with its shown dynamism and power disparities and to YouTube’s direct-to-camera dramatizations of so many individuals’ personal pain or pleasure this femi-digi-practioner says thanks for the return to real people, the hand-held look, and the close-ups. Good…but disorderly, not based on a precise study of Media Praxis (the hundred year history of theoretical writing and related political media production). A cut above the psychological drama, but still lacking in foundation. A Cliché. A copy of a copy.
I proclaim the stuff of YouTube, all based on the slogan (pithy, precise, rousing calls to action or consumption, or action as consumption), to be leprous.
–Keep your mouse from them!
–Keep your eyes off those bite-sized wonders!
–They’re morally dangerous!
–Contagious!
I affirm the future of digital art by denying its present and learning from its past.

I am MP:me. I build connections to history and theory and inter-relations between individuals and committed communities. With my small cheap camcorder, my laptop, and internet connection, I make messy, irregular feminist video committed to depth and complexity.
“Cinematography, ” the earliest male tradition of sizeable machines, stylish form, and solo cine-adventures must die so that the communal art of femi-digi-praxis may live. I call for its death to be hastened.
I protest against the smooth operator and call for a rough synthesis of history, politics, theory, real people and their chaotic, mundane desires and knowledge.
I invite you:
—to flee—
the sweet embrace of America’s Next Top Model,
the poison of the commercial send-up,
the clutches of technophilia, the allure of boy-toys,
to turn your back on music, effects, gizmos,
—to flee—
out into the open with camcorder in hand, into four dimensions (history, politics, theory + practice), in search of our own material, from our experiences, relationships and commitments to social justice.
Mp:me is made visible through a camcorder femi-digi-praxis: a small, hand-held, retro video aesthetic connected to a lengthy history of communal, low-budget, political and theoretical media production, Media Praxis, begun by truly great cinematographers, men with movie cameras, politics and big ideas. Mp:me simply (post)-modernizes and feminizes We’s foundational praxis.

10 Terms. 3 calls.

August 23, 2007

These are the central terms of Media Praxis and 3 related calls to action.

1) Marx. Those who make and control ideas make and control history. Cultural revolution is integral for social, political and material transformation.
2) Access. A greater number of individuals from more diverse cross-sections of society need to make, see, and understand radical or expressive media.
3) Process. How you make and receive media is as important as the object itself.
4) Praxis: Thinking is less effective when it occurs in isolation from doing and without a stake in the world.

5) Technology. The machines we use affect what we can produce. But machines are never enough, as You-Tube alone efficiently demonstrates. We also need:
6) Pedagogy. Also understood as a matter of access, it is always necessary to consider who is taught to be a mediamaker and with what orientation, skills, and values; and who is taught to be critical of the media, as well.
7) Producer: We need to expand the role of the artist/intellectual in society: who makes, when, what and with which supports. This begs us to consider the difference between a politics of self-expression and that of cultural revolution.

8)Participant: What is the role and who gets to be a viewer/critic, a participant, in media culture? Then, what is the role of emotion and identification?
9) Ethics: The lived power relations between humans that are mobilized by media production and reception are integral to its process and understanding.
10) Form. We are always debating: Do you need radical form to convey revolutionary messages?

1) Media Praxis must integrate theory and practice with the local and global. Femi-digi-practioners should lead and learn from conversations in real communities about the impact, meanings, and power of the media. This should be done through site specific and problem based projects where we create solutions communally.

2) Working collaboratively and stressing and benefiting from the diversity of our approaches, training, experience, and positions leads to the best Media Praxis. We need to be brave enough to teach each other, work past specialization, and in the variety of languages in which we are comfortable and trained.

3) We must model what we want to create: a Media Praxis supporting engaged citizens who participate in power sharing, or “creative democracy,” radical pedagogy, ethical process, accountability and social justice enacted through and about the media.

The Resolution of MP:me

August 21, 2007

(After “The Resolution of Three,” by Dziga Vertov with Mikhail Kaufman and Elizaveta Svilova, April 10, 1923)

The situation on the digital front, namely YouTube, must be considered inauspicious.

As was to be expected, the first videos shown recall the old “industrial” models (slogan-like media; 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; the stuff of YouTube).

Therefore the Council of MP:me without waiting for my students to be assigned works and ignoring the latter’s desire to realize their own projects, is temporarily disregarding authorship rights and resolves to immediately publish for general use the common principles and slogans of the future revolution-through-YouTube; for which purpose, first and foremost, femi-digi-practioner (feminist digital practioner) Alexandra Juhasz (MP:me) is directed, in accordance with the discipline of Media Praxis (an enduring, mutual, and building tradition that theorizes and creates the necessary conditions for media to play an integral role in cultural and individual transformation, see my proposal for an on-line”book” on this topic at http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/), to publish certain excerpts from her chapter “Documentary on YouTube: The Failure of the Direct Cinema of the Slogan,” (to be published “ in Re-Thinking Documentary, ed. Thomas Austin [NY: McGraw Hill, 2008]) which shall sufficiently clarify the nature of that failure.

The Resolution of MP:me
In fulfillment of the resolution of the Council of MP:me on August 21 of this year, I am publishing the following excerpts here and now on this blog, “Media Praxis”:

The death sentence passed in 2007 by the femi-digi-practioner MP:me on YouTube, with no exceptions, holds true for the present as well. The most scrupulous examination reveals that what YouTube gains in access it lacks in knowledge; what YouTube achieves through open admission it loses in focused vision. While many single videos, and single artistic media experiments, might in themselves be properly directed to the emancipation of the digital (which for the most part is reduced to a state of pitiable slavery, of subordination to the imperfections and the shortsightedness of the slogan of dominant corporate media: the simplistic selling of ideas so as to move people to fight or buy, no matter), YouTube’s decided disinclination towards ongoing bonds is made manifest through a corporate, postmodern architecture founded on the transitory and evocative link. Meanwhile, the tradition of MEDIA PRAXIS demands not merely numbers, access, and reciprocity but also, at the same time, a connected and lasting base of knowledge, an associated community, and a will to action.

I do not object to YouTube’s undermining of television and the multiplex; I wholly approve of the use of the digital in every branch of knowledge, but I define these functions as accessory, as secondary offshoots of the digital.

The main and essential thing is:

Connections: linking past theories of radical media with contemporary political practices, and interrelating living communities of committed mediamakers with histories from which they can learn.Without theory, history, community, and politics, the expanded access enabled by (post) capitalism on YouTube is not yet all we might demand for the future of the digital.

I therefore take as the point of departure the use of YouTube as a communal, historical and contextual femi-digi-praxis, more perfect than any one human’s discrete knowledge, for the exploration of the chaos of media phenomena that fills space.
Femi-digi-praxis pays attention; it grounds and slows circulation through commitment, connection and complexity.

Femi-digi-praxis: I connect!
Femi-digi-praxis: I attend!
Femi-digi-praxis: I contextualize!

There you have it, citizens, for the first time: instead of music, painting, theater, cinematography, and other castrated outpourings.

Within the chaos of media, running past, away, running into and colliding; fragmented, cluttered, commericial–femi-digi-praxis looking backwards as well as to the future, I connect, attend, unite, and contextualize to theories, politics, history and community.